ELITE Larry Johnson - Kansas City Chiefs Kansas City may or may not still have the best offensive line in football, but they're close. Prior to the emergence of of Johnson, Priest Holmes was perhaps the best fantasy back in football...and much of it was due to the KC line and propensity to run the football. New head coach Herman Edwards was recently quoted to say "We expect to run the football 550 times this season". Bottom line for fantasy owners is this...Larry Johnson is a throwback style running back capable of carrying a huge load in a proven offense that will run, run, and run some more. If it weren't for splitting carries with Priest Holmes through the first several games of 2005 (until Holmes was injured), LJ's numbers would be sick. Johnson finished the last 9 games of the season with 16 TDs and every game over 100 yards (2 over 200 yds.). LJ was the most dominant player in fantasy football through the last half of 2005 - and he'll continue to dominate in 2006. 2005 Stats Rush yds-1750 Rec yds-343 TDs–21 Shaun Alexander - Seattle Seahawks After a lengthy contract dispute last off-season, Shaun Alexander was back with the Seahawks for at least one more year. Alexander had put up superior numbers since his second year in the league (2001) and was determined to prove his worth for a long-term contract with Seattle. Always a workhorse, "Alex the Great" responded with 28 TDs and had only 2 games where he failed to score. To put his '05 numbers in perspective, Alexander doubled the TD total of Edge (who finished 4th of all RBs). Shaun Alexander's 2005 performance took him and his fantasy owners to the Superbowl...and he will continue to be the focal point of Seattle's offense in 2006. If Alex gets even half of his '05 production, he'll still be in an elite fantasy class! 2005 Stats Rush yds-1880 Rec yds-78 TDs–28 LaDainian Tomlinson - San Diego Chargers LT2 started off the '05 season with a whirl and showed he could do it all. He not only rushed and caught balls for TDs, he actually passed for 3! But, Tomlinson finished the season with nagging injuries and scored only 1 TD in his final 5 games...and none of which were over 100 yards (and this during the fantasy football playoffs). Regardless, Tomlinson is an all-around elite fantasy back capable of leading the league this year in fantasy stats. But, the plaguing injuries toward the end of last season and the change to Philip Rivers at QB in San Diego for 2006 keeps us from boosting him above 3rd in our rankings. 2005 Stats Rush yds-1462 Rec yds-370 TDs–23 ROCK SOLID Steven Jackson - St. Louis Rams "The Greatest Show on Turf" is now a memory with the departure of Mike Martz and arrival of new head coach Scott Linehan. The Rams were last in rushing yards and attempts over the last 4 years, but that all changes under Linehan. Steven Jackson is a 231-pound bull that runs with a vengeance and knows how to hit, but Jackson was victim to a system that failed to use their running backs with conviction. Jackson recently stated that he feels 2006 will be his breakout year and is looking forward to doing it all without having to leave the game...and we believe him! The Rams have a solid line and with a strong offensive cast. And Linehan's plan to give Jackson 20+ carries per game should boost SJax to fantasy stardom provided he stays healthy. 2005 Stats Rush yds-1046 Rec yds-320 TDs–10 Edgerrin James - Arizona Cardinals The only thing that kept Edgerrin James from more yards and TDs last season was lack of playing time towards the end of the regular season (yes, it's possible to have a player on an NFL team that is too dominant during your fantasy playoffs)...but we don't see that as a problem this season. The Colts wanted to keep Edge, but they just couldn't afford his contract demands with the presence of Manning, Harrison, and Wayne. Fast forward to Arizona. Edge is one of the top RBs in the NFL, in his prime, and running well...but the move to AZ is a changed environment that may not bode as well for fantasy statistics. We're not saying that he won't finish near the top of all fantasy RBs (we have him 5th), but with Edge's new gig there is a bit more of a risk - largely due to a weaker offensive line and the unlikelihood of QB Kurt Warner to stay healthy. 