Fantasy: The Contrarian – No. 1 Pick in the Draft
Fantasy: The Contrarian – No. 1 Pick in the Draft
This is the conclusion of a two-part series examining the role of Yards Before Contact in running back efficiency. In Part One, I proposed that achieving YbCO is a skill and noted some big name backs who struggle in that area. In Part Two, we’ll look at the No. 1 pick dilemma and try to deduce which of the top runners might have the highest ceiling.
When you have one of the top picks in the draft, it’s easy to feel more pressure to hit on your selection. For starters, you have to decide on your risk profile. Do you want to select a player who could single-handedly win the league for you, or do you want to make a safer pick and rely on the rest of your draft? It’s been a few years since rostering players like Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, or LaDainian Tomlinson could almost guarantee a spot in the playoffs. Even CJ2K’s eponymous 2009 season fell far short of those standards. In 2011 the decision at No. 1 is harder than it’s ever been.
In preparing your RB cheat sheet for the draft, you have several important criteria to consider:
- Projected Total Carries
- Goal Line Looks
- Receiving Targets
A huge workload, a plethora of goal line attempts, or heavy use in the passing game can all offset concerns about efficiency. Having said that, if you have a pick in the top half of the first round, it’s imperative to examine how much value a runner is likely to get from each individual touch.
In deciding who to pick No. 1 overall, I want a player who has the potential to put together a transcendent season, especially if the same logic used to find that runner also protects me against significant downside.
One easy way to do this is to search for RBs who possess an elite profile in both yards after contact (2.8 YaCo/Att) and yards before contact (2.0 YbCO/Att). Even though this only equals a baseline of 4.8 yards per carry, it’s still a very demanding threshold. It gives an idea of just how difficult it is to reach a 5.0 yards per carry average, much less the 6.3 Jamaal Charles managed last year.
Here are the 2008-2010 results for the five backs currently in the conversation for the No. 1 pick. I’ve included their individual seasons as well as the final averages. Yards before contact is the highlighted column.
|Chris D. Johnson||2010||316||1365||4.32||32||2.83||1.49|
|Chris D. Johnson||2009||358||2037||5.69||12||2.99||2.70|
|Chris D. Johnson||2008||251||1228||4.89||14||3.11||1.78|
|Adrian L. Peterson||2010||283||1298||4.59||28||3.10||1.49|
|Adrian L. Peterson||2009||315||1394||4.43||32||2.90||1.52|
|Adrian L. Peterson||2008||363||1760||4.85||8||3.23||1.61|
* OL represents the PFF offensive line ranking for the runner’s team that season.
As you can see, only Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson are elite in both categories when we look at their three-year averages. Here are a few of the other important takeaways:
- Only four individual player seasons met the criteria (minimum 150 carries): Charles (2009, 2010), Johnson (2009), Rice (2009).
- Jamaal Charles has never averaged less than 2 yards before contact. If you exclude Foster’s rookie season (54 carries), no other player has more than one season at that benchmark.
- During this same time period, Adrian Peterson has never averaged more than 1.61 yards before contact. Among the potential No. 1s, only Chris Johnson (2010) has a season below that level.
- Jamaal Charles has easily the best season at 3.26 (2010). The next two best seasons are Chris Johnson’s 2.76 (2009) and Ray Rice’s 2.44 (2009).
- While offensive line strength appears to play a role, it certainly doesn’t explain all of the differences in yards before contact. Charles put up an elite number in 2009 when his OL was terrible, while Peterson put up a pedestrian mark in 2008 when his line was well above average.
- Johnson and Rice both failed to maintain the extremely high YbCO/Att numbers from their breakout campaigns. Foster’s 2010 performance is likely to regress for a variety of reasons. This is another red flag.
How you decide to use this information will depend on your league’s scoring format and your personal projections for the workloads of the backs. Before Foster re-aggravated his hamstring injury, he and Peterson were going 1-2 in most drafts. Foster’s mediocre performance in yards after contact combined with the strong likelihood of regression in his yards before contact moves him out of contention for the top spot on my board. Peterson is a safe pick, but his inability to completely transcend a lousy situation – a la Charles – also eliminates him for me.
Rice is not on the same talent level as Charles and Johnson, but numerous parallels between him and the Priest Holmes of Chiefs vintage keep him in the conversation. Except for goal line carries, his 2009 season was stronger than Foster’s 2010. Either he or LeSean McCoy will lead the league in RB receptions, making Rice the best pick in PPR formats.
In standard formats, two runners stand above them all. Charles is the NFL’s biggest rushing talent. His per carry numbers through three seasons are the best the NFL has ever seen. The Chiefs appear committed to giving him more carries this season. Logic and the weight of history suggest a steep regression, but Charles could lose a yard per carry off of his 2010 average and still be the best in the NFL.
Despite missing all of the preseason, Chris Johnson should easily surpass 350 touches again in 2011. He’s almost as good as Charles in the short and intermediate areas and possesses even better long speed. How you perceive the risk of the two players depends upon your injury philosophy. Do you think an additional 5 carries a game improves your safety net as a fantasy owner, or does it dramatically increase the risk of losing your best player to injury?
When you’re on the clock this weekend, don’t be cowed by the ADP of those who’ve drafted before you. Selecting Purple Jesus No. 1 is a cascade phenomenon, not the true wisdom of crowds. Don’t let it move you off of your conviction in Charles or Johnson.