As we drift ever closer to the 2009 season, the debate between who to take with the first overall pick in fantasy football drafts remains, much as it did following week 17 of the 2008 season, with owners arguing the upside of both Minnesota Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson and Atlanta Falcons' runner Michael Turner. With those two firmly entrenched as the number one and two picks this season, the question now falls to who to take with that tricky third overall selection. Numerous names have been uttered in regards to the spot from the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte, a rookie who impressed in 2008 with 1,238 rushing yards and 12 total TDs, to DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers, who erupted for 20 total TDs in 2008, all the way to LaDainian Tomlinson, who still finished sixth among fantasy RBs in 2008 despite a down year. However, despite the merits and credentials of all these runners, the man rising up everyone's draft sheets is the Jacksonville Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew.
MJD's ascension has occurred primarily for two reasons. First and foremost, Jones-Drew now seems to be part of a committee of one as the Jaguars officially parted ways with veteran running back Fred Taylor this offseason. The move means Jones-Drew, who has not yet recorded a 200 carry season in his three year NFL career, should be well past that number in 2009. After all, Taylor had 231, 223, and 143 carries in each of his last three seasons with the Jags. In fact, even if you err on the safe side and only pencil Jones-Drew in for 250 carries, that still translates into 1,200 rushing yards, if he matches his career yards per carry average of 4.8. The additional carries should also lead to even more TDs for a guy who has had at least nine in each of his first three seasons of play.
Further strengthening MJD's case to be the third overall selection in fantasy drafts this coming season is the improvement that is expected to come from the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive line. For one, the line will be healthy, something that was not the case in 2008, as it seemed simply playing offensive line for the Jags was a sure way to get yourself injured. Secondly, the line will get a boost from two key offseason additions, the first being offensive tackle Tra Thomas, who the Jags acquired via free agency. Thomas, a former pro-bowler, had spent the previous 12 years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. While he may be getting a bit long in the tooth, the 335-pounder can still open up holes with the best of them. His experience will also be useful to the Jags as he'll be able to tutor the Jags' other big offensive line, Virginia's Eugene Monroe, the player the Jags took with the eighth overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. The Jags were so impressed with Monroe and his ability that they even passed on wide receiver Michael Crabtree, despite their need at that position. With a combination of Monroe and Thomas anchoring the line, Jones-Drew should find plenty of holes to burst through in 2009.
The debate will rage on as to who will nab that third overall pick in 2009 fantasy drafts, but one thing is certain: Maurice Jones-Drew definitely belongs in the debate.