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NFL Skinny: Year in Review

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Running Back Radar - Possible Shake-Ups
HOUSTON TEXANS RED HOT
1st Chair: Domanick Davis
2nd Chair: Reggie Bush?
Skinny: Thank your kicker, Houston. Oh, and the extensive PT for Tony Banks, as well. Anyway, the Texans have a decision to make at RB. They've got an established, though often nicked-up, back in Domanick Davis, and Jonathan Wells and Vernand Morency ('05 Draft) both played well in Davis's absence. Do you deal the pick to add offensive line help? Or do you try and deal Davis for a couple of lower picks and find line help there and in free agency (space available under the cap)? Time will tell.
NEW YORK JETS HOT
1st Chair: Curtis Martin
2nd Chair: Cedric Houston, Derrick Blaylock, Reggie Bush?
Skinny: Martin's knee injury and age (over 30 for a back always sends up a flag) open the door for the Jets to try to swing a deal for the No. 1 pick. New Orleans, with Deuce McAllister in tow, likely won't look to Bush in their spot. Houston ran well in three of his four starts, and Blaylock dominated behind Priest Holmes in K.C., but if the opportunity to snag Bush presents itself, look for a deal to be made. The Jets would then spend free agent dollars looking for insurance for Chad Pennington.
BALTIMORE RAVENS HOT
1st Chair: Jamal Lewis
2nd Chair: Chester Taylor
Skinny: He claimed he wasn't running at full speed. He said he was waiting on a big deal. And now Jamal Lewis is in the press talking of how he'll find tons of teams pressing for his services. Lewis managed to put up over 900 rushing yards despite issues on the O-Line, erratic play from Kyle Boller, and starting the season working on a surgically repaired ankle. At just 26, he certainly has plenty of tread on the tires. But, in a market with many backs available, who will risk top dollar to pay him if that's his motivation? Chester Taylor failed to grab hold of the top spot when Lewis faltered, so I would expect a franchise tag to be applied.
GREEN BAY PACKERS WARM
1st Chair: Ahman Green
2nd Chair: Najeh Davenport, Samkon Gado
Skinny: Both Green and Davenport are free agents, so it's unlikely that both return to the mix. Gado may have shown enough in his late-season effort to allow Green Bay brass to let both backs leave, find another cheaper option to split time or back up Gado in free agency, and work to shore up the offensive line and defense.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers WARM
1st Chair: VACANT
2nd Chair: Kevan Barlow, Frank Gore
Skinny: Gore finished the season strong in place of Barlow, actually leading the team with more than 600 yards on the ground. He finished with over 100 total yards in two of his final three games, with two TDs in Week 16. Barlow saw his rushing average fall for the second straight year, and will face stiff competition from Gore in camp for the top job in '06. That is, unless the team is able to ship Barlow out for draft choices to aid the building process.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Edgerrin James
2nd Chair: Dominic Rhodes, James Mungro
Skinny: James is the last of the Colts' stars waiting on his big payday. Unfortunately, star running backs are plentiful, so the need to wrap things up didn't exist. However, with Miami running with Ronnie Brown and Rickey Williams, there's no vacancy under Nick Saban, James' ideal locale. He'll re-up with Indy, and the Colts will look hard at adding another back this year via the draft.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Shaun Alexander
2nd Chair: Shaun Alexander
Skinny: There's just no possible way that Shaun Alexander doesn't get paid by the Seahawks this season. After posting his fifth consecutive season with at least 16 TDs, playing in every game during that stretch, winning a rushing title, and putting the Seahawks on the map, he'll get his dollars this year. Maurice Morris remains his capable but seemingly unnecessary backup.
The 2005 fantasy football has come to an end. Along the way, we watched Larry Johnson emerge as a mega star. Tiki Barber finished with the second highest combined rushing/receiving total in NFL history, and Jerome Bettis danced in the end zone three times in Week 17, possibly his final regular season game for the Steelers. It doesn't get any better than the big man finishing strong!

Thanks for sharing this season and its highs, lows, and curiosities. It's been a fun ride. Now, its time to look back at the season that was and start the minds and pens to work on the '06 season. After all, free agency is just around the corner.

