Fantasy football owners are probably having passionate debates in barrooms and bathrooms about which player should be the first pick overall in their leagues come late August/early September.
Should it be a running back or a quarterback? Should it be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Should it be a world-class shocker like the top receiver in football, Calvin Johnson?
Everyone will have his/her own opinion, and there are really only a few true contenders for the top spot. But in my mind, there is one player who should be numero uno on draft boards and cheat sheets.
So let’s look at a couple superstars who should not be this year’s first pick in fantasy football.
The first pick overall should not be...
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Sure, Brees is happier than a Mardi Gras partier drenched in beads and beer now that he just signed a five-year, $100 million contract with New Orleans. And yes, Brees is coming off one of the greatest seasons in fantasy football history, thanks to his record-breaking 5,476 passing yards.
But how will head coach Sean Payton’s year-long suspension affect Brees and the Saints offense? It is highly doubtful it can run like clockwork as often as it has in the past, especially early in the season when the team is getting used to not having Payton on the sidelines guiding things.
Brees also lost his most talented offensive lineman (Carl Nicks) and one of his deep threats (Robert Meachem) to free agency. The Saints replaced Evans with a Pro Bowl player in Ben Grubbs, and Meachem was Brees’ fifth-favorite target, but these are still talent downgrades that can only serve to hurt Brees.
Brees will still be his awesome self unless the Saints suddenly become a ground-and-pound team or he switches bodies with Rex Grossman. But his numbers will likely take a slight hit, and quarterbacks are not as valuable as running backs, so he cannot be the top pick.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Right away, Rodgers’ 45-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio from 2011 sticks you in the eyes like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s fingers. Rodgers also threw for 4,643 yards despite not suiting up for Green Bay’s final game of the season, and he rushed for 257 yards and three additional scores.
But Rodgers is a quarterback, and quarterbacks are still not as valuable as running backs in fantasy football, especially in one-QB leagues where the difference between Rodgers, Brees, Tom Brady and others is minimal.
Fantasy owners love Rodgers because of his passing numbers, rushing numbers, touchdowns, lack of interceptions and his corny touchdown celebrations and commercials. But unless he switches positions and becomes a full-time tailback, Rodgers cannot be the No. 1 pick.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Foster was probably the top pick in many 2011 fantasy drafts after coming off a 2010 campaign where he slashed and dashed his way to a league-leading 1,616 rushing yards while also adding 604 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns.
Houston’s zone-blocking scheme fits perfectly with Foster’s downhill running style since he is a one-cut-and-go type of tailback. And Foster puts up better receiving stats than most of the upper-echelon backs, too. There is not much to dislike from a fantasy perspective.
But Foster’s problem is that Houston now knows it has one of the best backup running backs in the business behind Foster. Ben Tate rushed for 942 yards at a 5.4 yards per carry clip last season. He probably would have gained 1,300-1,400 yards himself had Foster missed another couple games.
In games Houston builds big leads in, Tate normally gets the heavy workload late while Foster is rested. And now that the Texans know what Tate can do, look for him to be integrated into the offense more in 2012 so Foster can avoid any further bouts of anti-awesomeness with his hamstring.
So who should be the first pick overall in fantasy drafts come this September? Here is my choice!
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy has wasted no time climbing the fantasy ladder. In each of his three seasons, he has steadily improved and his fantasy value has jumped higher than Larry Fitzgerald on an alley-oop pass.
McCoy was outstanding in 2010 when he rushed for 1,080 yards and supplied 592 more on receptions. But the one thing that held back his fantasy worth was that Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid opted to hand the ball to other backs when the Eagles would be close to the end zone.
Reid finally came to his senses last season, though. Just like Ray Rice in Baltimore, McCoy was given the goal-line opportunities and shined. He led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns to go along with his 1,309 rushing yards and 315 receiving yards, and he did it all without playing in Philly’s final game.
Reid may not be fond of running the ball—no NFL team calls more pass plays than the Eagles—but he is fond of giving one running back the majority of the touches and allowing his starting RB to play on all downs and in all situations.
McCoy has been a workhorse since he has been in the league, and with Dion Lewis slated to be his backup, that should not change. Between rushes and receptions, he will touch the ball 20 times per game and will not come off the field on third downs or during goal-line situations.
McCoy’s ascent should continue. He is only 24 years old and has no competition at running back.
If his meteoric rise stays on the same course it has been, 1,500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and 20-22 total touchdowns is reachable. And imagine what numbers McCoy can put up if Reid decides to run the ball a few plays more this year!
Even though the NFL has become a passing league, that does not mean running backs are less valuable in fantasy football.
On the contrary, running backs are more valuable than ever before, thanks to the abundance of passing and the increasing amount of offense that employ a two-back attack where running backs split the carries and thus devalue each other fantasy-wise.
A running back should still be the top pick in fantasy drafts, and the top running back in fantasy football heading into the 2012 campaign is Mr. McCoy.
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