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 Titans' offense, defense and special teams this year.
The Music City melodrama between Jeff Fisher and Vince Young is finally over. The either-or ultimatum resulted in both high-profile personalities leaving town with varying degrees of regret, disappointment and unfulfilled potential.
TENNESSEE • Inside the Locker Room
With Nathan Rush of Athlon Sports
Chris Johnson seemed skittish at the line of scrimmage last year. What changed from 2009 to ’10, and do you expect a return to fantasy dominance?
After scoring a 76-yard TD against the Raiders in the opener and then going the distance on an 85-yard romp (which was called back due to an away-from-the-play holding call) against the Steelers in Week 2, Johnson seemed to be looking for holes to hit home runs with, rather than just taking what the defense allowed. But who can blame him? In 2009, CJ2K scored on runs of 91, 89, 85, 57 and 52 yards, along with catch-and-runs of 69 and 66 yards. CJ is always one cut away from a foot race to the end zone. As long as he’s faster than everyone chasing him, CJ’s fantasy gold.
Will Kenny Britt’s off-the-field issues impact his ability to become an elite fantasy receiver this season?
Britt is one of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects in fantasy football this season. The 6'3", 215-pound 22-year-old was the top player in fantasy in Week 7 last year — seven catches, 225 yards, three TDs — but has yet to show the type of maturity or dedication necessary to take the next step.
How much will the offense change under new coach Mike Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer?
The Titans have a new coach, but expect the same run-first philosophy. With Palmer calling plays, expect CJ to put up pass-catching numbers closer to his 2009 totals (503 yards and two TDs) than those of 2010 (245 yards and one TD).
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: NO, @IND, JAC
It's hard to say what this offense is going to be like come Weeks 14-15-16. All three opposing defenses were in the bottom half against fantasy RBs last season, including the Colts (24.5 ppg) and Jags (23.7 ppg), who were in the bottom eight. Good news for Chris Johnson. But we expect the Saints, with former Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams calling the defensive shots, to improve, and the other two are AFC South rivals.
• Athlon Best Bets Sleeper: Jared Cook, TE Deep-Sleeper: Javon Ringer, RB Overvalued: Nate Washington, WR Top Rookie: Akeem Ayers, LB Bounce-Back: Derrick Morgan, DL Top IDP: Barrett Ruud, LB
• Try to Avoid
Unrealized potential, lack of talent, off-the-field transgressions and a questionable quarterback situation make Tennessee’s receivers a tough sell for anyone looking for help in 2011. WAIT UNTIL: 9th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
Vince Young failed to become Tennessee’s franchise quarterback, and the team will turn to Locker at some point in 2011. Locker needs to work on his accuracy but has all of the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. Locker should be one of the top keeper picks at quarterback but will likely hold no fantasy value in redraft leagues this season. Chris Johnson has threatened to hold out, which makes the addition of Harper even more valuable.
Rookies will still get paid, just not on a Sam Bradford level
The final hurdle to NFL labor piece may have been cleared Thursday night.
ESPN reported that the league's owners and the NFL Players Association have reached a tentative agreement on a new rookie wage system, which has been said to be the final stumbling block toward a new collective bargaining agreement.