2005 REVIEW: The big stories from the past season

Shaun Alexander stands out among the stories of 2005, racking up an NFL-record 28 touchdowns. He was shut out of the end zone only twice all season, and rolled up eight multi-TD and 11 100-yard performances. The man has totaled 16 or more TDs in five straight seasons. That's domination, and a key to running deep into the fantasy playoffs.
Where are the touchdowns? That was the question most asked of Peyton Manning when he tossed only two TD passes in the Colts' first three games, and he offered a nod to fantasy gamers when asked about his expected playing time in the Colts' final games. Manning showed that his arm was just fine with a four-TD outburst in Week 4 against Tennessee. After a one-TD game in Week 5, he rolled up eight straight weeks with two or more TD passes, and despite essentially missing the final two games of the year, still finished second in the arms race to Carson Palmer with 28 TD passes.
Steve Smith was an early season MVP candidate, racking up 55 catches, 903 receiving yards, and nine TDs through eight weeks of the season. While he remained one of the most prolific pass-catchers in the second half, he tallied only four more TDs (three receiving, one rushing). And who can forget his one-catch for 18 yards before being ejected in championship week? Still, hitting up 1,500 receiving yards in a comeback year is quite impressive, particularly without a clear-cut No. 2 receiver alongside him.
Brett Favre remains THE story on talk radio after the regular season finale. It was a tale of two halves for the future Hall of Famer. We knew he'd fire up interceptions – always has, always will. But, the injuries to his running backs and receivers conspired to turn his stats for the worse in the second half. He threw 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions in the first half. Favre managed only five TD passes against 15 picks in the second half, at one point going four straight contests without a TD strike. With Mike Sherman out in Green Bay, have we seen the last of Favre?
Jon Gruden stated early in the year that he would run Carnell Williams as often as he could. And he nearly forced Cadillac to break down, causing Tampa Bay fans and Williams' owners a rough period in the middle of the year, but he rebounded nicely to finish with over 1,100 rushing yards and six scores. Several other rookie running backs accounted well for themselves and will be on fantasy radars in '06, among them Ronnie Brown, Samkon Gado, Ryan Moats, and Vernand Morency.

ALL-FANTASY TEAM: The Best of 2005 – Based on Draft Position
QB: Carson Palmer, Cin: Palmer was the 12th quarterback selected on average in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football PLUS leagues, six full rounds and six quarterbacks behind Brett Favre. Michael Vick was selected a full three rounds ahead of him. Palmer finished as the NFL leader with 32 touchdowns (12 games with multiple TD tosses) and finished fourth in yardage behind Tom Brady, Trent Green, and the aforementioned Favre. Armed with a contract extension and one of the best supporting casts for years to come, Palmer will be one of the first quarterbacks selected in next year's drafts.

RB: Larry Johnson, KC: How do you possibly describe the second-half play of Larry Johnson? We've all exhausted the thesaurus, busting off every adjective possible and creating a number of new ones. Johnson turned in nine consecutive 100-yard games to end the season, topping 130 yards seven times. He showed an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield (33 catches for 343 yards), and scored multiple TDs in seven of those games. The offensive line is aging, but they can still dominate a game when healthy. Johnson is in the mix for the top spot in drafts in '06.

RB: LaMont Jordan, Oak: Jordan had some clunkers in the mix this year, but this first-year starter still produced over 1,500 total yards and 11 scores despite missing the final two games of the season. Jordan topped 90 total yards in 11 of the 14 games in which he appeared, scoring in six of them. Jordan was the 19th back taken on average, selected in the middle of the fifth round.

WR: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Ari: Fitzgerald was the 28th receiver drafted on average, going in the middle of the seventh round in most leagues. Fitzgerald turned in tremendous numbers for owners all season, topping 100 yards on seven occasions and scoring TDs in six of his final eight games. Fitzgerald caught fewer than four passes on only one occasion this year, all the way back in Week 3. He didn't turn in one of those monster 200-yard, three-TD games to lead the highlight reels, but was just flat out consistent with scores in 10 different contests. You hope to pencil in those kind of numbers from your first-round picks. You're not banking on them in Round 7.

