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5 Minute Guide
July 24, 2006
Blanket coverage of the Fantasy Football field for 2006
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July 24, 2006

5 Minute Guide

Blanket coverage of the Fantasy Football field for 2006

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The Inside Man

Training camps have yet to open, but SI's fantasy expert, Jeffri Chadiha, is already gathering valuable news

LJ'S CATCHING ON Any fantasy owner can see the value in Chiefs running back Larry Johnson (left), who ran for 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2005. But here's what makes Johnson even more attractive this season: He should be playing more on passing downs. Kansas City often sat him in those situations last season because Johnson didn't block well enough to consistently pick up blitzes. But Johnson is committed to proving himself in that area, and Chiefs coaches believe that he'll improve as he gets more experience.

What this means for fantasy owners is that Johnson--who has 56 career receptions--could become more of a pass-catching threat. That doesn't mean he'll catch 70 balls, as Priest Holmes did in his prime. But if Johnson can grab 50 or 60, he'll be even more dangerous. He'll also become a lock as the No. 1 running back in fantasy football.

MICHAEL VICK: THE TIME IS NOW The Falcons' quarterback (right) should become a more consistent passer and a less frustrating fantasy performer this season. He has spent more off-season time developing chemistry with his two improving young receivers, Michael Jenkins and Roddy White. Jenkins, a first-round pick in 2004, is especially intriguing. He has finally learned to catch the ball away from his body and use his 6'4" frame to shield defenders from passes. He could become a valuable red-zone target for Vick.

JAMES HOLDS THE LINE New Cardinals running back Edgerrin James (left) is convinced that the problems that plagued Arizona's offensive line in 2005--when the Cards ranked last in the NFL in rushing--can be easily fixed. He says the line's major problem wasn't lack of talent, it was breakdowns in communication among its members. James thinks that under new line coach Steve Loney, who spent the last four years with the Vikings, the unit will be more in sync, which means he should have more running room than any Arizona back in recent memory. Look for him to be just as steady as he was in Indianapolis.

RAVENS OPPONENTS IN A HEAP OF TROUBLE Baltimore tight end Todd Heap should quickly become a favorite target of new quarterback Steve McNair. First, McNair loves throwing to the tight end. Second, Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel loved feeding the ball to tight end Jeremy Shockey when Fassel coached the Giants a few years ago. Finally, Heap is a Pro Bowl talent. In light of those factors, he becomes the third-best fantasy tight end behind Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez.

I THINK ...

THERE'S A RIDICULOUS overemphasis on running backs in fantasy football. Running backs in the NFL are eminently more replaceable than quarterbacks, left tackles and pass rushers, yet when you look at the mock fantasy drafts this summer, you see backs like Tiki Barber ranked ahead of Peyton Manning. Absurd.

MY ADVICE: Buck the trend. Let's say I'm in a 12-team league, drafting in the middle of the pack. I take Manning (right) with my first pick, thinking he's going to take essentially every snap--he always does--and if he puts up average numbers, based on his past four seasons (33 touchdowns, 4,193 yards), all I have to do at running back is be pretty good. And over the next three rounds I'm going to get three of these six backs: Ronnie Brown, Tatum Bell, Brian Westbrook, Chester Taylor, Laurence Maroney and DeAngelo Williams. I'll cobble together a receiving corps--and I'll be in the money in December.

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