2005 Stats Rush yds-1506 Rec yds-337 TDs–14 Rudi Johnson - Cincinnati Bengals Rudi Johnson scored only 2 TDs in his first 8 games of 2005 (and had only one 100 yard performance), but he then busted it for some big yardage and TDs in the last half of the season. Once he kicked it in, Johnson was a strong and consistent performer. We expect more of the same from Johnson as Cincinnati finds their stride. The Bengals should be leading most of their games late and giving the ball to Rudi to pound it with his North-South style. The Cincinnati offense has experimented with running backs like Chris Perry and others that are a bit more nimble (and better receivers), but they likely won't cut any more into Johnson's numbers than last season. 2005 Stats Rush yds-1458 Rec yds-90 TDs–12 Tiki Barber - New York Giants When it comes to touches and versatility, Tiki's the Man! Barber put up 2390 total yards last year (most in NFL) and was like a 2-for-1 in yardage based leagues. Tiki had a strong TD number in 11 (9/2) to tie for seventh of all running backs, but that's what concerns us a little. Barber has gone on record to say he wouldn't be used in goal-line situations this season (will likely be Brandon Jacobs)...which has to be considered when drafting him. Barber is a small framed 200-pound back that is 31 years old, but we're not suggesting he is winding down. Barber takes care of his body with precision and he'll be ready for 2006. Tiki will get his touches and produce once again, but his TD performance won't be enough to boost him into the top 5 on our board. 2005 Stats Rush yds-1860 Rec yds-530 TDs–11 Carnell Williams - Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cadillac Williams is an extremely talented back with speed as his main asset. Williams jumped off to a huge start in 2005 with 434 yards in his first 3 games. But Cadillac wore down and suffered a foot injury that kept him from 2 games and lingered through the season. If Williams can stay on the field in '06, he'll be a monster...but that is a huge question mark since Cadillac has never had to shoulder the load by himself. Other fantasy concerns are that he won't carry the ball at the goal-line and he isn't yet much of a receiver. Bottom line, however, is that Cadillac did bust through defenses as a rookie...and we believe he'll continue in Tampa Bay's offense (we just don't know how long he'll last). 2005 Stats Rush yds-1178 Rec yds-81 TDs–6 Ronnie Brown - Miami Dolphins Ronnie Brown performed nearly as well as Cadillac in his 2005 rookie season, and he did it while sharing the load with Ricky Williams. In fact, Ricky had over 800 total yards last season with 6 rushing TDs (imagine those totals added to Brown!). Brown has such a huge upside, he could break into the elite of fantasy running backs with enough touches. But there are still a few questions in Miami... one of those being Daunte Culpepper. C-pepp may or may not be the perfect fit for Brown and the Miami offense, but he's a QB upgrade from last season that may give Miami a decent passing attack to support their running game. Ronnie Brown is also an adept receiver and will be used in some goal-line situations, but Brown has always had help as a runner. Miami head coach Nick Saban may limit Brown while young to keep him fresh (see Williams above), which would likely limit his fantasy production. 2005 Stats Rush yds-907 Rec yds-232 TDs–5 Clinton Portis - Washington Redskins Similar to Rudi Johnson, Portis looked like a poetntial early 2005 bust with zero TDs in Washington's first 5 games, but he then hooked up with consistenly big yardage and TDs for the remainder of the season. In fact, Portis finished with a whopping 1732 total yards and 14 TDs (one of them a pass!). Portis' explosion as 2005 rolled on placed Portis in the top 5 on many boards going into 2006. But a pre-season shoulder injury has Portis moving down the fantasy charts. "Mum" was the word in Washington regarding the injury, but the Skins may have tipped their hand a bit with the recent trade for and signing of T.J. Duckett from Atlanta. Although Portis is expected to play in game 1, his shoulder injury may linger throughout the season. The Duckett pick-up will surely take 4-6 TDs from Portis' total as he is likely protected (esp. goal-line situations) from further injury. We don't expect a RBBC in Washington, but Portis' shoulder and the Duckett (a smash-mouth fullback) pick-up places Portis at 10 in our RB rankings. 