Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Adrian Peterson vs. Arian Foster: Who is Really Number One?

You've got the first pick in your fantasy football draft. So who will it be? Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson or Houston Texans' Arian Foster?
There are two backs at the top of everyone’s draft chart. It’s borderline unanimous. Adrian Peterson, a top fantasy football running back since his rookie season, versus Arian Foster, a monster who broke onto the scene in 2010. There is a clear argument to be made for draft either one of these stars. But which one will be better? We’ll look at five different categories to find out exactly which of these running backs you should be taking with the first overall pick.
Adrian Peterson has been a Pro Bowl back since his rookie season in 2007. His worst statistical year found him totaling just 1,298 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has the third highest yards per game average in the history of the NFL, behind Barry Sanders and Jim Brown. Impressed yet?
There is no disputing that this man can run. Peterson is averaging 320 carries per season in the last three years. In his first four years in the NFL, he has been a top 5 fantasy running back in all of them. So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he is a superhero. That’s basically what it comes down to.
Arian Foster has not had the experience that Peterson has, but looking at his 2010 numbers, he still ranks pretty high on the consistency scale. Foster played all 16 games last season and had over 2,200 all purpose yards. That’s more than 135 yards per game, people. And still 101 yards per game if you only count rushing. He could have skipped for more yardage than Ryan Mathews or Shonn Greene, two guys drafted far before him.
There are some questions about his ability to repeat those numbers this season based on injuries, personality and position competition, but you can rest assured, this man is no one hit wonder. And let’s not forget that Houston has a history of getting bored with star running backs.
Because the numbers are really indisputable though, I have to give the edge to Adrian Peterson.

Support System
Adrian Peterson was not in the greatest of systems last year and still put up 1,639 all-purpose yards. This year, he has a solid quarterback in Donovan McNabb which is bound to strike more fear of the passing game than Brett Favre managed in 2010. Last season, even with every defense stacking the box, Peterson managed the numbers he did. Just imagine what he is capable of once there is a passing threat involved.
Peterson also sees very little competition at running back as Toby Gerhart is not developed enough to put a dent in anyone’s playing time. And the only real red zone threat for Minnesota is tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, meaning Peterson will not be a stranger at the goal line. As the clear-cut No. 1 running back for the Vikings, Peterson is guaranteed over 300 carries, and if he can average 4.8 yards per carry, it will come to over 1,440 rush yards in 2011.
Arian Foster’s Houston Texans team is a little more noisy than the Vikings, which has some advantages and disadvantages. The Texans love to throw the ball. And why not when you have Andre Johnson, the number one ranked receiver in fantasy football, to pass to. Another favorite target, Owen Daniels is back in the picture, but you have to remember that Foster is no slouch when it comes to receptions, which we will get into later. With the passing game of the Texans, defenses are forced to respect it and Foster sees a lot more open lanes than Peterson.
Another change on the Texans comes in the backfield with the key loss of Vonta Leach, arguably the best fullback in the game. Leach made a lot of big holes for Foster last season. Another change is the arrival of a healthy Ben Tate. Tate missed all of last season with an injury and he has come on this preseason strong. He’s a big back that is sure to take some of the goal line work from Foster, likely dropping his TD total from the 16 a season ago.
Two completely different systems in play here, one where Peterson is the unquestionable star and another full of weapons. I’m going to have to call this a draw.

Receiving Game
Adrian Peterson plays a role in the passing game of the Minnesota Vikings, but it is by no means a truly dynamic one. In 2010, Peterson caught just 36 passes for 341 yards. In his best season he caught 43 passes for 436 yards. And in his NFL career he has just 2 receiving touchdowns.
That being said, he hasn’t had a wealth of quarterback talent in the past, which may change his receiving game this season. Since 2007, Peterson has been blessed with the quarterback play of Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, Gus Frerotte, Brett Favre and Joe Webb. Perhaps there will be a turn around when McNabb comes to down. He has had success throwing to running backs in his previous stops, most notably his time with Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia.
Arian Foster was no one-trick pony in his breakout 2010 NFL season. Foster wrangled in 66 receptions for 2 touchdowns and 604 yards, a 9.2 yard per catch average. That is 105 points in a .5 PPR league. A huge advantage over many other backs.
You can expect these numbers to keep up as receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels continue to take a lot of attention, leaving Foster open for a handful of receptions per game.
Edge clearly goes to Arian Foster on this one.

Fantasy Schedule
Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings are in a pretty tough division when it comes to stopping the run, but that has never slowed him down in the past and there is no reason to think that it will this year. Peterson will also be facing the relatively weak defensive AFC West. In Week 16, a likely spot of your fantasy football championship, Peterson and the Vikes will be up against the Washington Redskins, the 7th worst team against the rush last season.
Arian Foster will be going up against three pretty awful run defenses to end the season. Which means that your playoff schedule with Foster is pretty solid. In addition to playing in an already weak defensive division, the Texans will be facing Cincinnati (19th vs the run), Carolina (23rd) , Indianapolis (25th) and Tennessee (20th) in the last four games of the season.
Both players proved last year that they can handle their own again whoever they face, but when it comes to the fantasy playoffs, Arian Foster has it handed to him.

