The following projections are made with assumed 16-game health for the majority of players. In cases where players have a consistent history of missing games (DeShaun Foster, Darrell Jackson, etc), or a player's contributions will likely be limited in at least the early going of this coming season (Dominic Rhodes, Kevin Jones, etc), the projections are qualified based on the anticipation of time or effectiveness lost.
Touches is defined as the number of times a running back carried or caught the football.
Looks is defined as the number of times a player was the intended target of a pass.
Last season, Larry Johnson (457), Steven Jackson (436), and LaDainian Tomlinson
(404) logged more than 400 touches. I'm only expecting a repeat performance from Tomlinson – Johnson will have a lighter load coming off an NFL record 416 carries and Jackson will see his role in the passing game scaled back a bit after finishing seventh in the league in receptions, but Tomlinson's workload should remain virtually unchanged.
Players who make the most substantial moves up the leaderboard – Joseph Addai
(266 touches in 2006), Brandon Jacobs
(107), and Laurence Maroney
(197). Addai is now a featured back after sharing the load with Dominic Rhodes (223) last season – Edgerrin James averaged 372 touches from 2002-05 with the Colts. Jacobs – all 6-foot-4, 264 pounds of him – will be given every opportunity to receive the lion's share of the workload for the Giants, even if Reuben Droughns is a fairly respectable backup. Maroney may give way to Kevin Faulk
on many passing downs, but he'll be on the field much more often than not now that Corey Dillon
(214) is no longer a member of the same backfield.
There's never been more reason to grab two undisputed starters at RB1 with your first two picks, as plenty of platoon or platoon-like situations either already exist or appear very likely to be in place at some point during the season. They include: Atlanta (Warrick Dunn, Jerious Norwood), Carolina (DeShaun Foster, DeAngelo Williams), Dallas (Julius Jones, Marion Barber III), Detroit (Tatum Bell, Kevin Jones (INJ)), Green Bay (Vernand Morency, Brandon Jackson), Jacksonville (Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew), Minnesota (Chester Taylor, Adrian Peterson), New Orleans (Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister), Oakland (LaMont Jordan, Dominic Rhodes (SUSP)), and Washington (Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts).
I wouldn't anticipate the top five changing much from last season's final standings
. Torry Holt has averaged 11.4 looks per game over the past two seasons; Brett Favre
once again figures to lean heavily on Donald Driver (9.7 looks per game in 2005-06); everyone involved is happier when Terrell Owens gets plenty of looks; Andre Johnson remains the only reliable option at wideout in the Houston passing game; and new Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt has promised that Boldin will be at least as active in the offensive game-plan as he has been. The one change – don't expect Chris Chambers to once again see more looks than all but a few WR in the game.
Players among the biggest anticipated gainers for the upcoming season include: Deion Branch (101 looks in 2006), D.J. Hackett (67), Jerry Porter (4), Vincent Jackson (56), and Kevin Curtis (56). Branch and Hackett take over as WR1 and WR2 for the Seahawks with the departure of Darrell Jackson. Porter revolted against the Art Shell hiring in Oakland and barely saw the field in 2006, but he's back as the WR1 for the new regime. The 6-foot-5, 241 pound Jackson emerged late last season and is expected to be a solid WR1 for Philip Rivers
and the Chargers. Curtis should see plenty of action as the WR2 in Philly – Donte' Stallworth
averaged 6.5 looks in 12 games at the position for the Eagles last season.
There's little reason to expect Antonio Gates (120 looks in 2006) to finish anywhere but comfortably at the top of the TE leaderboard.
Notable TE with question marks: Alge Crumpler (103) is as physically gifted as any player at his position, but a new offense and a new QB make it hard to project his numbers. Tony Gonzalez isn't getting any younger, his looks have declined in consecutive seasons (from 148 to 116 to last season's 103), and the Chiefs' QB situation is very unsettled. Kellen Winslow is coming off of yet another surgical procedure on his knee.