1. LeSean McCoy, RB1
There’s a strong case to be made for any of the first three players on this list to be the No. 1 overall draft selection. For me, it’s Shady.
McCoy finished top two in fantasy scoring among running backs twice in the past three seasons. At 25 years old, he’s at the peak of his prime on a team tailored to maximize his explosive skill set. Under head coach Chip Kelly’s high-octane, video game-like offense, McCoy epitomized consistency in 2013, totaling at least 80 yards all but one week. The only running back to average 100 rushing yards per game, Shady ran away with the league’s rushing title and had the fourth-best yards per rush attempt (5.1).
Now, with speedster wide receiver DeSean Jackson joining the division rival Washington Redskins, McCoy is by far the most lethal home run threat on the Eagles roster. Darren Sproles, acquired through free agency, should not detract from McCoy’s workload but rather provide more reliable backup services than fumble machine Bryce Brown.
It was not long ago that McCoy totaled 20 touchdowns in a season—his ceiling is sky high.
2. Jamaal Charles, RB2
Eight, eight, six and 19. Those are Charles’ touchdown totals over his four full seasons as a starter. Notice the outlier? His enormous jump in scores earned the 27-year-old burner top fantasy running back honors in 2013.
Like McCoy, his current situation is optimal for fantasy production.
Under head coach Andy Reid’s Charles-centric game planning, he accounted for nearly 40 percent of the Chiefs' total offense. Charles saw the ball constantly through both the ground and air game, leading his team not only in rushing, but also in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Totaling just over 1,000 carries in his career, Charles should have plenty of mileage left at an elite level. He falls below McCoy due to the Chiefs’ sudden loss of offensive line talent in free agency.
3. Adrian Peterson, RB3
No. 3 for the future Hall of Famer feels low. Peterson is clearly still a one-of-a-kind talent, but he comes with a few too many risks to move above McCoy or Charles.
Breaking 2,000 career rushing attempts in 2013, the potential for nagging injuries is real. Peterson is as tough as they come, but foot and groin issues limited his workload down the stretch last season. He’s shown up on the Vikings’ injury report 24 times in the past two years.
While his ceiling is still just as high as that of any back, however, Peterson’s consistency diminished in 2013, as well. He totaled eight games with single-digit fantasy production, compared to three for Charles and four for McCoy. After a transcendent 2012, his 4.5 yards per carry average, 1,266 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last year were pedestrian in comparison.
All that being said, he might be a steal at No. 3 overall. Peterson and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner should get along famously since Turner is known for getting the most out of his best skill position weapons.
4. Matt Forte, RB4
Welcome to the top tier, Matt Forte! The last of the ultra-elite running backs, Forte had a banner year last season. Continuing the pattern from McCoy and Charles, Forte’s new head coach, Marc Trestman, expanded his role in the offense and catered to his strengths in 2013.
In past years, Forte’s fantasy numbers suffered from a lack of carries near the goal line. Trestman changed this trend, trusting Forte in the red zone and boosting his touchdown total to 12 on the season (up from a career average of seven). He also had the chance to show off his receiving skills, posting the most receptions (74) and receiving yards (594) in his career.
With backup running back Michael Bush leaving in free agency, the team has put its utmost faith in Forte to be its bell cow. The only other running back currently on the Chicago Bears roster, Michael Ford, has zero rushing attempts in his professional career.
Talk about a vote of confidence.
5. Calvin Johnson, WR1
The reign of running backs ends here. Megatron is still in his prime and he’s a head above the pack at wide receiver. He’s averaged over 1,700 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns over the past three seasons and offers the most upside of any non-running back. No other receiver has a single-game or single-season ceiling approaching that of Johnson.
The Detroit Lions are loaded with talented offensive skill players, which should only benefit Johnson’s production. There may be several mouths to feed on the offense, but Johnson will remain the focus and get his usual showering of targets. The addition of a legitimate second receiving threat in wide receiver Golden Tate could keep Johnson from seeing as much triple coverage, and you can’t stop Megatron with just two defenders.
If the Lions can avoid their usual late-season collapse, Johnson could be in line for a career year. New head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi should bring out the best in quarterback Matthew Stafford, translating to more consistent production across the board.
6. Jimmy Graham, TE1
Similar to Megatron, Graham is in a class of his own at his position. While he isn’t quite on the same athletic level as Johnson, there is currently no comparison to his level of play at tight end (Gronkowski is still in the same tier when healthy, but…he’s not healthy).
Graham earns a first-round pick in fantasy drafts because he provides an enormous positional advantage week to week. He totaled 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013 and made it look easy. The difference in scoring between Graham and the No. 2 fantasy tight end, Vernon Davis, was greater in 2013 than the difference between Davis and the No. 9 tight end, Antonio Gates. The next-closest tight end to Graham in receiving, Jordan Cameron, totaled 300 fewer yards on the season.
Have I made my point yet?! There’s Graham, and then there’s everyone else. Drafting him after the first half of Round 1 is a bargain.