The Argument for Taking Antonio Brown With the Top Overall Pick in Fantasy Football
Determining which player should be taken with the first overall selection in fantasy drafts is never an easy decision. The first pick guarantees the pick holder a special talent but not so much a fantasy success. We learned that last year when David Johnson -- last year's consensus number one pick -- suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the season.
Finding which players are most likely to be a stud (and avoid wrecking your season) can be a process, heavy on research in all forms.
Going into this season, a handful of top running backs sit atop the list of players to start drafts with in 2018. Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott and the aforementioned (now healthy) David Johnson are the names most frequently taken (or at least discussed) with pick 1.01.
But what about a wide receiver? Should Antonio Brown be a larger part of the conversation for fantasy's number one overall selection? Yes -- and here's why.
Running Back Fever
Every year, trends develop in fantasy football that point to how an owner should draft and build their roster. Certain positional values fluctuate based on the performance of that group in the previous season and, this season, the position group that has made the biggest stride are the running backs.
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, 9 of the top 12 average draft positions (ADP) are occupied by the running back position. Only three receivers -- Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and Odell Beckham -- find themselves selected within the first round of most standard 12-team drafts. It is the highest discrepancy between the two positions since 2013, when Calvin Johnson was the only receiver drafted in the top 12.
Surely, this provides some justified fear that taking Brown early means missing out on the elite crop of running backs. It is a valid argument, however, it is what Brown brings as a receiver that helps make the case for him as top dog.
Simply put, to win in fantasy football, consistency is a necessity. Players performing well on a weekly basis and fitting perfectly into the slot in your lineup that they occupy is the ideal recipe for success.
Throughout his career, Brown has been far and away the most consistent wide receiver in all of football.
|Season||Standard Fantasy Points||WR Rank|
The table above displays standard scoring from Weeks 1 to 16 since the 2013 season, using stats FantasyPros.
Since 2013, Brown has finished every season as a top-six scoring option at the receiver position, finishing as the overall number one receiver in two of those seasons. He has averaged the highest points per game every season for the past four years, and in PPR leagues, his success rate jumps even higher with three top wide receiver finishes. No other wideout has finished in the top five in all of the past three seasons.
The word "consistency" may not even begin to describe what we have witnessed over this five-year span. The truth is, players are often up and down in their statistical performances, both on a yearly and weekly basis.
On a yearly basis, this is arguably a case for the Houston Texans' Deandre Hopkins, the lone receiver to outscore Brown in 2017. Only a year earlier, Hopkins finished as the 41st receiver in the league. His talent never disappeared, but enduring significant changes to the talent around a player -- particularly at quarterback -- can have that impact. Brown’s situation on a high-powered offense with an extremely talented quarterback and a top tier running back is the same as it's been over the last five years.
On a game-to-game basis, Julio Jones, the Atlanta Falcons number one receiving option since 2013, finished last year as the seventh-highest receiver in fantasy. And yet, despite such a high finish, Jones had an extremely down year and was a disappointment for most owners, ranking outside of the top 20 wide receivers in 11 of the 16 games he played in. So, owning a top-12 receiver in fantasy can be a let down week to week.
That isn’t the case with Brown, an outlier in his constant level of overachieving.
Over the past five years, Antonio Brown has produced a top-three PFF wide receiver grade every season. pic.twitter.com/bNeY84f8pS
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 22, 2018
Because of this, investing as early as possible to get the all-time level talent (and in this prime situation) he provides is a logical decision to make.
Playing The Waiver Wire
Sometimes, it seems easy to forget that the draft is only one part of winning a fantasy title. Trades, injuries and waiver wire additions are all a large part. And the reality is that, because of the waiver wire, missing out on the higher-end wide receivers can be more crippling than missing on the top running backs.
Here at numberFire, Brandon Gdula recently published an article discussing how to find top talent wide receivers on the waiver wire. Through the article, he pointed out the difficulty that comes with finding those top-flight receivers before they reach their plateau mostly because of the unpredictability of the position itself. Any given week, a receiver's production can spike or fall completely flat. The article concludes that trading a blow-up receiver from the waiver wire for a solidified receiver that hasn't reached their potential just yet is often the right decision.
When it comes to waiver wire running backs, the case is not the exact same. When looking at waiver wire running backs, it is typically easier to recognize when a player is due for a big game in advance based on volume or due to an injury to the backfield's usual starter. Finding a spot starter near the end of the season -- Samaje Perine, for example -- is a possibility. And while it is more of an outlier than anything, Alvin Kamara was indeed found on many waiver wires to start last season.
That very idea is why draft strategies such as “Zero RB” have come into existence in the past. And theoretically, from a strategy-based standpoint, drafting a guy like Antonio Brown, who should be among the very best receivers all year, and placing him firmly into your lineup gives an owner the chance to then fill the other positions as needed throughout the rest of their draft and over the course of the season.
In most cases, it's more likely that you find a solid running back than a wide receiver who could be a top-level talent as the year goes on. For those willing to search the waiver wire or use later round picks at running back, investing in Brown could be a wise move to guarantee success at a position where week-to-week success varies greatly.
The Safe(st) Route
There’s really no such thing as a safe pick in fantasy, but Brown is as close as it gets. While it is exceptionally difficult to predict injuries, the facts are that Brown has only missed six games in his NFL career and he has not sustained a major injury. Aside from Gurley, all of the other players mentioned in the debate for the first overall selection have missed as many games in the past three seasons as Brown has in his entire career.
In point-per-reception leagues, taking Brown provides an even greater statistical advantage over the others because of his ability to generate top results at a constant level.
It is far from an easy decision to select Brown first overall. But if you have enough confidence in the concept that late round and waiver options will emerge at the running back position as the season progresses, it could be a huge first step to winning a championship in your league.