Foundation for dream team lies with solid running backs

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

August 17, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

I had this dream the other night in which I was taking a college course on sports and - egads - I got a 50 on my first quiz. I say that only to let you know that my knowledge might be a little lacking today.

Of course, I also dreamt that I was floating down the river with Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, an eerie Doors song playing in the background. So maybe dreams are just dreams.

That preamble aside, we're moving on with preseason football rankings today. Running backs dominate the first two rounds of any fantasy draft and are generally viewed as the building blocks of a good offense. If you're drafting near the top, it's hard to take a really wrong step with your feature back. But if you're drafting lower first round or upper second round, the backs available might account for some big fantasy swings. So here they are:

1. Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs: Yes, he has moved from a backup at the beginning of last season to the consensus top pick. A run of 1,351 yards in nine games will do that. I don't have much to add except to say he's got less wear and tear on his body than the other top guys. Some have suggested that he might not run with the same chip on his shoulder, but from everything you read, he still wants to prove he's for real. I expect 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns.

2. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers: I like Tomlinson over Shaun Alexander because he catches the ball more, but you really can't go wrong either way. I have a good feeling about the Chargers this year, and they probably won't throw quite as much with Philip Rivers at the helm. So I expect 1,500 yards rushing, 400 yards receiving and about 20 touchdowns from Tomlinson.

3. Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks: This is the respect a guy gets for breaking the league touchdown mark? Well, yeah. Alexander is as reliable a fantasy commodity as anyone, but backs who have the type of season he did in 2005 usually fall off. He'll be running behind a slightly diminished line, and he's not as versatile as some others at the position. But I expect 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns, and you can build a champion around that.

4. Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals: I always seem to rank him a few spots higher than most. I understand he's not a sexy breakout pick, but he's a consistent workhorse running behind an excellent line, and with Carson Palmer's status in question, he could get the ball more often. The carries might catch up to Johnson in a season or two, but for now, I expect 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns with little downside.

5. Tiki Barber, New York Giants: I love that Barber has quietly assembled a Hall of Fame resume, but he's due for a bit of a fall after his career year. Barber is not always the Giants' first option at the goal line. On the upside, he gives you 500 receiving yards. I expect 1,400 yards rushing, 450 receiving and 10 touchdowns.

6. Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins: I'm hopping on the bandwagon. I love Brown's yards per carry, I love the fact that he won't be competing with Ricky Williams and I like his potential in the passing game. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a top-five guy next year, but I'm a little wary of these super trendy types. I expect 1,300 yards rushing, 300 receiving and 10 touchdowns.

7. Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins: I would've had Portis fourth before he partially dislocated his shoulder. The Redskins seem optimistic he'll be ready for the opener, but even if he is, he might not be ready for the pounding of 25 to 30 carries. I still like Portis a lot in that offense, but I'm not inclined to have my featured player be a question mark the first two or three weeks. I expect 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns with upside if he really is OK in Week 1.

8. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: His 4.1 yards per carry from last year tells me he's not an elite back. He was also virtually worthless some weeks, and you don't want that from your top pick. But he's versatile and should get the ball more with a running coach, Scott Linehan, taking over for Mike Martz. I expect 1,200 yards rushing, 300 receiving and 10 to 12 touchdowns.

9. Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It's interesting how Brown has pushed his former Auburn teammate out of the spotlight, especially after Williams had a more productive rookie year. He tired at midseason, but I like his big-play ability and he seems a solid bet to take a slight step forward this year. I expect 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns.

10. Edgerrin James, Arizona Cardinals: It feels weird dropping him this low, but I think the accumulated pounding will catch up with him, especially as he runs behind a line that's much weaker than the one in Indianapolis. I expect 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Oakland Raiders' LaMont Jordan and Pittsburgh Steelers' Willie Parker just miss the list. I love Domanick Davis' versatility but questions about his durability and Houston's line push him to the lower second round or third round. Guys I'll avoid include beaten-down veterans Corey Dillon (New England Patriots) and Jamal Lewis (Ravens), injury-prone DeShaun Foster (Carolina Panthers) and unlikely-to-start Tatum Bell (Denver Broncos). As for the New Orleans Saints' Reggie Bush, he's sensational, but he'll be picked too high based on that 44-yard run in his preseason debut.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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