Ask ten random fantasy footballers who they’d take with the number one draft pick is this year, and eight of them will undoubtedly and enthusiastically answer with Adrian Peterson. Of the other two people, one is probably that crazy guy in your league and the other is probably a fantasy football writer. Maybe that makes them both crazy? Regardless, you’re drafting from the second position and the clock is running down. Do you want Arian Foster? Tick tock. How about Doug Martin? Tick tock. What about taking a kicker super early to get ahead of the rush? Wrong answer, you’re stressing out because you didn’t think about this ahead of time. Thankfully I’ll handle the debate for you and all you have to do is read along. And of course remember to click on the right player before the clock runs out. No pressure. Tick tock.
Making the case for Arian Foster
In the past three seasons he has finished first, *third, and fourth in fantasy scoring. The asterisk is there because he could have been tied for second or in the second spot all by himself depending on the rules of your league. Keep in mind he’s only played three seasons as the starter (one as a backup, promoted due to injury). That’s top four finishes in each of his three true NFL seasons, and during his down year he missed three games due to injury. Had he played all 16, he was on pace to be the No. 2 fantasy RB in back-to-back years, something that has never been done before. Part of his scoring success is due to the number of touchdowns he is responsible for each year. His 47 total TDs in the past three seasons is the most in the NFL, eight more than any other player in the league during that span.
The Houston Texans have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the league and they run a zone blocking scheme which often creates large cutback lanes. They also run the stretch-sweep more often than every other team in the NFL which allows Arian Foster to get out toward the sideline and take advantage of his agility and speed in the open field. A staple of the offense is his quarterback finding Foster out of the backfield, in the flats, and on screen passes. He has soft hands and is a reliable pass catcher, recording two receiving touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. Over that span he averaged 118.79 yards from scrimmage and 0.97 touchdowns per game which would result in 17.69 fantasy points per game. That’s basically 18 points per game you can guarantee yourself every single week. There are up weeks and down weeks and bye weeks of course, but seriously, 18 points per game. Think about it.
Making the case for Doug Martin
Believe it or not there are still a few people out there who aren’t familiar with Doug Martin. For those of you who need to be enlightened, think about Ray Rice and put him in a Buccaneers uniform. That’s about it. Plus he’s a touch younger, an inch taller, and a bit more agile in the open field. And his nickname is Muscle Hamster, that’s pretty awesome too. In his rookie season, Martin recorded 1926 yards from scrimmage and scored 12 touchdowns while only losing one fumble. That comes to an average of 120.37 yards per game and three touchdowns every four contests, about 16.54 fantasy points each week. He did all of this in Tampa Bay behind an offensive line that was less than stellar and often injured.
In 2012, he finished second in fantasy scoring behind only Adrian Peterson, better than everyone else in the league who wasn’t threatening the single season rushing record. What set Martin apart from his veteran peers was his yardage in the passing game. The only true starting RB with more receiving yardage was Ray Rice and he had exactly six more yards over the course of the entire season while recording 240 fewer rushing yards. Like his Baltimore counterpart, Doug Martin is a quality pass blocker which means he stays on the field in rushing and passing situations. The more often he’s on the field the more often he’ll get to touch the ball, as evidenced by his chemistry with the quarterback and the number of plays that end up with the ball in his hands. Last season he was third in total touches behind only Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster, so if his attempts increase any in 2013 he can further separate himself from the RB pack.
The downside of Arian Foster
The Texans give him the ball as often as they can, to the tune of 1115 touches in the past three seasons. In 2012 and 2010 he finished with the most touches in the NFL and in his 13 games of 2011 he recorded enough touches to finish in third in that category. At nearly 372 touches each year or 23 touches each game every game (including the three he missed in 2011) it’s hard to imagine Arian Foster can continue to be the workhorse his team asks him to be. If Houston wants to be a serious Super Bowl contender they’ll need their star running back to be healthy, meaning they have a vested interest in limiting his touches whenever possible. That’s without mentioning the nagging injuries he seems to pick up every year and the calf strain he suffered in training camp this preseason. He only missed three games in three full seasons, but over time those minor injuries will eventually catch up with him in a major way.
On top of the durability concerns is the troubling trend in his efficiency statistics. In 2010 he averaged nearly five yards per carry; that slipped to under four and a half in 2011; last year he gained 1424 yards on 351 rushing attempts, giving an average of only 4.06 yards per carry. Add to that his twelve lost fumbles in the past three seasons, the improving health of his backup, and rumblings of struggles on the right side of his offensive line. None of these suggest that Arian Foster is in for a bad year, but for a potential #2 draft pick there is just enough uncertainty to make me nervous.
The downside of Doug Martin
For as great as his rookie year was it was still only his rookie year. With just one season under his belt it is extremely difficult to evaluate his consistency, but an exanimation of his 2012 game log reveals a few points of concern. On four occasions he failed to score double digit fantasy points, and on two of those he didn’t even gain 45 total yards from scrimmage. If you remove his one ridiculous game (at Oakland, 29 touches for 272 yards and four TDs) his season totals for the remaining 15 games are 339 touches for 1654 yards and 8 TDs, an average of 110.2 yards and 0.53 TDs per game. That would yield 14.22 fantasy points each week which would have made him the sixth best RB last year. There’s nothing wrong with having a top five running back, but you’re drafting him in the second spot and not in the fifth.
The greatest concern with Doug Martin may be the players around him. On one hand the offense is very similar to how it was in 2012 but conversely that will allow defenses to better prepare for him and possibly be more effective in limiting his big plays. The starting QB is extremely streaky and will be downright awful on several occasions each season. If opposing defenses aren’t made to respect the passing game they’ll load the box against the run and will limit Martin to the point of fantasy obscurity. Without several years of performances to evaluate this is at best a well-educated cautionary guess, but there’s a reason the NFL is infamous for the so-called sophomore slump. In fantasy football running backs are so valuable because of their consistency and the points you can all-but count on each week. For the cost of the second overall draft pick you need to be sure you’re getting what you pay for and that the player can perform reliably each week regardless of their opponent. In this light it’s hard to feel too assured about the Muscle Hamster but it’s impossible to deny the insane upside he brings to the Buccaneers and to his fantasy owners.
And with the second overall pick of the 2013 NFL fantasy draft…
You select C.J. Spiller. How else is Buffalo going to score? On August 7th his offensive coordinator was asked about the game plan for the year and Coach Hackett responded that the Bills are “going to give [C.J. Spiller] the ball until he throws up.” Last year he recorded only 250 touches (141 fewer than Arian Foster) so you know he’s fresh and ready to shoulder the load for his team. In 2012 he averaged six yards per carry and over ten yards per reception in addition to gaining more than two yards per carry after contact. He’s incredibly quick and nearly impossible to catch in the open field; he’s even been called the most elusive running back in the league. The only thing more elusive in Buffalo is a Bills victory.
Take C.J. Spiller. Tick tock.
Or Arian Foster. Or Doug Martin. Tick tock.