Adrian Peterson is a highlight reel. ESPN could dedicate a day to his career, and I’d probably take off work to watch it. And one of the things that make him so great to own in fantasy leagues is that what you see is what you get. He knows that his job is to run you over and that is what he is going to do: run you over.
Peterson has very little in the way of competition at the position. He is everything you want in a player when they are off the field. There is very little risk of injury keeping him out of games. He has a consistent quarterback for the first time in his career. And, as previously stated, he is a complete red zone threat. The Minnesota Vikings offense advances the ball one way. Through Adrian Peterson.
Arian Foster is a bit more of a handful. While there is no denying his talent, there are a few question marks that tend to come up. When you have the best wide receiver in the NFL, its plain to see that Foster has a passing game to contend with. In addition, there is the return of a healthy Ben Tate to battle him for goal line carries. We all remember what happened to Steve Slaton after his one elite year.
Coaches and media have mentioned his attitude, but this is fantasy football, not Dr. Phil. But he has been kept out of a lot of practice and a preseason game this year with an injured hamstring, which is an injury that could bother him later in the season.
I’m more comfortable knowing exactly what I can expect. Adrian Peterson is the man.

So that’s about it. Those of you keeping score at home will see that it is two to two. But you know that I am not the kind of guy who is going to leave you like that. I didn’t just spend the last two hours of my life researching these bastards to not make a decision.
Both players are flashy. Both can put up insane statistics. Last year we watched Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster blow up defense, no matter their rank. We watched them pile on the yardage on the ground and through the air and waltz into the end zone like it was pre-game warm ups. Both men have talent, and you can make a case for either.
But there is one true edge between them. Consistency. What it all comes down to is which running back can you trust to get you over 1,300 yards and 10 scores and will be a major contributor week in and week out. When it comes to value, consistent value, there is no better pick than Adrian Peterson.


  1. I just started following you on twitter and I am glad I did as long as you continue to post articles like this. I do not agree with AP being the best runner because I like Foster a bit more because of the offense being about the same as last year. Good stuff man keep it up.

  2. Thanks a lot! I'm planning on putting up more player profiles and head to heads like this one in the coming weeks.

  3. I respectfully, but completely, disagree.

    I think that you have seriously overlooked the losses of Sidney Rice and Bryant Mckinnie as well as the sieve like offensive line (reports have said that Steve Hutchinson, their stud run-blocker, is on the decline.) Donovan McNabb is no quarterback to fear, and Percy Harvin, while electric, cannot be your only viable WR.

    Arian Foster on the other hand, has much less to worry about. His young OL has paved the way and the passing game is going to be, as always, something to fear. There has been virtually no turnover on the Texan's team, unlike the vikings who have experienced much change. This means a ton considering how much practice time was taken away due to the lockout. If we are talking about talent, I fully agree with you in saying that Peterson has the advantage; let us not mince words here, the man's a freak. However, Arian just has a much better situation.

    Your Thoughts?

  4. All the points you made are perfectly true. What we disagree upon is the effect they will have. I am by no means a Vikings fan, but I can't hate on their roster too much. I do not think that Harvin is a number one, but they have a very deep (though not elite) group of receivers in Harvin, Aromashodu, Berrian, Camarillo, Inglesias and Jenkins. I don't mean to put McNabb on par with Schaub at all, I don't even have Donovan in my top 20, but he can still get the job done. Washington was a mess last year and McNabb still managed 3,377 yards in just 13 games last season.

    I made points with Foster about how the health and prosperity of his team could turn into a hinderance in his fantasy performance and I stand by that. A fully healthy Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Ben Tate could cause statistical decline for Foster's receiving game and goal line carries.

    Thanks for commenting. I always love it when articles like this get competitive feedback.

  5. I have the second pick in my draft next week, so I've been in a pretty comfortable situation of picking whoever of the two doesn't go first. But with Foster's hamstring aggravation - an injury that tends to linger throughout the season no matter the sport - should that give me pause if AP goes first? I believe Ray Rice is poised for a huge year, so do you think it would be wrong to take him over Foster at #2 given the injury concerns?

    And of course, I'd want to get my hands on Ben Tate either way, but with more urgency if I take Foster.

  6. It depends. I really like Ray Rice. I have a whole post dedicated to him. You will probably get a lot of comments from skipping on Foster, but its a possibility. Foster says that he is fine, and it did not look serious, but like you said, this lingers.

    If your team is PPR, then I say go ahead and draft Rice if you dont have the confidence in Foster. If you are standard league, I'd probably stick with Foster over Rice.