Athlon Sports has made Houston Texans running back Arian Foster our No. 1 overall player. But it did not come without a healthy debate. Below the case is made for Foster being the consensus No. 1. We also make a case for the other four players who could be your league’s top pick, and there would be nothing wrong with that, either.
Arian Foster for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 1 Overall Arian Foster of the Texans should be the first overall pick in your fantasy draft. He had the most yards, most touchdowns and second-most catches by a running back last season. Foster scored close to 100 fantasy points more (in most formats) than any other running back in 2010. The only argument against him being taken in the top spot seems to be, “Well, he can’t do it again.” Why not? The third-year workhorse is young, his strong offensive line returns, and Houston’s solid passing game will keep opposing defenses from keying on him. It also does not hurt knowing that if Foster puts together another stellar campaign, he should be rewarded with a lucrative contract. Besides his eight 100-plus yard games, he was held below 50 yards in only two contests. The main thing to like about Foster’s game is that he’s a consistent producer across the board. Despite not having blazing speed, he was in the top four in the league last year in 20-plus yard carries. Foster also had a whopping 66 catches, and he receives his team’s goal line carries. Trust in a budding young star in a loaded offense. Trust in Gary Kubiak’s track record of being able to run the ball. And do not hesitate to take Arian Foster if you have the No. 1 pick in your draft.
Number to Know that soldifies Arian Foster as the No. 1 overall pick: 25
Arian Foster, as a running back in format where all TDs count six points, was the third-best scorer in all of fantasy football. He was surrounded by two QBs ahead of him 12 QBs behind him before the No. 2 RB showed up. Even if you took 25 percent of Foster's scoring away from last season, he still would have been better than Peyton Hillis by 5.2 points. It's worth repeating: Even if Foster had not played in four games last season (and he even missed two quarters via coach's benching), he still would have outscored the second-best back by 5.2 points.
Adrian Peterson for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 2 Overall
Having the first pick in 2011 might be more of a curse than a blessing as there are more names with legitimate claims to the No. 1 slot than ever before. So when splitting hairs, it is easy to select the most naturally gifted running back on the planet. Yes, he has quarterback concerns and O-line question marks. However, the offense still runs through No. 28. How many backs can say that their career low in rushing is 1,298 yards? Peterson has also added the receiving aspect to his game in the last two seasons with 79 catches for 777 yards over that span. He had only 40 catches for 393 yards in his first two seasons. All Day is the safest and most dependable back in the draft — and has as much upside as any other player in the league.
Ray Rice for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 3 Overall
The case for Rice hinges on a few distinct factors that separate him from the other names atop the rankings. First, he has arguably the best team around him, with established stars at quarterback, wide receiver and head coach to go with an opportunistic defense that normally gives the offense the ball in good field position. Second, he is a complete tailback in that he is a true threat in the receiving game. His 141 receptions in the last two seasons are far ahead of every other elite tailback on the board. Additionally, his crossover schedule could not be easier, as Baltimore will face the worst division in football in 2011, the NFC West. Finally, his running style and size make him a more durable option. He is low to the ground, powerful and rarely takes direct hits. If he can add a couple more scores to his ledger, Rice could easily finish No. 1.
Chris Johnson for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 4 Overall(pre-holdout)
Chris Johnson should be viewed as the Usain Bolt favorite in this year’s No. 1 fantasy running back foot race. No other back can match CJ’s combo of recent-past production, present-day prime and near-future potential. Johnson’s career thus far has been all about numbers — from his record-breaking 4.24 40 at the 2008 Combine to his record-breaking 2,509 total yards in 2009. Last year, CJ2K became CJ1.36K, but that is missing the point; CJ is a total yards total package. Historically, only LaDainian Tomlinson and Eric Dickerson produced more total yards over their first three seasons than Johnson’s 5,606. The 5’11”, 191-pound playmaker will turn 26 on Sept. 23, and he has never missed a game due to injury (CJ sat out Week 17 for the then-13–2 Titans in ’08). He has his eyes on the prize at every level — finding daylight along the line (read: signing a new contract), juking linebackers (read: securing endorsement deals) and sprinting to the end zone (read: establishing his place in NFL history). Look around and do the math: Johnson is statted-up. CJ’s average game is 119.3 total yards and 0.81 TDs; his average season is 1,868.7 total yards and 12.7 TDs. Johnson is the gold standard for fantasy running backs and it’s not even a close race.
