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Published: April 12, 2017 at 12:23 p.m.

First-round NFL draft fantasy studs

Whether you're the general manager of an NFL franchise or the owner of a fantasy football team, there's nothing quite like hitting a home run in the first round of your draft. It can often be the difference between a team that competes for a league championship, or one that struggles to keep its head above .500 ... just ask the Los Angeles Rams (Jared Goff) and the Dallas Cowboys (Ezekiel Elliott) after what went down in the 2016 NFL Draft. So, one week after looking at the biggest first-round fantasy busts in the NFL draft since 2000, let's examine which teams found statistical gold and might have turned the fates of both their own franchises and fantasy football owners alike.

17 Photos Total

  • Shaun Alexander, RB, Seattle Seahawks (2000) 17

    Al Messerschmidt/Associated Press

    Shaun Alexander, RB, Seattle Seahawks (2000)

    The No. 19 overall selection in the draft, Alexander started his career behind Ricky Watters but took over as the lead back as an NFL sophomore and ran with it. From 2001-2005, he averaged 1,501 rushing yards and an impressive 19 total touchdowns. That included a 2005 season that saw him rush for an NFL-best 1,880 yards with a then-NFL-record 28 total touchdowns, not to mention 361.8 fantasy points.

  • LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers (2001) 16

    Al Golub/Associated Press

    LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers (2001)

    If there were a fantasy football Mount Rushmore, Tomlinson would be a part of it. He rushed for 1,100-plus yards in each of his first eight seasons, including five with 1,400-plus, and averaged 17 total touchdowns during that time. In 2006, L.T. led the league with 1,815 rushing yards and found the end zone an NFL-record 31 times to finish with 416.3 fantasy points. He was simply a fantasy football machine.

  • Jeremy Shockey, TE, New York Giants (2002) 15

    Al Messerschmidt/Associated Press

    Jeremy Shockey, TE, New York Giants (2002)

    The first round of the 2002 NFL Draft was loaded with busts on the offensive side of the football, but Shockey was able to avoid that label with what was a nice career. He finished third in fantasy points among tight ends as a rookie, which is quite a feat at the position, and ranked no worse than 11th in his first six seasons when he played at least 14 games. Shockey finished his NFL tenure with over 6,100 yards.

  • Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans (2003) 14

    Scott Boehm/Associated Press

    Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans (2003)

    The first round of this draft birthed a few good fantasy players like Carson Palmer (No. 1) and Larry Johnson (No. 27), but no one made a bigger impact than Andre Johnson. He posted 1,100-plus yards seven times and went over the 1,400-yard mark four times. A PPR machine, Johnson caught 100-plus passes five different times. He also recorded five top-12 fantasy wideout finishes, including four in the top 10, from 2008-2013.

  • Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals (2004) 13

    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals (2004)

    The 2004 NFL Draft featured a boatload of solid fantasy players in the first round, including the likes of Philip Rivers (No. 4), Ben Roethlisberger (No. 11) and Steven Jackson (No. 24), but Fitzgerald has been the best of the bunch. The future Hall of Famer has put up 1,000-plus yards eight times, has nine top-20 fantasy finishes among wideouts, and he's remained fantasy relevant even as he's gotten into his 30s.

  • Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (2005) 12

    David Stluka/Associated Press

    Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (2005)

    What do Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Troy Williamson and Mike Williams have in common? All of them were drafted ahead of Rodgers in 2005. Seems insane now, right? Few fantasy quarterbacks have been more consistent or productive since 2008, when Rodgers took over for the immortal Brett Favre in Green Bay. In fact, no one scored more fantasy points (380) a season ago.

  • Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans Saints (2006) 11

    David Stluka/Associated Press

    Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans Saints (2006)

    This one can be argued forever, because the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft didn't feature a single player who became a massive fantasy superstar. Bush was an absolute PPR machine for fantasy fans, putting up 40 or more catches seven times including four seasons with 50-plus. He even had 88 catches as a rookie, which is quite the feat. The USC product also rushed for 1,000-plus yards twice (2011, 2013) in the pros.

  • Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings (2007) 10

    G. Newman Lowrance/Associated Press

    Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings (2007)

    The first round of this draft featured several fantasy stars, including Calvin Johnson (No. 2) and Marshawn Lynch (No. 12), but Peterson has been the best. He's rushed for 1,200-plus yards seven times, including 2,097 yards (2012) less than a year after a major knee injury. Peterson, who has rushed for 97 touchdowns in his Hall-of-Fame career, has also finished in the top 10 in fantasy points among backs eight times.

  • Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans (2008) 9

    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans (2008)

    The No. 24 overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, Johnson made an immediate fantasy impact with 1,228 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns as a rookie. He would be even better as a sophomore, putting up 2,006 yards on the ground with 16 total touchdowns while finishing first in fantasy points (340.9) at the position. Overall, CJ2K has been a top-20 fantasy running back six different times with three top-10 ranks.

  • Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (2009) 8

    Paul Jasienski/Associated Press

    Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (2009)

    You can look up and down the first round of the 2009 draft, and you'll be hard pressed to find a true fantasy superstar. Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick, has been the most productive for fantasy fans. Since 2011, he has averaged 4,584 passing yards and 28 touchdown strikes. That includes an impressive 2011 campaign that saw him throw for 5,038 yards with 41 scores that resulted in a career-best 343.32 fantasy points.

  • Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys (2010) 7

    James D. Smith/Associated Press

    Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys (2010)

    A total of 23 teams passed on Bryant in the 2010 NFL Draft, but he'd be worth the wait for the Cowboys and fantasy footballers alike. He's recorded 1,200-plus yards and scored double-digit touchdowns in three of the five seasons where he's played at least 13 games, and he's put up at least eight touchdowns in all but two of his NFL campaigns. Bryant will again be a top-10 fantasy receiver in 2017 fantasy drafts.

  • Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers (2011) 6

    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers (2011)

    This could have also been Julio Jones, who has made every bit as big an impact as Newton in the world of fantasy football. I went with the Panthers quarterback because he's ranked in the top four in fantasy points among all players four times in his six NFL seasons. That includes a 2015 campaign that saw him lead the league in points. Jones might pass him over time, but for now I'd go with Newton in this draft class.

  • Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (2012) 5

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (2012)

    The first round of the 2012 draft looked to have a ton of potential fantasy stars, but things didn't go as planned for the likes of Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson and Justin Blackmon (among others). Luck has had more luck (?) than the rest, as he's made good on statistical expectations with four top-10 finishes among quarterbacks including a trio of top-five ranks. Luck will be a top-60 selection in 2017 drafts.

  • DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans (2013) 4

    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans (2013)

    I bet there's a large percentage of NFL general managers that would love a do-over in the first round of this draft, because the number of busts is enormous. The best of the class, at least in terms of offensive skill players, has been Hopkins. While he did take a step back last season with Brock Osweiler under center, Nuk has still averaged over 1,100 yards and scored a combined 23 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the pros.

  • Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, New York Giants (2014) 3

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, New York Giants (2014)

    The first round of the 2014 draft features some solid fantasy wideouts, but none has been better than Beckham Jr. in terms of his entire collection of work. Despite missing the first four games of his rookie year, he still finished fifth in fantasy points at his position and has finished no worse than fifth in each of his first three years at the NFL level. OBJ has also scored 35 touchdowns in just 43 games. Wow.

  • Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams (2015) 2

    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams (2015)

    It's ironic that the two best fantasy players picked in the first round of this draft thus far, Gurley and Melvin Gordon, are now both in Los Angeles. I went with the former because he's combined to finish higher of the two in fantasy points since their rookie campaigns. Gordon or even Marcus Mariota or Amari Cooper could pass Gurley for this crown as time passes, but for now I give the edge to the Georgia product.

  • Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys (2016) 1

    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys (2016)

    What's that commercial ... this is the biggest no brainer in the history of mankind? Elliott went off for a league-high 1,631 rushing yards with 16 total touchdowns and an impressive 293.4 fantasy points during his rookie season. Heck, he finished with more fantasy points than all but five quarterbacks! In an offense that is perfect for him to shine in the stat sheets, Zeke will be a top-three pick in 2017.

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