If you play fantasy football, and if you're reading this article you probably do, the number one thing you fear is blowing your draft by wasting your first round pick on a guy who doesn't live up to expectations.
Right now, you may be having flashbacks to drafts of past years and nightmares named Clinten Portis, Larry Johnson, Steve Smith, or LaDainian Tomlinson.
While running backs continue to be the most drafted players in first rounds of fantasy drafts across the country, the position has also produced the biggest disappointments for fantasy owners in recent years.
Whether it's simply not producing, sharing the load, or going down with a season-ending injury, running backs often make the difference between a trip to your league's fantasy Super Bowl and missing the playoffs.
By comparison, both the quarterback and wide receiver positions have produced the most consistent fantasy performers over the past three seasons. And without a doubt, this phenomenon no doubt goes hand in hand with the NFL's increased emphasis on throwing the ball and a shift away from feature running backs.
In fact, and this theory was initially tough for this 20 year fantasy football veteran to swallow, but if you can get your hands on a couple top ten wide receivers and a top five quarterback in your draft's first three rounds, you have a great chance of having a successful year...no matter who your running backs are.
Remember, there are always breakout running backs to be had in the later rounds. Just ask owners of guys like Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, and Marion Barber last year.
All three of those players outperformed first-rounders Matt Forte, Steve Slaton, and Michael Turner.
So here goes, the 12 most consistent fantasy performers worthy of first round consideration in your draft this year...enjoy.
Most of these guys will still be picked in your league's first round, but because of a lack of consistency over the past three years or questions around their current situation, I see them as a higher fantasy risk than those ranked ahead of them.
- Chris Johnson, Titans RB: Johnson will undoubtedly be a top three selection in virtually every fantasy draft, and deservedly so. And while he has only one breakout season on his resume, the risk of using an early pick on him should be a small one.
- Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars RB: Jones-Drew flourished in 2009 as the feature back for the Jaguars, running 312 times for 1,391 yards, catching 53 balls, and scoring 16 total touchdowns. The real question is whether the 25 year-old can hold up as the Jags only real offensive threat again in 2010.
- Brett Favre, Vikings QB: While it's still up in the air whether Favre will come back at age 40 to lead the Vikings, one this is for certain, two of his best pro seasons have occurred in the past three years. If he plays, and I think he will, he comes back to the same offensive arsenal that helped him enjoy the best season of his career last year.
- Thomas Jones, Chiefs RB: Jones has changed zip codes once again, leaving the Jets for Kansas City after spending most of his career in Arizona. And although he averaged more than 1,300 yards and 13 TDs in each of the past two seasons, it appears likely that his numbers will drop splitting carries with last year's breakout running back Jamaal Charles.
- Frank Gore, 49ers RB: Gore has averaged almost 1,100 yards and 7 TDs the past three seasons, but for most fantasy owners, those numbers were disappointing. Consistent he is, but for me he's a second-round guy, not someone to spend your top pick on.
If your league awards points for receptions, Wes Welker is a fantasy superstar in your league.
Last season, despite missing three games because of injury, Welker still enjoyed his best season catching 123 passes for 1,348 yards. The only thing disappointing to Welker's fantasy owners, besides those three missed starts, was his touchdown total, he only had four in 2009.
There's no reason not to expect another 100-plus catches, 1,200 yards, and 5 TDs from Welker in 2010.
Despite a rift with his head coach, Kyle Orton as his quarterback, and not starting three games in 2009; Marshall still managed to catch 101 passes for 1,120 yards and a career-high 10 TDs.
This season, Marshall takes his talents to Miami where there's no reason to expect a decline in his numbers even with Chad Henne throwing him the ball.
Expect another year of 1,200 yards and 8 TDs for Marshall in 2010.
Since assuming the role from Marvin Harrison as the Colts top receiving threat in 2007, all Reggie Wayne has done is average 95 catches, 1,300 yards, and almost 9 TDs in each of the last three seasons.
While some thought there might be a decline in Wayne's numbers without Harrison in 2009, he actually improved his output over his 2008 numbers.
Truth be told, so long as he is paired with tight end Dallas Clark in this offense and has future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, Wayne should put up great numbers.
After averaging almost 1,300 yards and 7 TDs in 2007-08, White's yardage numbers decreased slightly in 2009, but he made up for it by scoring 11 TDs.
And while some predicted White wouldn't see as many balls coming his way with tight end Tony Gonzalez coming to Atlanta in 2009, White ended up with just three fewer catches (85) then he had in 2008.
White and all the other major offensive contributors are back in Atlanta in 2010, so there's no reason not to expect another season of 80 catches, 1,200 yards, and 8 TDs from White this year.
All Tony Romo did in 2009 was go out and prove that he didn't need a loud-mouthed high maintenance wide receiver to rebound from a mediocre 2008.
