It is my belief that the first few rounds of a fantasy football draft are always the hardest ones. There are so many good players to choose from. You want to make sure you take the player that fits into your drafting strategy, but you have to avoid a bust in the process.
For the last three years going into last fantasy football season, I had taken Brian Westbrook in the first two rounds and it had been great. He was always one of the top running backs, and I thought he would be a great pick again last year.
However, a combination of injuries, age, and a replacement led to his fantasy demise and I paid dearly for it. Picking a player with red flags in the first round could be a nightmare.
One pick I have had a really hard time with this year is choosing between Frank Gore and Andre Johnson. If you end up with the sixth or seventh pick, this decision is a nightmare. There are four elite fantasy backs this year and Frank Gore is the odd man out. Do you take the fifth running back or the best wide receiver? It's a tough decision.
Let's assume you are in a standard (non-PPR) 10-man league. In the second round you will be set up with the 15th pick, putting you in a position to grab Rashard Mendenhall or Shonn Greene at running back, or if you needed a wide receiver you could probably get Reggie Wayne or Brandon Marshall.
With the 26th pick it seems to get a little bit running back heavy. Beanie Wells, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Matthews, and Jonathan Stewart should all be available. After that it really evens out again. There will be a strong running back group available in the third round, possibly allowing you to take a wide receiver like Andre Johnson in the first round.
Before making a pick, you have to look at who you will be in a position to take within the next few rounds. You always have to be thinking ahead. There good players at every position right away, and you have to make smart decisions.
Let's examine the cases for both players.
Andre Johnson has been a consistent fantasy producer over the past few seasons, and has really connected with quarterback Matt Schaub. Johnson is an elite talent who is really the complete package. He is fast, runs excellent routes, has amazing hands and leaping ability, and to top it off he does it week after week.
Johnson is heading into his prime, as he just turned 29 this offseason. At 6'3" 225, Johnson has ideal size and strength for a wide receiver and physically dominates opposing players. Averaging almost 100 yards receiving a game last season (he would have gotten there if not for Revis), he now has over 3,000 receiving yards in the past two seasons.
With a lot of the elite receivers getting older, and Larry Fitzgerald losing both Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin, I wouldn't be surprised to see Johnson distance himself from the pack even further.
As of right now, Johnson is the only receiver that is basically a lock for the first round in 10-man leagues, and to think that he could separate himself from the field even further shows what a special player he is. Drafting Johnson would put you way ahead of everyone else as far as receivers go, while Gore isn't even in the top three at his position.
When it comes to Andre Johnson, there is really only one red flag, and unsurprisingly, it has nothing to do with him. The Houston Texans have a good quarterback in Matt Schaub, but after that it gets pretty thin as far as offensive help goes.
Owen Daniels is a solid tight end, but they don't have a great running game, and the second wide receiver is Kevin Walter, who recorded just over 600 yards last season. With Andre Johnson being the primary focus of all defensive schemes, there is a lot of pressure for him to perform at a high level through double, or even triple teams.
Overall, you can't go wrong with Andre Johnson. I have little doubt that he will live up to his first round status. Taking a wide receiver late in the first round can definitely work to your advantage when it comes to the later rounds.
Last season, Frank Gore was the model of inconsistency. Some games he was on, and others he was off. Gore suffered greatly from the inconsistency of the 49ers offense last season, but this season things will be different.
The 49ers will finally retain an offensive system in two straight years and that could do wonders for not only Alex Smith, but the 49ers offense in general. Alex Smith has been unfairly judged in his career so far, but it seems that everything is finally falling into place.
As the 49ers' offense becomes mores more consistent, so will Frank Gore. The 49ers spent their draft bulking up the offensive line, which should also help Gore. Their are many factors that contribute to Gore's potential improvement this season. He has always been a good running back, but now that he'll have an offense around him it should open the door for better production from the run game.
Between Michael Crabtree, Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, and Frank Gore, the 49ers may have a legitimate chance at the playoffs next season. Frank Gore has been one of the most frustrating fantasy players, but if you pick him this season I promise you won't regret it.
If you were to take Frank Gore with the sixth pick in the draft, you could more than likely get Reggie Wayne with your next pick and then try to go for Beanie Wells in the third round and go running back, wide receiver, running back.
Traditionally, having a great running game wins fantasy championships and while experts are now shifting more toward balance, having great running backs is never a bad thing.
Personally, I believe Frank Gore has a chance to a top three running back. He is one of the most underrated players in fantasy football this year, and could be the person who benefits most from an improved team. Frank Gore could have a huge season this year.
This is an impossible decision to make, both players have excellent fantasy value. This matchup is extremely even. I think that Frank Gore is a bigger risk, but Andre Johnson is more of a safe bet. Gore could end up in the top three, but he could also end up outside the top 10. I see Johnson between five and 10 no matter what.
In the end, I think I would have to take Gore. With San Francisco's rising offense, and Alex Smith on the verge of a breakout year, I think Frank Gore could finally live up to his fantasy potential.