January 7 2011 Last updated at 10:45 AM ET
Projecting the First Round of Fantasy Football's 2011 Draft
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN
2. Arian Foster, RB, HOU
3. Michael Vick, QB, PHI
Foster and Vick put up fantasy MVP numbers at their respective positions, and they were inarguably the top two players of the 2010 season. So why is Peterson first? Consistency, my friends. He's topped 1,600 total yards in each of his first four seasons, and with the Vikings falling apart around him -- not to mention his body giving him injury problems in the second half -- Peterson still averaged 4.6 yards per carry and scored 13 TDs. He offers zero bust potential, which is what you want from a first round pick.
It appears the offensive leadership will remain in place this offseason for Houston, which is fantastic news for Foster. He racked up 2,218 yards and 18 TDs, receiving 20-plus touches in 12 of Houston's 16 games. If he can stay healthy again in 2011, he should have no problems matching that yardage output, and double-digit TDs are a given.
Arguments can definitely be made that Vick deserves to go No. 1 overall. He average five more points per game than the second-best fantasy QB and seven more points per game than all others but one. Factor in that two of those Vick performances came in half-games (the Week 1 game he entered late and the Week 4 game he left early) and what he did was truly remarkable. However, potential injury is going to remain a factor with Vick's playing style, and when combined with the basic fact you start one QB and at least two RBs in most leagues, it means owners are going to have trouble pulling the trigger on Vick at the top of the draft. He shouldn't fall past three, though.
4. Chris Johnson, RB, TEN
5. Jamaal Charles, RB, KC
Johnson was the king of the fantasy world after the 2009 season, rushing for over 2,000 yards and breaking Marshall Faulk's yards from scrimmage record. While he didn't live up to the lofty expectations that come with a No. 1 overall fantasy pick, he did total over 1,600 yards while scoring 12 TDs, numbers that were good enough to place him fifth at his position at season's end. With things going wrong left and right for Tennessee, this performance will likely be perceived as Johnson's floor. We already know his ceiling (2009). He's a very safe pick in the first round of the draft.
Charles had a remarkable season, finishing as the third-best fantasy back overall despite receiving just 230 carries. In fact, he touched the ball 85 less times than Johnson yet finished ahead of the Tennessee back in the final rankings. So why aren't we higher on the Kansas City running back? Two reasons: he nearly set an all-time record for yards per carry for a running back, and unless you think he'll consistently make a run at Jim Brown's all-time best, you'll be expecting a bit of a regression from Charles. Secondly, nothing in Kansas City leads one to believe they'll suddenly start giving the ball to charles 20 times per game; in fact, he averaged less than 15 touches in the Chiefs' final four games while fighting for a division crown. Still, Charles' upside will warrant this high of a pick, despite him scoring just eight TDs this season. He's much like Ray Rice after the 2009 season, and we saw Rice regress a bit in 2010.
6. LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI
7. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC
8. Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB
9. Darren McFadden, RB, OAK
McCoy was able to rank fifth among running backs in points per game even though, like Charles, he had his workload severly limited. Appearing in 15 games before sitting out the season finale, McCoy only received 207 carries but averaged 5.2 yards per carry to top 1,000 yards rushing. Of course, he was huge in the passing game, racking up 78 catches for 592 yards. For this season, he jumps into the top five in PPR leagues. As it is now, he's going to remain a mid-first round pick for the forseeable future, as former Brian Westbrook owners know the value he carries as a dual threat.
Jones-Drew was a consensus top-three pick in 2010, and it's easy to see why. In his first full year as the Jaguars' feature back, MJD piled up 1,391 rushing yards, 53 catches, 374 receiving yards and 16 TDs. I wondered whether he was worth the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He performed very well between the 20s this year, seeing an uptick both in yards per game and yards per reception, but he had trouble staying healthy and particularly getting into the end zone, scoring only seven TDs. Offseason knee surgery and rehab will conspire to deflate his value a bit, but if he comes back 100 percent there's no more dangerous player in the draft you'll find outside the top three selections.
