Most of us in the fantasy universe can agree that Adrian Peterson is bar none the best back in football. We here at FanHouse are updating our rankings, and the consensus is that if you have the first pick in your draft, take Peterson. Where it gets extremely interesting is settling on the second running back to draft. In fact, with five sets of rankings already turned in, we have a total of four different options for the second-best RB in the land. Sounds like the perfect time to bust out another roundtable discussion. So who's number two? Well, we know it ain't Brian Westbrook...
Matt Snyder: I like Michael Turner -- and it's weird for me to not say Matt Forte considering my obvious biases. The entire Atlanta offense grew together last season before our eyes, but there is still room for more growth, as the youth and inexperience go away. I mean, if not for the love affair with Peterson, what would we be saying about a 27-year-old who has only 604 career carries and went for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns last season?
Now, with addition of tight end Tony Gonzalez, the middle of the defense will have a lot more to worry about than just Turner. Expect the Falcons to again run their offense primarily through the run game, with Roddy White stretching the field and Gonzalez garnering attention up the middle. This will allow Turner's 4.5 yards-per-carry figure to increase, and I fully expect him to put up numbers comparable to Peterson.
Of course, I know R.J. vehemently disagrees. Why?
White: For starters, it's absolutely criminal that the explosive Jerious Norwood couldn't even get 100 carries last year. With the Curse of 370 looming over Turner's head, you would have thought the team would find a way to give 2-3 more carries per game to Norwood during 2008. Now we enter 2009: the Falcons have added a fantastic red-zone weapon in Gonzalez, leading to less TDs for Turner. They have legitimate playoff aspirations, leading to the likelihood of Turner being conserved early in the season. If everyone stays healthy, I see a carries split of 300/150 between Turner and Norwood, at best. When you consider that Turner did absolutely nothing in the passing game last year, this puts him squarely behind the do-everything MJD.
Maurice Jones-Drew, unlike Turner, will see his carries move in a positive way this year. After he received nearly 200 carries while splitting time with Taylor last year, we should see that number jump by about 100 in 2009, as the coaching staff is keying up for a more rush-centric offense (last year, David Garrard threw 535 passes while the two RBs combined for 340 carries). Also consider that the Jaguars focused on rebuilding their offensive line this year, with their top two picks being extremely talented offensive tackles. Since I think both Turner and MJD will have about the same number of carries, and since I know MJD will obliterate Turner in the passing game, that makes Jones-Drew the easy choice as my No. 2 RB.
Knox Bardeen: After Peterson goes No. 1, I think I'm going to grab Jones-Drew. We've spent three years screaming at the Jags to start either him or Taylor and tell us which one prior to the game. We're not going to have that problem in 2009. MJD is getting the carries and he should get them in boatloads. When you add those 100 or so carries to his '08 numbers and imagine the same output of receptions, MJD turns into to an incredibly valuable fantasy option.
Sean Lalley: My only argument against MJD would be: do you really know if he's fully capable to carry the full load for an entire season? He's strong as all get out and doles out punishment, but Jones-Drew is still undersized -- one can only wonder if he can handle a 300-plus carry season. There's a reason he's been so solid in his defined role in Jacksonville. Think about Marion Barber -- everyone was dying for Julius Jones to get on with his life and let Barber be the featured (full-time) back. If we learned anything last season, it was that Barber was better served in his predefined role. He struggled to stay healthy as the featured back and closed on a sour note, failing to produce what everyone expected to be the logical next step: domination. Not 100% saying MJD will suffer the same fate, but it's something to ponder.
I couldn't agree with Snyder more on Turner. I think he's about as close as it gets to No. 1A. Atlanta will be an all-around better team this season. The benefit belongs to Turner, as Snyder mentioned in his comments regarding Gonzo and White allowing for even more space. Peterson is the name brand that you have to trust at No. 1, but Turner will be on par and perhaps greater than or equal to just about everything AP does this season.
Doug Bernstein: I am in the R.J. camp on Michael Turner. Yes, he had a great 2008 season rushing, but he is a non-entity in the passing game. The 370 Curse that was alluded to is legit. Of the 28 instances in which a running back had more than 370 carries, only once did the player have more rushing yards the following season. I am not overly worried though about the presence of Gonzalez in the red zone, considering the touchdown production Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes posted playing alongside the future Hall of Fame tight end.
Will Brinson: You Snyder, of all people, should be ashamed for not rolling Forte. Homer-isms aside, I also like Forte over Turner and MJD. He's got an improved passing game/offense and I'm firmly in agreement with everyone that Turner got way too much action last year. It's just irresponsible coaching/player management, regardless of how little mileage he had before, to do that to a guy who you inked to a big, long deal, especially with Norwood in the backfield.
Snyder: Forte will have better running lanes this year, with an improved offensive line and the fact that Cutler will be able to keep the defense honest. Still, he's not getting 63 catches again, because Captain Checkdown plays for Denver now. Additionally, reports from the Chicago area indicate the Bears don't want to run Forte into the ground early in his career and that Kevin Jones has looked great in the offseason. Thus, they are planning on a lower workload for Forte. I expect more yards per carry, double-digit rushing touchdowns, 1,300 yards on the ground, but much lower stats receiving. I love him, but he's not a number two pick.
Brinson: To counter for your inability to play the role of homer, I'm going to go out on a semi-limb and tell you that DeAngelo Williams is the No. 2 overall pick. Why? Thanks for asking. For starters, there are only two running backs that saw "starter" carries to average over 5.0 YPC for the last two years: Brandon Jacobs and Williams. Does he have one of the best offensive lines in the game? You betcha. Does he have a quarterback just decent enough to help move the ball but crappy enough not to dominate games? Jake Delhomme has become the prototype for that kind of QB. Does he have a guy in the backfield with him talented enough to spell him and keep him fresh over the course of the season? Yessiree.
Tom Herrera: I'll take both MJD and Forte, and even Steven Jackson over Turner, based on some of the points R.J. mentioned, but especially because of something I like to call the "Tiki Barber factor" -- which all boils down to the underrated consistency of having a pass-catching back. If Turner gets shut down on the ground, there's a fat chance he's going to get the receiving yards to salvage a productive day. Even though Turner is coming off an incredible season, there were still four weeks in his first seven where he didn't even perform like an RB2. In Weeks 2, 4, 6 and 8, he failed to score a touchdown and didn't even reach six total fantasy points. If you get off to a rocky start because of volatile production from your No. 1 pick, there's a chance you're going to be digging out of a hole after the first quarter of the fantasy season.
But what really clinches MJD as the No. 2 overall pick, in my opinion, is the schedule. Calling it "cake" is an injustice. It's like Willy Wonka's chocolate river. On his entire schedule, there are only three potentially scary matchups -- Miami, New England and Tennessee, and the Titans have lost juggernaut Albert Haynesworth. Forte's schedule is favorable as well, but there are more dangers mixed in, especially during the fantasy playoff weeks. He won't be that far behind at No. 3.