The Only 3 Players You Should Consider at the 4 Pick
If you're drafting in the Fantasy Football World Championship, Rotobowl, or any league for that matter, you don't want to miss that first round pick. Our analyst Matt DeLima reviews the Top 3 candidates if you draw the wide-open 4 pick in this year's draft. At the end of this article, High Stakes Pro and FFToolbox Owner Ian Ritchie provides his choice at 4. * Take it away Matt...
There are pivot points in every draft: a specific pick which can set the draft in any number of directions. There is a growing consensus that the top three options of the draft (standard & PPR redraft leagues) are Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.
Once you get to the No. 4 pick, this is the pivot point and you can make the case for a few different players. Of course there is no objectively best option if you find yourself in this position; however, you should always try to base your decisions based on sound arguments based on evidence.
Candidate #1: RB Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
2013 really was a breakthrough year for the 6-foot-2, 218-lb running back. Up until last season, Forte's career-best numbers almost all came in his rookie year. We're talking almost every relevant stat: rushing yards, rushing TDs, targets, receptions and receiving TDs. It's not as though Forte was ever a bad fantasy option, because that's patently untrue. If you recall just two years ago before the 2012 season, Forte was coming off an injury riddled season where he played in just 12 games and was banged up in some of his starts. This led the Bears to bring in former Louisville Cardinals running back Michael Bush. Most fantasy analysts, myself included, felt this was a clear sign the Bears wanted to spell Forte and limit his carries. It never really played out that way.
Forte was a force last season, finishing as the clear No. 3 fantasy RB behind Charles and McCoy. The former Tulane star could always be counted on for solid yardage totals, but what really put him over the top was a dramatic increase in his TD production. He scored 12 TDs (nine rushing, three receiving), which is more than he had in his previous two seasons.
With the hype that has been placed on head coach Jim Trestman's offensive prowess, Forte is an obvious and safe choice. Over six seasons, he only missed five games (which is fewer missed games than McCoy, with one more season played). Whether it is standard or PPR, you can't go wrong with Forte. During a time when bell cow or "workhorse" RBs are a prized commodity, it'd be very difficult to find Forte's level of production in any subsequent rounds.
Candidate #2: WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
All the hyperbole in the world has already been piled on the fabled "Megatron" and he has certainly earned that right. He has been a game changer since entering the league in 2007. Last season still brought a ton of numbers, but there's something in the air with Johnson, isn't there? He missed two games and the crown placed upon his head has lost its luster. He finished 2013 as fantasy's No. 3 receiver, depending on your league's scoring. Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon managed to outscore him, despite the fact that he also played in just 14 games. Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas had his second straight monster year. Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green has been prolific since stepping foot on the field. Suddenly it seems there are multiple WRs who can put up comparable numbers.
Why then would you take Johnson at the No. 4 pick after what appeared to be (or at least what felt like) a small step back in 2013? Well, you would have to believe that even in a slight down year (at least for a player of his caliber) Johnson's mediocrity is another receiver's career-best, banner season. Unfortunately though, is there really a case to be made that Johnson is that much more valuable than Thomas or Green? Consider for a moment that 23 receivers gained over 1,000 yards last year (19 in 2012, 17 in 2011 and 16 in 2010.) WR production is off the charts. With the addition of WR Golden Tate and rookie TE Eric Ebron, it is possible some attention will be drawn away from Johnson, allowing the former Georgia Tech receiver to find a few more opportunities in single coverage. It's also possible QB Matthew Stafford has more options on where to deliver his targets.
Make no mistake; this argument is not meant to imply Johnson is a bad pick. His career has explicitly shown us that he is a tremendous talent. The larger point is you could find a wideout with similar numbers in the second round with someone like Steelers WR Antonio Brown, Falcons WR Julio Jones or Bears WR Brandon Marshall. The RBs available in Round 2 simply do not yet have the same longevity as Forte. The Round 2 RBs (Broncos RB Montee Ball, Steelers RB LeVeon Bell or Rams RB Zac Stacy) are being drafted on the presumption they continue to improve into their second years or have not yet peaked.
So would you rather have the relative certainty of a first round RB over the hopeful upside of a second round RB? Some of you may go for both and none of these WRs are on your radar. There's one more candidate for the No. 4 pick who is both safe and definitely has some upside left in him.
Candidate #3: RB Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
Reading the scouting reports just a couple seasons ago, you would have read that Lacy wasn't even the best RB prospect on his college team, the Alabama Crimson Tide. That meaningless title went to Colts RB Trent Richardson and we've all seen how that has played out.
Lacy struggled with injuries in college, opening the door for Richardson and others to bask in the spotlight of a perennial National Championship contender. Lacy wasn't even the prized back of the 2013 draft class. Bengals RB Giovani Bernard was selected 24 picks ahead of him. Bell went 13 picks ahead. The Packers were apparently so confident in Lacy, they also were compelled to draft former UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin two rounds later.
Here we are about a year later and Lacy is fresh off his win as the NFL's 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year. What about him as a player sets him apart? Why would anyone draft a second-year back on a pass-first team? That would be a valid concern.
Ultimately, fantasy football is a game of perceiving the unknown before it happens. What we know here is that the Packers were in a season where they only had QB Aaron Rodgers for nine games. It is possible that what transpires in a full season from Rodgers opens up even more running lanes for Lacy. A more healthy passing game creates more red zone opportunities and goal-line chances to punch in easy points. Just look at what RB Knowshon Moreno did with the Broncos last year. Is Lacy a lock to out-produce or even reproduce his huge rookie season? Of course not. It is possible though.
Lacy is the riskiest of our three candidates and the allure of his perceived potential will be very tempting. Let's not forget the lessons learned from Bucs RB Doug Martin, who totally bit the dust in his second season. Even a guy who feels like a sure-fire lock can end up on the trainer's table and then stuck with the red IR tag next to his name.
The only thing gained in selecting Lacy over Johnson or Johnson over Forte is additional risk. The RB talent pool quickly thins out into Round 2 and becomes significantly less productive. Receivers, at least on paper, produce at incredible levels even well into the second round. With Forte on the board at No. 4, he is the safest and most logical selection. Unfortunately, fantasy football doesn't provide points for "most sound argument" or "best exercise of minimal risk." It can sometimes reward the bold and punish the meek.
High Stakes Pro Ian Ritchie's Take - Take Forte at 4. Forte is a PPR Monster. With all the attention downfield towards Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Forte's underneath game launchs him to my choice at not just 4 but 3 over Adrian Peterson.