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It can be generally assumed that four players stand alone in the top ranks in Fantasy Football drafts. In the top picks you will find the usual suspects from year to year, with a new name popping in from time to time.

This year there are the same four running backs at the top. Some debate can be had for Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski, but this article will focus on the top four running backs and make the case for number one in 2015 drafts.

The fantasypros.com average draft position rankings have the top four backs and Brown occupying the top five spots in both standard leagues and PPR. For the purposes of this article they will be discussed in the order of their current PPR ADP.

With respect to their schedules, all of the Top 4 guys have similar types of schedules for the season, three tightly grouped together, and all in the bottom half of schedules against opposing run defenses.

Each of these guys has their own kind of warts, so which guy should be the top pick?

Let’s take a look at making the case for number one in 2015.

As we begin making the case for number one in 2015, we look at Adrian Peterson. Peterson  has risen to the top of the ADP for both standard and PPR leagues on fantasypros.com. Peterson is returning from what amounts to a season away from football in 2014 after playing only one game last year before being placed on the commissioners exempt list due to child abuse allegations. Peterson enters the 2015 season at 30 years old, an age usually considered over the hill for his position.

Looking at his 2012 and 2013 seasons consistency using Bob Lung’s consistency guide, Peterson had 25 of 30 games that ranked as quality games. That amounts to an 83 percent consistency ranking over a two year span. Peterson has good splits for five of the six categories of run defenses he will face.

On the road against Top 10 defenses, he is only a 33 percent consistent player, with two of six quality games. On the road against middle of the road defenses, Peterson had five of six quality games, for a percentage of 83. At home he has been perfect for all tiers of defensive competition, 14 of 14. And finally on the road against bad defenses Adrian had five of five quality games.

The 2015 schedule for Peterson is the 19th best schedule of run defenses from last year. The average rank of defenses they he will face is 15.62 overall. Only facing five Top 10 run defenses for the season is not a bad thing. The season opens up tough for Peterson, facing four Top 10 defenses in the first six weeks of the season.

Obviously after that opening the schedule gets much easier for the rest of the year. A caveat to the opening is that he will face San Francisco in Week 1 of the year, and even though they were a Top 10 defense last year against the run, with the losses they sustained in the off season and coaching change, they figure to be a bit worse this year.

The playoff run for Peterson looks good. Week 14 sees him face the stiffest competition against the run of the Fantasy playoffs against Arizona (13th last year). Week 15 is a home game against the 17th-ranked Chicago Bears run defense. In Week 16 the 30th-ranked Giants come to town for a tilt. If your league plays to Week 17, the 23rd-ranked Green Bay Packers are on the slate.

The warts for Peterson are numerous.

First, there is his age. At 30 years old, he isn’t a spring chicken anymore. On top of that, the layoff from last season, where he played only one game, could have a detrimental effect on both his body and his ability. Some have said that the rest for his body could be good, but the lack of play and competition could have consequences.

Is Charles Number One?

The next back we will be making the case for number one in 2015 for is Jamaal Charles. Charles is currently the second overall pick in PPR formats according to fantasypros.com. Coming into the 2015 season Charles will be 29 years old and playing his eighth season for the Chiefs. In the past three seasons, Charles has seen his carries diminish every year. In 2013, the first year under head coach Andy Reid, his targets in the passing game were huge, but that tailed off in 2014.

Consistency has not exactly been the name of Charles’ Fantasy game. In 2014 he had 10 of 15 quality games for 67 percent using Bob Lung’s consistency guide. Over his last three seasons he had 33 quality games out of 46, for a 72 percent consistent performance. When you look at his splits, Charles has been consistent at home against good and middle ranked defenses, at about 88 percent. Interestingly at home against bad defenses he was only at 57 percent, four of seven quality games. On the road Charles has been suboptimal. His best showing is against bottom tier defenses on the road, at 75 percent quality games. Against good and middle of the road defenses, his consistency is only at 57 percent.

The run defense schedule the Chiefs will face this year comes in just behind that of Peterson and the Vikings at 20th overall. They will face an average ranked defense of 15.56 in the 2015 season. Six Top 10 defenses await them this season. The season opens with the Chiefs facing two Top 10 defenses. Things get better for the next four weeks when they face no better than the 17th ranked run defense from a season ago. The next three weeks see a brutal stretch of Top 6 run stoppers, including last year’s top two squads.

The playoff run for the Chiefs has a soft landing for Week 14 at home against the Chargers. Week 15 presents a more difficult challenge on the road against the Ravens and their fourth-ranked run defense from last year. If your championship week is 16, you can jump up and down as Charles will face the worst run defense in the league last year in the Browns. And if you happen to play to Week 17, finishing up against the Raiders and their 22nd-ranked run defense should set you up well to bring home the trophy.

The warts for Charles are not quite as bad as with Peterson.

He is 29 years old, the downside of NFL running back careers. His touches have decreased over the past two seasons. Andy Reid seemed to reduce his carries at the end of last season. He didn’t have a week over 13 carries for the last five weeks of the season. And you have to handcuff him. With many backs you may not have to carry their backup. If the backup lacks the talent or it is unlikely he would get the bulk of the work, it just isn’t worth it. But Knile Davis does. In my opinion that is using two roster spots for one player, something I don’t really like doing.

Perhaps Le’Veon Bell?

Third we look at Le’Veon Bell making the case for number one in 2015. Bell is currently the third back in ADP on fantasypros.com. The youngest of the players in the top four running backs, Bell has the most glaring issue this season in his current thee game suspension. This, in effect, will cause him to miss 30 percent of your season, assuming your playoffs begin in Week 14.

