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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fantasy Football: Who Deserves to be the #1 Pick?

By: Steve Zoladek
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It's nearly that time of the year again.  That time that most wives and girlfriends dread and husbands and boyfriends crave.  That time that nearly every avid football fan eagerly awaits.  When it is finally socially acceptable to start preparing, planning, thinking for the upcoming fantasy football season, and more importantly, their draft.
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When I finally started following the NFL closely in 2006, my dad let me join his league as a part of his team, and I was instantly hooked.  After many years of playing second-fiddle to him, I finally got my own team for the 2011-12 season.  Narrowly missing the playoffs, I made a run at both total points and a championship this past season, but ultimately fell short of both.  I ended up finishing third (a consolation prize of 250 jellybeans) and second in total points by just 30 points (which would have been a hefty 1200 jellybean payday and I was a hungry guy). Along with this league, I also play in a league with my friends for jellybeans, taking home second place and total points (grand total of 350 jellybeans).  In my opinion, there's nothing better than high-stakes fantasy football.

If you're able to read between the lines, I've never won a championship.  Ultimately, every year my team seems to fall short of the goal because of injuries and just pure bad luck.  I'm by no means an expert, but I like to think of myself as better than most.  Both of my leagues have 10 teams and are PPR (point per reception).  Additionally, TD's are worth 10 points instead of six.  People scoff at such high scoring leagues where the average score is around 170, but it makes the game so much more fun, in my opinion.

Enough of my rambling.  Without further ado, I present the question that one fortunate drafter has to deal with every season: Who should be taken first?  The list of players that have even a chance at such an honor is short: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, and Arian Foster.1  Five players.  Those are the only five that could be taken first overall and won't garner you laughter and cold looks from every other person on draft night.  So let's look through each candidate's pros and cons.2

Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

It's amazing that at this time last year, everybody was debating on whether or not Peyton Manning had enough left in the tank after his fourth neck surgery.  Many said that there was no way his body could hold up for a 16 game season.  Well, Manning went out and silenced every critic.  He finished sixth in passing yards (4,659) and passes completed (400), second in passer rating (105.8), and third in TD's (37).  Those numbers accounted for 304 fantasy points last season, behind only Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, in a standard-scoring league.  So, why does he deserve to be picked first?

Despite playing with a completely new team, Manning looked like he had been a Bronco for years with the chemistry he showed with his receivers.  After faltering in the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens, the great John Elway went out and signed one of his biggest rival's second-best skill player, Wes Welker (only behind Rob Gronkowski).  Welker was made for Manning's offense.  If Manning was able to get 544 yards and 5 TD's out of Brandon Stokley's corpse, imagine what he could do with the great Wes Welker?!  Three one-thousand yard receivers is a strong possibility for this offense (Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker).

The one knock against him is the fact that the Broncos recently released Willis McGahee, a veteran RB that was their best blocker out of the backfield.  He will be replaced by a tandem of Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman.  Moreno is capable back (85 rushing yards per game as a starter), but he has failed to stay healthy since 2010.  Ball and Hillman have one year of NFL experience between them, and still have a lot to learn on the blocking front.  Manning always demands perfect blocking from his backs, just ask Donald Brown.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Broncos appear to have the easiest schedule next season.  Last season, their opponents had a combined 110-146 record, a .430 winning percentage.  Additionally, they play in the AFC West and get to play the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders two times each a year.  Also, imagine all the great Manning team names!

