What happened to the first round of 2019 fantasy football drafts?

Mo Castillo

The first round of fantasy football drafts is where a manager builds the foundation of their roster. Sure, we’d all like the rights to the No. 1 pick, but whether you end up with a top-five selection or a late first-rounder, you usually expect you’ll be able to take a player who can anchor your roster. A player who can deliver a quality floor week in and week out.

It’s usually a given that whoever you pick in the first round, you’ll get some kind of special production not usually found in the later rounds.

So when we were on the clock leading up to the 2019 season, the majority of us felt pretty confident in the selections available to us.

Now, in January of 2020, we can look back and ask: What the hell happened to that first round?

Outside of a couple of players, the first round of 2019 fantasy drafts turned out to be a wealth of disappointment (including a couple of absolute busts).

Let’s run down the top-12 in terms of ADP to see what happened in a first round that, on paper, seemed so full of safe talent.

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (ADP 1)

After Saquon Barkley’s absolutely ridiculous rookie campaign, it makes sense that many fantasy managers trusted the young stud with the No. 1 overall pick in 2019. It’s not every day that a rookie runner delivers 2,028 total yards and 15 total touchdowns.

Unfortunately, managers expecting anything close to that level of elite production were let down.

Barkley started 2019 off with a bang, rushing for 120 yards against Dallas in Week 1 and then following that up with 107 yards and his first score in Week 2.

Then, a nightmare: Barkley was lost to a high ankle sprain in Week 3. He would go on to miss three games. Even with superhuman recovery time, fantasy managers were heartbroken to lose their first draft pick to injury. Barkley would return in Week 7, and even though he flashed, he delivered one too many weeks of subpar production late in the season.

Fantasy managers lucky enough and well-equipped enough to deal with his struggles (many of which could be blamed on an injury-riddled Giants offense) received a gift in the championship weeks, as the Barkley of old emerged to deliver week-winning performances against baby-soft matchups.

Sadly, it was probably too little, too late for most. Barkley ended up the 10th-most valuable running back in fantasy — a far cry from his No. 1 ADP.


Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (ADP 2)

Alvin Kamara was also in play for the No. 1 pick in the preseason. The dual-threat back’s 2018 was nothing short of extraordinary, as he came close to a 1,000-1,000 season and scored the most rushing touchdowns (14) of his career. The regression monster, however, struck across the board in 2019. Kamara would end up scoring just five rushing touchdowns and one (!) receiving TD. He also missed two weeks of action with injury.

After finishing 2018 the fourth-most valuable running back in half-PPR, Kamara finished 2019 outside of the top-10. It begged the question of whether he had recovered from the knee and ankle injuries that hampered him during the season, but hopefully, his Week 17 (11 rushes, 80 yards, two TDs; six catches, 30 yards) was an indication of a healthier Kamara who might come into 2020 with a draft-price discount.

Verdict - Fail

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (ADP 3)

We come to him at last. The absolute hero of the first round of 2019 fantasy drafts, Christian McCaffrey delivered on his ADP and then some. I can sit here and write for days about what McCaffrey did in 2019, but one number sticks out to me more than most: Four. That’s the number of games Run-CMC scored less than 20 half-PPR fantasy points in 16 weeks (two of those weeks were 19 points and 19.70, respectively) in 2019.

Think about that for a second; think about the kind of production it takes to score 20-plus points in 12 weeks, including over 24 points in the championship weeks.

1,387 rushing yards. 1,005 receiving yards. 19 total touchdowns. 20.75% of championship-winning teams in Yahoo leagues had Christian McCaffrey on their roster. 93.44% of teams with McCaffrey on their roster made the playoffs. There’s living up to ADP, and then there’s McCaffrey. He will undoubtedly be in the favorite to be 2020’s No. 1 overall pick.

Verdict - Win

Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers
Run-CMC singlehandedly won a lot of fantasy leagues in 2019. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (ADP 4)

Your opinion on Ezekiel Elliott might be a matter of perspective. On paper, Zeke lived up to his ADP —almost to a tee, in fact; he finished as the fourth-most valuable running back in Yahoo half-PPR leagues. Yet, everything but his rushing touchdown total was down across the board when compared to his 2018 season, but that touchdown total kept him afloat when the yardage totals weren’t there. Elliott also delivered strong outings Weeks 14 and 15 before the entire Dallas offense bottomed out in the fantasy championship.

Considering that, while most fantasy drafts were going on, Elliott was still on a beach somewhere locked in a contract dispute with the Cowboys, it’s impressive that he was able to deliver the season he did. That’s a win in my book.

Verdict - Win

DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans (ADP 5)

While Hopkins’ 2019 season wasn’t a disaster, it didn’t live up to expectations either. He delivered second-round value (finishing 15th overall, excluding QBs), but all of his numbers paled in comparison to his 2017 and 2018 totals, when he was the first and second overall scoring wideout, respectively.

He also had a string of outings from Week 2 to Week 6 when he delivered anything but WR1 production (he failed to record 100 yards receiving or a touchdown during that stretch). The likes of Chris Godwin and Cooper Kupp out-produced Hopkins — who finished fifth among wide receivers despite being the first one off the draft board in most Yahoo Fantasy leagues. I’m gonna have to give him a thumbs-down for 2019, when considering his draft cost.

