Take Adrian Peterson At Number One In Your Fantasy Draft

If you have ever had the #1 overall pick in fantasy football, you understand the pressure that comes with it. Your worst fear is drafting a bust. Not only will it ruin your team’s chances of a championship, but you’ll also never hear the end of it from the rest of the league. 

Everyone else will be happy to laugh and point out all of the great players you could have had instead. You feel like you have to draft the absolute best player, or else it’s a failure of a pick.  Realistically, we know that’s usually not true or possible to accomplish. If you can secure a player who ends up as a top five to 10 player at the end of the year, that is probably a success. 

But does that win a championship? Usually, the answer is no. Why? Because if you’re picking first and you are in a 10 or 12 team league, you won’t choose again until pick 20 or 24. This year, that’s Justin Forsett territory. 

He’s a good player and will likely have a nice fantasy season as the featured back of the Ravens’ offense, but my point is this: when you’re picking number one, you only have one shot at a truly elite player. You have to hit a home run here, or you’ll just be another good team nobody remembers. For the rest of this column I’ll assume you’re in a non-PPR standard scoring league and you are thinking championship or bust like every fantasy player should be.

If you’ve got the first overall pick this year, you’ve got a tough choice to make. There are five running backs you could argue should be the #1 pick (Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, and Le'Veon Bell). Since they are so even, my first advice is actually to try to switch draft slots with someone at spot 3, 4 or 5, if they’re willing. 

You’ll be happy with the running back you get in the first round and have a better pick in the second round. Let’s assume nobody wants to switch and you’re “stuck” with the #1 pick. The easy thing to do is take Lacy or Charles. They have both been elite fantasy running backs in recent years and stayed relatively healthy over that time frame. 

Charles is basically the entire Kansas City Chiefs offense, and Lacy is probably relatively safe as well. Lacy's a pretty stocky running back whose size and bouncy, bowling-ball style of attack keeps him relatively safe from injury. It’s so tempting to take one of these guys with high floors and rest easy with nearly guaranteed yearlong production. But you don’t win a fantasy championship with a safe pick. You win by hitting a home run. Peterson is that home run. 

Obviously, Peterson had some legal issues last year that caused him to miss almost the entire season. Many wonder how he’ll come back after basically a year off. In 2012, when Peterson came back from an ACL and MCL tear, he nearly broke the single season rushing record with 2097 yards. He also scored 12 rushing TDs and had another 217 receiving yards and a touchdown, which left him at a ridiculous 19.3 fantasy points per game. 

He did that with Christian Ponder as his quarterback. Teams stacked the box with eight defenders all day long, played the run, did everything they could to stop Peterson, and they couldn’t. Highlight videos from that year show him bouncing off contact way before the line of scrimmage and turning the play into a long touchdown. 

This year, his quarterback is sophomore Teddy Bridgewater, who displayed impressive accuracy and ability to make plays during his rookie year. Now, defenses can’t key in completely on Peterson. They will have to defend the pass, and running lanes should be wide open compared to what he’s used to. 

This year, he’s also coming off of a year of rest and training. Common sense would tell us that’s better than coming off of an injury, and he should be as fresh as ever. I believe he is capable of having as good a year as his record-breaking 2012 season. 

I understand the concern that he is getting older, but when it comes to running backs, usage is correlated more closely with decline in performance than age. Because Peterson experienced very little usage last year and took almost no hits, there is little cause for concern. Some may think that players need some time to shake off the rust and get back to full strength upon return. 

That’s understandable, but Peterson has run the ball thousands of times in the NFL. He will be fine; he will be rested and ready for that first carry of the season, and you will regret it if you pass on the chance to take him. 

Bell could also be that home run. He’s young, had a fantasy season for the ages last year, and looks primed for another in the Steelers’ high scoring offense that returns just about everyone. However, he’s suspended for the first couple games of the year and has only had one incredible fantasy season compared to Peterson’s many. 

Those factors serve as a tiebreaker of sorts, so he is a close number two for me. It should be easy to see why Lynch isn’t the home run. He’s consistent, finishing in the top five the past two years in fantasy points for running backs. But he wasn’t in the top three in either of those years, and there is reason to believe he’s due for a step back fantasy-wise. 

He admitted that he considered retirement before this season. With his bruising style of running, you can imagine he is feeling the hits taking their toll on his body and wearing it down. The Seahawks also added red zone magnet Jimmy Graham, who is sure to take a few potential touchdowns away from Lynch this year. Bell and Lynch, although great backs to have, are not #1.

If you have the #1 overall pick, this is no time to play it safe. In a league of 10, you’ll get it once every ten years on average. A once-in-a-decade opportunity doesn’t call for a safe pick; it calls for a once-in-a-decade player, like Peterson. Good luck this season, and make the most out of your #1 pick (or take advantage if you pick behind someone who doesn’t). 

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