WR: Joe Jurevicius, Sea:I had to get a Seattle skill player on here. As much as I thought Jurevicius could be an impact player for the Seahawks, he doubled my lofty expectations in the TD column. Jurevicius became the receiver version of a vulture, hauling in a club-best 10 TD passes, spread out over nine different games. He wasn't a big yardage producer (topping 50 yards only four times), but took advantage of the limited opportunities provided to him. Jurevicius was also a steady producer down the stretch as Matt Hasselbeck went off in December. Jurevicius scored five touchdowns in the Seahawks' final six games. Not bad for a guy snagged off the waiver wire in virtually every league.

WR: Joey Galloway, TB: Galloway was no help to owners in the standard playoff weeks (under 40 yards in three of four games), but his 1,287 receiving yards (a career-high in his 11th NFL season) and 10 TDs cannot be ignored. Fantasy owners selected Galloway in the 12th round on average, the 50th receiver off the board. Galloway topped 75 receiving yards on 10 occasions this season without any help from a No. 2 receiver for much of the year.

TE: Chris Cooley, Was: Only Antonio Gates blew away Cooley's final stat line, but Gates didn't sneak up on anybody in the third or fourth round. That pushes the honors in the direction of Cooley, who piled up 774 yards and seven touchdowns for the Redskins. He had a scoreless streak of six games during the middle of the season when Washington lost four of six games, but still topped 60 receiving yards in three of those contests. Of course, Cooley was the feel-good story of the final weeks of the season when he scored five touchdowns over a four-week period, including a three-TD performance in the all-important Week 15. Cooley was drafted 15th among TEs, taken in the 13th round on average. He was also selected in only 60 percent of leagues.

K: Neil Rackers, Ari: Rackers booted an NFL-record 40 field goals in 2005, converting multiple FG attempts in 14 of the 15 games in which he appeared. Nineteen of his 40 made field goals came from 40 yards or further. You're talking about massive bonus points out of your kicker. Rackers was drafted in only 20 percent of leagues.

DEF: Chicago Bears: The Bears defense finished with the seventh highest point total among ALL players in leagues using the default scoring system. Chicago averaged 12.4 points per week, even accounting for a poor showing in the finale against Minnesota. The Bears were drafted in only 50 percent of leagues.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Tiki Barber, RB, NYG: Barber turned in his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season, and turned in the second-most yards from scrimmage ever in '05. He tallied nearly 2,400 total yards (his second straight over 2,000) and scored 11 touchdowns while fumbling only once in over 400 Touches. Most importantly, Barber appeared in every game for the fourth straight season.

Thomas Jones, RB, Chi: Continuity on the offensive line and a rookie QB under control led to a big year for the embattled back. Jones topped 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, fighting off an early challenge to his spot from rookie Cedric Benson. He also scored a career-high nine touchdowns in getting the Bears into the playoffs. Jones topped 70 yards rushing on 12 occasions with five 100-yard efforts.

Santana Moss, WR, Was: Mark Brunell rebounded from a miserable '04 with the help of a healthy offensive line, the running of Clinton Portis, and the acquisition of Santana Moss. Moss scored his TDs in bunches, but he offered consistent yardage contributions. He turned in five 100-yard games, and topped 70 receiving yards on 12 occasions.

Rudi Johnson, RB, Cin: As expected, Johnson and the other Bengals starters didn't factor much into the season finale (10 carries for 18 yards). However, Johnson's consistency through the season propelled many owners into the playoff chase. He was particularly brilliant after the Bye week, scoring nine touchdowns over a five-game stretch. His lowest rushing total ahead of Week 17 was a 65-yard effort against Pittsburgh in Week 7.

Eric Parker, WR, SD: Parker had eight catches for 87 yards in the 23-7 loss to Denver, activating an incentive clause in his contract. Parker finished the year with 57 receptions for 725 yards, topping 50 receiving yards on eight occasions. Parker made for a great play in Chargers home games where he tallied 35 receptions for 437 yards and all three of his touchdowns.

