Must Start: The Top 15
1. Larry Johnson v. CIN—The
debate raged on all throughout the offseason but in my mind, at
least, it was settled when Priest Holmes was officially placed
on the PUP list: Larry Johnson is the new king of fantasy football.
Extrapolate his ’05 numbers out to a full season and you’re
liable to break your calculator…not to mention the collective
will of your league mates. Expect 150+ and a couple scores in
the high-scoring opener vs. Cincy.
2. Shaun Alexander @ DET—Not
that you could be faulted for taking this guy with the first pick
in your draft. All he’s done since assuming the gig in 2001
is score a mind-boggling 98 touchdowns. An added bonus? He’s
almost never hurt. Madden curse, be damned!
3. LaDainian Tomlinson @ OAK—The
third member of the holy trinity didn’t play a single down
in the preseason but that’s nothing new. He’s a flip-the-switch
stud who will be more than ready to rock when the curtain lifts
this Monday night in Oakland. Don’t forget that he’s
averaging over 140 total yards and a score per game against the
Raiders in his career.
4. Steven Jackson v. DEN—A
victim of child neglect during the Martz era, this precocious
NFL toddler is now primed to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.
If he touches it 25 times a game, he could very well lead the
NFC in rushing. Are you listening, Coach Linehan? Start him.
5. DeShaun Foster v. ATL—Foster
isn’t what you’d call the most trustworthy back in
the biz and his margin is razor-thin now that the Panthers have
drafted heir apparent, DeAngelo Williams. Still, the dude can
flat-out tote it when he’s able to suit up. He’s able
to this Sunday so get him in there. After all, he tallied two
triple-digit days in ’05, both against the Falcons, his
Week 1 opponent.
6. Tiki Barber v. IND—Tiki’s
coming off a phenomenal ’05 campaign in which he led the
league in yards from scrimmage. At 31, it’s hard to believe
he’s got another career year in him. Nevertheless, 2400
yards is 2400 yards. If he doesn’t lose too many scores
to freakishly big-and-fast poacher, Brandon Jacobs, the sky’s
the limit once again.
7. Rudi Johnson @ KC—Johnson’s
poacher, Chris Perry, has been MIA since late last year and that
means the show is all Rudi’s for at least the first couple
weeks. It doesn’t hurt that opposing defenses will have
their hands full with a good-as-new Palmer and the league’s
second-best receiving duo. Saddle up the former Tiger against
KC’s perennially squishy front seven this Sunday.
8. Edgerrin James v. SF—Edge
doesn’t seem concerned by his anemic preseason output (one
yard) but I’m sure a few eyebrows were raised amongst fantasy
ballers expecting big things from the former Colt. One thing’s
for sure: if the Arizona line doesn’t learn how to run block
soon, he might end up being this year’s version of Jamal
Lewis. Here’s hoping he squashes those nascent doubts with
a big effort against everyone’s favorite doormat, the Niners,
9. Carnell Williams v. BAL—The
reigning ROY looks to pick up where he left off against the typically
tough Baltimore front this Sunday in what shapes up be the season’s
first official slugfest. If he’s more involved in the passing
game, as has been promised, he could vault the Bucs (and his owners)
into playoff contention. Stay tuned.
10. Thomas Jones @ GB—What
does this guy hafta do to earn some respect? Despite racking up
1300+ yards in ’05, he lost his job to Ced Benson over summer
break and only earned it back when the kid missed the entire preseason
(again) due to a shoulder injury. He’ll likely take a backseat
when Benson returns but the Bears are in position to win the NFC
North crown. How willing do you think they’ll be to forsake
one in the hand (Jones) for two in the bush (Benson)?
11. Corey Dillon v. BUF—The
aging Dillon was being pushed this preseason by upstart rook Laurence
Maroney. Lo and behold, however, the kid’s gonna sit Week
1 out. That means the cagey vet gets the backfield all to hisself.
Good thing, too, ‘cuz Buffalo doesn’t appear to have
improved a 31st ranked run defense in the offseason.
12. Brian Westbrook @ HOU—Long-time
readers know I’m not crazy about the injury-prone and underutilized
Westbrook but I’m pretty bullish on Philly’s chances
to make some noise this year. If he gets 20 touches per contest,
he’s a Top 10 back all year. Any less than that and he’s
no better than a solid #2 guy.
