When does the upside of Adrian Peterson outweigh the risk of picking him?
You don't have to be one of those really amazing NASA scientists who aided in the historic landing on Mars to know that drafting Adrian Peterson this season comes with risk. However, it's not necessary to actually calculate just what level of risk Peterson presents, it's more important to understand how that risk can be parlayed into a championship season.
Let's start with this simple fact: Nobody knows what Peterson will deliver this season. Even if we read all the medical reports in the presence of the most trained medical professionals, Peterson's physical readiness won't be known until after your draft takes place. With this in mind, we should instead try to quantify what level of production should be reasonably expected from Peterson.
Our team of experts is projecting a season of 1,321 total yards and eight scores from Peterson. When broken down into individual game scores, this would amount to 177 fantasy points for the season. That total would have placed him as the seventh-highest-scoring running back for the entire 2011 season (Peterson actually finished seventh last season with 181 points in just 11 games). When you factor in the five additional games that are projected for Peterson this season, you should realize that we are actually projecting a 32 percent drop in per-game performance. That's a serious difference.
As I analyze that, I wonder if we are too low on Peterson's ranking. Yes, there is risk involved in selecting Peterson. He could wind up on the physically unable to perform list to begin the season, resulting in a waste of an early-round selection for the first six weeks. That being said, if you're going to draft AP early, you clearly have to think the probability of that happening is slim, so it likely doesn't factor into your personal rankings.
There's also the matter of the legal proceedings that are pending regarding a misdemeanor resisting arrest charge. There are two hearings now scheduled regarding that matter, the first on Sept. 27 and the second on Nov. 15. As Peterson does not have a history of legal issues and the potential for further continuances in these proceedings exist, I am not at all concerned about this issue affecting Peterson's fantasy value at all.
Based on those two assessments, there's a good probability Peterson will be available to score the 177 fantasy points that we have projected for him. Some of you will look at those numbers and find that very un-Peterson like and want to downgrade him. Don't.
First, look at the amount of risk like this: How many of the early-round running backs were busts last season? By my count, Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall and Peyton Hillis were all selected in the first three rounds and were clear busts. Considering only 14 backs went in the first 30 picks, you had better than a 20 percent chance of busting on your running back selection early on anyway. Is Peterson's chance at not being available to put up those 177 projected points really that bad? I would say no.
This leaves us with the projection of the 177 points and where it should be selected. Currently, we have Peterson ranked as our 11th best running back entering the season. This ranking takes into account both his projection and the risk that our panel associated with taking Peterson. I believe we are overstating his risk and understating the risk of Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray and Jamaal Charles.
Think about these items for a moment:
• Marshawn Lynch is facing legal issues and while he dominated in 2011, he posted a very disappointing 3.5 yards per carry in 2010. Which Lynch are you going to get?
• Matt Forte's backup went from Marion Barber to Michael Bush. Bush has shown the skills to be used as an every-down back and will get all the goal-line work. Forte doesn't have upside beyond what he did last season.
• DeMarco Murray has two career rushing touchdowns and a history of injuries dating back to college.
• Jamaal Charles is also coming back from a torn ACL. While he was out, the Kansas City Chiefs went out and secured Peyton Hillis to be the banger in their ground attack, much like Thomas Jones used to be.
When I view those pieces of information, I can't see why Peterson would have any more risk than those four candidates. Further, I think it's absolutely clear that his upside is fantasy MVP, since he's accomplished that before. With all of that in mind, I'm recommending that Peterson's value be slotted up to the seventh overall running back and that he be drafted accordingly.