Is Rodgers a stretch for the No. 8 pick? I don't think so. He scored 1.7 more points per game than the third-place QB, and that's with coming out of the Detroit game very early. Like Vick, he adds a lot of value on the ground. He has plenty of weapons in the passing game and suffers through a lackluster rushing attack. He's as consistent as they come at the QB position. I ultimately feel he'll get picked eighth because there's a bit of a break in the RB talent at this point of the draft, and teams with the eighth pick should feel comfortable grabbing the QB and then finding a RB in the second round that's relatively close in value to the players available. Pass on Rodgers at this slot and it's possible both he and Tom Brady will be off the board when this team picks again. It's a risk not worth taking.
McFadden finished second in fantasy football at points per game from the running back position, which means he's a shoo-in to be taken in the first round. But persistent injury problems make him much more of a risk than anyone we've covered thus far. He ended up missing three games in 2010, two early in the season and one in Week 17, but did total 1,664 yards and score 10 TDs in his other 13 games. The choice between him and Rodgers ultimately comes down to piece of mind -- they're at opposite ends of the potential injury risk spectrum. McFadden could go anywhere from five to 15, but that second-place finish will likely earn him a spot in the middle-to-end of the first round.
10. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT
11. Ray Rice, RB, BAL
12. Michael Turner, RB, ATL
All three backs finished as RB1s, yet their final performances may have disappointed a few owners. Mendenhall was unable to top four yards per carry running behind Pittsburgh's decimated offense line, but he did score 13 TDs and his heavy workload of 20 carries per game allowed Mendenhall to finish with 1,274 rusing yards. Rice received 53 more carries in 2010 than he did in 2009, but after falling from 5.3 yards per carry to a 4.0 mark, Rice left owners with a bittersweet taste. He also reached the end zone just six times, and his inability to score more TDs will continue to be a problem until Baltimore puts more faith in him near the end zone. Before the season started, we said that Turner's upside was severely limited by the fact he doesn't catch passes. It was true again in 2010 -- Turner had just 12 receptions all year. Even with receiving 334 carries, the Atlanta back was only able to tie for 12th in points per game among running backs. If he can stay healthy again next year, he should have a similar season.
Just Missed the Cut
Tom Brady, QB, NE
Frank Gore, RB, SF
Peyton Hillis, RB, CLE
Andre Johnson, WR, HOU
Roddy White, WR, ATL
Brady threw for 3,900 yards, scored 37 TDs (36 through the air and one on the ground) and only turned the ball over five times (four interceptions, one lost fumble). For that, we make him our third-best QB? It shows you the insane talent atop the QB rankings. Brady's lack of running ability ultimately keeps him under Vick and Rodgers, but anyone would be happy to have him. Depending on the strategy of the team's drafting near the end of the first round, Brady could definitely find himself among the top 12 picks.
Gore hasn't been able to join the elite ranks of running backs simply because he doesn't receive enough work and he doesn't reach the end zone enough. Gore has scored 10 TDs just once in his six-year career, and he's received more than 260 carries just once as well (way back in 2006). This season he'll have to recover from a broken hip, and that and his underwhelming numbers will likely cause him to slide to the second round.
Hillis was a beast for the first half of 2010 but appeared to wear down as the season waned. He'll now have to again battle for respect from an all-new coaching staff, and it's very likely that even if he does gain their trust, he'll be used as part of a committee to keep him healthy and fresh. Of all this year's top backs, Hillis is the one that worries me the most heading into 2011.
You'll find no receivers in our projected top 12. One reason is that no one really jumps out of the pack as better than the others, as the top seven receivers in points per game all finished within a point of each other per game. Johnson is likely your best bet, but the emergence of Foster as a scoring threat should give owners pause before they use a first-rounder on the talented receiver. After all, one of the things that made Johnson special in recent drafts was Houston's lack of a scoring back. White is probably my pick for top receiver selected in 2011 drafts. We expected a top-five season out of him this year and he delivered, finishing just behind Brandon Lloyd and Dwayne Bowe in overall fantasy points. I don't think anyone expects a full repeat from either of those guys.
How do you think the 2011 fantasy draft will shape up? Let us know in the comments section.
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