Take a look at any Fantasy Football rank list you want, and you're likely to see at least three different names at the No. 1 spot. The candidates include Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. Michael Vick is even No. 1 overall to some people, but we'll leave him out of this discussion because he shouldn't be ranked that high.
For my first pick, I'm going with Foster. He has the chance to repeat as the No. 1 running back after holding that title with his breakout season in 2010.
One complaint I've received about Foster being ranked No. 1 overall is that he will struggle to duplicate his performance from last season. That's a fair point, especially given the recent history for running backs, but the past 20 years suggest it's also possible Foster can remain on top.
If you look at the past three years, there have been three different No. 1 running backs at the end of the season in DeAngelo Williams (2008), Johnson (2009) and Foster. But prior to that, there were four repeat champions as the No. 1 Fantasy rusher in Marshall Faulk (2000-01), Priest Holmes (2002-03), Shaun Alexander (2004-05) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2006-07).
Going back a decade, Barry Sanders (1990-91) and Emmitt Smith (1992-95) also had back-to-back years as the No. 1 running back, with Smith holding that spot four years in a row. Why can't Foster start that trend again?
I understand why Fantasy owners are skeptical of Foster, who could turn out to be a one-year wonder. The NFL today isn't like it was when Faulk, Holmes, Alexander, Tomlinson, Sanders and Smith were dominating carries. Foster can easily be part of a dreaded tandem and lose touches to Ben Tate, who will return this season after being out for his rookie year with an injury.
Opponents are also well aware of Foster's ability after he had 327 carries for 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns and 66 catches for 604 yards and two scores, and he will see tougher defenses. He also might be without Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, who is a free agent.
But before you judge Foster -- and me for backing him -- let's take a look at those concerns. For starters, Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has already said Foster is in no danger of losing significant touches to Tate. Said Dennison, "We're going to give (Tate) the ball a few times and see how he does. We're looking at it as he ended up with a redshirt year. He still has the ability that we liked to get him in the second round. We'll take some turns. Obviously, Arian's our No. 1 guy, and then we'll go from there."
If you look at last season when Derrick Ward was the No. 2 running back in Houston, Foster averaged 24 touches a game (20 carries and four catches), while Ward averaged just three carries a game. Assuming that Tate gets about five touches a game because he's more talented than Ward, that still leaves Foster looking at 20-plus touches.
The Texans also realize the importance of Leach and have stated they want to re-sign him. Houston's offensive line remains intact, and Pro Football Focus said following the year that "when all was said and done, the Texans were the only team whose entire offensive line graded positively."
Foster also has an amazing schedule this year against some of the worst run defenses in the NFL based on their finish in 2010. The Texans face the Colts, Jaguars and Titans twice, and all three teams were in the bottom 12 of run defenses last year. The same goes for Cleveland, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Oakland, which are all on the schedule.
Foster will also see good run defenses in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Miami and Atlanta -- all Top 10 teams in run defense last year -- but he had great outings last year against Top 10 run defenses in San Diego (31 Fantasy points), the Jets (23 Fantasy points) and Baltimore (12 Fantasy points). He won't back down from these tough opponents, and teams can't stack the line of scrimmage against him with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels on his side.
For me, the difference in Foster compared to Johnson and Peterson is the quarterback. Johnson could have rookie Jake Locker handing him the ball, and Peterson could have rookie Christian Ponder. Are those quarterbacks going to scare defenses? We know that could change in free agency, but Locker and Ponder are still potential starting options. None of them compare to Schaub.
Look, picking between Foster, Johnson and Peterson is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. All are great, and you'll be happy with whoever you get on Draft Day.
But I'm sticking with Foster. If he stays healthy he has the best chance to succeed, and he should end up as the first No. 1 running back to repeat since Tomlinson. Foster is not going to be a one-year wonder.
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