In our first installment of Fantasy Football Insider, we will look at the top 12 fantasy prospects available this year. It was difficult thinking of what topic to open with, but in the end, the obligatory "Top 12" could not be overthrown.
The following list includes the twelve best players overall, ranked by their draft status in the first round.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers
LT is the most explosive and productive back in the NFL. He's in the prime of his career and coming off a monster season in which he broke an NFL record with 31 TD to become the 2006 League MVP. Don't listen to anyone who tells you to take anyone else. If you're blessed and cursed with the first pick, take LT. He will carry your team.
2. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams
Steven Jackson had big shoes to fill when drafted in 2004 by the Rams. Under Martz's pass-happy offense, Jackson saw little production in his first couple seasons in the NFL. Under second-year coach Scott Linehan, this stud is being used to his full potential. Turning in over 1500 yards on the gound last season, Jackson also recorded 90 receptions for 806 yards. This year expect nothing less than 2500 combined yards. That's 250 points in most leagues right there.
3. Larry Johnson, RB, Kansans City Chiefs
LJ is in the midst of a hold out with the Chiefs, but missing any game time is unlikely. Last season, his first as the full-time starter, LJ turned in 11 games with 100 or more yards, which included 4 games of over 150 yards. That kind of production cannot be overlooked. He dropped to the third pick because the Chiefs have lost two future Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Willie Roaf and Will Shields.
4. Shaun Alexander, RB, Seattle Seahawks
For the first time in his brilliant NFL career, Shaun Alexander missed a game last season- six to be exact. The Seahawk stud should be back to full-form this season now that the Madden cover curse has passed. In the Seahawks' Super Bowl season of 2005, he recorded over 1800 yards and 27 TD on the ground. Much like LT last year, it was hard keeping track of how many games Alexander scored 3-4 TD. He's going to have a great welcome-back year and you need to take him here if he's available.
5. Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers
I remember what I thought when I saw Gore's name jump into the top five RB group last season: Who the hell is Frank Gore? It turns out that by week 17, I was the only one thinking that. Gore was the only consistent bright spot in the 49ers' offense last season by posting nearly 1700 yards on the ground with another 485 yards in the air. One
might ask how a player who will most likely turn in over 2000 yards could drop to fifth, and this answer is easy: touchdowns. Due to the 49ers' anemic offense, Gore mustered a measly 8 TD on the ground and 1 in the air. He will need to improve on that this year.
6. Rudi Johnson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Rudi has managed to score 12 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. So, I'm going to go ahead and pencil in 12 TD in 2007. Rudi is durable and hasn't missed a game since 2003, so expect to draft this guy and leave him in every week sans the bye. Like Chad Johnson (see #11), Rudi's success will hinge at least in part on QB Carson Palmer's further recovery from his catasrophic knee injury at the tail end of 2005. The more dangerous Palmer is, the more room Rudi will have to light up the joint.
7. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts
The only seasons when Manning won't be a first-round prospect will occur after he retires. In fact, his stats are so consistently great each year that fantasy football leagues will probably keep him available even AFTER he retires. He's a lock for 4000 yards and probably 30 TD. All of the major losses for the Colts have happened on the defense this year, so Manning's production shouldn't really be affected (even without Tarik Glenn). And really, the only time of the year that #18 is extremely unreliable comes in the playoffs and fantasy football doesn't stretch into January.
8. Willis McGahee, RB, Baltimore Ravens
McGahee has a chance at a fresh start in Baltimore. He was on the reserve/injured list his rookie season while he recuperated from a devastating leg injury he sustained in his final season in college. But he returned in 2004 to rush for over 1000 yards, his first of two season reaching that mark. Look for McGahee to capitalize on that kind of production this season behind the likes of Johnathon Ogden and his offensive line in Baltimore. The Ravens love to run the ball and you have to love the potential of a talented back in that kind of system.
9. Joseph Addai, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Addai's rookie season was spent splitting carries with veteran Dominic Rhodes. Even seeing a little over half the action allowed Addai to rush for over 1000 yards and 7 TD. If you combine his stats with Rhodes' from last season, Addai would have over 1700 yards and 12 TD. I'm not saying the second-year RB will hit this mark, but studly Edgerrin James did turn in 1500 yards or more in 4 seasons with the Colts, one of which was over 1700. What this means for Addai is that Manning's Colts will make room for a rushing game when one exists. The only question mark here is Addai's durability since he hasn't handled the full NFL workload yet.
10. Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
It isn't always fun and games being a running back in the pass-happy system in Philadelphia. However, with the kind of hands that Westbrook possesses, he makes up for the lack of carries with receptions. Last year, thanks to the loss of McNabb, Westbrook rushed for 1,217 yards- nearly 600 yards more than his season average prior to 2006. McNabb is back again, but who knows what this will do to Westbrook. Fortunately, with or without McHabb at the helm, Westbrook is good for 600 yards and 60 or more receptions. So if he can't deliver on the ground, he will most likely deliver through the air.
11. Chad Johnson, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Ocho Cinco's numbers dropped a little last season, but this receiver is in the prime of his career and with a guy like Carson Palmer slinging passes his way, it's impossible to say Johnson isn't a first-round prospect. Barring an injury- and this guy hasn't missed a game since week 5 in 2002- Johnson is a lock for at least 1200 yards this season and probably 10 or more touchdowns. Palmer is a year out from his knee injury and should comfortable enough in the pocket to find CJ on nearly every passing play.
12. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers
Did I just put two receivers back-to-back to finish out the first round? Yes. CJ has the size and straight-line speed, but Steve Smith has the rare combination of blistering speed and the agility of a chicken on cocaine. Smith is the type of receiver that will catch the ball behind the line of scrimmage and run it down the field 85 yards for a touchdown. He's quicker than any defensive back on the field and he's Delhomme's favorite target. I had the rare honor of having both Steve Smith and Chad Johnson on my team in 2005. I don't think I need to tell you how much ass I kicked.