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 title, or one that struggles to keep its head above .500 ... just ask the Bengals (John Ross) and Jaguars (Leonard Fournette) afte the 2017 NFL Draft.
So, let's examine which teams have found statistical gold (since 2000) and might have turned the fates of both their own franchises and fantasy owners alike.
Shaun Alexander, RB, Seattle Seahawks (2000): The No. 19 overall selection, Alexander started his career behind Ricky Watters but took over as the lead back as an NFL sophomore. From 2001-2005, he averaged 1,501 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns. That included a 2005 campaign that saw him rush for an NFL-best 1,880 yards with what was a then-NFL record 28 touchdowns.
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. In 2006, L.T. led the NFL with 1,815 rushing yards and scored an NFL-record 31 times. He was simply a fantasy machine.
Jeremy Shockey, TE, New York Giants (2002): The first round of the 2002 NFL Draft was loaded with offensive busts, but Shockey avoided that label. He finished third in fantasy points among tight ends as a rookie, which is quite a feat in itself, and ranked no worse than 11th in his first six years when he played at least 14 games. Shockey finished his career with over 6,100 yards.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans (2003): The first round of this draft included 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 times. He was one of the elite wideouts of his time.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals (2004): The 2004 NFL Draft featured a boatload of solid fantasy players in the first round, including Philip Rivers (No. 4), Ben Roethlisberger (No. 11), and Steven Jackson (No. 24). However, Fitzgerald has been the best of the bunch. He's had 1,000-plus yards nine times, has 10 top-20 fantasy finishes among wideouts and remains a huge asset.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (2005): What do Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Troy Williamson and Mike Williams all have in common? All of them were drafted ahead of Rodgers back 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.
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 fantasy superstar. Bush was a PPR machine for fantasy owners though, putting up 40 or more catches seven times in his career including four seasons with 50-plus. He had 88 receptions as a rookie, which is quite the feat, and had two 1,000-yard seasons.
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 of the bunch. He's rushed for 1,200-plus yards seven times, including 2,097 yards (2012) less than a year after a major knee injury. A.D. will go down as one of the greatest backs of his generation.
Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans (2008): The No. 24 overall selection, Johnson made an immediate 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. Overall, CJ2K has been a top-20 fantasy runner six different times with three top-10 ranks during his career.
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 of them all. Since 2011, he has averaged 4,564 passing yards with 28 scores. That includes a 2011 campaign that saw him throw for 5,038 yards with 41 touchdowns.
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. While his totals have decreased without Tony Romo, he did record 1,200-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns for three straight campaigns (2012-2014) and has scored eight or more times in five of his last seven seasons.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers (2011): I went with Newton ahead of Julio Jones because Newton has ranked in the top four in fantasy points among all players five times in seven NFL seasons. That includes a 2015 campaign that saw him lead the league in points. Jones might pass him over time (if he can be a more reliable option for owners), but for now I'd go with Newton as this class' best option.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts (2012): The first round of the 2012 draft fielded a ton of potential fantasy stars, but things didn't go as planned for Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson and Justin Blackmon (among others). Luck has had more luck (?) than the rest so far, as he's made good on statistical expectations with four top-10 finishes at quarterback. Let's all hope that bum shoulder is 100 percent soon.
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 offensive player in this class has been Hopkins, however. Despite a statistical hiccup in 2016, Hopkins has still produced an average of 90 catches, 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns in the last four seasons.
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, New York Giants (2014): The first round of the 2014 draft featured some solid fantasy wideouts, but none better than Beckham Jr. If you look at his per game numbers for a full season, the L.S.U. product has averaged 107 receptions, 1,506 yards and 13 touchdowns. Barring setbacks in his return from an injured ankle, OBJ figures to be a PPR first-round pick in 2018.
Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams (2015): It's a fun coincidence 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. The former is coming off a massive season with 2,093 scrimmage yards and 19 total touchdowns, and he's now been a top five fantasy running back in two of his first three NFL seasons.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys (2016): 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 325.4 PPR points in his rookie season. Heck, he finished with more fantasy points than all but five quarterbacks! After losing six games to a suspension as a sophomore, look for Elliott to rebound.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (2017): This might have been Deshaun Watson had he not missed significant time due to an injured knee, but instead it goes to Fournette. While he missed three games as a rookie, he still led all first-round rookies in PPR points. He also averaged 17.7 PPR points per game, which ranked seventh among all running backs overall.