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Three for the Show

Who goes No. 1: Alexander, Tomlinson or Johnson? 

Posted: Tuesday August 22, 2006 8:17AM; Updated: Tuesday August 22, 2006 1:01PM
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Seattle Seahawks Shaun Alexander.
Seattle Seahawks Shaun Alexander.
Robert Beck/SI
SI's experts choose their top five fantasy performers for 2006
Jeffri Chadiha SI senior writer
1. Larry Johnson 2. Shaun Alexander 3. LaDainian Tomlinson 4. Clinton Portis 5. Rudi Johnson
Adam Duerson FANTASY PLUS reporter
1. LaDainian Tomlinson 2. Shaun Alexander 3. Larry Johnson 4. Tiki Barber 5. Clinton Portis
Peter King SI senior writer
1. Shaun Alexander 2. Larry Johnson 3. LaDainian Tomlinson 4. Tiki Barber 5. Clinton Portis
Gene Menez FANTASY PLUS writer-reporter
1. Larry Johnson 2. Shaun Alexander 3. LaDainian Tomlinson 4. Clinton Portis 5. Rudi Johnson
Mark Mravic SI pro football editor
1. Shaun Alexander 2. LaDainian Tomlinson 3. Tiki Barber 4. Larry Johnson 5. Reggie Bush
James Quintong SI.com senior producer and Fantasy writer
1. Larry Johnson 2. Shaun Alexander 3. LaDainian Tomlinson 4. Tiki Barber 5. Edgerrin James
David Sabino FANTASY PLUS associate editor
1. Larry Johnson 2. Shaun Alexander 3. LaDainian Tomlinson 4. Tom Brady 5. Peyton Manning
Bill Syken FANTASY PLUS writer-reporter
1. Shaun Alexander 2. LaDainian Tomlinson 3. Larry Johnson 4. Tiki Barber 5. Clinton Portis

You've just won the lottery. You've landed the No. 1 pick in your fantasy football draft. Call Mom and Dad. Pop a bottle of champagne. But then comes the hard part: Whom do you take -- Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson or LaDainian Tomlinson? It's a choice that's as pleasurable as it is painful, because you have such enticing options. Luckily for you three SI experts have broken down the case for each star running back.

Shaun Alexander
RB Seattle Seahawks

I prefer to draft running backs from winning teams. Whereas even an elite back loses carries late in the game if his team is playing catch-up, a running back on a team that plays from ahead in the second half will rack up yards running out the clock. It's no coincidence that Alexander ran for 1,880 yards and an NFL-record-tying 27 touchdowns last year while playing on a Seahawks team that went 13-3. I believe Seattle will be just as good in 2006, and that's why I like Alexander as my No. 1 pick.

Most of last year's Super Bowl team has returned, and the players have come back hungry: No one in that locker room believes the Seahawks should have lost to Pittsburgh last February in Detroit. I see Seattle dominating an unthreatening NFC West, and I expect Alexander in particular will benefit from four divisional games against the soft defenses of the 49ers and the Rams.

Meanwhile, Tomlinson's Chargers and Johnson's Chiefs enter the season with significant question marks. Kansas City will be adjusting to a new coach, Herman Edwards, and San Diego will be breaking in a new quarterback, Philip Rivers. Both those teams may be fine, but who knows? The Chargers are also talking about giving LT some rest this year, so some of his 2005 carries may go to his backup. The only question mark for Alexander is the departure of Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson in free agency. But the other four Seahawks offensive line starters are back, and this veteran unit will be able to work in one new player without compromising its effectiveness. Plus, Seattle has one of the league's best fullbacks in Mack Strong.

Alexander might not have a cool acronym like LT or LJ, but he was league MVP last year. It's not unimaginable that Johnson or Tomlinson will put up better numbers if everything falls right for them. But Alexander has less of a downside than the other two. Either he will repeat his spectacular numbers from last year, or he will do something close to that. He's the safest choice among the elite fantasy backs.    
-- Bill Syken

Larry Johnson
RB Kansas City Chiefs

For the record, this will be the easiest story I'll ever write. The boss told Adam, Bill and me that we'd be running three essays arguing each player's case to be the No. 1 pick in fantasy football. The task of deciding which writer would get which player would be left to us. "I'll take Tomlinson," Adam said. Then Bill said, "I'll take Alexander." My first thought was, How dare both of them pick before me? And my second was, There's still room in my league if either of them would like to join. What follows isn't exactly news but it must be said: The No. 1 pick should be Johnson, Johnson, Johnson, and all arguments to the contrary are a bunch of spin-doctoring and misdirection.

The numbers -- and fantasy football is a numbers game -- prove it. Last year Johnson rushed for 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns (third in yards and second in scores), and it's likely he would have led the league in each statistic had he started from Week 1. In fact, if you extrapolate over an entire season Johnson's stats after becoming the Chiefs' starting back in Game 8 (1,351 yards, 16 touchdowns), you get 2,402 yards and 28 TDs, which would be the greatest rushing season in NFL history, by a Secretariat-at-the-Belmont margin. Critics doubt Johnson because he hasn't proved he can run at that pace for the whole season. The reverse argument holds more water: Defenses haven't proved they can stop him yet. Until they do, he's welcome on my team.

Entering his fourth season, Johnson has fewer miles on his legs than Alexander (seventh) and Tomlinson (sixth). He has no history of injuries. He's a better receiver than Alexander, and though Tomlinson had more receptions last year (51 to 33), Johnson averaged more yards per catch (10.4 to 7.3). Moreover, Chiefs coaches have said that Johnson, whose combined rushing-receiving yardage (2,093) was the highest among the Big Three, would see more snaps on passing downs this year, making him even more of a receiving threat.

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