Rodgers deserves to be a first-round pick in fantasy drafts

Much like everyday life, there are some habits that fantasy football owners find hard to break. (Now I'm going to have that Chicago song in my head all day). The biggest habit that needs to be broken is the one that fantasy analysts like myself have been programming into your heads for the better part of the last decade.

You know, it's the one about how running backs are the lifeblood of fantasy football and how you need to secure the position in the first two rounds or suffer imminent doom. My friends, that sort of draft strategy is becoming as out dated as the mullet. (My apologizes in advance to the NFL's Mr. Mullet, Jared Allen).

This isn't your father's National Football League. It's no longer the days of Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll or even Bill Parcells. Teams don't necessarily look to find success by building around the running game and playing good defense.

The Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans Saints are a perfect example. Their offense ranked first overall last season and was fourth in passing behind the Texans, Colts and Patriots. On the flip side, their defense was 25th overall. (No, that's not a misprint -- even the Seahawks defense finished ahead of them). Their pass defense was particularly poor, ranking 26th while allowing an average of 235.6 yards per game. Despite that lack of effectiveness, though, the Saints still took home an improbable championship.

That's because teams like the Saints are now throwing the football a ton, as some of the NFL's new rules have made it easier for quarterbacks to find open receivers and pick apart opposing defenses. Case in point. Last season, an NFL single-season high 10 quarterbacks threw for at least 4,000 yards, and 12 passed for at least 25 touchdowns. That also set a new record. It was as if Don Coryell and Andy Reid took over every single offense in the league!

In the interest of following the evolution of the NFL into a passing league, my list of the Top 200 fantasy players now includes three quarterbacks in the top 10. The decision was met with quite a bit of resistance from the fantasy football world, especially when it came to one quarterback in particular.

While I do have running backs Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and Frank Gore ahead of him (and Gore was a close call), Rodgers is still sixth on my list. That decision was met with some outrage. "How can Fabiano rank Rodgers that high?" Countless others wondered how Drew Brees and Peyton Manning weren't ranked ahead of him. "Rodgers isn't that good -- you need to focus on running backs early or you'll be in trouble!"

Well, I felt like it was time for an intervention.

Say it with me now -- "It's OK to take Aaron Rodgers in Round 1. It's OK to take Aaron Rodgers in Round 1."

Sure, grabbing one of the top six running backs ahead of him makes sense, especially with all of the backfield committees around the league. But do you really want to sink your first-round pick into Rashard Mendenhall or Steven Jackson when you can have Rodgers, the king of all fantasy quarterbacks?

While I do like Mendenhall -- he's one of my top 10 breakout candidates for the 2010 season -- he's never handled a full workload for an entire NFL season. Is Jackson worth a low first-round pick with his durability issues, not to mention the lack of offensive talent in St. Louis?

Oh, and the man is coming off back surgery. I don't know about you, but that is a major red flag for a running back with no one behind him on the depth chart to ease his workload. If it weren't for the fact that he has one of the easiest schedules in the league among running backs, I might be telling fantasy enthusiasts to pass on Jackson in the first round altogether.

I'm not sure of the reason -- maybe playing in a small market like Green Bay is the culprit -- but Rodgers still isn't being considered among the elite players in fantasy football. The man is an statistical absolute beast, though, and the proof is in his numbers. In 2009, he led his position in fantasy points (262) and finished second overall to Chris Johnson. Over the last two seasons, no player has scored more fantasy points than the Packers quarterback.

Not Johnson, not Brees, not Manning, not Adrian Peterson.

No one.

Rodgers is the perfect fantasy weapon. Not only has he averaged 4,236 passing yards and thrown for a combined 58 touchdowns over the last two seasons, but he's also been a major contributor on the ground. Since 2008, Rodgers has rushed for an average of 261.5 yards and scored an impressive nine touchdowns. He's also proven to be durable in that time, starting all 16 games despite having a less-than-impressive offensive line in front of him.

If those stats and factoids aren't enough to help you break the habit of focusing on only running backs in the first round, take into consideration that Rodgers has a virtual cornucopia of favorable games on the slate in 2010. He'll face the Bears (2), Lions (2), Vikings (2), Giants, Eagles, Dolphins and Falcons. All of those teams ranked 13th or worse in terms of allowing the greatest number of fantasy points to quarterbacks last season. Rodgers also has one of the most talented casts of receivers in the league at his beck and call.

Greg Jennings and Donald Driver are both coming off 1,000-yard seasons, and James Jones and Jordy Nelson have proven that they can also make an impact in the passing game. Rodgers has also developed a tremendous rapport with tight end Jermichael Finley, who could turn into a top-five fantasy option at his position in 2010. Defenses won't be able to focus solely on stopping Rodgers and the pass attack, either, as Ryan Grant has developed into quite a nice playmaker out of the backfield.

With every possible intangible seemingly to his advantage -- not to mention the promise of an improved offensive line ahead of him with the addition of rookie T Bryan Bulaga -- Rodgers has the potential to put up Manning-level numbers as a passer and will add another 50-60 fantasy points per season as a runner.

It is clearly time to break that old running back habit. So when the top five to six runners are off the board, don't be afraid to make Rodgers your first-round pick. The decision could lead you to a fantasy championship.

This intervention is over...

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!

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