Tomlinson difficult to catch as top player of the season

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

December 21, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

My fantasy football season ended Monday.

I thought I had a chance after Marion Barber and Terrell Owens each scored two touchdowns Saturday and Willie Parker added 132 yards and a touchdown the next day. I had a 19-point lead after the early games Sunday. But LaDainian Tomlinson was predictably great in the 8:15 game, and then, Marvin Harrison did me in with three touchdowns Monday night.

My team would've beaten either team on the other side of the playoff bracket. And it's no shame to lose to the best team in the league having a great week. One friend at the paper had a team go 13-0 in the regular season only to lose by one point in the first round of the playoffs to a 5-8 opponent. That's cause for true fantasy misery.

Anyway, with my season wrapped and championship games coming this weekend for most leagues, it seems as good a time as any to pick an all-fantasy team for 2006.

QB -- Peyton Manning is sort of the reflex choice, because he's been the most productive quarterback for so long and has posted another solid season. But you have to remember that he was drafted well above most of his peers. So I think he needed to outperform them by more. I'm going with Drew Brees, who wasn't even picked as a starter in many leagues but has put up huge yardage numbers (he might approach 5,000) and nearly matched Manning in touchdowns. Michael Vick has also delivered great bang for the buck, compensating for his inevitable poor passing weeks with peerless running.

RB1 -- Is there really any question? Tomlinson was picked in the top three in most leagues, so owners expected him to be great. But I don't think anyone thought he would transcend the league to such an extent (more than twice as many touchdowns as any other player). He was the championship maker this year, and I'm ready to call his 2006 the greatest fantasy season I've ever seen.

RB2 -- This is a much tougher call. Larry Johnson was the second-most productive back, but as the No. 1 pick in many leagues, he probably didn't deliver as much value as guys like Parker, Frank Gore and Brian Westbrook, who were terrific and lasted into the second round in most leagues. I think I'm going with Parker because his advantage in touchdowns made him more valuable than Westbrook in leagues that weigh scoring much more heavily than yardage.

WR1 -- Few mentioned Reggie Wayne as a top-five receiver entering this season, and I'm still not sure he's eclipsed Harrison as Manning's go-to guy. But his combination of yardage and touchdowns is as good as anyone's, and he didn't require as high a pick as Chad Johnson or Steve Smith.

WR2 -- From his trip to the emergency room to last Saturday's spitting incident, Terrell Owens has delivered the drama this year. But he's also showed his unmatched ability to play great in the midst of the chaos he creates. Questions about his health and sanity kept his draft position down, and he's leading all receivers in touchdowns, so he was another great value this year.

WR3 -- Donald Driver seemed a lot like Wayne coming in. Everyone knew he would be good but no one seemed to rank him in the very top tier. Johnson has been a tad more productive, but Driver was available a round or two lower, so I'm picking him. Any sense that he's a sleeper should be gone by next season.

TE -- Antonio Gates hasn't quite lived up to the second-round picks owners were tossing his way. You could've had Atlanta's Alge Crumpler about six rounds later and he has only one fewer touchdown, so Crumpler's my man in a field that proved surprisingly strong.

Defense -- The Bears were everybody's top defense during draft season, and they've lived up to the hype. But the Ravens' defense came in facing more questions than it had in years and matched Chicago's production. So I have to go with the hometown boys, who delivered a cavalcade of turnovers and sacks.

Place-kicker -- Chicago's Robbie Gould wasn't really on the radar coming into this season but he's been terrific and has scored 10 more points than any other kicker. So he's an easy choice.

And I'll end with the coal in our fantasy stockings - the biggest busts of 2006. Among running backs, Edgerrin James was a top five or six pick in many leagues. But he showed that he really did need that great Colts line to be an elite runner. Five rushing touchdowns just doesn't cut it for a lead fantasy back. Of course, that still beats Tampa Bay's Carnell Williams, a first-round pick in many leagues, who has averaged a pitiful 57 yards a game and scored one touchdown all year. Yuck.

At receiver, Randy Moss doesn't appear to like football anymore. And that's a problem for a guy who was considered the best fantasy wide-out as recently as 2004. He'll tantalize some next year, but I wouldn't touch him. At quarterback, Daunte Culpepper was terrible for a second straight year, but I was more disappointed with Matt Hasselbeck, who had earned a reputation for reliability but got hurt this year and wasn't anything special when healthy.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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