Gus Frerotte, QB, Mia: The rumor mill is swirling with talk of Steve McNair or Daunte Culpepper ending up in Miami, but Frerotte showed that he can perform if given an opportunity, tossing 18 TDs and turning in seven multi-TD performances for fantasy owners in 2005. Frerotte finished the season strong, tossing six touchdowns against only two interceptions in his final four outings (including the Week 15 game against the Jets which he left early due to injury). The Dolphins finished with six straight wins and have a talented cast on offense.

Mark Clayton, WR, Bal: Clayton became a factor in the final weeks of the season as Brian Billick worked to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers. Clayton scored touchdowns in three of the Ravens' final four games and racked up 86 or more receiving yards in three of his final five games. Clayton and Derrick Mason should help Kyle Boller continue his late-season progress with a full offseason of workouts. This youngster could be a bargain selection in the later rounds of drafts in '06.

Ricky Williams, RB, Mia: Williams showed that he can still rack up yards and find the end zone upon his return to the field. His first two outings were less than inspiring (11 carries for 7 yards), but he kicked it into gear from there. Williams topped 70 rushing yards in six of his final 10 games while scoring six touchdowns. He took advantage of Ronnie Brown's late injury, rushing for better than 100 yards in the Dolphins' final two games and scoring in five of the final six games of the year. Williams finished with 743 rushing yards, despite only accruing 20 carries on two occasions and essentially missing half of the year.

Drew Bennett, WR, Ten: I add Bennett to the list because he will likely drop like a rock in drafts in '06. He vaulted into the fifth round on the strength of his strong second-half of '04, and then played through injury to post less than stellar results for much of this year. When the Titans were healthy (which wasn't often this year), Bennett still proved an effective receiver, topping 50 receiving yards on nine occasions and scoring three touchdowns in the pivotal fantasy playoff weeks.

DeShaun Foster, RB, Car: Foster will climb up the draft board with his strong second half of the year – after Stephen Davis slowed down and was eventually placed on IR. Foster turned in two 100-yard games down the stretch (both against Atlanta), and battled through injury, which is something that will make owners feel better at the draft table next summer. Foster should improve on his three touchdowns in '06, provided that Eric Shelton doesn't inherit the vulture role from Davis.

Tatum Bell, RB, Den: Bell finished 79 yards shy of 1,000 in the backup role to Mike Anderson, and shone brightly when given the chance in the season finale against San Diego (52 yards and three scores). Bell scored all eight of his touchdowns in four games, and went eight weeks without a score from the middle of the season on. He averaged only 12 carries per game this season, but figures to get more of a chance to shine in '06.

Kyle Boller, QB, Bal: Boller scored in six of his final seven games with three three-TD games. He tossed seven TDs over the crucial fantasy playoff weeks, leaning on standout TE Todd Heap, veteran Derrick Mason, and rookie Mark Clayton. Just when it looked like he got momentum rolling and was going to ride a streak into the offseason, Boller threw for just 151 yards and two picks in the finale against Cleveland. Brian Billick is back for '06, but will assistant coaches Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel still be there to help his development?

Reuben Droughns, RB, Cle: Droughns quietly put up over 1,200 yards (1,601 rushing and receiving) in his first season in Cleveland, battling on through QB changes and injuries to virtually all receiving options. He struggled down the stretch, accumulating just 129 yards over the last three weeks, and he did score only two touchdowns. However, Droughns eclipsed 70 rushing yards on 10 occasions and played in every game. Things are looking up for year two of the Romeo Crennel regime. Droughns won't go in the eighth round again, as he did this year.

Josh McCown, QB, Ari: McCown turned in four solid games around the Week 6 bye, and put up big yardage totals in the final two games of his audition for a starting role in '06. McCown is an unrestricted free agent, so his future may be elsewhere, but he showed that he can still find receivers despite a decided lack of a running game. Of course, it doesn't hurt when you're tossing to receivers named Boldin and Fitzgerald.

Alex Smith, TE, TB: The rookie from Stanford finished second on the team with 41 receptions. He started the year with a bang by scoring two touchdowns in the opener against Minnesota, but did not find the end zone again. He was used sporadically on a weekly basis during the season, but became a safety valve for Chris Simms down the stretch, recording 16 catches in the season's final four games. Gruden likes to use the TE position, so expect his role to grow next season.

