Riskiest first-round picks: Lynch, McCoy, Luck, Beckham come with fantasy flop potential

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The cliché is you can’t win your league with your first pick but you can lose it. So we gathered the crew to give our takes on who we feel are the riskiest early picks in drafts this season.

Dalton Del Don says it's Marshawn Lynch: I want to be clear I’m mostly on board with every top-15 type pick this year, as while there isn’t a clear first pick like in the past, the top-tier seems solid throughout. But for the sake of this exercise, I’ll go with Lynch, who’s no doubt been a fantastic back, breaking 20+ tackles more than any other RB in football last season. He’s also quite obviously in a nice situation playing in Seattle. However, his current Yahoo ADP is 4.1, and spending that pick on a running back with his mileage while approaching 30 years old certainly carries some risk.

It seems silly to question someone who’s missed just one game over the past five seasons, but Lynch is now up to 2,220 career carries (including the postseason), totaling a whopping 1,060 over the last three years alone. History strongly suggests running backs at this stage of their careers will enter their decline phase and sometimes it happens steep and fast. Moreover, it’s tough to field an elite defense so many years in a row, and Seattle had to pay Russell Wilson, so its roster isn’t quite as deep. Except for tight end, where they made a major upgrade trading for Jimmy Graham, who’s one of the league’s better red-zone targets, which could cut into Lynch’s touchdowns.

I understand Lynch’s floor seems high, but with so much mileage while playing deep into the postseason so many years in a row, he’s hardly a sure thing at this stage of his career.

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Andy Behrens says it's C.J. Anderson: Just so we're clear from the start, your entire draft is loaded with risk. Every player in the NFL has the same floor: season-ending injury. It's a brutal game. All fantasy drafts involve risk/reward calculations at every turn. There is no safe pick. If you need a game with zero downside, I would recommend that you maybe go play Trivial Pursuit; someone has to lose, sure, but at least everybody learns a little something. And the risk of injury is vanishingly small.

If you forced me to call out one high-risk player from the early rounds in 2015 fantasy drafts, I suppose I'd have to take the running back with only a half-season of NFL usefulness to his credit. Anderson is positioned as the lead back in a high-yield offense, of course, and we all loved his story last year. But he built up equity with a coaching staff that's gone, and it's not as if he's a rare talent by NFL standards. Remember, Ronnie Hillman was living the Anderson story last year, before his mid-season injury. If you're assuming Anderson is suddenly a rock-solid established NFL rusher with an unbreakable grip on a featured role ... well, the league is a bit more complicated. We all like Anderson's ceiling in the Broncos offense, but he's not a lock to continue his November-December dominance.

If you're an experienced fantasy player, you've seen plenty of running backs rule the earth for 6 or 8 or 12 games, then disappear. Laurence Maroney, Jerome Harrison, Steve Slaton, et al. It happens. I hope that's not the case with Anderson, but it really wouldn't be much of a surprise. 

Brad Evans says it's LeSean McCoy: In terms of pool partying, McCoy ranks right up there with P-Diddy. However, on the field, he’s more aligned with Chris Johnson. The 27-year-old back is on the backside of his career. His tap-dancing routine behind the league’s best line (Philly), absent vision and deteriorating explosiveness explain why he dropped off significantly last year. Just over a third of his carries went for 1-yard or less and he ranked at or near the bottom in several analytics including breakaway percentage, elusive rating and yards per route run. It may only get uglier in Buffalo’s more unappealing environment.  

Shady is going from the top-ranked offensive line in run blocking to the league’s worst. Richie Incognito and John Miller are Band-Aids, but this is a highly suspect unit overall. So is the garbage Rex Ryan plans to trot out at quarterback. Matt Cassel, E.J. Manuel and Tyrod Taylor wouldn’t start on most rec league teams, let alone a pro franchise. Stacked boxes are sure to be the norm, a frightening prospect for an indecisive runner. Throw in a high odometer reading (1,808 career touches) and the fact he’s already dealing with a bum toe, and it’s plain to see why McCoy is THE riskiest commodity regardless of position in the early rounds -- expected high volume or not. 

Liz Loza says it's Odell Beckham Jr.: After missing the first four games of 2014, Beckham captured the nation’s attention with awe-inspiring grabs and head-spinning quickness. In just eleven starts, Beckham racked up over 1,300 yards and made 12 trips to the end zone. Averaging over 108 receiving yards per game, Beckham finished the season the fifth most productive fantasy player at the position. So why pump the brakes on the hype train?

First of all, there’s a chance he’ll see a decline in targets. Against all odds, Victor Cruz is expected to return from a knee injury that had him sidelined for the bulk of 2014. Plus, newly added pass-catching back Shane Vereen will also vie for looks.

Then there’s the issue of his health. We don’t like to talk about it, but OBJ is susceptible to hamstring soreness. Two tears in his left hammy kept him from playing last year. This year, a tweaked right hamstring has him taking it easy in camp. At 22-years-old this isn’t a major concern, but it is worth noting.

Beckham is, undoubtedly, one of the most talented receivers currently playing the game. He’s also relatively unproven. The upside of his reward comes with some obvious risk.

[Fantasy Draft Guide: Safest Bets | Busts; | Sleepers; | Breakout Candidates | Top Rookies]

Scott Pianowski says it's Andrew Luck: When I say Luck is a risky pick, I don’t mean that he’ll be a bad player. He’s been a star from the moment he stepped onto an NFL field, and last year he took it to superstar level. But you risk instant remorse when other name-brand quarterbacks slowly meander off the board at a snail’s pace, while you play catch-up at the critical RB and WR spots. 

Consider what your waiver wire probably looks like in the middle of the season - every running back with a pulse is rostered (and some without a pulse), wide receiver is mostly depleted . . . but there are credible streaming options at QB each and every week. Because a standard league requires just one starting quarterback, the replacement value is always going to be very high for them. It’s almost impossible to be stuck at this position, no matter when you want to attack the position. So why go after that with a lottery pick? 

Luck’s supporting cast has been upgraded, but he’s also unlikely to keep last year’s lofty touchdown rate (look at all those flips to a pair of ordinary tight ends, not to mention some backs and even linemen). The rushing totals could begin to slide downward as he becomes more experienced as a pocket quarterback, more mindful of avoiding hits and unnecessary contact. And if the Colts defense improves just a little bit (or the running game perks up), Luck’s attempts could also drop modestly. You go ahead and chase outlier seasons all you want. I remember what happened after Marino ’84, Manning ’04 and ’13 . . . good years, but not transcendent ones. (You can add Brady ’07 if you want, though it’s hard to blame a guy who got hurt in Week 1 the following year.)

Brandon Funston says it's Matt Forte: Forte's two best fantasy seasons were the past two, under the direction of pass-happy head coach Marc Trestman. With Trestman, Forte averaged 88.5 receptions, 32 more than he averaged in his five seasons before Trestman arrived. With new head coach John Fox looking to go with a much more run-heavy approach, that should be a concern for anyone considering Forte as a Round 1 selection. After all, Forte will be 30 in December, he's coming off his worst Yards Per Carry average (3.9) since '09 and there's a strong argument to be made that the Bears will trot out the worst run blocking offensive line in the league. Before Trestman, Forte had gone four consecutive seasons finishing no higher than ninth among RBs in fantasy points per game, and there's a good chance he falls back off the top shelf once again.