Fantasy Football: First-Round Picks According to Madden NFL 24

Fantasy Football: First-Round Picks According to Madden NFL 24

On the eve of the global release of Madden NFL 24, we wanted to examine which players Madden would consider first-round assets in fantasy football drafts. 

For the purpose of this exercise we went with a 12-team league and a full-point PPR scoring system. We ran 10 separate simulations, each starting at the first week of the preseason, with injuries turned on and no adjustments made to depth charts or playbooks.

The results are as follows, and some figure to surprise you.

1. Cooper Kupp - WR, Rams

Average Fantasy Points: 334

We weren't sure what to expect when undertaking this experiment, but the simulations surprisingly mimicked the consensus fantasy football strategy used today -- target the truly high-end receivers early and mix in some targets with a capable ceiling later in the first round.

Kupp easily put together the best figures simulation-to-simulation, finishing either tied for the league lead in touchdowns -- or at minimum top-3 -- five separate times. He also recorded almost 1,800 receiving yards on at least three different occasions and crossed the 90-reception threshold every single time. At 96 overall, Kupp is tied for the fourth best wideout at launch, and he clearly represents one of the most potent red-zone threats in Madden NFL 24.

2. Jonathan Taylor - RB, Colts

Average Fantasy Points: 318

The No. 2 and 3 fantasy football targets according to Madden were truly neck-and-neck, with Taylor narrowly winning out. Five separate seasons with at least 15 touchdowns gave the Colts running back a tiny leg up over the next player on the list, and a surprising difference in the reception numbers of said player ultimately pushed him down.

Taylor averaged only 34 receptions per season to begin his NFL career, and the third-year back copied that stat almost 1-to-1 across the 10 simulations, averaging 32 catches. JT nearly recorded a full receiving touchdown more than any of his simulated colleagues in the backfield.

With just an 89 overall rating, Jim Irsay's least favorite tailback is one of the lowest rated players among those Madden suggests are worthy of a top-5 selection.

3. Josh Jacobs - RB, Raiders

Average Fantasy Points: 312

Well, Madden sure isn't worried about a holdout. The Raiders running back was easily the most consistent ball carrier across all simulations, averaging 1,650 rushing yards per season with an eye-popping high-water mark of 1,989 yards. Very rarely did the simulations reflect modern target figures for running backs, as Jacobs averaged 53.5 catches over the past two years for Las Vegas but never cracked 35 in any of the simulated run-throughs.

Perhaps more impressive than nearly hitting the 2,000-yard mark? In one variation, Jacobs tallied 1,437 rushing yards on just 205 carries -- good for a season-long average of 7.0 yards per carry! That would be plenty productive enough to make even the Raiders offense a true juggernaut.

4. Travis Kelce - TE, Chiefs

Average Fantasy Points: 280

While Kupp was consistently Madden's top overall target, Kelce didn't lag behind much, recording at least 10 receiving touchdowns in all 10 simulations. The veteran tight end was really only hampered by his inability to consistently pile together massive yardage figures, as he topped 1,300 receiving yards just twice despite doing that in three of the past five seasons with the Chiefs. Since this is a fantasy exercise after all, we put Kelce No. 4 due to his sheer positional advantage, as no other tight end came within 100 points of the 33-year-old at any point.

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense -- to no one's surprise -- was easily one of the best across each simulation, but it was a bit jarring to see just how many different targets became fantasy-relevant. Whether there were a few 1,000-yard seasons from Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Kadarius Toney -- and even a surprise 80-1,121-5 appearance from Richie Grant -- the Chiefs' simulations were true to form in terms of spreading the ball around.

5. Justin Jefferson - WR, Vikings

Average Fantasy Points: 276

We're entering the "pick your poison" part of the fantasy draft, as three players were all relatively close in value.

The 99 overall receiver on Madden NFL 24 was glaringly not as dominant as his real-life counterpart, with the simulated Jefferson's highest yardage mark being just 1,369 receiving yards and him putting up 10-plus touchdowns in just one of the final simulations. My assumption was that Kirk Cousins played every Madden game as if it was in prime time, but in fact the veteran Pro Bowler routinely finished top-10 in both passing yards and touchdowns thrown. So what gives?

If you really want to grab one of the "steals" of our Madden simulation, 77 overall No. 2 wide receiver K.J. Osborn was an absolute fiend in the virtual red zone, with six separate simulations resulting in the obscure target notching 10-plus touchdowns, and on three different occasions outright leading the league in touchdowns caught. So much for ratings, right?

6. Derrick Henry - RB, Titans

Average Fantasy Points: 271

Henry's single-simulation best of 22 rushing touchdowns was the highest mark we saw during the entire process, but the power back also had 11 or fewer scores in six other simulations, making it one of the largest swings in any counting category.

The All-Pro ball carrier somewhat surprisingly held his own with well-known pass-catching options like Austin Ekeler, averaging 20 receptions and 215 receiving yards per simulation. A consistent yardage producer and touchdown brute like Henry might not a clear top-5 pick, but he's a staple in fantasy lineups regardless.