After throwing for nearly 4,500 yards last season, Romo has moved himself into elite quarterback status. Over the past three seasons, Romo has averaged more than 4,000 yards passing and 29 TDs.
Throw in the fact that the best receiver in this year's NFL draft, Dez Bryant, will eventually join Jason Witten and Miles Austin in the lineup, and there's no reason to believe Romo won't have another great season in 2010.
Since taking over as the Chargers starting quarterback at the beginning of the 2006 season, the gritty Rivers has put up solid numbers.
However over the past two seasons, Rivers has emerged as one of the league's best signal-callers, averaging more than 4,100 yards passing and 31 TDs.
Despite the possibility that leading receiver Vincent Jackson will prolong his holdout for a new contract into the new season, Rivers will still find a way to get the ball into the hands of whatever receivers he has on the field, which still includes tight end Antonio Gates.
Another season with more than 4,000 passing yards and 30 TDs are well within Rivers' grasp in 2010.
Even though Moss hasn't gone out and matched his prolific 2007 campaign when he set a new standard for NFL receivers when he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a record 23 TDs, he remains a top tier player so long as Tom Brady is throwing him the ball in New England.
Even in a 2008 season, when he had to endure the growing pains of replacement quarterback Matt Cassel, Moss still had more than 1,000 yards and 11 TDs.
With Brady back at the helm last season, Moss' numbers rebounded to 83 catches for 1,264 yards and 13 TDs.
While it's not reasonable to expect another 23 TD season from the 33 year old receiver, there's no reason not to assume that another season in the company of Brady and Welker won't produce another 1,200 yard and 13 TD season for Moss.
Besides Moss, Larry Fitzgerald is the only receiver in the NFL to average double-digit touchdown totals in each of the past three seasons, averaging just under 12 TDs a season.
Fitzgerald, who has averaged 98 catches and over 1,300 receiving yards the past three seasons with Kurt Warner throwing him the ball, shouldn't have a problem seeing as much action from new quarterback Matt Leinhart.
Perhaps the only thing that could prevent Fitzgerald from duplicating or improving upon his production is the loss of receiving mate Anquan Boldin.
In Boldin's place, the Cardinals fully expect Steve Breaston to shoulder the load and allow Fitzgerald to continue dominating opposing secondaries.
Another 90 catch season with 1,300 yards and 12 or more TDs is well within reason for one of the best receivers in the NFL in 2010.
There's a reason the Houston Texans just extended All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson's contract through 2016.
He's the best receiver in the NFL.
After leading the NFL in both receptions (115) and receiving yards (1,575) in 2008, Johnson nearly matched them again in 2009 (101 and 1,569).
The only knock on Johnson, from a fantasy perspective, is the fact that he has never scored more than 9 TDs in a season. Nonetheless, in fantasy leagues that reward owners for yardage and receptions, Johnson stands above all others.
Expect Johnson to crack double-digit TDs this season, while reeling in another 100 catches for 1,500 yards.
All Peyton Manning has done in his 12 seasons is throw for more than 50,000 yards, starting all 192 games, registering more than 4,000 yards ten times and averaging 30 TDs per season.
Last season, despite the Colts being without receivers Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez, Manning spread the ball out to guys like Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon and still threw for 4,500 yards and 33 TDs.
So long as this future Hall of Famer is standing upright and has the likes of Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne to throw to, he'll be worthy of a top 10 pick in your fantasy league.
4,200 yards and 30 TDs should come easy for Manning in 2010.
All Adrian Peterson has done since entering the league in 2007 is average nearly 1,500 rushing yards and 13 TDs.
As far as running backs are concerned, Peterson is the cream of the crop.
And for those leagues that reward backs who can catch the ball as well, last year was a welcome surprise for Peterson owner as he caught 43 passes for another 436 yards.
All told, Peterson will undoubtedly be a top three pick in every fantasy draft, and his owners should expect another solid season of at least 1,800 combined yards and 15 TDs.
All Drew Brees has done since coming to New Orleans in 2006 is:
- Throw for over 18,000 yards
- Average 31 TDs per season
- Resurrect a once terrible franchise
- Lead his team to a Super Bowl victory
- Win the Super Bowl MVP
- Go to Disney World
- Land the cover of Madden 2011
You want a guy who will lead your fantasy team to Super Bowl glory?
Draft Drew Brees.
Playing in the woeful NFC South the past two seasons, Brees has passed for 300 or more yards in 17 of the 31 games in which he's played, and thrown two or more touchdown passes 20 times.
Stated simply, Brees is the one guy who can single-handedly win five or six games for you in your fantasy league this year, and he's well worth a top three pick on draft day.
Good luck on Draft Day!