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints Drew Brees has been the most dominant fantasy QB overall for the past five years.  Year after year, he puts up top-five numbers and carries the lucky fantasy owner that owns him to the playoffs.  There was a lot of doubt coming into last season about whether Brees was going to be the same player without his offensive coordinator and head coach, Sean Payton, but still outscored every other QB in the league with 337 fantasy points.  He followed up last season's record-breaking passing yardage with yet another 5,000 yard season.  He finished first in the league in yards (5,177) and TD's (43) and third in passes completed. Brees by no means had a bad season, even though he did throw 19 interceptions; he was constantly behind in games because of the Saints' terrible defense, and that took away what he does best, the play-action. His completion percentage dropped from 71.2 to 63 percent.  With the hiring of Rob Ryan and the return of Payton, Brees could get back to his 2011 numbers this season. On the receiving front, Brees didn't lose any weapons this past offseason.  Devery Henderson left for Washington via free agency, but he will easily be replaced by someone on the roster, whether it be Chris Givens, Nick Toon or Joe Morgan.  A knock against Brees is that he does play the third toughest schedule in the league this season, but he's never had a problem finding the endzone against tough defenses before.  He had his 54 game streak of throwing at least one touchdown end this past season, but he'll be looking to extend his streak of 40+ TD seasons to three this year.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers Since taking over for Brett Favre in 2008, Aaron Rodgers has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He was a good quarterback from 2008-2010, but he became the most efficient at his craft in his breakout 2011 season.  He finished the 2011 season with 4,643 yards and 45 TD's, while throwing just six interceptions.  He followed that up with an almost as good 2012 season, throwing for 4,295 yards, 39 TD's, and 8 interceptions, finishing second in total fantasy points with 329. With an emerging star Randall Cobb, it looks as though Rodgers will continue to dominate for years to come. Perhaps one of the more notable offseason moves was the departure of Greg Jennings to the rival Minnesota Vikings, after Green Bay elected not to pursue a contract extension.  As I just mentioned, the emergence of Cobb allowed Jennings to be expendable.  Cobb hauled in 954 yards on 80 catches in 15 games, starting in only eight of them. Rodgers also has the return of a fully healthy Jordy Nelson, who was plagued with hamstring injuries last season.  They also bolstered their backfield with the selection of Eddie Lacy, the power back out of Alabama. If you want to nitpick, the negative on Rodgers is he plays the sixth strongest schedule in the league.  Also, you could say that he takes too many sacks by trying to extend plays and could be an injury risk, seeing as he has had a concussion history in the past.  Other than that, Rodgers is as safe a pick as you can find first overall.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings What more can be said about Adrian Peterson? The dude is a beast and is the best running back in the league at the age of 27.  When most men would have begun to slow down, Peterson is beginning to speed up.  After tearing his ACL in week 16 of 2011, it looked as if AP was never going to be the same.  Peterson didn't care what anyone said, he was determined to get back by week one the following season. His injury scared away many fantasy owners, including myself.  Peterson then ripped off an unbelievable MVP season that included 2,097 yards (second-most in a single season) and 12 rushing TDs, racking up 297 fantasy points, leading all RBs. Even more remarkable was the utter lack of talent that surrounded him for most of the season.  After Percy Harvin went down in week nine against the Seattle Seahawks, there wasn't a respectable player left on offense, unless you count Kyle Rudolph (which I don't).  This season will be much of the same, after Harvin was traded to Seattle, although they did sign Jennings.  Defenses will once again try to stack the box and stop him, and will once again fail to do so. The likelihood that Peterson will be able to even sniff the 2,000 yard mark next season after 348 carries last season is slim. After Chris Johnson's 2,000 yard season, his yardage mark fell to 1,364 the following season.  The Vikings also failed to seriously address any offensive issues, focusing mostly on the defensive side of the ball in the draft.  However, with another year together, the offensive line, anchored by Matt Kalil, should be even better in creating wholes for Peterson to gallop through. **Quick Bragging Point: I traded away Trent Richardson and Roddy White after week six to my buddy for Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald.  Adrian Peterson then ripped off a eight-game streak of 100 yards.**

Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
In his three seasons as a starter, Arian Foster has amassed 4,264 yards and scored 41 rushing touchdowns.  Last season was the healthiest he had been able to stay for an entire year, playing in all 16 games and starting 15 of them.  While he and Peterson may be on the same level in terms of rushing yards, Foster has the edge in the passing game.  He has averaged 53 receptions per season as well as two receiving touchdowns. The Texans are returning their entire offensive line, who are a part of a zone-blocking scheme much  like the Denver Broncos used to run that creates huge holes for their backs by the pulling of guards, and emphasizing more on the point of attack.  Despite it being somewhat of a down year for him, Foster was still able to garner 248 fantasy points this past season. A knock that can be made against Foster is that Ben Tate is in a contract year and will be itching to prove that he is worth a big money contract.  He may be able to steal some carries away from Foster due to coach Gary Kubiak will want to preserve Foster for the end of the season and the playoffs.  Other than that, there's not much that can be said bad about him.  He plays for a defensive team that likes to control the ball and the clock, a running back's dream.  
The Final Verdict In my opinion, there's only one person above that truly deserves to be the number one overall pick in your fantasy draft.  Adrian Peterson.  Quarterbacks are a dime a dozen; you can take a QB in the second or third round and find similar value to the three that I just listed above. You could take Drew Brees in the first, or you can get Matt Ryan in the third or fourth round.  You can't find a talent like Peterson's after the second round.  There are three elite running backs this year: Peterson, Foster, and Doug Martin.  You'd be wise to grab one in the first if available, you'd be even wiser to take Adrian Peterson.

1 You could make your own case for Tom Brady, but with Gronkowski and Amendola always being an injury risk, he might end up throwing the ball consistently to Michael Jenkins or Matthew Slater.  Like Matthew Berry always says, you can't win a draft in the first round, but you can lose it.  Don't take a dumb risk on the health of the Patriot's receivers.

2 A case can also be made for Calvin Johnson, but that is strictly in PPR leagues.  However, I feel that WR is a deep position and similar value to his can be found in rounds two through four in the likes of Wes Welker, Brandon Marshall, and Andre Johnson


solidMN said...

The vikings got rid of Visanthe Shiancoe over 2 years ago. You lost all credibility. Wow, honestly that should be almost fireable for a sportswriter writing a fantast football article. I just can't get over what a idiotic statement that was

solidMN said...

The vikings got rid of Visanthe Shiancoe over 2 years ago. You lost all credibility. Wow, honestly that should be almost fireable for a sportswriter writing a fantast football article. I just can't get over what a idiotic statement that was

solidMN said...

The vikings got rid of Visanthe Shiancoe over 2 years ago. You lost all credibility. Wow, honestly that should be almost fireable for a sportswriter writing a fantast football article. I just can't get over what a idiotic statement that was

Steve Zoladek said...

You're right, I knew it was Kyle Rudolph, just had a brain fart. I shoulda known, I had Rudolph on a fantasy team last year. Sorry for all the trouble it caused you!

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