Most of the fantasy world has Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson atop their rankings. To be honest as recently as the end of July, I had him at #1, too. I. But after deeper analysis and consideration, I’ve changed courses. In the last decade, there has never been a consensus #1 fantasy pick who has done as little as Peterson. The potential is there for greatness, but fantasy leagues don’t give points for potential.
The point of this article is not to brand you a fool if you take Adrian Peterson with the #1 overall pick. The point of this article is to brand you a fool if you don’t at least consider the alternatives. Here are five reasons why Peterson shouldn’t be handed the #1 spot on a silver platter.
He has a tendency to get shut down
There’s an old saying that NFL analysts love to pull out of the mothballs when discussing great running backs: “You can’t stop him. You can only hope to contain him.” The funny thing about Peterson is you can stop him. As explosive as he is, Peterson has shown a tendency to get taken out of a game. Good defenses know how to game plan against him. Peterson finished with 80 or fewer rushing yards in five games last season and eight games in 2007. If you’re doing the math, that’s 13 times in 30 games. And this is our consensus #1 pick? I’m not suggesting Peterson isn’t good. I’m just saying he’s not in the same class as past fantasy stalwarts like Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson or Priest Holmes. Call me spoiled but I expect more from the top overall fantasy pick.
This is the big one so pay attention. There are three dimensions to every fantasy RB: 1) the ability to run the football, 2) the ability to catch the football and 3) the ability to score touchdowns. The bare minimum expectation for a #1 overall fantasy pick should be that he excels in two of these categories. Ultra-studs like LaDainian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk nailed the tri-fecta. The reason it’s so important is because it mitigates the risk of a bad game. If a multi-dimensional RB gets shut down on the ground, he has the ability to produce in another area—either receiving or with a touchdown.
Peterson’s wheelhouse is running. The guy delivers monster production on the ground. Over 3,000 rushing yards in his first two seasons. A rushing title last year. He’s a beast. No question about it.
But let’s talk about his receiving and touchdown production, which are both cause for major concern. In his two-year career, Peterson has never had more than 21 receptions in a season. In a standard scoring league, that’s tough to swallow. In a league that gives points per reception (PPR), it’s an absolute back-breaker. If you play in a PPR league and own the #1 pick, Peterson is not your guy. Period. What about receiving yardage? Last year he had just 125 yards through the air. To put that in perspective, that’s less receiving yardage than Cedric Benson, who only played 12 games.
Another check mark against Peterson is that he’s touchdown deficient. Last season, he scored just 10 times. I’m a touchdown guy so maybe I’m a bit biased. Ten touchdowns is junk. It’s an abomination. I cannot accept that from a top pick. For this reason alone it blows my mind that Peterson is considered such a no-brainer #1. You can argue that this is a new season and Peterson’s TD production will go up. That’s fine but the fact is Peterson hasn’t proven he can score 15-20 TDs in a single season. With fumbling concerns and Chester Taylor taking production, I have my doubts that he will in 2009.
Continued poor QB play will make his job harder
Brett Favre finally decided he preferred Wrangler jeans to purple football pants. Peterson apparently made the decision more difficult because he was actively lobbying Favre to join the team. Peterson’s no dummy. With Brett Favre under center, Peterson knew opposing defenses wouldn’t be able to stack eight men in the box on every play. They’d have to throw out that blueprint for stopping him—you know, the one that has worked 13 times in the last 30 games. With Tarvaris Jackson and/or Sage Rosenfels manning the ship, good defenses will continue to clamp down on Peterson.
He’s due for an injury
This is Peterson’s third year in the league. So far he has escaped a major injury. But coming out of college he wore the “injury prone” label. As a freshman, he dislocated his shoulder. As a sophomore, he suffered a high ankle sprain. As a junior, he broke his collarbone. This checkered injury history caused him to slip to #7 in the 2007 NFL draft. His most significant injury in the pros was a knee sprain he suffered during his rookie year, which kept him out of a couple games. Part of what makes Peterson so special is he doesn’t shy away from contact. More often than not he gets the better of defenders, but there’s a good chance someone will eventually square up on Peterson and put him in street clothes for a few games.
Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner have more upside
I suspect the reason why most owners are going with Peterson #1 overall is they’re having a difficult time settling on an alternative. The rest of the first-round RBs have some question marks. I’ll grant you that. However, Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner offer more upside than Peterson while carrying about the same level of risk.
Let’s start with MJD. By my count, there are four running backs on the board who are proven legitimate three-dimensional players. MJD is one of them (the other three are Tomlinson, Steven Jackson and Brian Westbrook). MJD can run (career 4.8 ypc); he can catch (average of 48 rec./year); he can score (13 TDs/year despite splitting carries). Some will argue that MJD hasn’t proven he has the size and stamina to hold up. Hogwash. He’s averaged over 250 touches per season over his first three years (factoring in rushes, receptions and returns) and he’s only missed one game as a pro. Jones-Drew has the best chance of any RB on the board to post 2,000 total yards and 15 TDs.
Like Peterson, Michael Turner doesn’t offer much production in the passing game. He had just six receptions in 2008. However, Turner makes up for this deficiency with touchdowns. He finished second in the NFL with 17 scores last season and he certainly has what it takes to be a 20-TD RB. An improved passing game featuring Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez will keep defenses honest and give Turner room to run. Some will point to the Curse of 370 as reason enough to avoid Turner. Read my recent blog post on why Turner will escape that curse. I like Turner’s chances of matching Peterson’s yardage and exceeding his TD production.