The first pick in the draft, time to show what a genius you are, right? Actually, no. You can get cute and show what a genius you are when you pull a magic rabbit out of your hat at the end of the draft or out of the free agent pool. At the top of the draft, you can’t afford to take risks. You need consistent performers that will give your team a backbone week in and week out. Injury risks are bad. Streaky players are bad. Players without track records… bad. Solid, consistent veterans in the primes of their careers, GREAT.
With those thoughts in mind, here are my first round Rankings and Players I would avoid for standard (non-PPR Leagues)
2 ) Arian Foster – See article above. Given his nagging injury, I would add that it might be even more important to pay attention to Ben Tate and fully consider the handcuff options in Houston, which are unfortunately in flux.
3 ) Ray Rice – Rice gets the nod over Charles for several reasons. First, he is a better receiver, which means he is less likely to get shut down in any given week. Second, while Ricky Williams is in Baltimore now to take some carries, Charles is competing not only with Thomas Jones, but with the forgotten wildcard Dexter McCluster and with potential TD vulture Le’Ron McClain. Speaking of McClain – he is no longer the fullback in Baltimore and blocking specialist Vonta Leach is, potentially making Rice even better. Finally, with Baltimore’s defense, the Ravens are unlikely to be involved in too many wild shootouts, favoring the run on a consistent basis.
4 ) Jamaal Charles – Even though I would take Rice ahead of him (see above), Charles is still a solid option in the prime of his career.
5 ) Rashard Mendenhall – Taking Mendenhall this high might be a bit controversial, but based on my criteria, I believe he is the next best option. He had a great year last year (1273 yds, 13 TD’s) and is only 24, entering his fourth year in the league. When it comes to running backs, ages 24 through about 27 are generally the prime of most players careers.
6 ) Michael Turner – He is a solid back, but is older than you may realize at 29. He also plays a brutally punishing style and has racked up some heavy workloads since going to Atlanta. Hopefully, a renewed emphasis on the passing game in Atlanta will keep him fresh deeper into the season. Most would put him ahead of Mendenhall on a shear production basis, but I am concerned at the risk of a 29 year old running back starting to break down.
7 ) LeSean McCoy – The picks start to get tough here. McCoy fits the mold of rising young back with great receiving capability. He should be moving into the prime of his career and his pass catching ability will help him in games when the run is shut down. I could see taking a WR in this slot, but there are several solid second and third round WR’s (Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin, Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings)… but not much in the way of slam dunk RB’s by that point. He will lose some carries to Ronnie Brown, but his pass catching should help offset that loss and keep him in the game. (If/when Vick goes down, they could just run a Brown/McCoy wildcat the rest of the year.)
8 ) Larry Fitzgerald – With all of the most likely dominant backs off the board, its time to start looking at WR’s. This is a very tough call and a bit of a risk. However, for the reasons I discussed here, I think Fitzgerald is the best option at WR this year.
9 ) Andre Johnson – If you took Johnson ahead of Fitzgerald or even ahead of McCoy, you certainly would not be off base. He is consistently one of the two or three best WR’s in the league and likely to repeat that performance this year.
10 ) Calvin Johnson – Johnson is a great value pick after the first of the big two WR’s are off the board. If Matthew Stafford stays healthy, his numbers should improve. If Stafford does not, you can probably expect the same numbers as last year, which were still pretty good.
11 ) Darren McFadden – Most would say this is low, but I’m still not fully sold on McFadden playing a full year. He is explosive and looks poised to finally fully fulfill his potential, but has injury waiting to happen written all over him. If you do go with McFadden, I would make sure to have plenty of other options at RB on your bench.
12 ) Roddy White – Roddy White somehow still seems to be an underappreciated fantasy monster, quietly ranking in the top 6 for WR’s in both 2009 and 2010. With Julio Jones in the lineup, I would expect a bit of a drop in TD scoring, but probably still a solid year.
Players I would avoid
If you hadn’t noticed, there are three glaring omissions from my rankings – Chris Johnson, Michael Vick, and Aaron Rodgers. Someone in your league will almost certainly take at least some of them in the first round, but I do not believe it is a good idea. (In fact, the last three picks above will likely be knocked out of the first round, since someone will take the three I omitted.)
Chris Johnson – At this point, the holdout is just too risky. You could lose him for half the season. When he does come back, he will be rusty and he did not have a great year by his standards last season. Other options, like Javon Ringer may also have a chance to prove themselves in his absence, leading to a loss of carries.
Michael Vick – First, I simply do not see a need to take a QB this high when numerous great options are still on the board (see articles here and here). Second, Vick is a huge injury risk and a candidate to have a big letdown.
Aaron Rodgers – If I did take a first round QB, Rodgers would probably be the guy this year. He has been consistent and dominant. He has some injury issues, but unlike Vick, his style of play does not scream “pancake tackle me.” That said, I still think there are too many other quarterbacks available as late as Rounds 7-10 to make this a worthwhile pick, especially in the top half of the first round where he may well go.