Missing on a pick in the first three rounds of your draft can be a deathblow to your fantasy title aspirations.
While it’s fun to take big swings in the middle and late rounds in hopes of landing the next breakout star, the beginning is the time to lock down surefire fantasy producers who will make up the core of your roster.
Let’s take a look at five players who are guaranteed to deliver on their draft slots in the opening rounds.
Do we really need to make a case for a back who posted 2,118 total yards and 20 touchdowns in 2016?
Johnson will be one of the first two picks in this year’s drafts, and for good reason. The Cardinals star topped 100 combined yards in each of the 15 full games he participated in last season, and he’s found the end zone 32 times over his first two NFL campaigns.
Now his sights are set on 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same year – a feat only he and Le’Veon Bell have a realistic chance at pulling off.
As Carson Palmer nears the end of his career, the Cardinals are wisely leaning on Johnson to carry their team, and fantasy owners can safely do the same.
The best pass-catcher in the NFL is also the best receiver in the fantasy world, having finished as the WR1 in PPR three straight years.
Had Ben Roethlisberger retired, Brown’s value would have taken a hit, but Big Ben is back at the helm of one of the league’s most prolific offenses.
Martavis Bryant’s return from a year-long suspension could scare some faint-hearted fantasy owners, but a closer look reveals that Brown’s two best seasons came when Bryant was lining up across from him in 2014 and 2015.
With defenses forced to account for Bryant and star back Le’Veon Bell, all signs point to Brown topping 100 catches for the fifth consecutive season.
Johnson and Brown were obvious candidates for this list, but Gordon is the first player without an elite track record.
After a slow rookie campaign, Gordon made a giant leap in his sophomore season, compiling 1,416 total yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 games. He had the third-most fantasy points among running backs prior to suffering a sprained PCL, which prevented him from appearing in the final three games and cost him his first 1,000-yard season.
With some improvements to the offensive line and little competition challenging him for touches in the backfield, Gordon will pick up where he left off in 2016.
Cooper broke into the NFL with 72 receptions and 1,070 yards in his rookie year, and bested the numbers in his second year, hauling in 83 passes for 1,153 yards. The knock on him remains his red-zone usage, which has limited him to six and five touchdowns in his first seasons, respectively.
There’s reason to believe that this year could bring an even better version of Cooper. During the offseason, Derek Carr said “the dog” is “coming out” of his 23-year-old wideout, insinuating that he’ll be more aggressive.
The team also boasts an elite offensive unit, which should translate to plenty of scoring opportunities, giving Cooper a chance to remedy his touchdown deficiency. Even if he doesn’t take a leap, you’re still getting a player who has produced at a high level in both his pro seasons, and who has a high ceiling and an extremely high floor for his production.
Baldwin had no chance of repeating his league-leading 14 touchdown receptions from 2015, but the Seahawks’ No. 1 receiver put up another solid campaign in 2016, with 94 catches, 1,128 yards, and seven scores.
It’s worth noting that Russell Wilson was also injured throughout the season, so Baldwin’s numbers could conceivably increase with a healthy Wilson under center.
In Baldwin, fantasy owners get a low-end WR1 whose role is secure playing with one of the better passers in the NFL. You can’t ask for much more than that in the third round.
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