Jamaal Charles for No. 1 — Athlon Rank: No. 5 Overall
With so much uncertainty surrounding the No. 1 overall pick, why not roll the dice on one of the league’s rising stars? Charles finished 2010 No. 3 overall in fantasy scoring among running backs and has plenty of room to grow in terms of carries. With Thomas Jones declining, Charles should easily surpass the 230 carries he posted last season. Jones will still be a factor around the goal line, but Charles is a good bet to increase his five rushing scores. Charles has been the team’s top big-play threat, increasing his yards per carry by at least a half a yard in each of the last three seasons. Also helping Charles’ case is his improving surrounding cast. The addition of Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin should give quarterback Matt Cassel another weapon in the passing game, which will prevent defenses from focusing too much on stopping the rushing attack. Even though Kansas City’s schedule is more difficult in 2011, and the coaching staff doesn’t want to overwork him, the arrow is pointing up on Charles’ fantasy value.
Every once in a while there’s that player who has the “magic” season in fantasy football. But what does history say his next season will look like? Let’s take a look at those players over the five seasons prior to 2010 who led their positions and were at least 30 points ahead of their next-closest competitor in one season, and see how they fared the next season. A repeat is possible. However, it’s also worth noting that the two who did repeat their No. 1 ranking did not increase their points totals in doing so.
An in-depth look at the Texans' offense, defense and special teams this year.
Gary Kubiak is in select company. It is very rare that a head coach who has only one winning season and no playoff appearances on his résumé is asked to return for a sixth season. In fact, Bart Starr of the Packers (1975-83) is the only other coach since the NFL-AFL merger to be so fortunate.
Even Kubiak thought 2010 was a “playoffs or bust” season. He was given a reprieve and a new defensive coordinator. What can he do with them?
• Inside the Locker Room
With Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle
What are the chances that Arian Foster can repeat his elite 2010 season?
One key to Foster’s breakout season was the hands-on offseason work from Texans running backs coach Chick Harris. Harris knew which buttons to push, and he played a huge role in turning Foster into a weapon. The lockout kept them apart. How Foster handled the offseason and his new fame is anyone’s guess. Remember, Foster still had mild discipline issues during the season (he was late for and missed meetings), which is why he didn’t start at Oakland. Even if Foster comes into the season ready to roll, expect his load to be lightened by Derrick Ward and 2010 second-round pick Ben Tate, who sat out the entire season because of a broken ankle. The Texans will want to keep Foster healthy, so he is unlikely to see 327 carries again. Before Foster, 31 NFL running backs had 1,600-yard seasons. Only seven of them did it two years in a row. Among those who didn’t: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.
What’s the most intriguing question regarding fantasy football and this team in your opinion?
Never draft a Texans defense should be on Page 1 of any reputable fantasy football manual. That might not be the case this year, though, thanks to the arrival of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. Where Phillips goes, good defense tends to follow. The seven times Phillips has taken over as a team’s new defensive coordinator (including 2009 in the middle of his stint as the Cowboys’ head coach), the squad allowed on average 80 fewer points than it did the previous season. Deduct that many points from the 427 the Texans gave up in 2010, and you’d have the third-lowest total in team history. Phillips’ new defenses forced an average of 33 turnovers in his first season. The Texans’ franchise record for turnovers is 30 (2004).
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: @CIN, CAR, @IND
Gone are the days when we used to wonder only what pass Ds were going up against the Texans (for the record, they get the 14th, 11th and 13th pass Ds from a year ago). Need anymore of a reason why Arian Foster is the No. 1 player overall? The Texans take on the 19th, 23rd and 25th run defenses during their fantasy playoff run.
• Athlon Best Bets
Sleeper: Jacoby Jones, WR Deep-Sleeper: Ben Tate, RB Overvalued: DeMeco Ryans, LB Top Rookie: J.J. Watt, DL Bounce-Back: Brian Cushing, LB Top IDP: Mario Williams, DL/LB
• Try to Avoid
Owen Daniels, TE
Daniels has failed to stay healthy the last two seasons, missing 13 games over that span. In what may be the deepest year ever for tight ends, Daniels is only worth a mid-to-late-round flier as a backup. WAIT UNTIL: 11th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
After finishing 30th in the NFL in total defense, the Texans devoted most of their attention in the draft to this unit. Watt and Brooks Reed add depth to the defensive line, and both are good fits for Houston’s new 3-4 scheme. The secondary remains a huge question mark, but Brandon Harris and Rashad Carmichael are capable of contributing immediately. Expect the Texans to feature one of the NFL’s most-improved defenses. T.J. Yates has long-term upside but will be Houston’s No. 3 quarterback in 2011.