Donte' Stallworth, WR, NO: It's clear that Stallworth will continue to struggle with drops, but he took a big step forward this season. He played in every game for the second straight year and marked new career highs in receptions and receiving yards despite the adverse circumstances facing the Saints. According to reports, Stallworth was very intrigued upon hearing that Mike Martz was among those mentioned as possible replacements for Jim Haslett. Martz's insertion to the Saints offense, a season of health from Deuce McAllister, and perhaps the addition of Matt Leinert could mean bigger things for Stallworth in '06.

Brandon Lloyd, WR, SF: Lloyd has the goods to be a prime-time No. 1 NFL receiver. Now, he just needs the 49ers offense to catch up with him. He caught three touchdowns off the arm of Tim Rattay in the first three weeks of year, popped up briefly on the radar with a big game in Week 11, and then went silent again until the final week. Over the final 11 weeks of the season, he topped 50 receiving yards only once. Lloyd will be an interesting player to watch this offseason, as he's expected to test the free agent waters (restricted). So, he might be able to head to a unit further along than the 49ers building process.

Priest Holmes, RB, KC: Larry Johnson made his case for the top spot in Kansas City. At best, Holmes can expect to return to K.C. with a role similar to that of what Johnson began the season with. However, after having missed half of each of the previous two seasons, how much faith can one put in his legs? I don't doubt his ability. Holmes has proven us wrong before, but it will be an interesting story to follow this offseason with a new coach coming to town.

Julius Jones, RB, Dal: Durability is certainly becoming a concern when talking of this second-year back. Jones nearly reached 1,000 yards on the strength of one huge Week 16 game, by which time most owners had relegated him to bench duty in his ongoing battle with Marion Barber. Jones scored twice in that game, his first trips to the end zone since his two-TD game against the 49ers in Week 3 . He was a sexy late-first, early-second round pick this year on the strength of his huge second half to '04. You'll find him on the board a little longer next time around.

Drew Brees, QB, SD: Brees had another fine season, but potentially watched a big payday get away with the torn labrum sustained in a meaningless (for San Diego, anyway) game in Week 17. The Chargers will need to decide whether to let him leave via free agency, franchise him again, or make him a long-term offer with Philip Rivers anxiously awaiting his turn to work with LT, Gates, and company. With surgery set for early January, it's likely that Brees will be throwing in four-five months, which should have him ready, barring setbacks of course, for the start of the '06 season. Based on concerns of the injury, his stock will slip, but he's a solid addition to the bench after a starter is secured, regardless of where he lands this offseason.

Chad Pennington, QB, NYJ: Two straight years with major shoulder issues has the Jets looking for another QB to come in and compete for the top spot. Leinert? Vince Young, if available? It remains to be seen, but what was certainly clear this season was that Pennington didn't have the zip on the ball to best utilize Laveranues Coles or Justin McCareins. This year's sleeper QB becomes next year's late-round flier.

Isaac Bruce, WR, StL: Bruce and teammate Kevin Curtis suffered most by the loss of Marc Bulger for the season. Bruce missed five games due to injury and returned after the bye week to score touchdowns against Arizona and Houston. But he failed to find the mark in the final five games, finishing with fewer than 40 receiving yards in three of those contests. At 33, and with Curtis and Shaun McDonald waiting for their cracks at the starting lineup, Bruce's role for '06 is in question. Additionally, with Mike Martz out of the picture, will Steven Jackson finally begin to rack up carries?

Michael Vick, QB, Atl: It was another tough year for Michael Vick owners, sweating out his scrambles and sprints while waiting for him to ascend to that next level of quarterbacks. He turned in one stretch in the middle of the year when he topped 30 passing attempts in three straight games, and accounted for eight touchdowns (seven throwing, one rushing) against only three turnovers. Vick will, no doubt, be an early selection in drafts again next season, but can owners continue to bank on being bailed out of mediocre passing stats with his legs? Eighteen quarterbacks threw for as many or more TD passes than Vick in '05, with Donovan McNabb playing in nine games, Ben Roethlisberger in 12, and Byron Leftwich in only 11. Marc Bulger had one fewer TD pass, and he played in only eight games. Vick's highlight reel plays will keep him near the top of the draft board, but he's slipped to last starter, first bench QB for me in '06. (Of course, I could be persuaded to bump him up a couple spots if the exiled Terrell Owners signs on in Atlanta.)

