News, Analysis & UpdatesApril 9, 2004

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What does it take to be #1?

By Andrew Scherber

Atop seemingly every early fantasy mock draft sit the big three of Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Clinton Portis. And there is little doubt that they belong there; all three had amazing campaigns last season and look poised to give fantasy owners solid stats again in 2004. But who should owners of that all-important #1 pick take this year? The choice is yours, but here’s my take on this elite trio.

Logic would appear to tell you to make Priest Holmes the first pick. He was ridiculously effective last year and humiliated defenses all season with over 2,000 total yards and an easy, breezy, beautiful 27 scores, silencing critics who thought he would be limited by injury.

This year, however, I’m convinced Holmes won’t go off for such dazzling numbers again. The Priest is on the wrong side of thirty, a virtual kiss of death for NFL running backs, and injury is always a possibility, especially for a workhorse back like Holmes. Also, offensive tackle John Tait is in Chicago and will no longer be opening holes for Holmes.

I know it sounds like I’m searching for reasons that Holmes won’t replicate last season’s success, and it might sound rather comical to say that a player who scored 27 touchdowns last year shouldn’t be the #1 pick, but the factors mentioned add up to a feeling about him this year. It’s a similar feeling to the one I had about Plaxico Burress and Eric Moulds last year. Holmes is still a top three pick, no question, but I believe LT and Portis both have a chance this year to unseat him as the top fantasy back.

There is a new Clinton in Washington and all signs point toward Portis having another monster year. In his two-year career, Portis has already amassed over 3,000 yards and has crossed the goal line 31 times. Much can be credited to the Broncos’ tradition of producing very solid rushing attacks in recent years, but make no mistake, most of the props should be given to the extremely talented Portis himself.

Portis has the complete package. He has the moves and quickness to avoid tacklers, an adequate amount of power to bull his way for those tough yards, and the speed to break to the open field and take it to the house.

The stage is set in Washington for him to continue his rampage on defenses across the league. Joe Gibbs will feature an offense that uses the running back as the focal point, the ‘Skins and Dan Snyder have assembled one of the best supporting casts money can buy, and the addition of Mark Brunell should deter defenses from simply stacking the line against Portis.

And then there is my favorite for the MVP of fantasy football in 2004: LaDainian Tomlinson. The former TCU standout returns to shoulder the load in the Charger offense, and hopefully this year, LT will have some help. Rumor has it that the Chargers have their eyes not on Eli Manning, nor on Mike Williams, but rather on tackle Robert Gallery from Iowa in the draft later this month.

Whoever San Diego picks, Gallery, Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, or Williams, the Chargers should be able to finally relieve some of the pressure from LT’s shoulders.

We’re looking at a player who was the lone offensive threat last season, but still managed 1645 yards, almost five and a half yards per carry, and thirteen rushing touchdowns. Tomlinson also contributed 100 catches (further enhancing his value in leagues that reward receptions), good for another 725 yards and four scores. Even more noteworthy, he only fumbled twice all season and didn’t lose either of them.

LT proved even more valuable in leagues that award bonus points for long touchdowns. He had three touchdown scampers of over 50 yards, including two 70-plus yarders.

Keep an eye on the Chargers in the upcoming April draft. Which player they select in the early rounds could directly affect LT’s already sky-high fantasy value. Adding a devastating blocker like Gallery might mean that Tomlinson’s prospects are even better than last year. Scary thought.

The Big Three’s 2004 Projections

LaDainian Tomlinson – 310 carries, 1595 yards, 19 TD rushing, 83 catches 690 yards, 5 TD receiving

Priest Holmes – 318 carries, 1585 yards, 16 TD rushing, 65 catches, 595 yards, 4 TD receiving

Clinton Portis – 305 carries, 1530 yards, 13 TD rushing, 29 catches, 340 yards, 2 TD receiving

A native of Minnesota, Andrew Scherber nonetheless won’t let his loyalty to the home team blind him into choosing a Viking with the number one overall pick.

Who would you choose with the top pick in this year’s fantasy drafts?

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