have yet to open, but SI's fantasy expert, Jeffri Chadiha, is already gathering
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
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.
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 ...
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.