Must Start: The Top 15
1. LaDainian Tomlinson v. DAL –
He’s the straw that stirs the drink in San Diego. Hell,
he’s the drink, too. Coming off another huge season, L.T.
is primed to justify his position as consensus fantasy selection
numero uno. A word of caution, though (since I relish playing
devil’s advocate): he tallied almost 600 fewer yards in
’04 compared to ’03. Expect big things in Week 1 (since
Gates is out) but pay closer attention starting in Week 2.
2. Willis McGahee v. HOU –
You were expecting Mr. Alexander? We’ll get to him. At least
for one week, I like Buffalo’s bruiser better than Seattle’s
meal ticket. He faces a questionable Texans D on Sunday and is,
unquestionably now, the Bills’ main offensive weapon. Expect
a brilliant ’05 debut and many more fine returns the rest
of the way.
3. Shaun Alexander @ JAX –
He finally scored the fat contract and though some players tend
to slack off upon receiving the big dough, he won’t be one
of them. He’s a hard worker who is absolutely money in the
red zone. If I had one quibble, it would be his propensity for
turning in average numbers against the league’s better defenses.
Jacksonville possesses one of the league’s better defenses.
4. Curtis Martin @ KC –
Logic would dictate a 32-year old workhorse with lots of mileage
on the chassis doesn’t belong in the top 5. His stellar
’04 numbers tell us otherwise. He’s gonna slow down
eventually but it isn’t gonna happen this season (barring
injury) and it definitely isn’t gonna happen against a KC
defense that will (once again) trot out one of the worst defensive
lines in the league.
5. Priest Holmes vs. NYJ –
He doubtless caused a lot of headaches on draft day, but now that
you own him, it’s best to set the buyer’s remorse
aside and ride him while the riding’s good. Will he lose
carries to Larry Johnson? Sure. Will he end up on the shelf at
some point? Probably. Will he turn in a couple 150-yard, three-TD
days? Take it to the bank.
6. Steven Jackson @ SF –
If you’re looking for the next Priest Holmes, fantasy megastar,
head east down I-70 to the Edward Jones dome. There, you’ll
find an amazing physical specimen who is capable of running over,
around, and through opponents. Did I mention he can catch, too?
Jackson might share carries with the venerable Mr. Faulk at times,
but by year’s end, the former Beaver will be a top 5 points
7. Rudi Johnson @ CLE –
The less celebrated of Cincinnati’s Johnsons is actually
the guy who makes the aerial fireworks of 7-11 and Co. possible.
He’s coming off a 1,400+-yard season and faced, arguably,
the league’s toughest defenses to accomplish it. The schedule
is much friendlier this season, starting with a Cleveland doormat
he trod upon to the tune of 202 yards the last time they met.
8. Corey Dillon vs. OAK –
Johnson’s former teammate escaped the Queen City just in
time to miss an offensive renaissance but I doubt he’s overly
bummed about it. You won’t see the Bengals in Detroit come
February, after all. Dillon? Yeah, he’ll be there. He kicks
off another Super Bowl run with a potentially monster day against
the hapless Raiders D in Foxboro this Thursday.
9. Kevin Jones vs. GB –
Jones will be in Detroit this February, too, but not as a participant.
He’ll be resting his jets after a 1,500-yard season. Don’t
think he’s capable? All he needs is more carries than the
relatively modest 241 he recorded last season. He should start
off with a bang against the Pack’s sorry front seven in
10. Deuce McAllister @ CAR –
There’s no telling how the devastating Katrina will affect
the now homeless Saints but if he’s smart, Coach Haslett
will put their fate in Deuce’s hands and stand back. McAllister
still possesses one of the most unique combinations of size and
speed in the league. All he needs is more touches as he only tallied
269 (not even close to enough) in ’04.
11. Jamal Lewis v. IND –
He seems to have put his past indiscretions behind him and now
the only things holding him back are an anemic passing attack
and the usual diet of 8 and 9-man fronts he faces. If Boller and
Co. surprise (I’m dubious), he could lead the league in
rushing. If they don’t (more likely), he’ll hafta
settle for a top 10 finish.
12. Ahman Green @ DET –
I’m not sure how a guy who misses three games in five years
can be considered injury-prone but I’ve heard it enough
this offseason to wonder whether the fantasy “insiders”
are truly doing their homework. If Green has one major failing,
it’s his habit of putting the ball on the ground, not getting
hurt. Provided he’s able to overcome that (a big if), there’s
no reason to think he won’t be a top 10 back again, even
in light of the Pack’s losses across the offensive line.
