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Second Down: Go Adrian! Why drafting Peterson could lead to championship belts

Andy Behrens
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Adrian Peterson at minicamp, not giving a [hoot] where we draft him (US Presswire)

For a few minutes there on Tuesday, I seriously considered creating another Yahoo! ID, just so I could comment anonymously on Brad's well-argued post about Adrian Peterson. Sometimes, the things we really want to say in response to a coworker's piece ... well, they're things that need to be untraceable.

But then I realized that if I took the Internet-alter-ego route, that would not be the most Team Huevos thing to do. So I decided it was best to write a counterargument under my own byline, omitting any violently hostile reaction to this blurb...

For casual players, the [Peterson] brand name is simply too appealing despite the enhanced risks. Savvy gamers already have the former All-Pro Sharpied on their do not draft list, a brainy move.

Now obviously I don't like the implication that I'm a non-savvy fantasy manager, simply because I refuse to take a permanent marker to my draft board in June, before camps open. But I'm just gonna let that go. I'm taking the high road.

(Oh sure, I could use a parenthetical aside to mention the fact that Brad is still forecasting a 1,000-yard, 9-TD season for AP, which seems totally draftable. But I'd rather not do that. I prefer to move forward. Again: I'm a high-road guy).

Today, my intention is to make the case for selecting Peterson somewhere near his current ADP (17.0 at Yahoo!, 16.8 at FF Calculator). If you enter a draft room knowing that you're picking somewhere in the 6-9 range in a 12-team league, then it's at least worth considering the downstream implications of taking Peterson in Round 2. This is a player coming off a brutal recent injury, but we all know what he's capable of when he's at or near full strength.

Let's begin with three details upon which my colleague and I agree:

Peterson is "the greatest back of his generation" (Brad's words), a guy who's never finished outside the top-six at his position in per-game fantasy scoring;

Toby Gerhart, AP's backup, is a very effective NFL runner, too — much better than I'd expected him to be when he entered the league. He's likely to have a greater role in the Vikes' offense in 2012, particularly early in the season;

Basically every report on Peterson's recovery has been glowing. The rehab videos have certainly been encouraging.

Also worth noting: For two analysts who seem to have opposing views on a player, Brad and I are actually remarkably close on our full-season projections for AP. These are the numbers I gave Peterson in the 2012 Lindy's fantasy draft guide: 12 games, 219 carries, 1,002 rush yards, 4.6 YPC, 26 REC, 243 yards, 9 total TDs.

And again, here's the Evans Fearless Forecast™: 14 games, 227 carries, 1,003 rush yards, 4.4 YPC, 14 REC, 121 yards, 9 total TDs.

We're off by exactly one rushing yard and a dozen catches. That ain't much. The big difference, clearly, is that my prediction called for Peterson to appear in two fewer games, which of course has a non-trivial effect on his per-game scoring average. In my Lindy's projections, he ranked seventh in fantasy PPG. If I could rewrite the forecast based on the most recent off-season propaganda, I'd give AP a bit more of everything — more games, more yards, maybe another TD — but the per-week number wouldn't be quite as high. As of this moment, you almost have to assume Peterson will play in the early weeks of the season, but he'll have a reduced role. Whether he opens training camp on the preseason PUP list is really a non-issue.

So Brad and I are making a few of the same assumptions about Peterson, and we're not radically different in our projections. Brad is obviously reacting strongly to AP's statistical floor, looking to avoid risk near the top of the draft. It's a perfectly fair position — perhaps not something you'd expect from Capitán Huevos, but fair.

Here are three Peterson-related statements made by Brad that I cannot endorse:

"Overall, Peterson has the 13th-hardest schedule among fantasy backs. Ugly."

I suppose Brad is technically correct about where Minnesota ranks in terms of strength-of-schedule for running backs. But as we all know, the NFL is a league that rearranges itself each season, via injuries and player movement. Defenses that appear dominant in Week 4 can reach Puppy Bowl levels by Week 12. I'm not willing to use any player's November-December schedule as a factor in his fantasy rank — and even if I were, Peterson would get the matchup-proof exemption.

"There are numerous examples of backs who suffered a similar injury at a similar point on the career arc who bombed the year after surgery."

This is certainly true, but I'm not going to treat all players and all recoveries as perfect comps for the 2012 version of Adrian Peterson. Don't come at me with decades-old (or older) injuries, suffered by lesser athletes. I appreciate the ridiculous timeline on which Peterson is working, but I don't think he's your typical human. I'm certainly willing to believe he can get right by the second half of the year, in the most important weeks.

And then there's this...

"For those who want to prevent fantasy heartache, it's best to avoid Peterson like the plague."

I mean ... I'm pretty sure the plague has killed millions of people. It's a badass disease. Really icky. If I were walking down the street and saw two storefronts, one of which had a sign on the door that said "MEET ADRIAN PETERSON" and another that advertised "FREE PLAGUE!" ... well, I would not even hesitate. I'm going AP every time.

Here's the bottom line: If you draft Peterson in the middle of the second round, you're allowed to construct the rest of your roster knowing that he may not begin the season at full capacity. You can target Gerhart well ahead of his friendly ADP (103.9). You can also make sure to snag one or two of the mid-draft backs with clear profit potential, like James Starks at 70.7, Donald Brown at 75.7, DeAngelo Williams at 84.1 or Ryan Williams at 95.6. You'll have plenty of depth options — and of course it's possible that Peterson won't even be the first RB on your roster. If you're taking him near pick No. 17, you might be pairing him with Chris Johnson or Ryan Mathews or Maurice Jones-Drew, then targeting upside quarterbacks and receivers in Rounds 3-6.

An important thing to recognize with expert ranks is that we're generally assessing each player's full-season value, but drafters don't have to take that approach. In fact, you probably shouldn't. All weeks are not equally important in fantasy, and it's never easier to plan around an absence than it is at the beginning of the year, before the byes and injuries make a mess of things. I'll be willing to take a shot on a massive talent like Peterson, assuming the camp reports remain positive.

And if AP is ready to be anything like this unstoppable purple beast by the final weeks of the season — when fantasy titles are decided — then none of us will feel so bad about his draft day price.

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