The 2004 season is barely in the books, but the postmortem analysis everybody performed on their fantasy season began with the first-round picks.
You either were happy with a winning first-round pick such as record-setting quarterback Peyton Manning, or you were cursing a bad year from a high-profile player such as Ravens running back Jamal Lewis.
Success often starts at the top, so with the season still fresh, here is how the first round in a 12-team league draft might go in 2005:
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers, RB. Tomlinson is coming off his third consecutive season with at least 1,700 total yards and set a career high with 18 total touchdowns. Despite being bothered by a groin injury most of the season, he also scored in 14 of the 15 games he played. The Chargers turning into a contender would only help Tomlinson, the safest first-round pick in the league.
2. Shaun Alexander, Seahawks, RB. The incredible TD machine continues to roll, picking up a career-high 20 in 2004. His status could change if the pending free agent leaves Seattle, but the Seahawks likely will keep him and he should continue adding to his 70 TDs over the past four seasons, second-best in the NFL behind Priest Holmes. Alexander came within 2 yards of leading the league in 2004, but yards aren't Alexander's deal.
3. Peyton Manning, Colts, QB. First, forget about Manning repeating his amazing 49-TD season. Statistical anomalies such as that rarely repeat themselves. But pencil in at least 40 TD passes and, if you can lock in those kinds of numbers from your quarterback, you're in great shape. The rise in TD passes — an NFL-record 732 in 2004 — also raises the profile of a dominant quarterback. Manning is exactly that and will have another outstanding season with his full complement of threats expected back.
4. Randy Moss, Vikings, WR. As long as you can accept what Moss does off the field, you'll love what he does on it. This season was marred by a serious hamstring injury. Still, Moss caught 13 TD passes in only 49 receptions. Project that scoring pace over Moss' previous career average of 87.5 catches a season, and Moss would have scored 23 times had he stayed healthy. That's unlikely, but given his surge in production the past two years when healthy, look for a monstrous 2005.
5. Daunte Culpepper, Vikings, QB. Somebody has to throw all of those TDs to Moss, and that makes Culpepper a good bet to come close to matching Manning's numbers again. Culpepper had one of the finest statistical seasons that nobody noticed (39 TDs and a league-leading 4,717 passing yards), but his TD passes dropped from 2.7 a game with Moss to 1.8 in the five games without him. The Vikings' big-play passing game isn't going anywhere.
6. Priest Holmes, Chiefs, RB. The wild card of elite players, Holmes would be a slam-dunk No. 1 pick if his status were certain. Holmes was tied for fourth in the league with 15 total TDs in 2004 despite missing half the season, and he has an incredible 66 TDs in his past 38 games. But ... Holmes will be coming off his second major leg injury in three seasons, and Larry Johnson's development raises the risk of a back-by-committee situation. Holmes also said he considered retiring last offseason.
7. Willis McGahee, Bills, RB. You want to eliminate projection as much as possible with first-round picks, but McGahee would be the first of the projection picks. His numbers after taking over as a starter were phenomenal: 13 TDs and six 100-yard rushing games in the final 10 games, including five multiple-TD games. Travis Henry figures to be gone by the start of next season, erasing any doubt about McGahee's playing time.
8. Terrell Owens, Eagles, WR. Owens' singular goal for next season might be getting coach Andy Reid in those tights. That means scoring 15 times, once more than he did in 2004 and a level he has reached only once in his career. Owens helped raise the Eagles' offense to a new level, although he scored only twice in his final five games vs. 12 TDs in his first nine games. That brings his production below Moss' level but still clearly better than any other receiver over a 16-game schedule.
9. Corey Dillon, Patriots, RB. Dillon is reaching the age (31 next fall) when you start to wonder about running backs tailing off, but he had a resurgence in New England. Dillon set career highs in 2004 for carries, yards and TDs, led the league in yards per game at 109 and had at least 79 rushing yards in each of the 15 games he played. There is nothing in either Dillon's production or in the Patriots' future to indicate those numbers will drop off.
10. Edgerrin James, Colts, RB. James was over 2,000 total yards for the first time since his second season in the league, but his rushing TDs (nine) took a hit. Fifteen of Manning's TD passes came in goal-to-go situations. Assuming that a few more of those plays might go to James with Manning not in a record-setting mode, James' TDs should return to the level you expect from a first-rounder. James will be a free agent but is expected to stay with the Colts.
11. Marvin Harrison, Colts, WR. Harrison's catches and yards were off in 2004 because of the development of Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley, but Harrison still is the top dog in Manning's trio of receivers. Thanks to Manning's record-setting TD performance, Harrison tied a career high with 15 scores and finished strong, scoring in six of the final seven games after a slightly inconsistent start.
12. Jamal Lewis, Ravens, RB. From injuries to suspension to missing the playoffs, 2004 was a season for Lewis to forget. He played in only 12 games and set career lows for carries, yards and yards per carry. But he is a prime bounce-back candidate as he should be the primary weapon in the Ravens' offense. Just staying healthy will allow Lewis' numbers to come back enough that you'd get good value drafting him in this spot.
Others to consider:Julius Jones, Ahman Green, Deuce McAllister, Clinton Portis, Domanick Davis, Ahman Green, Torry Holt, Donovan McNabb.
As we are seeing in most rankings and mock drafts right now, there are a lot of quarterbacks and wide receivers going in the first round. Yes, he had 2066 yards and 14 TDs in 2003, but I'd still take any from the slew of running backs he mentioned in "others to consider" at 1.12 before I'd take Jamal Lewis.
Maybe he really wanted to take Ahman Green instead - he mentioned him twice!