June 03, 2010
If you get the No. 1 overall pick in a fantasy draft, you're not allowed to complain. But that doesn't mean you won't face a tricky decision. For most of us, the choice is between Chris Johnson, holder of the NFL single-season scrimmage yards record (2,509), and Adrian Peterson, holder of the single-game rushing yardage mark (296). Either way you'll get an elite talent entering his age-25 season, and you'll be well-positioned for a title run. In our first Spin Doctors of the season, two experts debate the merits of each franchise back. We invite you to read the arguments, cast your votes, then sign-up for Yahoo! Fantasy Football 2010.
Funston says: Watching Chris Johnson run a sweep reminds me of what it looked like when Neo finally “got” the Matrix. Would-be-defenders appear to be in slow motion as Johnson glides with a seeming effortlessness … and the next thing you know, he’s 20 yards down the field.
Johnson has a speed gear that no other running back can reach. And that “20 yards down field” comment is not hyperbole. Johnson totaled a league-high 22 runs of 20-plus yards last season, which was 10 more than runner-up Adrian Peterson. And this was for a team that was seventh-worst in the league in passing. There was but one player for Tennessee that a defense need concern itself with, and that player still reached the rarified air of 2,000 rushing yards.
There seems to be this mystique surrounding Adrian Peterson that he’s going to be – to steal a line from the movie “The Natural” – “The best there ever was, and the best there ever will be.” Well, you have to wonder how much better of a situation Peterson can ask for than what he’s already been afforded in his first three seasons. In that stretch, he’s benefitted from arguably one of the top offensive lines in the league. Last season, QB Brett Favre(notes) added an element to the passing game that allowed the offense to finish second in the league in scoring. And what we’ve gotten from Peterson is solid top three fantasy production from the running back position in each of his three seasons, but we have yet to see anything truly great, other than his highlight reel.
But part of what makes Peterson’s highlight reel so eye-catching is that he’ll often decide to run over a defender as opposed to run away from him. Peterson seems to relish contact whereas Johnson prefers a style that is more conscious of self-preservation. And in addition to the health concerns that come with that frenetic high-contact running style of Peterson’s, you also get the most fumbles by a running back in each of the past two seasons.
No doubt, Peterson is a special talent, but don’t let the building mythology sway you from making the wisest decision with the top pick on draft day. Chris Johnson closed out 2009 with 11 straight 100-yard games – I was an owner, and I'm here to tell you that it was a fantastic experience. He is the center of the Titans’ universe. The team will remain motivated to put the ball in his hands as much as possible. And, because Johnson is not devil-may-care with his body, he has a better chance than Peterson of holding up under that kind of workload.
Behrens responds: First of all, you can't really screw this up. It's like choosing between Earl Campbell and Walter Payton in a 1979 fantasy draft. It hardly seems possible to make a bad pick. Johnson is a ridiculous talent who just delivered one of the all-time seasons; Peterson is a walking highlight reel who scored a career-high 18 touchdowns last year (plus another three in the playoffs). These guys are fantastic. If you invest in either of them, your draft is off to a great start.
My main issue with Johnson is this: His 2009 season, as great as it was, isn't repeatable. He enjoyed a rare set of circumstances. In the final weeks of the season, Tennessee had only the slimmest of playoff chances (thanks to an 0-6 start), so Johnson's pursuit of individual stats became a primary team focus.
Was it necessary for him to carry eight times in the fourth quarter against St. Louis in Week 14, when his team led 33-0 after the third? Or how about all those fourth quarter carries against the Chargers in Week 16 (six for 53 yards), when the Titans were hopelessly behind?
It was fun while it lasted for Johnson owners, but that just wasn't a naturally occurring workload. It was a once-in-a-career event. It won't happen again. Johnson is still sensational, of course, but you'd be crazy to project another 400-touch campaign.
In contrast, Peterson could easily repeat or improve upon his '09 numbers. He remains the centerpiece of one of the league's best offenses, he's coming off back-to-back seasons with 1,800 total yards, and — again — he broke the plane 18 times last year. He also had a career-best 43 catches for 436 yards. With Chester Taylor(notes) out of town (and rookie Toby Gerhart(notes) in), Peterson's fantasy stock only goes up. He deserves the top spot on the draft board … although you can't go wrong picking first or second.
Photos via AP Images