Who is the First Pick in Fantasy Football 2023 Drafts?

Last Updated: Aug 2, 2023

If you’re entering any fantasy football draft with a predetermined strategy, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. However, if you have the first overall pick, you are at least in control of the first domino.

For example, if you want to implement a zero-RB strategy, it doesn’t work in your favor if a healthy number of your opponents are as well. Each strategy has its limitations and should only be used depending on the flow of the draft.

With 22 picks until you select again after the 1.01 pick in a 12-team league, it helps to be cerebral about how to proceed with your 2.12 and 3.01 picks. Fantasy football is, like anything in life, as complicated as you make it, so there’s no harm in picking with your gut, winging it, or just targeting your favorite players.

But if we want to take our strategies a step further, we need to consider your fantasy football league’s starting lineup, scoring system (PPR, half-PPR, or non-PPR), the average draft position (ADP), and positional scarcity. Perhaps it’s best to view all that as the basis of what goes into picking with your gut.

In this article, I will be focusing on the first five picks — or five rounds — so 1.01, 2.12, 3.01, 4.12, and 5.01.

Who to Draft With the No. 1 Pick

In standard (non-PPR) scoring, the choice for the first pick in fantasy football drafts should be crystal clear: Christian McCaffrey. In 2022, he was second in RB non-PPR scoring (271.4 points, 16 points per game). In PPR, I prefer Justin Jefferson who scored 368.7 PPR points (21.7 PPG)

McCaffrey is a three-down back who contributes significantly as a runner and pass-catcher. He plays in a run-first offense that, in a recent Caps Off Podcast clip, Brian Burns discussed how Kyle Shanahan’s offense is the most difficult offense to game plan against and their blocking schemes are unorthodox.

To be clear, I believe your typical fantasy league has only two serious options: McCaffrey or Jefferson. If you happen to play in a TE-premium league, then you take Travis Kelce.

And if you check my superflex or 2QB rankings, I’m still going with McCaffrey.

Why? Usage.

McCaffrey, when healthy, is the best running back in football. That “when healthy” caveat is a concern, but injury risk is true of any running back. At age 27, the 49ers will keep him heavily involved, as he produced 1,210 yards from scrimmage and 10 total TDs in 11 games.

Jefferson, in PPR, is the most popular choice to hear his name called first on draft day after leading all receivers in fantasy scoring last year. However, this isn’t a slam dunk pick at all, and to construe it as such ignores all recent history.

In 2022, Tyreek Hill scored 20.1 PPG, plus Davante Adams (19.7 PPG) and Stefon Diggs (18.9 PPG) weren’t far behind either. Cooper Kupp, although he only played in 9 games, averaged 22.4 PPG. That’s four players all within about two points per game of Jefferson.

Any of those players and more have a viable shot to be the top receiver in 2023. That said, targets have to be the tiebreaker.

The Vikings may pass the ball even more with Dalvin Cook gone and without Adam Thielen, which frees up more targets for Jefferson. Hill has to compete with Jaylen Waddle; Adams no longer has Derek Carr; Diggs turns 30 this year; and Kupp could probably repeat his 2021 season, but I’m worried about Matthew Stafford and the Rams.

In half-PPR, I do believe it’s a legit coin flip between McCaffrey and Jefferson. The Vikings star probably gets the nod for me as the concerns at quarterback for the 49ers are a slight enough risk to push me toward the Vikings stud receiver.

No. 1 Pick in Rounds 2 and 3 (2.12 & 3.01)

From now on, we’ll be focusing on PPR leagues, as the many league formats and scoring systems create too many caveats.

The best value — if he’s fallen to you — is Patrick Mahomes. Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts offer good value as well, but it would be preferable to find a better value at a different position.

At running back, your best realistic options are Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, Breece Hall, or Rhamondre Stevenson. Of those three, Henry is the choice given that he’s scored at least 10 touchdowns every year since 2018.

At wide receiver, we’re again seeking value in players like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Garrett Wilson, and Waddle. While I love the upside of all three players, Wilson has the most upside and actually out-targeted St. Brown (147 to 146) which is incredible as a rookie with the abysmal quarterbacks in use last year by the Jets.

Ideally, after three rounds, we want one RB and two WRs or two RBs and one WR. After three rounds, I would love to have McCaffrey, Henry, and Wilson.

No. 1 Pick in Rounds 4 and 5 (4.12 & 5.01)

Anyone can have a good first three rounds of a fantasy football draft because the picks more or less fall in your lap and there are no wrong answers among the game’s superstars. In Rounds 4 and 5, managers can begin to flex their expertise.

By the end of Round 5 at the No. 1 spot, these are the recommended roster constructions:

  • 2 RB, 3 WR
  • 3 RB, 2 WR
  • 2 RB, 2 WR, Kelce
  • Mahomes, 2 RB, 2 WR

I would prefer to fade tight end and quarterback unless I can land Kelce or Mahomes, respectively. I understand that through the 60 picks of the first five rounds, more than one QB and TE will be drafted.

With that in mind, in most scenarios, I’ll likely be picking a RB and WR in Rounds 4 and 5.

At running back, we’re hoping to see names like Aaron Jones or Kenneth Walker III, but it’s more likely that Miles Sanders, Dameon Pierce, and J.K. Dobbins will be available. Dobbins is the choice because he plays in Baltimore’s run-leaning offense that should be playing with a lead more often than Carolina or Houston.

At wide receiver, it’s possible Amari Cooper, Keenan Allen, Calvin Ridley, DeAndre Hopkins, and Terry McLaurin will be available. In this group, I prefer Hopkins, who should be a target machine in Tennessee as I’m also not a big believer in Treylon Burks.

Final Thoughts Picking First Overall

The takeaways here should be to maintain a balanced roster and manage risk. Through five rounds, it’s important to not go too heavy in any one position.

By drafting a quarterback or tight end in the first five rounds, you give yourself fewer chances to secure studs at running back and wide receiver.

There are always emerging waiver wire options throughout the season; however, when you factor in injuries and bye weeks, you simply need more good RBs and WRs because you have to start two RBs, three WRs, and a flex.

By drafting a quarterback or tight end early, the slight edge at that position can be quickly erased with any misstep in the production of your running backs and wide receivers.

My ideal situation is to have two RBs and three WRs heading into Rounds 6 and 7. There, I’m hoping to land the right value at quarterback and maybe a tight end if the right one falls in my lap.


Matt De Lima

Matt is a sports content editor at The Game Day with more than 10 years experience in the fantasy and betting spaces. He is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award finalist with previous experience working for Sports Illustrated, Full Time Fantasy, FFToolbox, 4for4, and RotoExperts. Born and raised in California, Matt now calls southern Maryland home. He is a Virginia Tech alumnus and a life-long 49ers, Lakers, and Dodgers fan.

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