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First round draft strategy


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It's the moment that every fantasy player looks forward to and often spends weeks or months ahead of time thinking about: The first round of your fantasy football draft for the new season. One person will get the opportunity to be the envy of the rest of the league for a day, as every other fantasy player wants to be the one who has the first overall selection. No matter where you pick, though, you can make a solid decision and lay the foundation for a championship team. Here's an in-depth look at what you should be thinking at every spot in the first round and who your ideal selections should be, with some other thoughts and alternatives added in.

In most cases, this selection comes down to a choice between the established fantasy superstar and the one with outstanding upside. This year, it's simply LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Adrian Peterson. The latter excited fantasy owners in his rookie year, with amazing performances that made him look like the best running back on the planet. Yet for annual consistency at a high level, no one beats Tomlinson. Plus, he is going to be primed for a big year, after the way his season ended this past January in New England. Peterson will deliver some brilliant performances, but Tomlinson is more proven, is more versatile and plays in a better offense. With increasingly more uncertainty in the running back situations around the league, I want to make the safest possible high-level pick here. The only guy I would consider here other than Tomlinson is Tom Brady (based on his terrific 2007 production), with not much reason to believe his numbers will fall much in '08. That said, I'd rather have a top-notch RB when you consider the current state of the position and the fact you usually have to start at least two.

Ideal pick: LaDainian TomlinsonTop alternative: Tom Brady

I'm still not thinking Peterson yet. Last year, everyone wanted to own Brady, as his '07 owners well know. They were besieged by trade offers so often that they had to disconnect their phones and log off the computers just for some peace and quiet. This early in the selection process, I'm still looking for sure things, regardless of whether Peterson excites me with his upside. If I can't get Tomlinson, I want Brady, who is nearly certain to deliver stellar fantasy numbers again. Sure, the quarterback position is one on which you can wait until the middle rounds and still get a pretty good starter, but why not take the opportunity to own the guy who may be the most productive player in fantasy football in '08? Randy Moss returns, and that's all I need to know to convince me that I must have Brady if I don't get Tomlinson.

Ideal pick: Tom BradyTop alternative:Steven Jackson

Nope, no Peterson yet. While injuries have been an issue for him, I believe Steven Jackson is set for a big year. Not only is he the most difficult player in the NFL for defenders to corral when he reaches the second level, he's a major force in the red zone and also catches passes. New offensive coordinator Al Saunders will ride his Mack truck on many successful drives, and Jackson should thrive under Saunders' direction. Add in the fact that Jackson is playing in a contract year, and I truly believe he is on the verge of a monster campaign. If you don't quite trust Jackson, then Peyton Manning is the "safe" selection to make here.

Ideal pick: Steven JacksonTop alternatives: Adrian Peterson, Peyton Manning

Peterson finally goes off the board here. If he actually falls to you in this spot in any draft, you should be pretty excited. In the NFL, you can't assume that putting "eight in the box" will stifle the running game in every situation where the passing game is shaky. Not when you have a dominant offensive line that tramples opponents and a running back who makes defenders often look foolish, even when they're prepared to stop him. Peterson is going to have a few disappointing outings, but his best games will drive you to some certain victories.

Ideal pick: Adrian PetersonTop alternative: Peyton Manning

This early, you often have to make the decision between huge upside and excellent annual production. Now that Peterson is off the board, there's no other guy available who offers so much promise that he is more enticing than the one elite "safe" pick left. I don't care if he doesn't outperform Brady; Manning has been the closest thing you can get to peace of mind in fantasy football for years now. In a game where there are few actual reassurances and seemingly no sure things, Manning is the closest thing you'll find to a guarantee. No one matches him for regularly outstanding numbers, and you'll never second-guess yourself for picking him.

Ideal pick: Peyton ManningTop alternatives:Joseph Addai, Brian Westbrook.

Joseph Addai doesn't get the ink like Peterson, but he is another guy who has quickly become worthy of an early pick due to his huge promise. While he is not as exciting or as spectacular as Peterson, Addai is on the verge of major superstardom in fantasy football. He is a prime weapon on a powerful offense, and he's also one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL. He will finish off a lot of scoring drives for the Colts, and I really wouldn't worry about any other Colts RB stealing away a few carries. They'll just ensure that Addai stays fresh, and Addai will still be on the field for most of the team's important plays with respect to fantasy statistics.

Ideal pick: Joseph AddaiTop alternative: Brian Westbrook

I would not argue with anyone who takes Westbrook a pick earlier, but I slightly prefer Addai as a pure runner and love his receiving skills, too. Westbrook, however, is the best receiving running back in the NFL and will rarely, if ever, let you down. He is ultra-tough, and even when he is listed as questionable, he'll overcome the pain and still play up to expectations. Despite an inconsistent supporting cast and the fact that defenses prepare to stop him every week, they usually can't. Westbrook may go as early as fourth in some leagues, and this is the absolute lowest he should drop.

Ideal pick: Brian WestbrookTop alternative:Marshawn Lynch, although there really isn't a true alternative to Westbrook.

With the two superstar quarterbacks gone, I'm not about to grab Drew Brees this early, so it becomes a question of whether to grab the top running back left or pluck the top player at wide receiver. With recent reports indicating that Lynch may avoid criminal charges, I am pretty comfortable with making him my selection here for now. Lynch only showed some of the promise in '07 that will make him morph into a true fantasy standout this season. Lynch battles hard for every yard and can bust loose for a big run at any time. Plus, his receiving abilities will become much more apparent in '08. Trent Edwards is better than you might think, and the Buffalo offense will make significant strides forward this year, with Lynch as the centerpiece.

Ideal pick: Marshawn LynchTop alternative: Randy Moss

There is one surefire mega-star left at this point, and it's clearly Moss. Like Brady, everyone wanted to own Moss last season, once it became apparent that he was far from finished. Sure, wide receiver is a deep position, but there's no way I can pass on the best player at a position here, especially when he is destined for another amazing statistical season.

Ideal pick: Randy MossIdeal alternative: This time, there really isn't one.

Clinton Portis posted really good numbers last season and was highly dependable, despite carrying a very heavy workload. This season could be even better, with Jim Zorn expected to install his West Coast offense in Washington. If the offensive line gets the job done, Portis could see more openings than he did last year, and he's a good bet to have one of his best seasons yet. At the very least, you know you will get high quality overall numbers, and Portis could be downright spectacular at times this year.

Ideal pick: Clinton PortisTop alternatives:Reggie Wayne, Frank Gore

If you play in a 12-team league, the next two picks should come down to a decision between Reggie Wayne and Frank Gore. If you consider that Wayne has fully arrived as the new Marvin Harrison, I wouldn't pass him up. Terrell Owens is just as good a pick as Wayne, but I wouldn't leave Gore on the board past the 12th spot. In 14-team leagues, you simply have to take Owens or Braylon Edwards late, if they are still available with your first pick. I wouldn't consider Ryan Grant over either one of them considering the likelihood Brett Favre won't be calling the signals. There's a slight drop-off from the Gore tier to the one beginning with Grant, which is why I grab Gore immediately after Wayne.