“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” – Confucius. 

You weren’t expecting to read Confucius in this article, were you? This quote serves not only to increase my perceived smarts, but also to be a message and valued piece of advice for every fantasy football manager. Meticulously preparing for a fantasy draft significantly increases your chances of winning a league. Take that, ancient philosophy.

While preparing for upcoming fantasy draft(s), prepare on two different levels. First, plan your general strategy: which positions to draft first, how many players at each position, hierarchy of position importance, etc. This article series will not cover general drafting strategies because other Football Nation writers have already given extensive advice on the subject.

Rather, the Fantasy Football Draft Decisions series will help discern players in the same tier of fantasy football rankings.This second level of draft day preparation is a sure way to set up a winning season. Inevitably, every manager faces hard decisions of choosing between players in the same tier, even though the players are ranked close together, and had similar fantasy point totals from the previous season.  

To make the case for this second level of draft day preparation, let’s take a look at some tough decisions from last year’s drafts. In 10-team standard scoring (non-PPR) leagues, the average draft position (ADP) of A.J. Green and Hakeem Nicks was in the third-round. A.J. Green finished the season with 1,350 yards and 11 TDs while Nicks finished with 692 receiving yards and 3 TDs. Just to take it a step further, Doug Martin and Ben Tate’s ADP were both in the seventh round last year. I think you get my point.

This first installment of Fantasy Football Draft Decisions will compare two closely ranked first-round RBs from the same tier: Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch. So, without further ado, let the nitpicking begin…

Marshawn Lynch

Since coming to Seattle in 2010, Lynch has evolved into one of the most productive RBs in the NFL, and has proved that “Beast Mode” was not a fluke. In the past three seasons, he has averaged 76 rushing yds/game, 12 receiving yds/game, and 10 total TDs/season.

More importantly, 2012 was Lynch’s best season: 1,590 rushing yds (3rd in NFL), 5.0 yds/carry, 196 yds receiving (29th in NFL among RBs), and 12 total TDs. Defenders have found Beast Mode harder to bring down than the mafia, and Pete Carroll will continue to prescribe Lynch the ball in high dosages.

However, there are some downsides to owning Beast Mode on your fantasy team. First, he has a history of suffering from ankle injuries and back spasms since 2007. Because back spasms tend to be unpredictable and recurring, they could reappear at anytime throughout his career. Second, Lynch is 29th in the league for receptions and receiving yards, so he is a very one-dimensional RB. Lastly, he has 1,452 total carries in his NFL career, and 1,500 total carries is historically considered to be a threshold for NFL RBs where sharp declines in performance occur (i.e. Terrell Davis and Priest Holmes).  

My 2013 projections for Lynch: 1,300 rushing yds, 9 rushing TDs, 25 receptions, 25 receiving yds, and 1 receiving TD. 

Ray Rice

With one of the NFL's best combinations of power, speed, and elusiveness, Rice became one of the most reliable fantasy football RBs of the past decade. Rice has put up top-notch production since becoming the premiere RB for the Ravens: 1,267 yds/season, 8 TDs/season, 610 yds receiving/season, and 1 receiving TD/season. Additionally, he has not missed a game in the past four years.

However, Rice finished the 2012 regular season with (for him) a down year: 1,143 rushing yds (11th in NFL), 4.4 yds/carry, 9 rushing TDs, 61 receptions, 478 receiving yards (3rd in NFL among RBs), and 1 receiving TD.

Nevertheless, expect to see Rice’s numbers go up in 2013. Due to the departure of Anquan Boldin, and the season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta, Rice will have an even larger role in the Raven’s offense this season, and Rice has shown he capitalizes on opportunities.

Among most of the fantasy analysts, the biggest concern for Rice’s ’13 season is the emergence of Bernard Pierce. It’s reasonable to expect Pierce to have 100 to 125 carries this upcoming season, but this shouldn’t hurt Rice’s fantasy value. As previously stated, Baltimore’s offense has lost two of their best offense weapons from last season, so Pierce’s 100 to 125 carries should take some stress off of Rice as Baltimore will lean on the run-game heavily.

My 2013 projections for Rice: 1,250 rushing yds, 400 receiving yds, 7 rushing TDs, and 2 receiving TDs.  

Conclusion

Though Lynch had the better year in 2012, Rice is the better investment for this upcoming season. Rice brings a more consistent track record as a fantasy back over the past four years. He annually puts up 1,600+ total yards from scrimmage with double-digit TDs, and the game tape shows no decline in his raw physical abilities.

Additionally, Rice has no significant history of injuries, and only 1,216 career carries. On the other hand, Lynch has a significant injury history, and 236 more carries in his career than Rice. Due to these injury concerns, and increased career workload, Lynch has much more risk for fantasy owners than Rice.

Bottom-line: Rice’s more consistent yearly production and less risk of injury make him a more valuable running back than Lynch for the upcoming fantasy season.