Curtis Martin, RB, NYJ: By missing the final four games of the '05 season, Martin's amazing run of 1,000-yard seasons came to an end. He expects to return to the Jets in '06, but his role for the team is, as of yet, undefined. The veteran back turned in only two games over 90 rushing yards, and save a four-game scoring stretch around the bye week, he did not run with his usual explosiveness. Time will tell how quickly his knee heals and how the Jets will proceed this offseason.

Steve McNair, QB, Ten: Where will McNair end up? Is he returning to the Titans, or will he end up in Miami, or some other destination? McNair tossed just 16 TD passes in 14 games this year while working with a young offense. His absence from practices due to a variety of injuries contributed greatly to the slower development of his young receiving targets, and forced heavy reliance on the TE position. Wherever he lands, McNair is a good bet to miss at least a couple games due to injury, and to be sidelined during portions of several others. He's a fantasy backup and bye week/matchup play going into '06, wherever he calls home.

Nate Burleson, WR, Min: Burleson had his best game of the year in Week 17 against Chicago, catching six balls for 66 yards. In his previous starts, he'd topped three catches only once. After a monster season stepping in for Randy Moss in '04, Burleson went high in drafts. He started slowly, got injured, and never blended into the Brad Johnson resurgence. He topped 30 receiving yards only four times all year and scored one TD after hauling in nine in '04.

Ashley Lelie, WR, Den: Like Burleson, everyone expected Lelie to build on his 1,000-yard, seven-TD season of 2004. Instead, he fell off in every major statistical category, recording only one TD reception and one 100-yard game. Rod Smith re-established himself as the top man in Denver, and Jake Plummer relied heavily on the running attack and the hands of fullback Kyle Johnson around the goal line. Lelie caught three or fewer passes in 11 of the 15 games in which he appeared.

Aaron Brooks, QB, NO: Getting benched in the midst of the trying year for the Saints said it all. Brooks regressed in his reads this year and struggled mightily, throwing only 13 touchdowns in 13 starts. When you factor in that he had four multi-TD games, it wasn't a pretty picture. Brooks will be looking for a new team this offseason and may have to settle for a backup role. The loss of Deuce McAllister early in the year and the travel schedule and working conditions were certainly less than accommodating, but Brooks looked like a different QB from 2-3 years ago. To end on a positive note, he did only lose two fumbles this year.

Kevin Jones, RB, Det: Jones was one of the leading candidates for bust of the year after jumping into the middle of the first round in most drafts. He scored only five touchdowns, with his last coming in Week 11. He was held to under 60 rushing yards in seven starts, and failed to break 100 yards in a single contest. The Lions and Steve Mariucci banked on him to shoulder the load and bring Joey Harrington along. Jones failed to make it happen in '05, and if Matt Millen selects another wide receiver in the first round of '06, stay away.

Joe Horn, WR, NO: Along with Aaron Brooks, Horn best embodies the trials and tribulations of the Saints' 2005 campaign. He scored one TD (in Week 2), missed four games, and turned in his lowest reception and yardage totals since his last season in Kansas City.

Jamal Lewis, RB, Bal: Lewis came on strong down the stretch, but his comments during the year about getting a long-term deal and not putting forth a total effort on a weekly basis cannot be taken lightly. What happens once the ink dries? He ran for 74 or more yards in four of the final five games in which he appeared to get near to the 1,000-yard mark. However, he did only score four total touchdowns, and nearly lost his gig to Chester Taylor. Lewis is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so it will be interesting to watch whether Baltimore franchises him or sets him free in a running back-rich market.

WATER COOLER RULER
The most common component of championship teams in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football PLUS leagues was San Diego RB LaDainian Tomlinson. Despite the late-season scoring drought, Tomlinson appeared on over 43 percent of the top 500 Public League teams. The second most common player was Shaun Alexander at nearly 33 percent. Nine other players at a combination of positions appear before the next running back. Fifteen percent of the top 500 teams (75) owed their success to Larry Johnson's second-half dominance.