13. Willis McGahee @ NE—The
self-proclaimed “best running back in the league”
gets a chance to put his money where his mouth is in ’06
against premier AFC rival New England. Perhaps he should have
looked around a bit before making such a bold statement? Yeah,
that’s J.P. Losman standing in front of you, Willis. Love
the self-esteem, though.
14. Ronnie Brown @ PIT—His
ascension to the RB upper crust (top 7) seems to be taken for
granted by most of my colleagues but, ever the devil’s advocate,
I’m not so sanguine. When you can count on one hand a guy’s
career touchdowns, caution seems to be the prudent course of action.
Don’t forget that Pittsburgh plays a little defense, too…in
case you hadn’t noticed.
15. Willie Parker v. MIA—Hell,
they even play a little offense in the Steel City. Of course,
minus Big Ben, there could be some muddling around in the early
going for the defending champs. If Cowher is true to his word
and gives Parker the goal-line duties, you could be looking at
a surprise Top 10 guy by season’s end. At least, I’m
hoping so. He’s my #2 guy in our no-love-lost redraft league.
Grab A Helmet:
Warrick Dunn @ CAR—Like
Parker, Dunn is reported to be in line for some more short-yardage
carries in ’06. Talk about a boon for his owners! I’ll
believe it when I see it (again, the skeptic in me) but a couple
more touches near the goal-line likely means huge numbers for
the former Seminole this season. Tough opening draw, though, in
Carolina’s top 5 defense. Be patient, people.
Lamont Jordan v. SD—Surprised
to see him on the outside looking in? You shouldn’t be.
The Raiders didn’t do much to upgrade their talent in the
offseason and draw the league’s stingiest run defense in
Week 1. Jordan will be fine in the long run but I’m expecting
a modest start in the Monday night opener. After that? Things
should start looking up.
Reuben Droughns v. NO—He
was my #1 sleeper heading into training camp thanks to a huge
free agent acquisition (LeCharles Bentley). Unfortunately, that
huge free agent acquisition turned into a huge hole in Cleveland’s
otherwise solidified front five. Hard to tell what Droughnsy is
capable of now but I strongly suspect he’s good for more
than the two TDs he tallied in ’05. Move him up a couple
slots in points-per-reception leagues, as well. Only Westbrook,
Jordan, Tiki, Foster, & LT accumulated more receiving yards.
Deuce McAllister @ CLE—Nobody’s
talking about Deuce this year and that means you likely got him
for a song in your league’s draft. Reggie Bush will get
all the attention (from the media AND from opposing defenses)
but I’m here to tell you that Deuce will outperform the
kid in ’06. In ’07? OK, that’s a different story.
Wali Lundy v. PHI—Every
year, a guy comes out of nowhere to nail down one of the much-coveted
starting tailback jobs. Meet this year’s Willie Parker.
It doesn’t hurt that Domanick Davis is on IR but the youngster
still had to beat out Vernand Morency to seal the deal. That he
did should say something about his ability. Never hurts to be
the chief rock-toter in Gary Kubiak’s offense, either.
Grab A Gatorade:
Kevin Jones v. SEA—Coach
Crazy’s saying all the right things about involving Jones
in the passing game this year. Hey, how ‘bout involving
the dude in the running game first? All you need to know about
Jones’ potential is that Steven Jackson (a far superior
back) only notched three 20-carry games under Martz in ’05.
Hope you’re not holding your breath for that much anticipated
Ahman Green v. CHI—Martz
isn’t the only coach gasbagging about the potential of his
meal ticket. In Titletown, the Pack’s head man, Mike McCarthy,
says that Green has his old burst back. Great. Did he grow a new
set of hands in the offseason, too? I’m a bitter, old man,
I know. Don’t expect the attitude to improve as the season
Chester Taylor @ WAS—For
seemingly the nineteenth consecutive year, Minnesota has a new
opening day running back. I’d be more excited about that
if he’d even been a STARTING running back in his brief career.
Oh, and if he weren’t matched up against the ‘Skins
in Week 1. Prove it to me, Chet.
Dominic Rhodes or Joseph Addai @ NYG—At
least Minny’s decided on an opening day starter. Indy? They’re
still sitting on the pot, so to speak. The plan for now is to
tag-team it until somebody (presumably Addai) seizes the job.
Who STARTS the season w/ a RB committee?
Any NY Jets RB @ TEN—Oh,
yeah. Eenie, meenie, miney, NO!
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends