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WELCOME TO FANTASY FOOTBALL 2009. Like every other year, this season promises to be filled with joy (Ronnie Brown had how many fantasy points against the Pats?!?!), anguish (DeSean Jackson dropped the ball untouched on which yard line?!?!), good fortune (my 14th-round pick, DeAngelo Williams, scored how many touchdowns?!?!) and bad luck (Tom Brady played how many downs this season?!?!). It also promises to be full of surprises. So to start off we've decided to attack the hot-button issues that loom the largest as fantasy drafts roll around. Committing these answers to memory is the first step to a fantasy football title.
1 WHO SHOULD BE THE NO. 1 OVERALL PICK?
SELECTING fantasy football's premier player isn't as clear-cut as it has been in the past few years, when LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson ruled. Tomlinson (see No. 2), the 2008 touchdown leader, has health and age issues. DeAngelo Williams experienced a once-in-a-lifetime season but will again split reps with the arguably more talented Jonathan Stewart. And Michael Turner faces a much tougher schedule following a playoff year than his Falcons had last season. That leaves Vikings stud Adrian Peterson, the league's rushing leader last year and the only man to surpass 3,000 yards over the last two seasons, as the safest choice. Should you be inclined to take a quarterback at the top—and you shouldn't—the Saints' Drew Brees is the only one to take with a clear conscience.
2 Speaking of Tomlinson, how much does he have left in the tank?
PERHAPS THE greatest fantasy running back ever, Tomlinson gained 1,110 rushing yards with 11 ground scores in 2008 while enduring, for most of the year, a painful right toe injury, which was then compounded by a pulled groin. His drop-off to mere mortal production and his reaching his 30th birthday suggest that his Hall of Fame career is on the decline. But before scratching him off your draft list, consider this: Playing last season with those injuries, which have since healed, Tomlinson ranked eighth in both yards from scrimmage (1,536) and total touchdowns (12). He was the league's fifth-busiest back (344 touches), and although Darren Sproles was re-signed, there are no signs that Norv Turner is looking for any dramatic reduction in Tomlinson's workload. At worst, LT is the eighth overall pick.
3 WHO IN DALLAS LOSES THE MOST NOW THAT THE TERRELL OWENS ERA HAS ENDED?
BY TRADING for Roy Williams last season, Jerry Jones invested four draft picks and $45 million (including $20 million guaranteed) for a receiver who was seen as a long-term replacement for Owens. After his arrival in Big D, however, Williams deserved a big F, catching just 19 balls for 198 yards in 10 games. His work habits have been in question since he joined the league, and he isn't a crisp route runner, two traits that will be exposed under the NFL's biggest microscope.
4 Who is primed for a big bounce-back year?
IT WASN'T long ago that Rams running back Steven Jackson was part of the Who's No. 1? argument, but in the last two years injuries and an offense that lacked identity have relegated him to the middle of the fantasy pack. That will change as all traces of The Greatest Show on Turf have been exorcised in favor of new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's plans that promise to showcase Jackson's immense skills as both a runner and a receiver. Add in an offensive line that improved in the off-season with No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith and center Jason Brown, the headline free-agent blocker of 2009. Although Jackson will be in his sixth season, he will be just 26 this year and still has a lot of mileage left.
5 Is Jay Cutler worth drafting as quarterback of the Bears?