March 16, 2010
Fantasy Clicks
Running Back Roulette
LaDainian Tomlinson: Donald Miralle/Getty Images

In the span of a few days, I saw one of my favorite young running backs get devalued while watching an old bellcow ready to be put to pasture get a second lease on his fantasy life.

Of course, I'm talking about Jamaal Charles and LaDainian Tomlinson.

When it comes to Tomlinson, I'm naturally skeptical. Full disclosure: I had front row seats to last year's decline due to owning L.T. in two of my six leagues. And when it comes to vengeful memories for past fantasy wrongs, I usually have the memory of an elephant.

But Tomlinson's move to the Jets makes him relevant again. First, bear in mind he'll never again return to the other-wordly form of 2006, but at the same time when was the last time a back scored 15 touchdowns in a season and was considered an underachiever?

Although I really like Shonn Greene and pegged him for a third- or early fourth-round pick this year, he is an unproven commodity. Greene carried the load in late 2009, with 540 yards in the regular season, then turned in some big playoff performances. But he was only a one-year starter at Iowa and hasn't proven he can make it through a complete season. We just haven't seen enough of him.

Tomlinson now heads to the Jets as the No. 2, but he'll likely make a nice handcuff for Greene owners and an even better sleeper. The eighth-best rusher of all time goes to a run-first offense with one of the best lines in football, and now he's got something to prove. Plus, Tomlinson already knows Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who spent three years in a previous stop in San Diego as the Chargers' quarterbacks coach. Last, he's joining the same team that helped Thomas Jones, who was the same age last year (31), rush for 1,400 yards. Don't throw that shovel of dirt over LT just yet, he might be one of the few older tailbacks you can roll the dice on late in the early rounds of your draft.

Charles still in charge?

When it comes to last year's fantasy surprises, Kansas City's Jamaal Charles was nothing short of a revelation. The "New England: West" experiment seemed destined to fizzle on a terrible Chiefs team that saw it's lone preseason early-round fantasy stud suspended part of the year (Dwayne Bowe) and its QB, Matt Cassel, struggle. But enter Charles, who in his second year rushed for 1,120 yards and 7 touchdowns, and was white-hot in the second half of the season.

Now along comes Thomas Jones, whose signing last week damages Charles' value significantly by plunging him into the dreaded running back by commitee conundrum. While Christopher Harris of ESPN worries more for Jones, I worry more for Charles. The knock on his size and perceived lack of durability is to blame for the Jones acquisition, but Charles needs the chance to be the No. 1 back without having to look over his shoulder entering his third season. Call me a Nervous Nellie, but Jones has less tread on the tires than one would think, due to the fact that a lethal mix of injuries and bad Cardinals teams he endured early in his career meant he had 138 carries or less his first four years in the league.

Jones might not totally usurp Charles, but will be valuable enough to eat into his carries and reduce his fantasy value of what looked like a mid-second or early third round pick this summer, to maybe a late fourth or fifth rounder with a cloudy outlook at seeing consistent carries.

Clinton still rules D.C.

Then, there's Larry Johnson. Following the Kansas City Chiefs' running back circle of life to its logical conclusion, look no further than the Washington Redskins' latest pickup. As anyone who's followed offensive genuis/mad scientist Mike Shanahan will tell you, his role as a running back hoarder can't be undersold. With Ladell Betts released, you can count on Shanahan racing after more running backs, while playing the "competition card" and driving fantasy owners nuts in the process (see Broncos, Denver).

While Clinton Portis is looking to put an injury-plagued 2009 behind him and is excited at reuniting with his new, old coach, LJ is desperately fighting for fantasy (and real life) relevance after an uninspired turn in Cincinnati following his sour separation in KC. If anything, stay tuned for the draft for Shanahan to add more "compeition". But Portis owners in legacy or dynasty leagues needn't worry until then.

Bottom line: Johnson is older and despite having less wear and tear than Portis, consider him little more than window dressing. Even if Portis goes down or a hot new rookie lands in D.C., Johnson's days being a fantasy factor are long gone.

Fantasy Madness? You bet

Believe it or not, there's another way to enjoy the NCAA tournament. Fantasy March Madness only requires an organized commissioner and a good calculator. Draft players off teams and tally up their points as their teams move on in the tournament.

When their team loses, the players cease to produce points and it becomes a game of survivor. Not only is it great to have players that produce, but having them on teams that make nice long marches through the tournament help too.

Take into account, although a player might put up dazzling stats (Houston's Aubrey Coleman, for instance) they should be picked late, if at all, unless you like to roll the dice. The production of a pretty good player making the Elite 8 or Final Four can dwarf a box score monster who only plays once or twice.Since there's no head-to-head or position limitations and any number of players can draft and play. The only catch is that it has to be tabulated by the commissioner and/or the team owners. The scoring can be as complex or as simple as one likes, plus it's always nice to have a backup plan after that one upside-down regional sinks your bracket picks the first weekend.

Although it's pretty subjective, here's my top 12 overall ...

1) Evan Turner, Ohio State
2) John Wall, Kentucky
3) Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
4) Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
5) DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky
6) Sherron Collins, Kansas
7) Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia
8) Greivis Vasquez, Maryland
9) Jon Scheyer, Duke
10) LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor
11) Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
12) James Anderson, Oklahoma St.

Broken down by region, here's my top 10 from each, listed by seed.


John Wall, Kentucky
DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky
Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia
Darington Hobson, New Mexico
Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin
Ryan Brooks, Temple
Lazar Hayward, Marquette
Trevor Booker, Clemson
Damion James, Texas


Jon Scheyer, Duke
Nolan Smith, Duke
Kyle Singler, Duke
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
Corey Fisher, Villanova
LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor
E'Twaun Moore, Purdue
Donald Sloan, Texas A&M
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
Kevin Anderson, Richmond


Sherron Collins, Kansas
Cole Aldrich, Kansas
Evan Turner, Ohio State
William Buford, Ohio State
Austin Freeman, Georgetown
Greg Monroe, Georgetown
Greivis Vaquez, Maryland
Kalin Lucas, Michigan State
Wayne Chism, Tennessee
James Anderson, Oklahoma State


Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
Andy Rautins, Syracuse
Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
Denis Clemente, Kansas State
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh
Jermaine Beal, Vanderbilt
Gordon Hayward, Butler
Jordan Crawford, Xavier
Jimmer Fredette, BYU

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