There's an old fantasy football saying that "you can't win your league in the first round, but you can lose it". The idea is that for your early picks, you should focus most of your energy on eliminating downside risk and avoiding busts. As long as your first few picks are productive contributors, you should be able to get enough value late in the draft to contend for titles. But if your early-round picks turn into giant goose eggs there's little hope of taking home a title.
It's important to note that of course you can neither win nor lose your league in the first round. Plenty of teams that drafted David Johnson last year still won it all thanks to later pickups of guys like Lamar Jackson and Chris Godwin. Similarly, plenty of teams drafted Christian McCaffrey only to miss the playoffs entirely. Fantasy teams start 8-10 players in any given week and there's only so much any one of those players can do to move the needle one way or another.
But to whatever extent the statement can be evaluated, I think it is maximally wrong. Good first-round picks go much further toward winning you a title than bad picks go to costing you one. Here's why.
Player Value Increases Exponentially
Most people these days have heard of the "normal distribution". For many traits, observed results tend to cluster around the average with extremely high results about as common as extremely low results. When you graph a normal distribution, you get the famous "bell curve". Here's what that looks like:
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