NFL training camp is right around the corner. With every new season is the renewed sense of hope and the feeling that this is the year the championship will finally be yours.
Nowhere can the turnaround from worst to first happen faster than in the realm of fantasy football. This year, let me give everyone one piece of advice.
Draft Alfred Morris.
Maybe don't draft him first overall, as Adrian Peterson is still the most dominant running back in the league and possibly the most dominant player at any position. Most experts have Arian Foster as the second-best back. And it's hard to argue—over the past three seasons, Foster averaged 1,900 total yards and over 15 touchdowns.
Next, is a group of four running backs that I believe make up the next tier. They are Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Ray Rice and yes, Alfred Morris. All are consistent producers who have no real injury concerns and score double digit touchdowns.
Ray Rice is an amazing player, but due to the emergence of Bernard Pierce, it is reasonable to expect a drop in both total yards and touchdowns. If Pierce weren't in the picture, I would have Rice ahead of Morris, but he is.
After the group of consistent performers, there are another half dozen or so backs who have enough upside to end up in the top five or even finish as the top scoring running back in the league. Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and C.J. Spiller are all names that at least one person in your league will fall in love with and draft third, fourth or fifth overall.
While these supremely talented players are capable of putting up 2,000 all-purpose yards, they all face questions going into 2013, which should make you pause before tying your franchise to them. These players also perform inconsistently, putting up 25 points one week and less than five the next.
Those types of flop performances can drive fantasy owners mad.
Spiller, McCoy and Charles are on teams that finished 21st, 29th, and 32nd respectively in scoring. They each hope that a new head coach will provide a boost in offensive production. But, coaching and quarterback changes are unknowns that lead to increased risk.
Risk is not what you want if you have a pick in the top half of the first round.
Now, let's dive a little deeper into what Morris did in 2012 and what to expect in 2013.
Alfred Morris began the 2012 training camp as a sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic whom many thought would end up on the practice squad. The running back position was already set with two second-year players in Roy Helu and Evan Royster competing for time with 2011 starter Tim Hightower.
Alfred Morris received little time with the first team offense, but he made the most out of every opportunity. After excelling in the preseason, Morris put on an impressive opening-week performance against the New Orleans Saints, racking up 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
One of the most important aspects of a top pick is consistency. Using ESPN's standard scoring (10 yards = 1 point, TD = six points) as a basis, Morris put up five points only once, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when the Redskins were at their lowest point of the 2012 season.
Alfred Morris scored a minimum of seven points in all other games. He put up 10-plus points in 12 of 16 games, including his last six games. Morris closed very strong, averaging a staggering 22.75 points over his last four games.
Much of Morris' late-season dominance was due to his 200-yard, three-touchdown performance in Week 17. Although this was after most fantasy playoffs, this game shows two very important things about Morris. He is capable of putting up monster fantasy games with the best of them. Also, he didn't wear down over the course of the long season.
There are those who say that Alfred Morris is only a product of the Mike Shanahan system and the threat of Griffin running with the ball. This argument is both irrelevant and wrong. First, Shanahan and RGIII aren't going anywhere in 2013. Second, Morris is skilled enough to succeed without them.
Morris was graded by Pro Football Focus (membership required) as the third-best running back of the 2012 season. Of all running backs with a minimum of 150 attempts, Morris was one of five who averaged at least three yards after contact.
Watching the tape, it's clear that Morris possess a combination of vision, power and nimble feet. Those skills allowed him to break off 10-to 20-yard runs with remarkable consistency. His power and tenacity also helped him get into the end zone 13 times, second most among running backs last year.
The biggest knock you'll hear against Alfred Morris over and over again is that he doesn't catch the ball. While that may have been true in 2012, Morris will show this year that he is quite capable in the passing game as well as the run game.
Some say that a top-pick should be a three-down back, capable of catching dump-off passes on third downs. What people should be looking at is snaps that the running back was on the field, as this more accurately reflects his ability to get the ball and score your fantasy points for your team.
Morris ranked seventh in snaps, seeing a total of 752 of them even though he wasn't on the field on most third downs. There's no reason to think that a new third-down back would take more snaps away from Morris.
When Morris was on the field in 2012, he was thrown at 15 times and caught 11 of them. He dropped only one pass. It was clear that Morris' pass-catching was limited more by Robert Griffin III than by Morris' own ability.
Griffin would frequently go through his first couple reads before looking to make a play with his legs. In 2013, most expect that RGIII will run less often and go through his progressions more diligently, taking what the defense gives him. If Griffin is willing to take the check-down pass, expect Morris' production in the passing game to increase.
Griffin running less will also increase the chances of Morris getting goal-line carries.
Then, there's the argument that if Griffin gets injured, Morris will struggle.
That argument is based a very small sample size, and even still, the results were pretty solid. Morris put up 87 yards and two touchdowns (with Evan Royster scavenging one in garbage time). He did only average 3.2 yards in a Week 15 performance against a stout Browns run defense, but this was due primarily to the Browns stacking the box and forcing Kirk Cousins to beat them, which he did.
Alfred Morris has shown that he is a productive, reliable runner who can put it in the end zone with the best of them. While Morris may not have the biggest upside, his consistent high-level production is what makes him an elite fantasy back and worthy of a top-five overall pick.
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