Is Chris Johnson This Year's No. 1 pick?

If you’ve ever held the No. 1 overall pick heading into your seasonal fantasy draft, you know it’s easy to fall victim to Multiple Draft Personality Disorder. MDPD strikes when the owner of the first overall pick begins to question not only conventional wisdom, but also his own gut feeling on what to do with the pick. The owner has an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, each whispering in one ear. Confusion reigns.

This year’s holders of the No. 1 overall pick will suffer with the decision of whether to take Titans running back Chris Johnson. Let’s listen in as the angel and devil ratchet up the symptoms for a typical MDPD victim.

Angel: Hey, Johnson is a beast. He rushed for 2,006 yards in only his second NFL season, and every time he touches the rock he’s a threat to go the distance. Big plays are a fluke with most players, but with Johnson, they’re virtually the norm. In only 31 NFL games, he already has 36 plays (31 rushes, five receptions) of 20-plus yards. Johnson doesn’t need a ton of touches a game to be dominant; he can swing a fantasy matchup with an 80-yard touchdown run at any time. No other fantasy prospect does big plays like him. Your choice with that No. 1 pick is obvious: Chris Johnson.

Devil: Wait a minute, fella. Big-play ability is as risky as it is rewarding. Say teams figure out how to bottle up Johnson. In each game he fails to bust a 50-yard play, all of a sudden he becomes a very average fantasy option — certainly not a player worthy of the top pick. A guy like Baltimore’s Ray Rice, who produced in a bunch of ways in 2009, would be a safer pick.

Angel: Oh, really? Right behind Rice is a touchdown vulture named Willis McGahee who limits his ceiling in many leagues. Johnson doesn’t have that problem. He is in position to get goal line carries and play every down. A big-play guy who never leaves the field is the first thing on all fantasy owners’ wish lists. Don’t pass that up. And by the way, Johnson averaged 4.7 more touches per game than Rice last year, so the perception that Johnson relies only on big plays is distorted.

Devil: Look. Johnson rushed for an absurd yardage total last year, but doesn’t that make you nervous that he’s already done it, and may never do it again? And not just because he probably will never carry the rock 358 times again, but because nobody has ever rushed for 2,000 yards twice. Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew and Adrian Peterson — without Chester Taylor, mind you — will all be shooting for 2,000 yards this season, and each of them has a better shot at it than Johnson, whose odds of doing it again are slim to none. It’s happened only six times in NFL history, bub. After Terrell Davis rushed for 2,008 yards in 1998, he ran for only 1,194 yards combined in the next three seasons. And Jamal Lewis gained only 1,006 yards and 906 yards in the two seasons after he rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003. You’re dreaming if you think Johnson can repeat his 2009 performance.

Angel: That’s not the point. Johnson won’t need to reach 2,000 rushing yards in 2010 to justify the No. 1 overall pick. He’s only 24 and has no injury history. He has no fumble issues, which Peterson does. And unlike Jones-Drew, he runs behind a rock-solid line for a dependable franchise that will put him in position to succeed without overusing him. Plus, he’s a unique weapon with elite speed to the edge — Rice, Jones-Drew and even Peterson can’t touch him there — who can produce in a number of ways, including as a receiver out of the backfield. The man is a touchdown machine. Look for his touchdown totals to increase in his third season, making him the ultimate fantasy weapon. Simply put, he has plenty of statistically impressive football ahead of him, and he’s as safe a pick as anybody.

That’s enough. No need to let the devil muddy the picture any further — because that’s just what he’s doing.

When you’re on the clock with the first overall pick, don’t give in to MDPD. Make your decision with confidence. The name of the game is to acquire the best player available with each selection throughout the draft, whether it’s a late-rounder or the first one overall. That top pick might come with more pressure, but don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. As good as other players are, the pick this year — regardless of format — is Chris Johnson.

This article originally appeared in the Athlon Sports 2010 Fantasy Football magazine. Buy your copy now at newsstands and bookstores or by clicking here.

Paul Hickey is a regular contributor and consulting editor for Athlon Fantasy Football and operates the website NoOffseason.com, a 365-day resource for obsessive fantasy owners who eat, breathe and sleep fantasy football. While the site appeals to all fantasy heads, there is a special emphasis on dynasty formats and individual defensive player leagues.

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