Fantasy Football 2011: Who To Draft With The Number One Pick?

As the world’s best Brickbreaker player, I can tell you that being number one at something is generally awesome.  Usually this also holds true for nabbing the number one spot in your fantasy football draft as well.  (Especially after all the two-a-days you’ve put in).  Most seasons, the number one choice is clear.  LaDanian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, and Chris Johnson were, respectively, clear consensus favorites each of the past three seasons.

But 2011 isn’t so obvious.  Right now, Adrian Peterson is ranking number one across the ADP spectrum.  But a significant number of experts suggest grabbing Chris Johnson first, or last year’s breakout star, Arian Foster.  Jamaal Charles is an attractive #1 for many, and even Michael Vick has had entered the conversation.

So you have the number pick and want to know who to draft?   Here’s my advice:  TRADE DOWN.

I would try and trade down as deep as the #9 or #10 slot.  Main reason? There is a lot of depth at running back this year.  Names like Maurice Jones Drew, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, and even Rashard Mendenhall could easily enter top three status.  There are two quarterbacks in Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers who are possibly top ten material (going with “the preseason is meaningless” argument here), so why not set yourself up nicely for a stacked roster.  And let’s be honest, as appealing as those potential number ones are, they all come with major question marks. There’s a reason so many names are being bandied about, and its not because 2011 will be a record-setter for most points scored.  Let’s examine.

Arian Foster:  Foster electrified the league last year as the leader in rushing yards with 1616, plus 604 via the air.  With an upper echelon offensive line and a Kubiak system that is very running back friendly, Foster is nicely set up for another stellar year.

BUT, Foster sustained a hamstring injury in an 11-on-11 scrimmage at the start on training camp.  While he claims to be almost fully healed, and reports say he looks decent in camp (doesn’t everyone not named Haynewsworth and Tebow?), we still need to see Foster in an actual game.  There’s also the matter of the “minor” knee surgery he had in the offseason.  So while Foster could be the Fantasy MVP, he now has multiple body parts in the “Fragile – Do Not Break” column.

Adrian Peterson:  Many are saying AP is the safest bet, and on the surface I wouldn’t disagree.  He’s been a consistent producer all four years of his NFL career, always in double digits in touchdowns and running for at  least 1298 yards.  AP provides comfort to any fantasy roster, and with Grandpa Brett nestled in Hattiesburg, his number of touches should increase.

BUT, he plays in the NFC North.  The three other teams in his division – Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay – are crazy stacked up front.  They all have punishing lines, the types that takes pride in limiting the productivity of a superstar running back.  The types that can cause significant injury on any play.  The types that will surely be paying a pretty penny to the Roger Goodell scotch fund.   That’s six games of possible shut down for AP.  File Peterson under the “potential blindsided” category.

Chris Johnson:  OK, Johnson didn’t follow up his 2,000 yard campaign with a repeat performance as he predicted, but he was still productive. And he’s still appealing for leagues with a bonus for 50+ yard plays.

BUT, the dude needs to get on a field.  The longer his hold out lasts, the more prone to injury he is with the off season conditioning programs being cut due to the lockout.  The closer we get to the season opener, the less inclined Mike Munchak will be to give Johnson the number of carries we’re used to seeing (approximately 20 touches a game).  Also, I’m convinced the addition of Matt Hasselbeck will result in a more balanced offense.

Jamaal Charles:  Everyone loves Charles.  What’s not to love about the 6.2 yards per carry and 1935 total yards he put on the board last season?

BUT, Charles still has some company – Thomas Jones.  Jones, while not as productive overall fantasy-wise still had 896 yards, qualifying the Chiefs as a bonafide running back by committee team, albeit a highly productive one. The Chiefs further crowded their running back corps with the additions of fullback LeRon McClain and Dexter McCluster. Who knows? Charles could be big play Johnny once again and even be the leading scorer in fantasy, but wouldn’t it be more enjoyable to own a top player not on the sidelines 25% of the time? Charles could be the ultimate “What Could Have Been” player.  The Chiefs also have one of the toughest schedules in the league facing the NFC North (see Adrian Peterson), as well as the Jets and Steelers.

Michael Vick:  After last night, let’s just get to the BUT here.  Sure, it’s easy to say “it’s just the preseason,” but Vick is in major danger of coming back down to Earth.  The truth is Vick has thrown at least one pick in every game last year after Week 12, including the playoff game vs. Green Bay.  Accuracy is an issue.  But of course susceptibility to injury is the bigger issue.  Vick will still make electrifying plays, but many of which will involve putting his own body in danger.  (Did you see what he tried to do to Troy Polamalu last night?) Vick is the ultimate high-risk, high reward player.

I could be wrong, and any of these guys could wind up being fantasy MVPs.  But with pretty attractive Top 15 options, I truly believe your best chance of pocketing some coinage and bragging rights come December is by trading down.