Who should be the first pick in 2022 fantasy football drafts?

Which player should be the first pick in upcoming fantasy football drafts, and how do changes in league formats affect your strategy?

In a sea of almost infinite possibilities, determining who I should draft with the first pick in a fantasy football draft can come off as a daunting task. However, with some time, a cool head, and some preparation, when on the clock, fantasy managers should have a road map of how to attack a draft and walk away with a championship-caliber team so long as all things break right.

Underdog Fantasy is the easiest way to play fantasy football. Click here to get up to $100 in bonus cash today when using promo code PFN.

Consider league settings when drafting first in fantasy football

Rather than just who, it’s more understanding why we draft players where we do. The majority of that comes down to not only projected volume and value, but also the league settings. Is this a 1QB draft where position players dominate the early round? Or is this a Superflex draft, where the positional scarcity of the position places more emphasis on locking down that ever-so-critical QB1 to anchor your team?

For the first point, let’s consider the league scoring. It goes without saying that when you take a player first overall, or in the first round in general, you are looking for a player that not only rarely comes off the field. They also need to be an integral component of the offense’s scheme, especially those who are heavily involved in the passing game.

Using last season as an example, amongst the top 60 running backs in PPR scoring, they averaged 0.62 fantasy points per rushing attempt. Down 0.05 PPR/att from the year prior. Even the best of the best (top 10 RBs) only averaged 0.67 PPR/att (-0.06 in 2021). Now, amongst those same 60 RBs, they averaged 1.53 points per target (+0.04) and 2.01 points per reception (+0.02), with the top 10 averaging 1.74 PPR/target(+0.15) and 2.20 per reception (+0.14).

By a wide margin, targets are more valuable. However, rushing volume establishes the floor for a running back, placing a high priority on guys who can do both. That instantly whittles down the player pool to a select few.

Superflex drafts will require a different strategy

We do see a shakeup in drafts once the setting is flipped over to Superflex leagues. While not the standard format, the growing popularity has made it vastly more common than even a few years ago.

Mock drafts are your friend here but also can be a curse. In my experience, leagues have more variance from draft to draft in Superflex leagues. While I love mock drafts and consider them an integral part of my preparation, they are guides, not hard and fast rules. There will be Superflex drafts where QBs slide. In others, you could see ten go in the first round. Your league mates will tell you how to handle the draft.

With that said, as the pacesetter, Josh Allen is my clear QB1 and is who I would draft with the first pick in a fantasy football Superflex draft. In 2020, Allen finished as the QB1 in fantasy and became just the third QB since 2014 to cross the 400-point threshold (405.2). He threw for 4,544 passing yards, had 421 rushing yards, and 45 touchdowns.

Then in 2021, Allen proved it was no fluke. He was once again the QB1 and became the first player in fantasy history with multiple 400-point seasons. Throwing for 4,407 yards with 36 passing TDs and 6 rushing TDs, Allen was a top-12 QB 11 times, with seven games inside the top three. Allen was the most consistent QB in fantasy while offering a substantial weekly upside.

I don’t see this changing, as the Bills are somehow even better. The Allen to Stefon Diggs connection is as lethal as it gets and one of the best, if not the best, QB/WR stack in the NFL.

Who should be the first pick in fantasy football drafts in 2022?

By and large, running backs are the safest pick you can make with the first pick. However, it is not always that way. The last time we saw a wide receiver as the 1.01 across the board was during Antonio Brown’s heyday.

While I cannot discount Cooper Kupp having another year like he did last year, if we did see the ceiling, along with Matthew Stafford’s aggravated throwing arm, even he would be a dubious first pick. Unless your league settings heavily favor receptions beyond the standard one-point in full PPR, the first pick, at a minimum, should likely be a running back.

As for who I feel should be the first pick in fantasy football drafts in 2022, that goes to Indianapolis Colts RB Johnathan Taylor. After the year he had in 2021, it’s difficult to pick another player.

The RB1 of 2021, Taylor finished second only to Najee Harris (381) in touches with 372 (21.9 per game). Rushing a staggering 332 times, Taylor ran for 1,811 yards on the ground (5.5 ypc), clearing Nick Chubb at No. 2 by 552 yards. It was the second-most rushing yards in a single season behind only Derrick Henry in 2020 (2,027) since DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,845 yards in 2014. Taylor found the end zone 18 times thanks to his league-leading 85 red zone carries.

We hit on targets and how important they are earlier, and while Taylor is not a staple in the passing game, he has more than enough volume to boost his already incredibly high fantasy floor. His 51 targets ranked 22nd amongst RBs and second on his team behind Nyheim Hines (54). Catching 40 passes, Taylor recorded 360 yards (13th) with 2 additional touchdowns. All in all, Taylor finished averaging 21.9 PPR/game, second only to Henry (eight games) with 24.2 PPR/game.

Can Taylor break a nearly 20-year-old curse?

Now, history is not on Taylor’s side. We have not seen a running back finish as the RB1 in consecutive seasons in Preist Holmes in 2002 and 2003. LaDanian Tomlinson nearly did it in 2006 but was beat out by the Seahawks’ great Shaun Alexander. In more recent times, Arian Forster was the RB1 in 2010, RB4 in 2011, and RB3 in 2012. Even Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and Christian McCaffrey failed to pull this off.

Given the outlook of the position as a whole in 2022, Taylor is the likeliest RB to finish as the RB1. Derrick Henry needs to show his foot injury and age have not slowed him down. Dalvin Cook could be the RB1 but needs to stay healthy and find his role in a new, more passing-centric offense. Austin Ekeler, while a picture-perfect fantasy asset in the modern game, will never be the focal point and needs to maintain a staggeringly high touchdown rate.

Then there is McCaffrey. Since 2018, McCaffrey has averaged 25.6 ppg while finishing as an RB2 or better in 90% of his games. In 2021, he scored 24+ points in four of his six outings. He is the closest we have seen to prime LT, but more than anyone else needs to just stay on the field. When healthy, I could argue no running back can hit the ceiling of McCaffrey in PPR as he will threaten, if not surpass, 100 targets.

He is my No. 2 overall player but does come behind Taylor for the top spot. When on the clock, if I have the first pick in a 1QB fantasy draft, Taylor is who I will select and my recommendation for who fantasy managers should select first in 2022.

Tommy Garrett is a Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read all of Tommy’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter: @TommyGarrettPFN.

FEATURED
PFN NEWSLETTER

Every day, get free NFL updates sent straight to your inbox!