13. Brian Westbrook @ ATL –
I’ve been accused of underrating him in the past but he
still has never (A) rushed for 900 yards in a season or (B) carried
the ball more than 200 times. Though he’s one of the best
receiving threats out of the backfield (hence, the ranking), he
shouldn’t be your #1 back on game day. He simply doesn’t
touch the ball enough.
14. Mike Anderson @ MIA –
Raise your hand if you had him on your radar a month ago. Didn’t
think so. He hasn’t been north of 1,000 yards since 2000
but we all know what running behind Denver’s offensive line
does for a rock-toter’s numbers. Coach Saban’s Dolphins
will eventually field a solid defense but that day is still a
ways off and I think Anderson takes full advantage of a current
weakness this Sunday.
15. Edgerrin James vs. BAL –
This is likely his last season in Indy and if I know Edge, he’ll
be highly motivated by the potential pot of gold in ’06.
He certainly talks about it enough. He’d be wise to envision
stacks of cash in the endzone this Sunday night if he wants to
score on the Ravens. Nothing worth having comes easy, after all.
Grab A Helmet:
Fred Taylor v. SEA – He
carried the ball all of four times in the preseason but Coach
Del Rio has publicly proclaimed him ready to get 20 to 25 totes
this Sunday. Will he hold up? You never know with this guy but
you could do a lot worse than the almost 100 yards Taylor guarantees
you every week. Just don’t expect any touchdowns. That’s
Greg Jones’ department now.
Tiki Barber v. ARI – Barber
may actually be in a similar situation this season thanks to the
emergence of unsung rook, Brandon Jacobs. The latter brings a
special blend of girth, power, and speed to the position, perfect
traits for a short-yardage/goal-line back. Tiki will still be
a monster between the twenties but if the TDs get poached, he
becomes nothing better than a #2 fantasy starter. Keep a close
eye on the situation.
Lamont Jordan @ NE – Now
out of C-Mart’s shadow, Jordan will usually be a #1option.
Then again, if the Raiders fall behind early and often (as they
will this Thursday night), he could end up being deprived of significant
carries down the line. My guess? He gets a tad underutilized but
still puts up 1,200 yards and 8-10 touchdowns. Go ahead and start
J.J. Arrington @ NYG –
For all the attention paid to the Big Three on draft day (Brown,
Benson, and Caddy), only one rookie RB seems worth starting for
the time being. The former Golden Bear may not have even been
the best back on his own team last year (try Marshawn Lynch) but
that didn’t prevent him from rushing for more than 2,000
yards and 15 scores. He’s built low to the ground and is
faster than most people give him credit for. I predict four-digit
rushing totals for him in ’05.
DeShaun Foster v. NO –
The shocking return of Stephen Davis to the starting lineup has
Foster owners scrambling for a replacement. Do yourself a favor,
folks, and stop running for the exits. The former Bruin is still
gonna be the man in Carolina. He’s just not gonna be a solo
act. If you’re afraid of the platoon situation, just wait
for Davis to get hurt. That should only take a week or two.
Grab A Gatorade:
Thomas Jones @ WAS – Though
he should remain the starter all season, he probably won’t.
Teams don’t draft running backs in the top 4 so they can
pick splinters out of their rearends. Jones will be a decent option
until the rook gets a shot but I don’t like his chances
of putting up big numbers in Week 1. The ‘Skins are simply
too stingy against the run (81.5 yards/game and 3.1/carry).
Julius Jones @ SD – The
Bolts know a thing or two about clamping down opposing rushers,
as well, which means Thomas’ younger brother could make
this coming Sunday a forgettable one for the Jones family. Julius
has boatloads of potential but will probably struggle out of the
gate and may even lose carries to A-Train as the year progresses,
something big bro should be plenty familiar with.
Domanick Davis @ BUF –
I spent more than a quarter of my salary cap on him in our recent
auction draft which tells you I’m pretty jacked about his
potential this season. Good thing seasons last more than one week,
though, ‘cuz the Buffalo run defense is one of the best
in the business. Temper the expectations this Sunday and then
let him loose after that.
Ronnie Brown v. DEN –
Drafted to replace the dreadlocked one, he may now end up sharing
the backfield with him. That may not be a bad thing for the Dolphins
but it isn’t gonna do a whole lot for owners of either back.
Fortunately, Ricky will be watching from the sidelines the first
four weeks. Unfortunately, the Fish face a pretty tough string
of opponents in that span. Wait ‘til he produces.
Kevan Barlow v. STL –
I’ve never pretended to be a fan but I actually do think
he has the potential to be better this season. Dennis Erickson’s
offense simply wasn’t a good fit for him (or anyone else,
for that matter) and the current staff seems determined to get
him more involved. Just one problem: the Niners will be playing
from behind almost all season. That means Barlow won’t get
the touches needed to make him much better than a flex option
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends