Okay, so you’ve got the number one overall pick in your 2014 fantasy football draft. Lucky number one! Numero Uno. You literally have your pick of any player in the NFL universe, so who ya got? One owner in every league will be forced to make this critical decision, and since everyone else gets two picks before you get another, making the right decision is key.
You’ve heard it a million times: You can’t win your draft in the first round, but you sure can lose it. Feel free to ignore conventional wisdom and take whoever you like, but the prevailing thought is that the first pick is between three running backs: Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, and Adrian Peterson. We’re going to take a detailed look at each player and team situation, and attempt to use the evidence to determine which of these is the top running back for 2014.
Note: 2013 DOVA and DYAR data is sourced from FootballOutsiders.com, and the website also has more complete explanations of the stats themselves.
After finishing last year with 1266 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs, Peterson has now scored double-digit TDs with over 1000 total yards from scrimmage in each of his seven NFL seasons. At age 29, there is some concern that he’ll start to decline, but he’s still one of the most consistent options at any position and should be drafted with confidence.
The biggest move the Vikings made in the offseason was to trade back in the draft and grab their QB of the future in Teddy Bridgewater. At this point, they’re giving lip service to the idea that they will sit him year one, and to that end signed a capable backup caliber guy in Matt Cassel who will be the week 1 starter. How long he lasts depends on his play, the Vikings record, and how quickly Bridgewater develops. Even so, Cassel is a clear upgrade from the utter refuse that has been Minnesota QB play over the last few years.
I would have liked to see the Vikes add a quality wideout over the offseason, but it appears the featured WR will again be raw Corradelle Patterson, flanked by an aging Greg Jennings and a mostly useless Jerome Simpson, if he manages to avoid jail (50/50). TE Kyle Rudolph has been a trendy industry sleeper for a breakout season, and could be a value pick for fantasy, but in real football has yet to be a week in, week out difference maker. Therefore, once again, the Vikes offense will center around Peterson. He will get as many carries as he can handle, all the goal line reps, and according to Norv Turner, will handle a greater workload out of the backfield.
2014 Fantasy Outlook
So what’s not to like here? Well, for one, Peterson’s age. He turned 29 in March this year, meaning that he’s getting awfully close to the magical 30, where running backs start their decline. Peterson is a physical freak, but he does have a lot of mileage on the tires for his age, and the sledding isn’t getting any easier with the Vikings failure to add marquee offensive options to the fold over the offseason. For whatever it’s worth, Peterson averaged a career-low 4.5 yards per carry in 2013. Furthermore, his DOVA (Defense-Adjusted Value over Average) and DYAR (Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement) values weren’t in the top 20 RB’s overall for either stat, an indication that he was more mortal with a ton of carries than superhuman in 2013.
McCoy is coming off his first NFL rushing title last season with 1607 yards on the ground, and over 2100 total yards from scrimmage. It is clear that McCoy is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense and while there have been a couple noteworthy changes in the Eagles’ backfield, McCoy is still a strong contender for the top fantasy running back this season.
During the 2013 offseason, the Eagles made one of the biggest moves of any team by removing a player, cutting DeSean Jackson and his 82 catches, 1332 yards, and 9 TD’s. While this drastic move will reportedly improve the locker room chemistry, one has to wonder if and how Jacksons’ production will be replaced. Philly drafted a pair of WR’s in the third round, but neither has the ceiling of a DJax, and of course they will need time to develop.
The biggest offensive signing the Eagles made was actually signing another RB, grabbing Darren Sproles from the Saints for 3 years, $10.5 million. It has been widely rumored that Sproles will handle few actual carries, but instead function like a WR, lining up all over the field to create mismatches. In all likelihood Sproles will siphon off the same number of carries that other Eagles backups got per game last year – about 5. Incumbent WR’s Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, as well as up-and-coming TE Zach Ertz, should also be in line for an uptick in targets and production, but in the end the offense is really going to go as it’s best player goes, and than player is McCoy.
