After a 2012 season in which he topped 2,000 yards on the ground and led all running backs in fantasy points by a sizable margin, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings is the runaway favorite to be the first overall pick in fantasy football drafts this summer.
However, it's not as cut and dried as many people think. A strong case can be made for Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—not Peterson—who should go first overall.
The first thing that's working against Peterson is history. To be specific, the history of every running back in the National Football League who has topped 2,000 yards in a season.
As you can see, no running back in NFL history that has gained 2,000 rushing yards in a season has ever topped 1,500 yards the following year. In fact, only two of the six backs before Peterson to accomplish the feat (Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans and Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions) topped 1,300 yards the next year.
Historic seasons are just that. Historic. It's hard enough to make history once. Repeating that achievement (or even coming close) is nearly impossible.
The recent history of fantasy football's top ball-carrier isn't working in Peterson's favor, either.
Each of the last five running backs to lead fantasy football in points saw a drop-off the next year. It wasn't just a small drop either. Every back on the list saw a drop in fantasy production of at least 25 percent, and two of the last five top backs saw a decrease of over 100 fantasy points the following season.
Only two of the five (Arian Foster of the Houston Texans in 2011 and Johnson the following year) finished the season after ranking numero uno in the top five at their position in fantasy points.
So, not only is Peterson fighting the ghosts of every 2,000-yard rusher that's come before him, but the recent history of fantasy football's top running back is working against him as well.
That's where "The Muscle Hamster" comes in.
Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was fantasy football's third-ranked running back a season ago, finishing just behind Foster in standard scoring formats. In leagues that award a point for receptions he was even better, propelled to a runner-up finish at running back by over 1,900 total yards, nearly 50 catches and a dozen total touchdowns.
Martin is a hard-nosed runner and capable receiver who is the unquestioned lead back for head coach Greg Schiano who likes to run the ball. That's a recipe for fantasy success.
Martin is also entering a second NFL season that has been very kind to some of his contemporaries.
In Adrian Peterson's second season (2008), he rushed for 1,700 yards and finished the year as a top-three running back. In Arian Foster's sophomore season (2010), he gained over 2,200 total yards, scored 18 touchdowns and finished as fantasy football's top back.
In fact, many would argue that if Peterson isn't the top overall pick this year, Foster should be. After all, the 26-year-old has topped 1,600 yards each of the past three seasons, averaging over 15 total touchdowns a year over that stretch.
However, Foster's career high in carries (351) and career-low in yards per tote (4.1) in 2012 are both cause for concern, as is the return of a healthy Ben Tate to the backfield rotation with the Texans.
All that isn't to say that Foster isn't a solid fantasy option this year. Given his resume, he's one of the safer picks in the top five.
With that said though, if you're fortunate enough to get the first overall pick in your league's draft, you need to make that pick count, especially since you won't pick again until the end of round two.
Not only do you want a pick that's "safe," but you want one with significant upside.
This year, Doug Martin is the best combination of those two traits. Not only is he a threat to top 2,000 total yards, but he isn't battling history like Peterson, nor the nearly 400 touches last year like Foster.
Granted, it's not an easy call to make. Passing on Adrian Peterson with the first overall pick in your fantasy draft is almost sure to cause some draft-day buzz. The team picking second will probably grin from ear to ear before pulling the trigger on "All Day."
However, just because it's a difficult choice to make doesn't mean it isn't the right one. And, besides, you know what they say...
No guts, no glory.