Whatever your method is for determining draft order, whether it be racing through airport security or picking names out of a brown bag, there’s excitement that comes with having the number one overall pick. The fact that you could select any player that you want and set your master plan into motion is empowering isn’t it?
While there are years where having the top pick is advantageous, as owners of LaDainian Tomlinson in the mid-2000’s or Chris Johnson in 2010 can attest to, there are also years where it can be a disadvantage. Having the top pick means that you won’t have another draft selection for 18 picks in 10-team leagues, and even more in larger leagues. It’s no big deal if the player you select winds up performing as expected, but having your first or second round pick become a bust is exactly how seasons are lost.
You don’t win your league with your early round selections, but you can certainly lose it.
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This year there are three guys who are on the top of most draft boards: LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson. All have their merits and reasons to be deserving of the top selection in your draft, but unfortunately, you can only pick one of them. While there are plenty of articles discussing mid-to-late round sleepers and strategies for those who are drafting from the late slots, there has been little discussion about what to do at the top.
For the first time in a few years, there’s no definitive number one pick. Peterson was the surefire number one in 2011 and 2013, and then there was Arian Foster squeezing in there in 2012.
When I am looking at who I want to choose with the top pick, not only do I want the player that has the highest chance at finishing as the top scorer among running backs at the end of the year, I also want someone who has the lowest chance of being a bust.
To take some numbers provided by J.J. Zachariason over at numberfire.com, 53.3% of running backs drafted in the top six among their position end the year as a top twelve running back or an RB1.
On the flip side, 20% of those same running backs wind up ranked 30th or worse at the season’s end, or RB3’s or worse.
While J.J.’s point of the article was to show that late round running backs have low return on investment rates, the numbers show that just because you have a top selection doesn’t mean you’re safe from the player being a bust.
Sidenote: If you haven’t gotten a chance to read J.J.’s piece on running back bust rates, I highly encourage that you give it a read. To put it simply, we all know that it’s important to draft running backs with early draft picks, J.J. gives us the numbers behind why that is.
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So where does this leave us? Instead of trying to make arguments for these three talented running backs by debating who has the most upside, how about we focus on who has the smallest chance of ending the season as a bust? If we approach the “who should be number one” debate from that perspective, the answer becomes obvious: Adrian Peterson.
Let’s take a look at how Peterson finished each year among running backs in standard leagues since he entered the league in 2007:
Even with his 2011 season ended short due to a torn ACL and MCL, Peterson has not finished outside of the top ten in terms of fantasy scoring among running backs in his entire seven-year career. What’s even more impressive is that he has also been among the top ten in OVERALL scoring five out of seven seasons. He’s also scored double digit touchdowns every single year and has finished under 1,400 total yards just once.
The same cannot be said about McCoy nor Charles. McCoy has finished inside the top ten among running backs just 60% of the time while Charles has done it 50% of the time.
With the addition of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the development of wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and the departure of reception stealing Toby Gerhart, not only is the sky the limit for the man nicknamed “Purple Jesus,” but the risk is very minimal. None of my leagues have drafted yet, but if I were given the top pick, there’s no doubt in my mind who I’m selecting.
Say what you will about his workload, age and injury history, there’s no safer running back to draft with your top pick than Adrian Peterson.