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Drafting Last Year's Top Dog
David Dorey
August 12, 2010
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Someone on The Huddle message board questioned the risk of taking someone coming off a career year and more importantly, the guy that ranked #1 in his position at the end of last year. Each team owner holding that vaunted #1 overall draft pick in each league is almost certainly debating between Chris Johnson (the clear #1 running back last year) and Adrian Peterson. So a quick look back was in order - what happens to the #1 player the next year?

There could be different players scoring #1 depending the rules in each league but as a sample I used a very traditional one - six point touchdowns except three for passing scores, one point for each ten yards rushed or received and one point for each 20 yards passed. Receptions were awarded one point. Pretty standard and for the most part, the #1 player in each position generally remained in almost all scoring systems.

The table below shows the player that ended the season listed as the #1 in his position and his end of season ranking the next year.

Year Quarterbacks Next Yr Running Backs Next Yr Tight Ends Next Yr Wide Receivers Next Yr
2008 Brees, Drew 2 Forte, Matt 13 Gonzalez, Tony 5 Johnson, Andre 1
2007 Brady, Tom na Westbrook, Brian 5 Witten, Jason 2 Moss, Randy 11
2006 Manning, Peyton 3 Tomlinson, Ladainian 2 Gates, Antonio 3 Harrison, Marvin na
2005 Palmer, Carson 5 Alexander, Shaun 35 Gates, Antonio 1 Smith, Steve 12
2004 Manning, Peyton 3 Tomlinson, Ladainian 2 Gates, Antonio 1 Muhammad, Muhsin 32
2003 Culpepper, Daunte 2 Holmes, Priest 13 Gonzalez, Tony 2 Moss, Randy 26

Many of the above players were not taken #1 the next year though almost all were taken very highly. Outside of the injury to Tom Brady in 2008, taking the quarterback who turned in the most fantasy points the previous season was a pretty safe move and almost always remained within that top three tier.

Running backs were less consistent. Shaun Alexander had a monster season but never played more than 13 games in a season again. His peak was followed by a near free fall thanks to injuries. Same thing for Priest Holmes who ruled in 2003 and then never had more than eight games healthy in any of his next three years. Like Alexander, he was never again the same back but in fairness both players had been outstanding in previous seasons. LaDainian Tomlinson spend four years being the #1 or #2 running back and serves as a good reminder of how a track record indicates less risk of falling off the next year. Matt Forte was the surprise #1 in 2008 but largely because of all the receptions and he took a nosedive after the one year.

With tight ends it is about the same as quarterbacks. Get the number one guy from the previous year and you are almost guaranteed to have a top three player the next season. Obviously this has mostly been brought to you thanks to Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez.

Wide receivers have been a surprisingly mixed bag. Randy Moss missed four games after his big season in 2003 so he's sort of incomplete the next year. Muhsin Muhammad was a phenomena that no one else believed was going to repeat and even less so with him moving to Chicago. Smith missed two games in 2006 so his #12 the next year wasn't really that bad. Harrison was injured in 2007 and never really recovered. Andre Johnson has been the #1 wideout in this scoring for two straight years and is still young.

Again - your league could have had at least a few different players who were #1 in any given year but the general finding from this is pretty valid. Quarterbacks and tight ends tend to remain top three the next year after a #1 season thanks mostly to a fewer number of highly talented players in those positions. Running backs and wide receivers certainly can do well the next year as long as they remain healthy and weren't having one freakishly high season. Injury is the biggest bar to a having a great "next season".

But you have to admit, it certainly feels good to draft that top guy from last year. At least until week one.

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