Peterson-preseason2

Adrian Perterson is good at being a running back. We know this, but will Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Patterson make Christian Ponder somewhat resemble an NFL quarterback?

The Housekeeping

Notable Additions: Greg Jennings, Matt Cassel

Notable Draft Picks: Cordarelle Patterson

The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)

Adrian Peterson (ADP: 1.8): Earlier this offseason I did a short series of posts in which the No. 1 pick was debated. It was good fun, but it was also an experiment of sorts. See, using the likes of Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster, I wanted to convince myself that if I were holding the top pick in a standard league this year, I would have the manhood to pick someone not named Adrian Peterson.

Answer? Nope.

Prior to his building injury problems there was a legitimate case to be made for Foster, and even with his injury there still is one there for Charles. We can make one for Doug Martin too, and Marshawn Lynch, and if we want to get a little creative and daring, maybe even C.J. Spiller too. And indeed, some daring souls have made those picks over Peterson, which could end in deep shame.

There’s been some worry about Peterson’s workload after he had 410 touches (including playoffs) last year during a season when his knee was both shattered and shredded. That concern is pushed by the fear of chasing ghosts, and projecting past results onto future outcomes. Historically, 60 percent of the top five fantasy players at each position will change the next year. Worse, of the six other +2,000 yard rushers in league history, none have eclipsed the 1,500 yard mark the next year.

That’s the concern with Peterson. Sane minds understand and accept that while another season when he flirts with 2,000 yards would be all kinds of spectacular, entering a fantasy draft with that expectation is how broken dreams are made. You’re expecting and bracing for a regression then, but how far?

To attempt an answer, we can look at history. If we exclude his ridiculousness last year, Peterson has averaged 1,350.4 rushing yards per season, a number that’s skewed somewhat by his injury-shortened 2011 year. If that’s the real Peterson, even if we look optimistically and project 2013 a bit higher at around 1,500 yards, we’re still preparing for a drop of over 500 yards, and 50 fantasy points. Not cool.

It’s not that easy, of course. Keep in mind that when Percy Harvin went down in Week 9 and Peterson then didn’t have the support from a passing game with even remote competence, his per week rushing average jumped to a number which can’t be properly computed by the human mind: 188.9 yards. He has that support now from Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Patterson, which is nice, but it could mean Peterson sees a slight decrease in carries, which is bad. Without Harvin last year (when Peterson was the offense), he averaged 25.7 carries per game. With him, that dropped to 18.6.

But if he drops and hovers around that 1,500 rushing mark, so what? With his average of 254 receiving yards per year with 12 touchdowns, that’s still production well worthy of the first overall pick. A 2013 season like that will just lead to the gap between Peterson and the rest shrinking, but a ceiling which is so much higher still makes him much more deserving of fake football’s highest honor.

The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)

Greg Jennings (ADP: 85.6): Christian Ponder threw a poor deep ball during his first full season as a starting quarterback. This is a fact, it’s science.

Vikings fans who see the world in shades of purple will either protest, or claim that we don’t know if Ponder can throw deep because he’s never really been asked to throw deep. There may be some truth to that, as even when Harvin was healthy he pounded the middle steadily with intermediate crossing routes. Nonetheless, the numbers are rather ugly: according to Pro Football Focus, Ponder was 27th in passing yards gained through the air in 2012 (completions with the YAC removed), finishing with 1,298 yards.

But as I wrote last week while pitting Jennings against T.Y. Hilton (take Hilton), Ponder’s lack of deep throwing won’t matter (much) for Jennings, and it may even help him.

Jennings has always been a great route runner, but at this point in his career he’s adjusted to become a wide receiver who particularly excels on routes that break after 12-15 yards. That’s right in the wheel house of a quarterback who had nine games with less than 6.0 yards per pass attempt last year.

Kyle Rudolph (ADP: 93.6): The common opinion is that Rudolph is about to go boom, or at least that’s what his ADP tells us. The one here taken from Fantasy Football Calculator is actually a little low, as he’s climbed to 78th overall in ESPN leagues, behind only five other players at his position. FantasyPros compiles six different ADP sources, and Rudolph is still the sixth best tight end there (this time 82nd overall).

It’s easy to understand why, though as I’ve said repeatedly throughout these previews, once you miss on Jimmy Graham (and arguably also Rob Gronkowski if he’s only going to miss a few games), then waiting a long, long time to select a tight end is a much better play than spending, say, a late sixth-round pick on Rudolph. But similar to Jennings, Rudolph benefits from having a quarterback whose deep arm is questionable at best, and noodle-like at worst.

That led to 93 targets in 2012, putting Rudoplh in the top 10 at his position, which is nice I guess. But it’s his red-zone presence that’s getting Rudolph drafted so high. Rudolph’s nine touchdowns tied him with Graham, even though he had 32 fewer receptions, and 489 fewer receiving yards.

His red-zone rampaging is equal parts impressive, and concerning. To some degree, touchdowns are always circumstantial, which makes the statistic volatile on a year-to-year basis. A player has far more control over how many receiving, rushing, or passing yards he accumulates than the amount of touchdowns he’s able to score, because he’s relying on the offense to advance downfield.

Yes, that’s a generic concern applied across fantasy football. But it’s especially prevalent here, when we’re discussing a player who saw 54 percent of his fantasy production come from scoring. For a comparison looking at two players Rudolph was either just ahead of or beside in tight end scoring, 36.4 percent of Graham’s fantasy scoring came through touchdowns, while Tony Gonzalez scored eight TDs, which was 34.4 percent of his production.

Cordarelle Patterson (ADP: 120.7): Patterson will be a freak, and the mere possibility that his emergence will happen immediately makes him one of the best late-round wide receiver fliers. His route running his raw and unpolished, which is why he may not start immediately opposite Jennings, a temporary seat taht could be kept warm by Jerome Simpson. But he ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, showcasing blistering speed that’s also been evident early in the preseason.

“Raw” is a word we’ve heard associated with Patterson often, which will continue as he develops as a route runner. If that process moves along quickly, he’ll be the steal of your draft, and the best WR3 relative to his draft position.

The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)

Christian Ponder (ADP: undrafted): Until he shows…something, and until Patterson becomes the deep guy he so desperately needs, there’s no conceivable reason why you should be drafting Ponder in leagues with standard depth and scoring. You crazy, addicted deep leaguers (Hi, my name is Sean and I’m in a 20-team league) will likely have to draft Ponder and experience that sadness. And for you two-QB leaguers, every starting quarterback has value, and therefore every starting quarterback has to be drafted.

But the rest of us need to wait until we know there’s at least some bye week fill-in upside with Ponder, and his new targets. He was the 22nd ranked fantasy quarterback last year (184.5 points) during a season when he had near record setting backfield support. Colin Kaepernick had only 16 fewer fantasy points, even though he started just seven regular-season games.

The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)

Toby Gerhart (ADP: undrafted): Nothing more than the standard handcuff here, though since you’re spending the first overall pick to own Peterson, Gerhart is also the most important handcuff.

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