2005 Stats Rush yds-1516 Rec yds-216 TDs–14 SOLID Brian Westbrook - Philadelphia Eagles The 'Best of the Rest' has Brian Westbrook fronting the list. Westbrook is an all-around RB that is as much of a wide receiver as he is a running back. In fact, his total 2005 yardage production of 1233 was split almost exactly down the middle between rushing and receiving. The big question in Philly is regarding the offense and who the talented Donovan McNabb is going to throw to. We believe that Westbrook may get the bulk of the passes (he had 73 receptions in '04 and 61 in '05!) and reward owners in leagues that give points to touches. Regardless, Westbrook is Philly's best back and their best receiver. He'll get his numbers and be a quality fantasy performer ...it highly depends upon the Eagle supporting cast and their effectiveness to take pressure from Westbrook to enhance his numbers from last season. 2005 Stats Rush yds-617 Rec yds-616 TDs–7 Domanick Davis - Houston Texans The only reason Davis is still on anyone's list is because the Texans passed on Reggie Bush. The good thing for Davis is that it gives him another year to prove he is worthy of holding down the starting job. After putting up a total of 1776 total yards and 14 TDs in 2004, he was part of an anemic offensive last year and was ultimately injured...causing him to miss 5 games and have minor off- season surgery. The hope for Davis is a revamped offense under Gary Kubiak (who should put together a system that has Davis shining), but Kubiak could also find relief for Davis just the same. We're not saying to pass on Davis and his mere 2 rushing TDs from a year ago, but keep advised that he may be as likely to repeat his numbers from 2005 as he is to put up 2004 type numbers. 2005 Stats Rush yds-976 Rec yds-337 TDs–6 LaMont Jordan - Oakland Raiders LaMont Jordan put up some really strong fantasy numbers in 2005 and is lighting up the fantasy boards of many owners in their top ten...but not ours. Jordan's 11 TDs have him tied at 7th from last year and his his nearly 1600 total yards were beyond expectations. But Jordan comes with some concerns. Rarely does a back perform so well on a losing team...and a 3.8 yards per carry average is at the bottom of every back on our board (due largely to a poor offensive line that shows little improvement). So why are owners so high on Jordan this season? It's because he put up top ten fantasy totals last year (incl. 70 receptions), he plays nearly every down to the tune of well over 300 carries (incl. goal-line), and the Raiders plan to run more. But a run-based offense means less receptions for Jordan. It will also be interesting to see how a losing team (with a low ypc) is planning on more of a running offense. 2005 Stats Rush yds-1025 Rec yds-563 TDs–11 Reggie Bush - New Orleans Saints Anyone who saw Reggie Bush in college or in any of the Saints' pre-season games will have a tough time ranking him below 15 on their draft board. Bush is truly a "great one" and will be for years to come. The problem, however, is knowing when he'll start producing. Many forget that Deuce McAllister isn't a pushover and is still capable of great things at running back. As of now, McAllister is the starter until injured or until the Saints falter to the point of making the switch for the future. Even though we love Bush, it's still difficult to place a rookie in the top 15 knowing most of his contributions will likely come on 3rd down and on special teams...but we did it anyway. 2005 Stats Rush yds- NA Rec yds- NA TDs– NA Willie Parker - Pittsburgh Steelers "Fast Willie Parker" was a phenom in 2005 as Jerome Bettis morphed into the primary goal-line back. The un-drafted free-agent seemingly came out of nowhere to shock nearly everyone with his quickness and elusiveness...and all the way to the Superbowl 40 title. But 2006 is a new season. Parker comes into the year as the top Pittsburgh running back, but he'll likely have most of his success in mid- field and be replaced in goal-line situations. Parker caught a mere 18 passes last season and doesn't add much to the passing game. Although "Fast Willie" makes our top 15, he'll need to stay on his game to keep his job in Pittsburgh. 2005 Stats Rush yds-1202 Rec yds-218 TDs–5 ___________________________________________________________ send your fantasy questions to: email@example.com
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