ELITE LaDainian Tomlinson - San Diego Chargers Tomlinson's 2006 was the best regular season for an NFL running back...EVER! LT's touchdown total (33 including his 2 passing TDs) doubled the total of every RB last season (except LJ who managed 19). Bascially, if you had LaDainian on your roster last year...his TD output was more than any RB duo your opponent could muster. Tomlinson led the league in rushing yards (1815) and was just 11 yards behind in total yardage (2323). If there was a knock on Tomlinson for 2006, it was that he and his team were possibly too good...LT did not score in weeks 16 or 17 (most fantasy superbowls). But if you were lucky enough to have Tomlinson on your roster, he single-handedly gave you a chance to win your league. With no indication things will be different in San Diego, LaDainian Tomlinson will continue as the coveted fantasy player for 2007...and will certainly go 1st in every fantasy draft. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1815 Rec yds-508 TDs–31 Steven Jackson - St. Louis Rams Jackson's 2334 total yards in 2006 led the league as he complimented his rushing touches with 90 (NINETY) receptions (and only 3 WRs had more)! Steven Jackson finished slightly behind Larry Johnson in TD production (16 to LJ's 19), but SJax scored 10 of his 16 TDs in the final 4 games! Jackson built a huge head of steam as the season progressed to finish with 684 yards / 10 TDs in his last 4 games (weeks 14-17). If Jackson owners made their fantasy playoffs last year, SJ was enough to push them to a fantasy Superbowl victory. Steven Jackson is a 231-pound HOSS and will be at the top of fantasy draft boards...which has some fantasy owners wondering if he may exceed Tomlinson's numbers given his dominance on the field at the end of 2006. Head Coach Scott Linehan learned to utilize Jackson with conviction in '06, and SJax didn't disappoint. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1528 Rec yds-806 TDs–16 Larry Johnson - Kansas City Chiefs LaDainian's freakish '06 numbers have many (most of whom had LJ as their #1 preseason last year) forgetting the output of Larry Johnson. Although shadowed by LT, Johnson busted out and pounded defenses for massive yards and more than his share of TDs. Coach Herman Edwards stated last preseason that the Chiefs would run the ball 550 times in '06 - and he proved to be a prophet as Johnson got 416 of them (most in the league). LJ had nearly exact yardage totals to LT, but his TD totals and yards per carry paled in comparison. Regardless, his 2199 total yards and 19 TDs were more than respectable and rewarded Johnson owners with solid production. Kansas City will return with a strong offensive line and determination to run the football. The parting of QB Trent Green should help the situation in KC and keep the durable Johnson on the field for similar stats in 2007. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1789 Rec yds-410 TDs–19 Joseph Addai - Indianapolis Colts Super-sophomore Joseph Addai climbs into the top 5 on our board for several reasons. The fact that the super-bowl champion running back rolled over a Bears' top ranked defense is just one reason why we believe he'll finish with top 5 fantasy numbers in 2007. Gone is Dominic Rhodes from the Indy offense...leaving Addai and his versatility to handle nearly all of the Colt touches out of the backfield. Like Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James before him, Joseph Addai inherits a powerful Indy offense that features the RB heavily in both the running and passing games. Addai may arguably have the skills equal to or better than either of his predecessors...and he's in a better offense with Peyton in his prime. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1081 Rec yds-325 TDs–9 Laurence Maroney - New England Patriots Like Addai above, Maroney is another of the super-sophs (as is Bush in New Orleans) in our top 10. And, like Addai, Laurence Maroney is a benefactor of a top 3 NFL offense. An additional similarity is the fact that no longer will Maroney have to yield carries to a veteran (Corey Dillon) with Dillon's exit in the off-season...leaving Maroney to nearly all of the touches out of the Patriot backfield in 2007. Laurence Maroney is a beast extremely capable of pounding opposing defenses for 4 quarters. Maroney was used to 200 yard games at the University of Minnesota when the Gophers held any type of lead...and expect more of the same in New England this season as the Patriots destroy teams on both sides of the ball. The 21-3 halftime score in Indy at the 2006 AFC conference championship game is an indication that New England will pile on the insurance points this year... and Maroney will play a major role in the slaughters. 2006 Stats Rush yds-745 Rec yds-194 TDs–7 Shaun Alexander - Seattle Seahawks Alexander went off with 28 TDs in 2005 only to be followed by a down season last year. The injury bug finally caught up with "Alex the Great" after becoming the league's best rusher over the previous 5 seasons. And Seattle was not the same without Alexander's presence for a full year. Always a workhorse, Alexander is expected to bounce back in 2007 without missing a beat. Upon a healthy return this Fall, he'll continue as the focal point of the Seahawk offense... and should be good for 15+ TDs and 1500+ yards. 2006 Stats Rush yds-896 Rec yds-48 TDs–7 ROCK SOLID Frank Gore - San Francisco 49ers Frank Gore rushed for 1695 yards (3rd most in the NFL) with the San Francisco 49ers...a team previously thought to remain in the cellar for all of 2006. Gore was as consistent as he was dominant with a total yardage performance of 2180 (4th behind SJax, LT, and LJ). FG's TDs totaled just 9, but 6 of his TDs came in the last half of the season. The whole NFL noticed Gore's feats last year and so did the Niners...who responded by beefing up their offense this past off-season around Gore. It's true that Gore had a brilliant year in '06, but he still comes with some risks. Aside from the fact that Gore isn't yet in a high-powered offense (eg: Indy, Pats, SD, etc.), he has a history of 2 blown knees and 2 repaired shoulders...just enough to bump him out of ELITE status for 2007. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1695 Rec yds-485 TDs–9 Brian Westbrook - Philadelphia Eagles Even with the departure of Donovan McNabb due to injury, "Mr. Versatility" continued to put up nice numbers in 2006. With 77 receptions (huge for a RB), Westbrook led the Eagles in catches and rewarded fantasy owners huge in leagues compensating RBs with receptions. Westbrook's TD total (11) tied him at 9th overall among running backs, but his combined yardage-TD factor were enough to boost him up to 6th in fantasy RB value for the year. Westbrook is an all-around RB that is as much of a wide receiver as he is a running back. 2007 will be another year where Westbrook gets the bulk of the passes in the Philly offense (73 receptions in '04, 61 in '05, and 77 last year!). Westbrook is Philly's best back and their best receiver...he'll again get his numbers and be a quality fantasy performer performer for another year. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1217 Rec yds-699 TDs–11 Reggie Bush - New Orleans Saints Deuce McAllister kept me from ranking Reggie Bush in the top ten last season, but Bush's talent is just too much to keep him off of the field this year. Anyone who watched Reggie Bush understands his ability to bust huge plays anytime he touches the ball. Deuce will likely continue to be the workhorse in the Saint offense, but keep in mind that Bush caught 88 (EIGHTY-EIGHT) passes with McAllister as the featured running back!!! The versatility in the New Orleans offense with the likes of Brees, McAllister, Bush, Colston, and 1st round rookie WR Robert Meachem will scare opposing defenses and provide Reggie Bush owners an opportunity to score fantasy points in every way possible...including special teams for leagues who reward performances in the return game. 2006 Stats Rush yds-565 Rec yds-742 TDs–9 Rudi Johnson - Cincinnati Bengals Rudi put up 12 TDs in 2006 and was able to spread his scoring across the year...which was some nice consistency for his fantasy owners. And coincidentally, Rudi's numbers were nearly identical to 2005 totals (12 TDs and 1400+ rushing yards). Many Bengal fans expected huge stats for Rudi in Cincy's growing experience on offense, but Johnson again stayed the course - and he'll probably repeat in 2007. Until the Bengals find a more versatile pass-catching back in the backfield, they'll stick to Rudi Johnson's North-South running style and his consistent 12 TD / 1400 yard seasons. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1308 Rec yds-124 TDs–12 Willie Parker - Pittsburgh Steelers Fast Willie was "up and down Willie" throughout the season. Parker had 7 games of 125+ yards and scored multiple TDs in most of those games, but he also had 4 games where he put up 47 yards or less (and didn't have a score in any of those 4 games). While getting a considerable number of touches, Parker's yards per touch are fairly low. Although inconsistent, Parker's 16 total TDs and respectable yardage were enough to boost him to 4th overall of NFL fantasy RBs for '06. "Fast Willie Parker" was a phenom who busted out in 2005 and carried over to '06 as the un-drafted free-agent seemingly came out of nowhere to shock nearly everyone with his quickness and elusiveness. Parker is top dog in an offense that likes the run, but considering Pittsburgh's woes last season, they'll need to change things up a bit to be a little more competitive - and Willie isn't much of a pass receiver out of the backfield. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1494 Rec yds-222 TDs–16 SOLID Cedric Benson - Chicago Bears The Bears face 2007 as the defending NFC Champions and without a controversy at running back. Thomas Jones left for the Jets leaving Cedric Benson to carry 90% of the load. When on the field last year, Benson was supreme...but not enough to upseat Jones. CB is a huge sleeper candidate as a versatile/strong RB behind a solid O-line (despite a QB who makes ill-advised throws when the team should be running the football). Benson may not come cheap, but he could end up being one of the best values in this year's running back crop. At present, I have Benson ranked 12th...but expect him to make the most of his many touches in the Bear offense to easily finish in the top 10 by season's end. 2006 Stats Rush yds-647 Rec yds-54 TDs–6 Edgerrin James - Arizona Cardinals I just have to wonder if Edge ever thought he made a mistake in moving to Arizona...especially after Indianapolis won the Superbowl!?! James was lucky to make it back to the line of scrimmage on many of Arizona's plays in 2006 - largely due to an inexperienced QB and a horrible offensive line. But Edge is still one of the top RBs in the NFL, and the Cardinals are starting to improve their offense. The addition of RT Levi Brown and a year beneath sophomore QB Matt Leinart should help the Cardinal offense and Edgerrin James to approach more respectable numbers in 2007. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1159 Rec yds-217 TDs–6 Thomas Jones - New York Jets Thomas Jones has always been an underrated back with mucho natural ability. The stint in Chicago allowed Jones to show his wares, but an unforeseen draft of Cedric Benson forced a split of carries for the Bear rushers...although Jones clearly had his share of touches for the Superbowl runner-up. The move to New York solidifies a lock on the starting RB for TJ, but opens some questions about the ability of the Jets and their offensive line to support him. If Jones is able to stay healthy, look for him to put up 1800 total yards with a dozen TDs for the Jets and his fantasy owners. 2006 Stats Rush yds-1210 Rec yds-154 TDs–6 Clinton Portis - Washington Redskins Portis' explosion in 2005 placed him in the top 5 on many draft boards going into 2006. But a pre-season shoulder injury had Portis moving down the fantasy charts. "Mum" was the word in Washington regarding the injury, but the Skins tipped their hand a bit with the trade for T.J. Duckett from Atlanta. As expected, Portis' shoulder injury lingered until an eventual knee injury sidelined him in week 10...allowing Ladell Betts to step up and raise eyebrows by some. Don't expect a RBBC in Washington, but Portis' needs to step up and handle the load...and if he regains his former self, Portis will be good for some top 10 fantasy numbers to finish the season. 2006 Stats Rush yds-523 Rec yds-170 TDs–7 ___________________________________________________________ send your fantasy questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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