Heading into last season the debate was whether Larry Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson or Shaun Alexander should be the No. 1 overall fantasy draft pick. When the dust settled, Tomlinson ran away with the crown and is as close to a slam-dunk top pick as there's been in a while. However, there's now an interesting race for the consolation prize, the No. 2 overall pick, with Steven Jackson and Frank Gore joining Alexander and Johnson to the mix.
So who should go second after Tomlinson? Let's do a quick breakdown of each candidate:
Larry Johnson, Chiefs
Pros: He's been a steady and productive fantasy force for the past two seasons, racking up more than 2,000 total yards in each campaign, scoring 40 touchdowns and piling up 21 100-yard games. With not much around him other than Tony Gonzalez, LJ will be the focal point of the offense once again.
Cons: With an unsettled quarterback situation (Brodie Croyle vs. Damon Huard), the Chiefs are going to rely on Johnson even more, which means that opposing defenses will key on him even more. It also doesn't help that he has lost Willie Roaf and Will Shields from his offensive line. Johnson set an NFL record for most carries in a season last year, so you've got to wonder how much he's got in the tank for another year. Huge seasons like that can shave years off a career. Add to that a potential contract holdout that could cut into his training camp time, and it could be a recipe for a down year.
Steven Jackson, Rams
Pros: It was Jackson, not Tomlinson, who led the NFL with 2,334 yards from scrimmage last season. He also piled up 90 receptions (fourth in the NFC) for 806 yards. Those receiving skills have come in handy as he has proven to be an able replacement for Marshall Faulk. Jackson helped many teams come fantasy playoff time with 10 touchdowns in the final four weeks of the season, outperforming even Tomlinson.
Cons: The 10 late TDs were great, but he only scored six in the first 12 games. You'd like a little more consistency. The rushing yards (1,528) were very nice, but you'd hope for more than six 100-yard games. The Rams may also try to limit Jackson's touches so as not to overwork him, a la Johnson; some of those reduced looks may come in the passing game (St. Louis' second-round pick, Rutgers' Brian Leonard, is a superb pass-catching running back), which would hurt Jackson in point-per-reception leagues.
Frank Gore, 49ers
Pros: Beat out Kevan Barlow in training camp and emerged with a breakout season, rushing for 1,695 yards and catching 61 passes for 485 more, giving Alex Smith a nice safety valve. Gore also piled up nine 100-yard games, just behind Johnson and Jackson This is just his second full season as a starter, so there's still plenty of upside, especially with Smith also starting to come into his own at quarterback. The addition of wideout Darrell Jackson could also open the field a little bit for Gore to run.
Cons: The nine touchdowns are nice, but you'd like to see double digits from a running back taken this high in the draft. Gore picked up more of the offense because tight end Vernon Davis was injured most of the first half and the receiving corps was relatively nonexistent. With Davis healthy and Jackson (not to mention Ashley Lelie) playing big parts in the offense, will there be enough passes to go Gore's way?
Shaun Alexander, Seahawks
Pros: Alexander did score a then-NFL-record 28 touchdowns in 2005, so he does have a nose for the end zone. He missed six games with a foot injury and still rushed for 896 yards (including 204 against the Packers on a Monday night) and seven touchdowns -- not great numbers, but very passable for the games he played. The Seattle offense still needs him to provide firepower, with Jackson gone as the No. 1 receiver, leaving Deion Branch as the go-to wideout.
Cons: There were still rumblings that the cracked bone in Alexander's foot hasn't completely healed, so he has to be considered an injury risk heading into the season. His yards per carry plummeted from 5.1 to 3.6, so you have to wonder how much of that is his injury and how much was the loss of guard Steve Hutchinson. Alexander also doesn't catch that many passes these days (just 27 receptions for 126 yards in the past two seasons combined), so his value lags a bit there.
If you're looking for a little more upside in your pick, then Jackson or Gore would be your man. If you want high-powered consistency, Johnson would be the way to go. If you're feeling a little more adventurous and hoping for a rebound, Alexander could be the way to go. Just know that your league mates will be swooping in for whomever you don't take.