Just a few words of wisdom before I get going with your Top 25 of 2007:
#1. These picks are not the “safe picks” that you'll read in every magazine.
If you want to take a risk and come out on top, keep reading. If you’re going to cry when a player underproduces, you might want to stop now.
#2. Running backs are a thick crop this year.
Normally, you'd have to draft a running back in the first round—not necessarily true this year. When a player like Carnell Williams is universally listed as a #20 pick, you really have more leeway than usual.
#3. There IS a tier break. As a matter of fact, there are a few. Let’s start with...
#1. LaDanian Tomlinson: No surprise here. It’s safe to assume that he can’t/won’t repeat last year’s insane performance, but it’s also a safe bet that he'll still have mad receptions and even a few passing touchdowns. LT is a fine example of a fantasy workhorse—gets the job done, and doesn’t miss games.
#2. Stephen Jackson: I don’t care HOW good Larry Johnson is—Jackson just has too much upside. If I weren’t worried about his receptions dropping, I might have listed him at #1 over LT. Bulger is going to be a fantasy powerhouse this year, and guess who gets all those goal-line carries? You got it. Add in his 90 (WOW!) catches, and in points-per-reception leagues Jackson might actually rank above LT.
#3. Larry Johnson: I’m willing to make a bet that LJ decides he wants his money more than Priest “Turning-Your-Head-Sure-Is-Hard” Holmes. At his best, LJ is an unstoppable machine. At his worst, he’s the #3 RB. With Huard on the way out of KC and defenses expecting LJ, I’m leaning towards the latter.
#4. Shaun Alexander: Oh how the mighty have fallen. A broken foot has dropped this guy to number seven on a few draft sheets. Those people are idiots. SA is the real deal, and while he may be a ways removed from his insane 2005 season, he’s still good for at least 12 TDs on the ground
#5. Joseph Addai: Call me crazy, but I think Addai has the skills to become the new Edgerrin James. First of all, he racked up almost 1,500 total yards and 8 TDs while splitting time in 2006. Toss in some extra pressure on Manning this year (the offensive line is going to be a little weaker), and you can expect Addai to start seeing more passes in the flats.
#6. Willie Parker: Yes, yet another player ranked above Frank Gore. Parker has been one of the most consistent fantasy RBs over the past few years, and a conservative head coach will make sure the ball stays on the ground more than ever in Pittsburgh. Look for over 1,500 yards and at least 12 touchdowns.
#7. Frank Gore: He should be higher—and had he not broken his hand, he would have been. Gore plays for a weak team...which would be fine, except that he’s a pass-catching back. If his hand isn't 100 percent by the season opener, those 60 catches in 2006 will seem like a distant memory.
#8. Brian Westbrook: While he may not put up big touchdown numbers, Westbrook is a yardage machine. Throw in the 77 receptions in PPR leagues and he’s worth the gamble despite his injury issues—especially whenn Reggie Brown is double-covered and McNabb needs to dump the ball off.
#9. Laurence Maroney: Yeah, this is a stretch, I know. Too bad. Maroney takes over the solo role for Corey Dillon—and not only did he amass 7 TDs while splitting time (in Dillon’s favor) in 2006, but he’s now playing for a team with Moss and Stallworth. Those two guys are considered too fragile to go over the middle in the red zone. Hello, touchdowns.
#10. Rudi Johnson: You know what you get with Rudi—1200 yards and 10+ TDs. It’s been that way forever. THAT IS NOT A BAD THING. Here’s hoping that he’ll get a few more red zone shots with the rest of the Bengals on parole.
#11. Travis Henry: Big risk/reward pick. The Broncos have a knack for giving huge years to any running back (remember when Mike Anderson was unstoppable and splitting time?)...and they went out of their way to get Henry. The only possible downsides here are if Henry gets hurt, or if Shannahan goes with Mike Bell (or hell, even the towel boy) in goal-line situations.
#12. Reggie Bush: NOW we’re getting somewhere. Most people say this is way too early for Bush, and I offer only this in response: 88 receptions, 742 receiving yards...and he’s a running back. Factor in Deuce’s fragile ankles, and Reggie could be sitting on a full-time gig. Probably the biggest risk/reward pick in the draft.
#13. Maurice Jones-Drew: The big bowling ball is a great player—as long as Fred Taylor is out. With Taylor still on life support, MJD loses some serious carries in an already anemic offense. MJD will be the starting back by the end of the season, but it’s up to you to decide whether he’s worth it here (you certainly won’t get him any later than this).
#14. Willis McGahee: Here’s a sleeper for you. A second-round running back who can put up numbers anywhere near McGahee's 2004 performance is worth his weight in gold. The Ravens are going to be racking up garbage-time yards as they run down the clock, so give McGahee a serious look.
#15. Marshawn Lynch: Could easily become McGahee of 2004, which is incredibly tempting. He could also be a waste of a pick. I personally don’t want to find out in the second round. Let someone else take him here, if you can let it go.
#16. Edgerrin James: After toiling as a shell of his Indy self, Edgerrin is in a position to succeed again. Leinart looks to be getting into the groove of things—and hopefully the Edge can finally get some goal-line loving to go with his soft hands.
#17. Ronnie Brown: He comes into every season overweight and lazy. In 2006, Brown had every opportunity to bust out...and he barely cracked 1,000 yards. Trent Green might help, but don’t hold your breath.
#18. Clinton Portis: Yes, he's ranked low. So very, very low, in fact. With Ladell Betts looking like the running back Washington wanted all along, Portis is in serious jeopardy of splitting time or losing his job. The upside remains, but don’t think that Portis is going to get all the carries this year.
#19. Cedric Benson: Barring an injury that sends Adrian Peterson’s value skyrocketing, Benson looks to be the new Thomas Jones. The difference is Benson can absolutely bulldoze when he’s on the goalline. Teach the guy how to catch (eight receptions in 2006) and we’ll talk.
#20. Thomas Jones: Not in the best system for his talents, but Jones looks to get a lot of carries. Whether or not his body can hold up remains to be seen—but keep an eye out for him, as he may post some serious numbers.
#21. Ahman Green: He’s old, he’s frequently injured, and he’s on the Texans. The only reason I rank him is because Houston will rely on the run more with Schaub at the helm, and Green is also an excellent pass-catching back.
#22. Carnell Williams: About a week ago, Williams would have been six spots higher. Then Michael Pittman got permission to snag every third down and goal-line play. It’s too bad, too, because Williams was going to be catching a lot more balls this year.
#23. Adrian Peterson: He’s a very talented guy—but let’s not forget he plays for the Vikings. That means he plays the Bears twice (death to stats), and has Tarvaris Jackson as his quarterback (so much for keeping the defense honest).
#24. Brandon Jacobs: With Barber gone, this big beast looked poised to make a splash in 2007—but as a “show of faith,” the Giants brought in Reuben Droughns to eat carries. Still, Jacobs has got to be the goal-line back. He’s just too big. If Droughns gets hurt (very possible), Jacobs moves to top-12 status. You have been warned.
#25. Marion Barber III: Julius Jones is heading out, and Barber knows it. Problem is, they’re going to be splitting some serious time until the deal's done. Barber is still going to be a touchdown machine—but will he get the yardage to go with it? Pray that Jones decides to go on the “Rex Grossman 2005 Diet Plan.”