Pick up just about any fantasy football magazine (though why would you pick up one other than NFL.com's?) and Adrian Peterson will be ranked as the top overall player. The second-year running back out of Oklahoma has quickly moved to the top fantasy spot as stars like LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson have seen their overall value fall in recent seasons.
But is Peterson really worth the top pick in drafts?
There are some naysayers who would argue that he's not. After all, Peterson has never even led his position in fantasy points, finishing fourth in 2007 and fifth last season. He also doesn't catch the ball out of the backfield on a regular basis, posting just 40 receptions for 393 yards in his career.
Oh, and Peterson finished in a tie for eighth in rushing touchdowns in 2008.
LenDale White, who shares carries with Chris Johnson in Tennessee, had more visits to the end zone. Heck, runners who didn't even shoulder their team's entire backfield load like Ronnie Brown, Tim Hightower, Le'Ron McClain and Jonathan Stewart finished with the same number of rushing touchdowns (10) as the man nicknamed "Purple Jesus."
Why, then, is Peterson considered the consensus top pick in 2009?
Well, let's not forget that he led all running backs with 1,760 rushing yards last season. He has also averaged 1,550 rushing yards and 5.2 yards per carry at the NFL level and plays behind one of the better offensive lines in the league. Peterson might lose carries to Chester Taylor in certain sets, but he's still a featured back (363 carries in 2008) for all intents and purposes. He's also the lone runner to finish in the top five in fantasy points on NFL.com at the position in each of the last two seasons.
At a time when backfield committees have become more popular around the league, a consistently productive running back like Peterson is an enormous asset.
Despite his considerable talents, Peterson still hasn't reached his full fantasy potential, either. In an offense that will continue to lean on him, A.P. is a virtual lock to rush for around 1,500-plus yards. He's also almost certain to improve on the 10 touchdowns he scored a season ago based on what looks to be a favorable schedule.
When we look at the final team totals from 2008, Peterson is slated for six games against teams that ranked in the bottom seven in the league against the run. That list includes the Packers (26th; two games), Browns (28th), Rams (29th) and Lions (32nd; two games). Overall, A.P. will play 10 games against teams that ranked 16th or worse in run defense.
Most importantly, taking Peterson is about as close to a guarantee as fantasy owners will get in terms of receiving a high level of statistical production with their first pick. The first round of drafts will be filled with talented players, but some of them (Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Clinton Portis, Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook) will come with a level of risk due to age and recent injuries.
Other backs worth a first-round look (Steve Slaton, Michael Turner and DeAngelo Williams) don't have the track record for consistent production. Sure, all three are tremendous athletes, but there are no guarantees that one successful season will equate to another.
Just ask anyone who took Ryan Grant in 2008.
While it's true that Peterson's bruising running style could affect him later in his career, right now he's a very young back at 24 years old with a bright future ahead of him. So even if you're in a league that rewards points for receptions, A.P. deserves to be the first name called in your draft.