2014 Fantasy Outlook
McCoy just turned 26 in July, and 2014 will be his sixth season in the NFL. He has totaled just over 1100 carries for his career, and avoided serious injury to this point. There should not be any concerns about career wear and tear as yet. His DYAR was #1 (by quite a bit, for what it’s worth) among all NFL running backs, and his DOVA #3 overall. It is interesting to note that in his first year in the Chip Kelly offense, LeSean hit career bests in rushing yards, yards per reception, yards per game, and 100+ yard rushing games. The reports out of Eagles camp are that the offense is going to move even faster this year, which is scary even with the loss of Jackson. McCoy makes for a very worth top 3 pick in any format.
Charles had a season for the ages in 2013, gaining over 1900 total yards from scrimmage and scoring a career high 19 touchdowns, easily besting his previous high-water mark of 8. His total of 329 touches was second only to McCoy, but for Charles it is the second consecutive year over 300 total touches.
Andy Reid has said that he wants to scale back Charles’ workload a bit and give a few more touches to Knile Davis to help keep Jamaal fresh. It seems like an interesting tact to take when one considers that the Chiefs did absolutely nothing to bolster their offense over the offseason. They let Dexter McCluster go, lost road-paving guards Geoff Schwartz and John Asamoah to free agency, and failed to add an impact wideout. This sets the table for the KC receiving corps to once again be Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, and A.J. Jenkins, hardly inspiring fare. QB Alex Smith, who has managed to convince exactly nobody that he’s an elite player worthy of top NFL dollar, will once again manage the game. If KC has a legitimate fantasy relevant TE on the roster, I’m certainly not aware of him.
The great thing here is that a dynamic, versatile talent like Charles is a perfect fit for a quick-hitting, short passing, West Coast offense that Andy Reid favors. Put it all together, and regardless of what Andy Reid wants to spout, it’s looking like another 300+ touch campaign for Charles. The man scored 19 of KC’s 41 total offensive TD last year for crying out loud. They literally have nobody else, and they didn’t bother to get any help.
2014 Fantasy Outlook
Charles is only 27 years old, and due to missing the bulk of the 2011 season with a knee injury, has even less total carries than McCoy. He did sustain the previously mentioned season-ending injury, but it is 2+ years in the past now and shouldn’t be considered a long-term issue by any means. Since that time Charles has proven to be both durable and consistent. It also helps that since the KC passing attack gets the ball out quickly and rarely tries to set up a deep ball, Charles spends very little time in the backfield trying to block 250 lb. linebackers coming at full tilt.
The only real negative here is that there are so few other weapons on the Chiefs. Opposing teams, in theory, should be selling out to stop Charles at all times, in an attempt to make someone else beat them. If attempted, this stratagem obviously didn’t work in 2013 since JC found pay dirt more than any other non-QB in the NFL. His DYAR was 3rd overall, and his DVOA was tied for 6th. Charles is a fantasy monster, and should be off the board inside the top 3 picks in every draft.
The Top Running Back for 2014 is…
It seems obvious that I’d consider Peterson to be the clear #3 pick out of this trio. I think he is trending down (even if just a bit) and his team isn’t doing him any favors. The real question is, who should go #1? Since fantasy football is all about maximizing value while minimizing risk, I think you have to give a very slight edge to Charles. He’s the main (and almost only) offensive weapon on his team if you consider the Bowe / Avery / Jenkins trio against the Maclin / Cooper / Sproles grouping. He has a much less talented backup (Knile Davis vs. Darren Sproles) to siphon off carries, and a QB that generally can’t / won’t throw the ball deep, creating numerous opportunities for screens and dump off passes.
Finally, if Justin Houston can regain his previous form, the Chiefs have an elite pass rush that has the ability to turn opponents over deep in their territory, potentially leading to even more cheap Charles TD’s (the Eagles lack any type of cohesive / useful defensive scheme). I love me some LeSean McCoy, but if I have the #1 overall pick this season, I’ll be highlighting Jamaal Charles and clicking “Draft”.