The most important factor in having a successful fantasy football season is making a smart selection with your first-round pick.
Those who selected Ray Rice or Trent Richardson with their first pick a year ago were certainly disappointed and likely struggled to salvage the season. Arian Foster and Doug Martin also failed to help their fantasy teams, although it is hard to plan for injuries.
In order to have success in fantasy, you need a stud player capable of posting big numbers every week. More often than not, these top options come in the first round, so do not waste this opportunity. Pick someone you can trust to succeed and avoid bigger risks when possible.
Here is a look at the best way to handle the first round depending on where you are picking.
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson could not replicate his 2,000-yard season from 2012, but he still managed a solid 1,266 rushing yards in just 14 games last season. Only LeSean McCoy averaged more yards per game than the Minnesota Vikings running back.
While he has dealt with injury issues throughout his career, Peterson has always been good when he is on the field. After scoring double-digit rushing touchdowns in every season, there is no reason to expect a decline any time soon.
Most importantly, he remains the undisputed go-to option in Minnesota. With the quarterback situation very much in the air, new coach Mike Zimmer will want to rely on the one player he can count on, so expect another big year from the veteran player.
2. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
After rushing for a league-leading 1,607 yards last season, there is no reason to doubt McCoy's ability to post big numbers once again this year. He perfectly fits Chip Kelly's fast-paced system and has set a high goal for himself:
The only downside is the Eagles' addition of Darren Sproles, who should be able to cut into the starter's 52 receptions from last season. However, fantasy owners should have no problems trusting McCoy to once again be a top player this year.
3. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles has already hurt himself this season in a freak injury while moving out of the dorm. Although this foot issue should not keep him out too long, it is one of a few reasons to be cautious about taking last year's fantasy leader at running back.
The biggest issue is the Chiefs offensive line, which was a strength last season but lost Jon Asamoah and Branden Albert in free agency. Add this to the likely increase in carries for backup Knile Davis after a strong rookie year, and you can expect a small drop in production for Charles.
That being said, he is still one of the most dynamic players in the league and will be heavily used as both a rusher and receiver in Andy Reid's offense.
4. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
People seem to forget about Matt Forte when listing the top running backs in football, but the Bears star has been one of the most consistent players in the league over the past six years.
Consistency was his best attribute last year, totaling at least 90 yards from scrimmage in 14 out of 16 games. Overall, he averaged 120.8 total yards per game last year. While touchdowns have a tendency to be random, these yards will get you points every time out.
If you are picking fourth in your draft, you should be extremely happy to select any of the above players.
5. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers made an effort to establish the run last season after getting too pass-heavy in recent years. When Aaron Rodgers went down with an injury, this forced Eddie Lacy to take on an even bigger role.
Fortunately, he responded with 1,178 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and an Offensive Rookie of the Year award. While his attempts might drop a bit when Rodgers is under center, he should be more efficient in an open offense.
"We’ve never literally like sat down and talked about it, but I’m pretty sure we can both figure it out," Lacy explained to Mike Spofford of Packers.com, "You put two and two together, and you have the opportunity to be pretty dangerous back there."
In a great offense, Lacy can be even better than last year and be a fantasy star.
6. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
In most seasons, the first round of a fantasy draft features as many running backs as possible. However, there is a major drop-off toward the end of the first round, leaving an opening for players from other positions.
While you can select an elite quarterback or receiver here, Jimmy Graham deserves the pick based on his separation from the rest of the position. In reality, whom else can you trust at tight end besides the Saints star?
Graham had 35 percent more fantasy points than Vernon Davis, who was second at the position in standard leagues. His extra value makes him worthy of such an early selection, even if it is considered a reach by most.
7. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Over the past few years, Marshawn Lynch has been a steady force in fantasy leagues thanks mostly to his ability to get into the end zone, as noted by Craig Sager Jr.:
This is unlikely to change even if players like Robert Turbin or Christine Michael take some carries. Lynch is a force inside and knows how to get the extra yards, which makes him a perfect option on the goal line.
Considering the Seahawks have run the ball more times in the past two years than anyone else in football, there will be plenty of opportunities for Lynch to rack up fantasy points in 2014.
8. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning is coming off the best quarterback season in NFL history, setting records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. As soon as he threw seven touchdowns in Week 1, everyone knew this would be a special year.
One year later, the Broncos have lost Eric Decker but replaced him with Emmanuel Sanders. With Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and others still on the roster, Manning should be able to spread the ball around with ease and post more great numbers.
9. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Like Peterson with the running backs, the top option is not necessarily the one who scored the most fantasy points last season. Instead, you want to draft the player with the most talent who has shown his ability year after year.
Des Bieler of The Washington Post notes Calvin Johnson is without equal in fantasy football:
Josh Gordon actually led all WRs in points last year, but even if he were guaranteed to play this season (and with a possible year-long suspension, he’s not), Megatron would stand alone here. Johnson finished second to Gordon in 2013, and first in 2011 and 2012. That consistent production — not to mention his size, speed and primary role in a pass-happy, indoor offense — make Johnson the only choice to lead off his position.
Johnson has simply become a player you do not want to bet against, meaning it would be smart to take him early in fantasy.
10. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
Throughout the first part of the season, owning a Broncos receiver was extremely frustrating. You simply did not know where Manning was going to go with the ball, and it led to some poor efforts from everyone.
However, Demaryius Thomas became the go-to option down the stretch, reaching double-digit fantasy points in nine of his last 10 games. This type of consistency is not often seen from receivers, but it makes him worthy of a first-round selection in fantasy.
11. Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
Last season, Knowshon Moreno rode the Broncos offense to being the fifth-highest-scoring fantasy running back in football. He was not the fastest or most agile player, but he simply had a lot of opportunities against opponents expecting the pass.
With Moreno now on the Miami Dolphins, Montee Ball should take the role with the chance to be as successful, if not more successful. He has been limited in training camp with an appendectomy, but this appears to be behind him:
Most importantly, the Broncos should be able to trust him after a year to learn the offense and improve his pass blocking. This kept him off the field last season, but there is no one to stop him from getting the majority of carries in the high-powered offense.
12. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
There are still some quality running backs available who could be had in the second round. However, there are questions about durability with players like DeMarco Murray, Doug Martin and Arian Foster or usage with Andre Ellington and Le'Veon Bell and others.
As a result, it comes back to figuring out whom you trust the most. While there are other top quarterbacks, Rodgers will be one of the best as long as he is healthy. Gaining peace of mind at the position can allow you to take more risks later in the draft.
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