The 2014 NFL season is right around the corner, which means fantasy football analysis and drafts are in full force. I received a text message the other day from a friend who runs one of my many leagues and he told me that I had the first pick in our upcoming draft. Depending on your draft strategy, you might love the first pick, or you might be disappointed with the draft position. I was pretty indifferent about it, the only thing I thought about was who I was going to take.
Last year the consensus number one pick in most league formats was Adrian Peterson. I love Peterson, not only because of my Minnesota bias, but also because of how consistent he is. Double-digit rushing touchdowns every year of his career, and the ability to explode and take one to the house at any moment. I texted another friend and asked him who he would take and he told me that I had to pick Jamaal Charles this year. As we saw, Jamaal Charles had a career year in the first year of Andy Reid’s offense, but does that make automatically make him number one this year?
For the sake of debate, I decided to look deeper into the career stats of each player. With the number one pick in any format you have to look at consistency. Someone who has a low percentage of getting injured and a high percentage of putting up points on a week-to-week basis is key when selecting first. Remember, fantasy football is a weekly game. You need someone who is going to produce on a week-to-week basis, and not give you 39 points one game, and 6 the next.
In standard and PPR formats, the majority of gamers decide to build their squad around that stud tailback. The ones with that consistency that your team needs to lead it to the promise land of fantasy immorality. I’ve never had a problem with that, especially if you are in the top 3 and are getting the best of the best. For the sake of argument, we are leaving McCoy out of this specific argument. Jamaal Charles or Adrian Peterson? Who are you taking?
The Case for Jamaal Charles:
The 2013 season is the first thing your friends and co-workers will point to when discussing Jamaal Charles and why wouldn’t they? Per Pro-Football Reference, Jamaal Charles had 1,287 rushing yards, adding another 693 yards on 70 catches through the air, and unless your league has some weird scoring system, Charles was the number one guy at his position last year. The guy was a monster catching passes and running through the huge holes his offensive line gave him on his way to 19 total scores. His 2nd year in Andy Reid’s offense only looks to be more promising and he is only 27 years old.
The Case for Adrian Peterson:
Adrian Peterson’s 2013 campaign was not what fantasy owners had in mind when they drafted him number 1 overall last year. 279 carries for 1,266 yards and 10 TD is in no way a terrible season, but after 348 carries for 2,097 and 12 TD the year prior, I think owners were expecting a little more. That being said, Adrian Peterson is still considered to be one of the best, if not the best runner in the league. His rushing TD totals since he arrived in the league in 2007 are as follows: 12, 10, 18, 12, 12, 12, 10.
No single-digit TD seasons, including 2011 when his season was shortened due to an ACL injury. What did AP do in 2012 when he came back from injury? Rushed for 2,000 yards with an average of 131.1 rushing yards per game. Did I mention Adrian has a new coaching staff? A new head coach in Mike Zimmer, and a new OC in Norv Turner looks to be an upgrade from Leslie Frazier’s staff. Adrian was even quoted last week saying that “I have been waiting for an offense like this for seven years.” Sounds like someone who is ready to be the best once again. One last little factoid about Adrian Peterson; in his seven seasons in Minnesota, he has been a top-three fantasy running back in five of them. The two that he wasn’t top three? He was 8th both years, once last year, and once in 2011 due to the ACL injury. Not bad for consistency, right?
The Case Against Jamaal Charles:
Like I discussed above, Jamaal Charles’ 2013 campaign in Kansas City was a thing of beauty. The head coaching change in Kansas City helped a lot, there is no denying that but will we see some regression in Charles this year? I went back to previous years to look at rushing scores to see if there were a pattern in his career. Here’s how it breaks down: 2010: 5 TD, 2011: out for year after 2 games, 2012: 5 TD and 2013: 12 TD. His career high before Reid got there was 7 TD and that was back in 2009. Now I know what you are thinking, Charles doesn’t run as many in because he catches a lot of touchdowns, too.
Charles receiving touchdowns by year: 2008: 1, 2009: 1, 2010: 3, 2011: 1, 2012: 1, 2013: 7
The last thing that we have to be cautious of when looking at Charles for 2014 are the changes on Kansas City’s offensive live. While Jeff Allen (LG) and Rodney Hudson (C) look safe at their positions, the Chiefs lost a huge presence on the line in Branden Albert at LT. Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah took turns at RG, and neither are there this year. What about rookie Eric Fisher? He moves from RT to LT so 2013 backup Donald Stephenson can start at RT this year. This matters. In fantasy football we can’t just look at the player, we have to also analyze the situation he is in and whether that situation changes from year to year. This information worries me, and I wonder if Jamaal Charles will be able to overcome these changes to have another season like he did a year ago.
The Case Against Adrian Peterson:
Adrian Peterson has 2,033 carries in his career according to Pro-Football Reference. He is going to be 29 this season (Birthday March 21st) and running backs historically start to hit that decline at age 30. Last year, AP rushed for 800 less yards than the year before. These are causes for concern. Lastly, Norv Turner has a history of taking the tailback out and making them catch passes. I have watched enough Vikings football to know that catching passes is not Adrian’s best asset. If Peterson can’t figure out how to catch passes, he might lose some snaps to Jerick McKinnon, their 3rd round draft selection from Georgia Southern. McKinnon is 5’9’’, 208 pounds and fast. He looks to be the running back to backup Adrian Peterson when Minnesota opens up in St. Louis later this year.
When it comes to the number one overall draft pick you need consistency. Over the last seven seasons, Peterson has fit that definition. Charles is a force to be reckoned with and we might find out that last season’s version is the new norm for him. With the changes on the offensive line and the inconsistent numbers prior to 2013, I don’t see the Chief being the number one back this season, so proceeding with caution may be a smart move.
Verdict: When my draft starts in a couple weeks and I am on the board at number one, give me Peterson. In standard leagues and in PPR, I think he has shown us enough to prove that he is worthy of the selection.
Are Charles’ Receiving Stats Overrated? (Added Bonus for PPR Leagues):
I decided to take the argument a step further. In PPR leagues you receive anywhere between .5 and 1 point for every catch that a RB or WR has (depending on the particular format). I looked at .5 PPR between the two and used a 4-year sample. For Charles I used years 2009-2013, taking out 2011 when he was injured. For AP I used 2008-2012, also taking out 2011 because it was a shorter season for him, only playing 12 games. In that span Charles had 1,694 receiving yards to AP’s 1,119, giving Charles 575 yards more. That averages out to 143.75 more on average over the course of an NFL season. Charles also had 190 catches to AP’s 140 over the same span, giving Charles the advantage by 50 catches or 12.5 on average, per year. Since you receive .5 for each catch in a PPR league and 1 point for every ten yards in most leagues for receiving the numbers break down like this.:
143.75 on average, or 14.3 fantasy points, 12.5 catches on average, or 6.25 fantasy points
Charles gives you an advantage of about 20.55 points over the course on a fantasy season based on his receiving numbers. If you extrapolate that over 16 games you are only looking at 1.28 points per game that Charles gives you over Peterson when you are looking solely on receiving stats. Peterson dominates in the rushing categories though. 54 TD to 41 for Charles. Rushing yards? AP wins 6,523 to 5,383 over the data sample.
Charles is always thought to be so much better than AP in PPR formats because of his pass-catching abilities but those numbers don’t lie. 1.28 points per week? I’ll take my chances with AP, ship it.
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/RGtbZI(Charles), http://goo.gl/9Q62UQ (Peterson)
Jared Hines is a fantasy football contributor at The Sports Script. Follow him on Twitter @Jared_Hines27!