Verdict - Fail

David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (ADP 6)

As we reach the middle of the first round, we also reach the biggest bust. This one hurts, especially considering that, from Weeks 1 through 6, DJ was delivering quality production. Things just went completely downhill from there.

We all know about the offseason hype. After a successful comeback season in 2018, much was made about David Johnson’s potential in a Kliff Kingsbury offense alongside exciting rookie quarterback, Kyler Murray.

Well, from Week 7 forward, Johnson became a complete non-factor in both fantasy and reality. Held back by knee and ankle injuries, Johnson was leapfrogged on the running back depth chart by Kenyan Drake, who delivered league-winning production Weeks 15 and 16.

Will the Cardinals stick with Johnson? That remains to be seen. The real question is, would you trust him in fantasy in 2020 and beyond?

Verdict - Fail

Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns (ADP 7)

This is not hyperbole: Probably the only thing that worked in the Cleveland Browns disaster of a 2019 season was Nick Chubb. Finishing as the seventh-most valuable running back in Yahoo Fantasy half-PPR and second in total rushing yards behind only Derrick Henry, Chubb was a pleasant surprise for fantasy managers looking for a workhorse at the bottom of the first round of drafts.

Unfortunately, Chubb’s ceiling was severely capped by his lack of use in the Browns’ passing game. Yet, even with the lack of PPR upside and Kareem Hunt’s presence, Chubb averaged 110.8 total yards per game and 5.0 rush yards per carry (he delivered seven 100-plus yard rushing games, including four 120-plus yard games). Considering many people were able to snag Chubb’s services at the end of the first round/top of the second round (including yours truly), it was a successful year for the Browns runner.

Verdict - Win

Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers (ADP 8)

Davante Adams scored 13 touchdowns in 2018 — second only to Antonio Brown for most TDs among WRs. He also caught 111 balls, so it made sense that he would be the second wideout off draft boards in 2019.

That investment went downhill quickly.

Hampered by a turf toe injury that caused him to miss four games, Adams disappointed immensely in 2019. His best game of the season came in Week 4, which is not what you want from your WR1 in fantasy. You’ll be scrolling down for a while to find Davante Adams on the list of the top wide receivers in half-PPR.

Verdict - Fail

James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP 9)

We’re getting into the failure section of the first round. James Conner’s injury history brought some risk to his draft investment, but his workload seemed secure alongside Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ potent offense.

And then Big Ben was lost for the season, and every weapon on the Steelers became severely downgraded. Conner was able to produce (Week 4 vs. Bengals, Week 6 @Chargers, Week 8 vs. Miami) in stretches early in the season, but he could not elude the injury bug once more, as shoulder and lower-leg injuries ultimately caused him to miss five games this season. He has yet to play a 16-game season in his career.

Verdict - Fail

Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets (ADP 10)

Le’Veon Bell’s Week 1 outing (17 rushes, 60 yards; six catches, 32 yards, 1 TD) proved to not be a sign of things to come. After holding out the entire 2018 season, Bell’s bust-risk was immense in 2019, but while it would be way too strong to call him a bust, Bell certainly didn’t live up to his first-round billing.

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In 15 games he averaged just 3.2 yards per rush and scored just one touchdown through the air. Whether held back by game-script, Sam Darnold missing time, or usage (or all of the above), Bell failed to finish as a top-15 fantasy RB in his first year with his new team.

Verdict - Fail

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (ADP 11)

Old reliable. Julio Jones, even at nearly 31 years of age, delivered another excellent season for fantasy managers. He would go on to collect his second-highest reception total (99) of the last four years, which helped him get to his third-place finish on the list of top wide receivers in half-PPR. Jones also delivered two league-winning outings in Weeks 15 and 16, even though they came against tough matchups (@San Francisco, vs. Jacksonville).

Like Chubb, Jones was able to produce even though his ceiling was capped — in Jones’ case, by his lack of touchdowns. In fact, among the top-five WRs, Jones is the only one who scored less than seven times. Considering he still finished above the likes of the aforementioned Hopkins, Keenan Allen, and Amari Cooper, Jones was a win for his fantasy managers at the end of the first round.

Verdict - Win

Michael Thomas, New Orleans (ADP 12)

Oh man, what a 12th pick. Michael Thomas’ record-breaking season (he broke Marvin Harrison’s single-season reception record with 149 catches) is proof that you can not only win a fantasy draft but a fantasy league no matter what draft pick you end up with. To put Thomas’ preposterous 2019 into perspective, he only scored single-digit fantasy points ONCE.

Thomas was on 20.28% of Yahoo Fantasy teams that won their titles in 2019. His unreal floor — he averaged a little over 9 grabs a game — has put Thomas in contention for not only a top-three draft pick in 2020 but the No. 1 overall pick as well.

Verdict - Win

How did your first-round pick work out in the 2019 fantasy season? Let us know in the comments below and hit us up @YahooFantasy!