7. Lamar Jackson - QB, Ravens

Average Fantasy Points: 394

A quarterback going in the first round might be sacrilegious in fantasy drafts with your friends, hence why Jackson fell to the No. 7 spot. Still, if you're guaranteed 390 points on your fantasy team, isn't that worth a high selection? Just for some context, Patrick Mahomes finished with 417.4 fantasy points in ESPN scoring systems last year with a line of 5,250 passing yards, 41:12 TD:INT ratio and 358 rushing yards to go along with four rushing touchdowns. Provided the production is guaranteed, that's well worth a first-round pick.

Jackson never got close to Mahomes' 2022 passing figures in any simulation, but he was reliably the top rushing quarterback in Madden -- with a peak of 976 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground! That rushing production made Jackson easily the top fantasy quarterback, ahead of Josh Allen (366) and Mahomes (364). It's worth pointing out that Joe Burrow, who wasn't tracked during this exercise, was routinely was one of the highest rated passers.

8. Breece Hall - RB, Jets

Average Fantasy Points: 261

If not for a seven-week injury in the final simulation, Hall might have pushed Henry for a top-5 spot. This next tier of players all had significant injuries at one point or another across the 10 simulations, so there will be no arguments from us if you choose someone else instead.

Hall finished top-5 in rushing yards just twice, but he was always at least top-7 in that department and -- more importantly -- was an absolute wrecking ball in the red zone, with six seasons of 14 touchdowns or more. Factor in the third best receiving workload tracked in this article and the second-year back represents one of the best virtual fantasy values in relation to his actual ADP, which sits in the fourth round.

9. CeeDee Lamb - WR, Cowboys

Average Fantasy Points: 247

The Madden Ratings Adjustor is notoriously a Cowboys fan and routinely -- and inexplicably -- gives his team the best ratings. At least in this case, though, we actually think this isn't too bad a landing spot.

Lamb missed almost an entire season in one of these simulations, but he still averaged 86 catches, 1,150 yards and 7.5 touchdowns. The talented wideout had three separate seasons with 10-plus touchdowns, but given that Dak Prescott was routinely one of the best quarterbacks in the 10 simulations -- as noted, inexplicable -- the extra production was often spread around between Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup, who each had multiple top-10 seasons among Madden wide receivers.

10. Austin Ekeler - RB, Chargers

Average Fantasy Points: 247

Ekeler missed a total of 16 games in simulations, but in this case spread out across two seasons. That obviously ends up being a critical factor in this exercise, but not too unlike the one presented in real life given the 28-year-old's absurd workload over the past two campaigns.

Much like the true version of the diminutive back, virtual Ekeler was a dominant touchdown machine with 13.5 on average, and he was also Madden's second best pass-catching threat -- 25 receptions, 226 yards per simulation -- behind Taylor. 

Ekeler is currently going around the fifth pick in 2023 fantasy football drafts, but his ADP has been fading somewhat due to reservations about his health having compiled 587 touches since the 2021 season. Does Madden know something we don't?

11. Stefon Diggs - WR, Bills

Average Fantasy Points: 255

Diggs averaged more fantasy points than a handful of those above him, but part of that is because he stayed healthy across all the simulations.

The consistent playmaker was never really a target fiend, averaging just 90.5 receptions per simulation, but he consistently picked up chunk yards -- 1,152 yards on average -- and never scored fewer than seven touchdowns in a virtual campaign. Diggs did not achieve any major fantasy peaks like the other players drafted above him, but you're happy to get a reliable option like him in fantasy drafts, virtual or otherwise.

12. Chris Olave - WR, Saints

Average Fantasy Points: 239

We didn't anticipate Olave would need to be tracked, but after a few simulations it became clear that the dynamic second-year target was a favorite of Madden.

A tough seven-week injury impacted the sample size, but Olave actually led the NFL in receiving yards on two separate occasions and finished with fewer than 82 receptions just once in seasons in which he played all 17 games. For an 84 overall Madden receiver and with a quarterback in Derek Carr who really only peaked once in terms of significant production, it was an impressive feat to document. Olave's ADP has him close to pick No. 22 in fantasy drafts, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him among the league's top-drafted wideouts by the time Madden NFL 25 is released.

Next on the List

DeVonta Smith - WR, Eagles

Average Fantasy Points: 242

Bijan Robinson - RB, Falcons

Average Fantasy Points: 228

Saquon Barkley - RB, Giants

Average Fantasy Points: 208

Biggest Surprise

Tyler Boyd - WR, Bengals  

In three different simulations Boyd finished with 16 or more touchdowns.

Notable Omissions

The following players were not tracked due to poor performance.

Ja'Marr Chase - WR, Bengals

Davante Adams - WR, Raiders

A.J. Brown - WR, Eagles

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Joe Bartel
Joe Bartel is RotoWire's Operations Specialist and football contributor among many other things. When not at the office, he's probably playing a variety of Gen 4 console games or rooting on his beloved Green Bay Packers.
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