I was in a mock PPR league draft recently, when the guy with the No. 1 overall pick selected Adrian Peterson, then chatted, “no question who to take with No. 1.” Well now, personally, I have a big problem with people confusing opinion – even if it’s majority opinion – with fact. So, just to be snarky, I responded, “in your opinion, maybe. I woulda taken Jamaal Charles.”
The chat box was suddenly flooded with derision from the other mockers as if I had uttered some blasphemous indictment against the ghost of Walter Payton. I quickly realized that using the chat box in the midst of a mock draft was not an adequate venue for backing up my opinion that Charles should indeed be selected first overall in PPR formats this season, so I felt compelled to write this article.
First, let me say, that this opinion is solely tied to PPR leagues, with the first overall pick in non-PPR formats I’d go with Peterson, all day. Secondly, let me say that I am in no way disparaging the selection of Peterson as my fantasy RB1 even in PPR leagues – only that I would select him after Charles. And here is why.
To start, let’s talk about the law of averages. Peterson had an amazing season in 2012. Let me say that again; Peterson had an amazing season. He rushed 348 (!) times for 2,097 yards, a dozen touchdowns and a whopping 6.0 yards per carry. Add to that, 40 catches for another 217 yards and a touchdown. Could he duplicate, or even surpass those numbers this season? Absolutely. He has the talent to do so. But … the law of averages says that he probably will not.
If you look at the list of the top-50 season rushing leaders, only a handful of backs appear on the list multiple times. If you narrow that list to the top-20, there are only three running backs that appear more than once: Barry Sanders, O.J. Simpson, and Eric Dickerson – who actually had three seasons in that top-20. Peterson and Charles are both in the top-20 as well (and AP also appears at #23). Narrowing this argument to the top-20 is important, though, because the dropoff from 20 to 21 is where the yardage drops from 1,800-plus yards to the sub-1,800 numbers.
Dickerson, of course, holds the record at 2,105, which Peterson came just short of breaking last year. More importantly, however, is the fact that Dickerson’s second best year is a full 284 yards less than his record breaking campaign. Peterson’s second best is 337 yards shy of his 2013 season. Those are comparable numbers. A 2,000-yard season has only happened in the NFL seven times – by seven different backs, and some of the best running backs in league history (Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith and many others) never did it. The reason for this is that all the stars have to align perfectly for a back to do it; it takes more than just incredible talent. The law of statistical averages shows us that it is overwhelmingly unlikely that 2013 will end up being the best year of Peterson’s career. Could he have a better season, this year or the next? Sure, it’s just not very likely.
Next, let’s look at both Peterson and Charles and compare their overall body of work. They’ve been in the league six and five years each, respectively, and each has suffered a season-ending injury. They are similarly sized backs, but, a look at the mileage reveals that Charles is roughly 20 months younger, with 24 less game starts’ worth of wear and tear on his body – not insignificant for an NFL back. If you break down their career carries, you get 1,656 for Peterson and 784 for Charles, and that is a very significant difference in terms of wear and tear.
Taking their injury seasons out, let’s look at their numbers. Peterson’s yardage totals are 1,341, 1,760, 1,389, 1,298, and 2,097. Charles’ totals (without his rookie year where he shared time with Larry Johnson) are 1,120, 1,467, and 1,509. Looking at the two sets, of numbers I see Peterson’s level in the 13,000-14,000 range with a couple of huge years mixed in, whereas with Charles I see a performance climb leveling in the 15,000 range. Could Peterson have another of those huge years and outperform Charles? Sure, but remember the law of averages – he probably won’t, so I give the edge to Charles on yardage.