Bell was the top back last season, scoring 370.5 points. He had a perfect 16 for 16 in quality games last season, one of three 100 percent consistent backs. In his first two seasons, Bell has been 28 for 29 in the quality game statistic created by Bob Lung for his consistency guide. Bell has been amazingly consistent in just about every situation. His only consistency percentage that is less than 100 is against average defenses on the road. Even with that, it is one game, just one.

Looking at the schedule for Bell this season, the first four games are tough. At this point we must assume that he will remain suspended for the first three games. When Bell returns from his suspension, he will find the fourth-ranked run defense of the Ravens waiting for him. The following six weeks could be quite a bonanza. The only defense that he will face that was better than 20th last season will be that of the Arizona Cardinals (13) in Week 6.

Overall the run defenses the Steelers face over the course of the season are the 18th-ranked schedule. The average rank of their opponents against the run is 15.87 and they will play six of the Top 10 run defenses on the year. This is the best ranked of all the schedules discussed in this article, but not by much. Another positive for Bell’s chances are that the passing defenses the Steelers will play are very tough this season. Their pass defense schedule ranks 29th in the league and the average rank they face is 13.5. This leads to the thought that controlling the game and having success will be done on the ground.

So the elephant in the room is the suspension.

If Bell misses 3 games and has a bye in Week 11, it is hard for me to want to take him first. I have heard and read many others in the industry say that you can just fill in with a replacement level player, but it is unlikely to be the same guy. Another theory is that you can just take DeAngelo Williams for the first three weeks, but that strategy is flawed. Williams is in no way as talented as Bell is, and the first three weeks are against Top 15 run defenses from a year ago. So Williams is a waste of a roster spot in my opinion.

Last, but not Lacy

Eddie Lacy is the fourth running back on this list, and the last player we will be making the case for number one in 2015. While he is fifth in ADP on fantasypros.com, he is the fourth running back, and in my opinion, has more value at four than does Antonio Brown. Lacy has been a good running back over his first two years, but he too has some issues that make me hesitate.

Last season came with a tough start for Lacy as he faced a Top 5 defense each of the first three weeks of the season. After Week 3 in 2014, Lacy was a very consistent quality game scorer. Overall last year Lacy had 12 of 16 games in the quality games category. After that rough start it was 12 of 13. His season percentage of quality games was 75 percent. In his first two seasons he has had a total of 25 quality games of his 31 played.

As I said, Lacy faced three Top 5 defenses to start the season last year. He did not fare well in those games, amassing only 113 yards rushing and six catches for 38 yards through the first three weeks. This shows that he can be contained by the better rushing defenses. His numbers against Top 10 run defenses in his first two years are three of four games at home quality games, 75 percent, and three of five on the road for 60 percent.

The good news is that Lacy has scored well against middle of the pack defenses at home, four of five quality games, or 80 percent. On the road he didn’t do as well against the middle defenses, only two of four for 50 percent. He definitely scores well against bottom tier defenses, with 100 percent quality games on the road and at home, a perfect 13 of 13.

Here is where the bad news starts with Lacy.

As we have established, he has not performed as well against top and middle ranked defenses on the road. Well this year, the Packers face the 27th ranked schedule for run defenses in the league. With an average ranking of 14.06, the Packers will face off against six Top 10 run stopping units. The season looks to be a mish mash of quality defenses and bad ones, with no long streak of either this year. Lacy plays five games on the road against teams ranked in the top half of run defenses last season, and of those three are Top 7 teams.

The playoff run is a mixed bag as well for Lacy. Week 14 sees them play the eighth-ranked run defense of the Cowboys, who by then should have the services of Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy back. Week 15 has an easier match up against the 22nd ranked run defense of the Raiders. Then in Week 16 the Packers will travel to Arizona to play the Cardinals in many Fantasy championships. If you play to week 17, the 25th ranked run defense of the Vikings awaits. In addition, the week before the playoffs will begin, a trip to the top ranked Lions awaits Lacy.

So, as you can see, the question of who to draft at the number one pick is a tough one. They all have warts of one kind or another. Whether it be a suspension, year away from the game, age, difficulty of schedule and history of not performing against tough opponents, every one of these guys has a question. Now what? Who to take?

Here is my take:

As it stands today, with Bell having a three-game suspension, I have to put Adrian Peterson at the top. With the most consistent history and second best schedule of the group, he’s my guy. Jamaal Charles is the second guy for me. He is older and might lose some work this year, but as long as he can remain with around the same number of carries as last year, and remain a presence in the passing game, he has the second best floor to me.

If you make your playoffs, Charles gives you a good chance to win it all. Third, I would take Lacy. His history against top level defenses and tough schedule this year have me lower on him than all of the other guys in this group. Le’Veon Bell is my fourth choice. He is a phenom, but with the loss of almost a third of your games this year, and tough games in Week 15 and 16, if you make it to the playoffs with Bell as your top selection, he may leave you flat when it matters most.

Now the caveat.

If Bell has his suspension reduced to one game, I like him a lot more. He would jump all the way up to my top pick. The schedule is better, and he has been very consistent. The playoff run is not my favorite, but I think with nearly a full season of his production, I take my chances there. The runout for the rest would be then Peterson second, followed by Charles and then Lacy.

Hopefully this information helps to inform you of some interesting and useful statistics to make an informed decision in making the case for number one in 2015. Each of these guys has their own kind of warts, but they will still likely be pretty productive for your teams. Picking the first guy on any team is hard, football is never completely predictable. Using the players own history and a picture of the future can help you make that selection so you win your leagues.

 

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