Vote Odell Beckham Jr. for Fantasy Football’s No. 1 Pick in 2016.
Who should be the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football drafts in 2016? Debates on the topic have been swirling though out the fantasy community over the last handful of months. In the spirit of the upcoming United States presidential election, let’s explore the most common arguments supporting some of the top candidates for this year’s premier selection. By the end of this debate, I hope to convince you the best choice is a player you may not have even considered.
Le’Veon Bell – The Incumbent
Le’Veon Bell has produced at a fantasy RB1 level. Bell boasts a central role in an offense consisting of some of the NFL’s best offensive weapons. The talented back should be dashing through daylight courtesy of Pro Football Focus’ tenth-ranked offensive line (2015). The line features rising stars like guard David DeCastro and offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum and will see star center Maurkice Pouncey return from a leg injury that cost him the entire 2015 season.
Bell is talented, no doubt. When healthy and gracing the field, he has posted a position-leading 82.7-percent Opportunity Share. However, with a laundry list of foot and knee injuries dating back to 2013, his ability to stay on the field when you need him most is cause for concern.
After tearing his MCL and PCL in Week 8 of the 2015 season, his readiness for the start of the 2016 season remains shrouded in mystery. His apparent status as a top target for defensive assassins (finger pointing at you Vontaze Burfict) does not help the cause.
Displaying superb efficiency in posting 92.7-rush yards per game (No. 2 in the league) and a league-best catch rate of 92.3-percent, Bell is worth the gamble at picks 3-5, but he is too risky to warrant a top two selection, let alone the No. 1 pick.
Antonio Brown – Making Fantasy Football Great Again?
The next candidate for fantasy football’s top honors comes riding the new wave of thinking. A Donald Trump-esque “make fantasy football great again” mindset of drafting wide receivers early and often claims these elite pass catchers are the lifeblood of your team. Statistically, it is hard to argue against Antonio Brown.
In 2015, Antonio Brown finished with 193 targets (2nd in the league), 136 receptions (1st), 1,834 receiving yards (2nd) and 10 touchdowns (7th). Brown achieved these numbers despite his QB/campaign manager Ben Roethlisberger missing four full games. In those four games, Brown squeaked out 17 catches for 235 yards and zero TDs behind putrid play from backup QB Michael Vick and third-string QB Landry Jones. Having been sacked 439 times in 171 career games (an average of over 2.5 sacks per game), Roethlisberger has never been afraid of contact.
If the 34-year-old QB were to miss time in 2016, last season painted a clear picture of what to expect from his top receiver. Also worth noting in regard to Antonio Brown: When he explodes, he goes nuclear in a manner capable of carrying a team to victory in any given week. But he also comes with volatile variance, as evidenced by his up and down performances in the heart of the 2015 playoff push when fantasy owners need their No. 1 pick to deliver the most. In weeks 12, 14 and 16, he gave fantasy owners figures with Trump-like complacency. One week fantasy footballers were winning because of Brown, and the next week they were losing–in part–due to a lackluster performance from the mercurial wide out.
Odell Beckham – Feeling The Bern
This leads us to the hero of our story. The independent. The candidate who many consider the long shot of these three players to return value as fantasy football’s top selection in 2016: Odell Beckham Jr. Despite missing the first four games of his rookie year in 2014 with a hamstring injury and being suspended for a game last year, OBJ finished each of his first two professional seasons as a top five wide receiver in fantasy. He has never had a pro season with less than 1,300 receiving yards or 12 touchdowns, and coming into his third season, a season many draft analysts consider the breakout year for WRs, Beckham is the unrivaled top target for Eli Manning and the best offensive weapon for the New York Giants.
Odell Beckham Jr may not have even reached his professional ceiling yet, but he only had three weeks last season with single digit fantasy points; his floor has proven to be extremely high. Eli Manning only passed for 571 yards and three touchdowns in those isolated games in which Beckham underperformed expectations, but Manning has been otherwise productive in the face of huge volume over the last few seasons. Manning’s play, coupled with the lack of a competent defense and run game, aided Beckham in his ascension to 190.2 fantasy points from Weeks 8-15 (see below), an average of 27 fantasy points per game in this set of seven games (including a Week 11 bye). Unlike Antonio Brown’s more fragile QB, Manning has not missed a game since making his first career start on November 21, 2004. Following in the footsteps of his legendary brother, Peyton Manning, who once had a consecutive streak of 227 games played, Eli Manning leads the NFL with 194 consecutive starts for active quarterbacks.
The Giants scored only five rushing touchdowns in 2015 behind a four-back rotation of 30-year old Rashad Jennings, passing down specialist Shane Vereen, stone-handed 2.9 YPC runner Andre Williams and undrafted Orleans Darkwa. With fifth-round rookie Paul Perkins not looking like a significant upgrade, the team may have no other option but to continue a pass-heavy approach in 2016. With a plus-22.0 Production Premium (#11 in the league) and a 21.1-percent Target Premium (#13) in 2015, Odell Beckham Jr has proven that he can be both productive and efficient given huge volume.
While Antonio Brown’s efficiency numbers were slightly lower in 2015, recording a plus-18.1 Production Premium (No. 16) and 12.9-percent Target Premium (No. 25) , this is not the genesis of my preference for Beckham. Rather, it is because Beckham is the far superior athlete when you compare their physical traits, superior to Brown in every workout metric. Beckham’s 10.63 Agility Score (97th-percentile) and 10.29 Catch Radius (94th-percentile) are elite compared to Brown’s 11.16 Agility Score (53rd-percentile) and 9.81 Catch Radius (16th-percentile). Additionally, while Brown could potentially lose targets a stacked core of pass-catchers, including fellow top pick candidate Le’Veon Bell, Beckham has less talented teammates to contend with and could easily ride his elite athleticism to top the NFL in Target Share at the wide receiver position.
Conclusion: Vote For Beckham
With Le’Veon Bell returning from injury under a shroud of uncertainty, he is too risky to invest in at the apex of the draft. While Antonio Brown has used superior route running and excellent hands to win at the NFL level despite being a relatively unathletic sixth-round draft pick, Odell Beckham has done the same as an uber-athletic first round pick. It is fair to wonder how long Brown can keep up this torrid fantasy point scoring pace as he and Ben Roethlisberger continue to age. I still consider Brown a worthy No. 2 pick in 2016, but I will continue to bang the drum for the power of youth and physicality while casting my vote for Odell Beckham Jr. as fantasy football’s No.1 pick in 2016.