Bell, Elliott, or Johnson: Who To Pick First?

We’ve all been there at least once before. You have the first pick in your fantasy draft, and aren’t sure what to do with it. Thankfully, there are a bevy of solid options to help jump-start your eventual league champion squad. Of the top available players, our fantasy experts have cut it down to a trio of running backs that are worthy of your pick:

Ahmadzai’s take: When on the field, Le’Veon Bell has been consistently great over the past three seasons. The dynamic back possesses a rare blend of power, speed, agility and vision and uses all of them to gash defenses over the course of the game. His ability to jump-cut in and out of holes is a sight to behold. His homerun ability has slightly dwindled over the last couple of seasons, but the highly-talented back has shown no signs of slowing down his production.

Of the three top options, Bell has the best weapons surrounding him. He has one of the top fantasy quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger, and a lethal receiver combo taking pressure off him with Antonio Brown and the returning Martavis Bryant. This not only allows Bell to run against softer defenses, but it also gives the 225-pound back a plethora of opportunities in the red zone that other runners may not get. He’s also deadly catching passes out of the backfield. His 75 receptions more than double Zeke’s total last season (32) and fell just short of Johnson’s (80) while playing in four fewer games. In a PPR-league, you can essentially chalk up double-digits for Bell every week solely based upon his work in the passing game.

Bell has shown that he can produce from a fantasy standpoint for four seasons now, while Johnson and Elliott are still unproven – but highly talented – commodities. When selecting first overall, it’s easier to side with the guy that has proven time and time again that he can get it done, all while still being in his athletic prime.

Fray’s take: Ezekiel Elliott is the answer you’re looking for between the aforementioned trio.

The second-year player out of Ohio State took the NFL by storm last year — as he led the league in rushing yards (1,631), and was third in rushing touchdowns (15). His 5.1 yards-per-carry mark was also superior to Bell’s (4.9) and Johnson’s (4.2). Elliott is simply superb from an acceleration standpoint. He’s proven to be adept when searching for a crease up front. Once he’s able to navigate the potential running lane, Elliott bursts through with considerable success.

Fantasy owners love the possibility of drafting an individual with big-play ability. Elliott is capable of taking it to the house on any given touch — as evidenced by the fact that he had 14 runs of at least 20 yards. This ranks Elliott No. 1 in the league within this category.

Dallas’ offensive personnel also caters towards Elliott having another monster season statistically. For one, the Cowboys possess the league’s best offensive line (and it isn’t very close). There were multiple times per game in which Elliott would explode into the second level without even being touched.

Signal-caller Dak Prescott has unquestionably garnered the respect of those across the league. His efficiency and effectiveness is on par with the best in the league. Couple that with the likes of Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Jason Witten, and opposing defenses will have plenty to account for. As such, teams will have to choose between stacking the box versus Elliott, or offering more coverage on the back end.

Look for Elliott to take advantage of these situations. He’s a year older, and has a firmer grasp on what an entire NFL season will entail. It’s also reasonable to think Elliott will improve upon his pass-catching numbers. A season ago, the rusher accrued 32 receptions for 363 yards and one touchdown.

Hoffman’s take: Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott have legitimate claims as the top running back in football, but from a fantasy perspective, neither comes close to David Johnson. In 2016, Johnson put together a historically great season, finishing with 1,239 rushing yards (7th), 16 rushing touchdowns (2nd), 80 catches (1st among running backs), 879 receiving yards (1st among running backs) and 4 receiving touchdowns. For those who don’t feel like doing the math, that’s 2,118 total yards and 20 touchdowns – not bad for a 25 year-old in only his second NFL season.

Despite his immense success in 2016, Johnson actually has room to improve. Thanks to a down year from Carson Palmer, defenses were able to key on Johnson with more defenders in the box, which resulted in his yards per carry average dropping from 4.6 in 2015 to 4.2 in 2016. With Palmer facing a prove-it year as the whispers regarding retirement get louder, Johnson should be the primary beneficiary of his quarterback’s improved play.

Most importantly, head coach Bruce Arians is fully aware that David Johnson is the team’s franchise cornerstone. In today’s era of running back committees as teams focus on limiting reps for star players, Johnson is the exception to the rule. The bellcow touched the ball at least 20 times in 12 of Arizona’s 16 games, and had more games with 30+ touches (3) than games with less than 15 (1).

Volume is of prime importance in the world of fantasy football, and when combining Johnson’s big play ability (as a receiver and rusher) with his lack of injury history, selecting him first in 2017 is a no-brainer.

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