Depending on who you ask, fantasy football is some concoction of luck, persistence, foresight and creativity. While all certainly factor in to success, I’m of the belief that preparedness trumps all.
It’s easy to lose out on a championship in Week 15, but all title runs begin and end with a good drafting strategy. Without a good draft, winning becomes an uphill battle.
With fantasy football season approaching, it’s time to start acknowledging our previous failures, the biggest of which nearly every owner has been guilty of at some point: ignoring risk.
To win in fantasy football, owners have to find the right balance of safe options and high-upside players. A team full of durable, low-ceiling players can be just as bad as a team full of superstars who can’t stay healthy, but nothing is more frustrating than the latter.
As such, it’s important to factor in risk when identifying players worthy of a first-round selection.
That’s exactly what we’ll do in the following article, highlighting the top five running backs per Yahoo! Sports average draft positioning. Each player carries some degree of risk, and we’ll examine those risk factors to give owners a little more to go on when it’s time to start drafting.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (ADP 1.2)
Risk level: Low to Moderate
Adrian Peterson can’t be human.
After tearing his ACL at the end of 2011, the league’s best rusher nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record last year and proved to fantasy owners everywhere that he’s worthy of another No. 1 selection this season.
At 28, Peterson is showing no signs of slowing. If an ACL tear can’t derail him, there’s nothing that’s going to keep his train from coming off the tracks in 2013.
Still, expectations should be tempered to some degree. After tallying 2,097 yards on the ground last year, teams are going to be spending a lot of time this offseason preparing a game plan tailored for stopping Peterson in 2013.
Factor in the obvious apprehension involving a knee that was surgically reconstructed a year-and-a-half ago and the tremendous workload the Vikings dropped on Peterson last season and you have a recipe for a slight decline in 2013 production.
He’s still worthy of the No. 1 pick, though, and it’s really not even close.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans (ADP 2.4)
Risk level: Moderate
Injuries aren’t what concern me about Arian Foster.
It’s no secret the Houston Texans have relied on their bell-cow back in recent years, and last season may have been the early signs of that workload catching up to him.
He still tallied 1,424 rushing yards in 16 regular-season games, but Foster did so on a career-low 4.1 yards per carry and was slowed late in the season by some mediocre rushing defenses.
In Weeks 13, 14 and 16, Foster rushed for a total of just 99 yards on 39 carries, raising questions about how effective he can be under the same strain going forward. There’s no reason to sound the alarm, but Foster no longer appears to be the slam dunk fantasy owners have expected him to be in recent years.
Fantasy football continues to revolve around feature backs, though, and with that being the case, owners shouldn’t be too concerned about Foster. He’s still going to produce at a near-elite level in 2013.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP 3.7)
Risk level: Low
Of the top five running backs available this year, Doug Martin is the one about whom I’m least concerned.
Martin was masterful in his rookie campaign, tallying 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.6 yards per tote. With LeGarrette Blount no longer in town to eat into his workload, Martin stands to be Tampa Bay’s one and only legitimate rushing weapon.
The Boise State product is versatile, durable and shockingly explosive, and after five hundred-yard outings a season ago (including a 251-yard, four-touchdown effort against the Oakland Raiders), his ceiling isn’t even visible.
While Foster has a larger sample size to examine, I wouldn’t blame any fantasy owners for making Martin the No. 2 pick ahead of him.
Jamaal Charles (ADP 5.9)
Risk level: Moderate
Like Peterson, Jamaal Charles came roaring back from an ACL tear in 2011, and he did so to the tune of 1,745 yards from scrimmage.
Kansas City’s best offensive weapon last season, Charles shouldered an offense that finished last in the league in passing, constantly fending off defenses keying in on the speedy tailback.
Charles was inconsistent last year, but much of that was a product of a one-dimensional offense and shaky offensive line play. Still, two 200-plus-yard efforts can’t be overlooked.
The biggest concern about Charles—perhaps unfairly so—is his surgically repaired knee. Unlike Peterson, Charles isn’t built like a Mack truck, and he isn’t as likely to hold up to similar abuse for an extended period of time.
With Alex Smith in town, however, Kansas City should field a much more dynamic offense capable of taking some of the pressure off Charles. Fantasy owners should be cautious about Charles’ durability this season, but he’s still worthy of a top-five selection.
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (ADP 6.7)
Risk level: Moderate
Sorry, Bills fans. I’m still not sold on C.J. Spiller’s fantasy value—at least not yet.
The versatile speedster slashed his way to 1,703 yards from scrimmage in 16 games last season, but 2012 was the first year Buffalo was smart enough to use him in an expanded role. Prior to his 207 carries last season, Spiller had just 181 carries in his first two seasons combined
Spiller is a tremendous talent who has the speed, quickness and vision to be a feature back in the NFL. I’m just not sure how much Buffalo will utilize him.
If new head coach Doug Marrone utilizes Spiller’s talents this year, the Clemson product could be a top-three rusher. If he doesn’t, expect there to be a lot of frustrated Spiller owners wishing they had gone with a safer option at the top of the draft.
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