The 2013 NFL season is over, and we're just as depressed about it as you are. But why wait on getting a head start on 2014 fantasy football?
Picking in the No. 1 spot can be a troublesome luxury. Leading up to the 2013 season, Adrian Peterson was selected first overall in the majority of fantasy leagues. Some owners ventured on a whim to try Arian Foster or Doug Martin (both players landed on IR) with the top pick, but AP seemed like the best option.
Looking ahead to 2014, we're going to see a changing of the guard. Peterson is still in the mix, but some of the younger running backs in the league are making the case for your vote as the No. 1 selection.
Let's look at the players who will be in the running for the first pick next year.
Upside: Charles was absurd in 2013. He posted career highs with 12 rushing touchdowns, 70 receptions, 693 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches. Durability was not an issue, either, as he suited up for every game (He would've played in Week 17 if Kansas City needed him).
In six seasons in the NFL, Charles has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark four times. Keep in mind one season was cut short by an ACL tear. Now the focal point of both the run and pass game for the Chiefs, it will be difficult to pass him up with the top overall pick.
Downside: Is there really a downside? It's like buying a Honda Accord (yes, Charles would be a nicer car, I know). You know what you're getting, it's one of the most popular cars, but there's always a possibility of your starter breaking. The only worry with Charles is that he would suffer another major blow after so many touches. That shouldn't be a concern to anyone.
Upside: Shady finished as the league's leading rusher in his fifth season. He ran for 1,607 yards on 314 carries in Chip Kelly's uptempo offense, shattering his previous career highs. He also posted his highest receiving total since 2010.
We already knew McCoy was a dynamic playmaker, one of the best fantasy options in the league. But his stock continues to rise. With Nick Foles providing a reliable quarterback under center, pressure is taken off of the ground game. Expect Shady to see another 300+ touches in 2014.
Downside: Like Charles, it's difficult to nitpick at anything with McCoy. He scored 11 total touchdowns as a featured piece of the Eagles offense. McCoy has only missed six games in five seasons, so durability doesn't seem to be an issue. Even with Bryce Brown seeing touches behind him, McCoy will still be a workhorse with the amount of plays Philly runs each game. You try to find a downside here.
Upside: Examining the history of his position, Manning was somewhat of an anomaly in 2013. He threw for 5,477 yards (which is under investigation apparently due to a potential lateral to Eric Decker, for seven yards), 55 touchdowns and 10 interceptions at the age of 37. This type of dominance is typically not seen at that age, but with the weapons surrounding him in Denver, how could you bet against Peyton?
Demayrius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker are all under contract for 2014. Eric Decker could leave in free agency, but Manning will have one of the league's best arsenals regardless.
Downside: Going back to the age discussion, Manning looks like a rare ageless wonder. Quarterbacks, on average, hit their stride around 25, and statistics show they begin to regress at 36. Manning will be 38 in March.
Most analysts worried about how much was left in the tank after multiple neck surgeries in 2011. Manning proved everyone wrong the following year and continued to defy concerns this year. For the record, he has suited up for all 16 games in each season he has been in action. The neck surgeries seem to be a thing of the past. Worrying about when he'll slow down is logical, but Manning will be the top quarterback drafted in most leagues in 2014.
Upside: Thank you, Marc Trestman. Thank you for turning Forte into the player we've all been waiting for. In a revitalized offense, Forte rushed a career-high 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns. He also posted career highs with 74 receptions and 594 receiving yards.
Jay Cutler may not be under center for the Bears in 2014, but Josh McCown proved to be a capable leader of the offense. With Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery demanding attention from opposing defenses, Forte isn't facing any stacked boxes. Plus, he held up as the workhorse for all 16 games.
Downside: Suppose Cutler does walk. Can a 35-year-old perennial backup lead Chicago to success again? Trestman is the QB whisperer, and with the weapons in the receiving game, there isn't any cause for panic right now. But that could be a worry for Forte owners. Michael Bush is still lingering as well. If he isn't released in the offseason, he still poses a threat as a touchdown vulture (although that title mostly disappeared in 2013). Forte probably isn't the No. 1 overall pick to go with, but he's solid for the top 5.
Upside: Another year in a struggling offense, another impressive campaign for AP. He rushed for 1,266 and 10 touchdowns in 14 games, all while Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman did their best impression of an NFL quarterback. Peterson delivers every year, it doesn't matter how bad his team is.
We can only sit here and ponder how great Peterson could be with a well-rounded offense. Minnesota at least has a couple weapons with Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. And the Vikings ranked towards the top of the league in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus (No. 7 overall).
Downside: Who is playing quarterback in Minnesota? Can AP stay healthy? Those are the same two questions we were asking a year ago when looking ahead at his fantasy potential. Now we have to consider the state of the franchise as the Vikings search for a new head coach.
Peterson will be 29 in March. He's approaching the dreaded cliff running backs fall off past 30, and he has a ton of miles of his tires (2,033 carries). No one is questioning his talent or work ethic, just his ability to stay on the field. Peterson is also not as active in the passing game as the aforementioned backs, so factor that in if you're a PPR owner.
Upside: He caught 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games. A knee injury hampered the end of 2013, but Megatron still posted seven games of 100+ yards, including an unreal 329-yard performance against the Cowboys.
Matthew Stafford continues to frustrate us all with his mechanics, but regardless of his overall stats, he's pushing the ball downfield to Johnson often. Megatron should easily be able to hit double-digit touchdowns again. He's the best receiver in the league.
Downside: Johnson is heading towards knee surgery in the offseason, according to several reports. That shouldn't hinder his availability for the start of next season, but it's worth monitoring. Jim Schwartz is gone, and so is offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, which means we have no idea what type of offense the Lions will run in 2014. Stafford led the league in pass attempts in 2011 and 2012. A more balanced approach would mean fewer targets for Megatron.
AP is passing the torch to two younger backs. Charles or McCoy will frequently be the top picks in fantasy drafts. Here's how the top three backs for 2013 finished in standard leagues.
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Charles and McCoy are both in their prime, they both provide added value with their receiving skills and they're focal points on offense. You can't really go wrong with either. Forte makes a strong case to go No. 3 overall.