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No.1 Pick: Alexander or LJ?

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The consensus is that running backs Shaun Alexander and Larry Johnson deserve to be the top two picks in 2006 fantasy football drafts. But in which order should they come off the board? Our experts weigh in …

Shaun Alexander or Larry Johnson – Who's No. 1?

Brandon
Funston

Christopher
Harris

Brad
Evans

Matt
Buser
Brandon Funston Says: Alexander set the all-time single-season TD record last season (28), his fifth consecutive season with at least 16 TDs. That stat gets tossed around often in football circles, which I think tends to desensitize people to the enormity of that feat. Emmitt Smith, Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk, Jerry Rice … pick any all-time great player – none of them has had at least 16 TDs in five straight seasons. Many will point to the loss of bulldozer guard Steve Hutchinson as a reason for Alexander to slide behind Larry Johnson this season in fantasy drafts, but don't fixate on that – Seattle has one of the deepest lines in the league, and between Tom Ashworth and Floyd Womack, Hutchinson's loss will be minimalized.

I love Alexander's cupcake schedule, and I'm fearful of Johnson's much tougher road ahead. I also fear that defenses will go to ridiculous lengths to stop Johnson. After all, the Chiefs have a 36-year old immobile QB in Trent Green, who has a slowing Tony Gonzalez and a good – but not worth double-teaming – WR in Eddie Kennison as the top diversions to the running game. I'm sorry, but if I'm a defensive coordinator, I'll take my chances against the Chiefs passing attack while I go to great lengths to slow that vaunted running game. I doubt teams would be as succesful employing the same tactics against the Seahawks, as Matt Hasselback has mastered Mike Holmgren's version of the West Coast offense, and with the receiving weapons he has, he can turn to that short passing game, which keeps defenses on the field and eats clock in a similar manner to the rushing game.

In summary, track record, schedule and a better offensive supporting cast will lead me to Alexander on draft day.

Christopher Harris Says: Truthfully, you can probably throw Johnson, Alexander and even LaDainian Tomlinson into a hat, and be perfectly happy with the one you choose. I'm saying Alexander is the safest overall bet, which is what you want with your first overall pick (though there's an argument to be made for the idea that LJ is actually a bigger potential home-run selection). Alexander has simply been doing it for longer; you know he's not injury-prone, you know Mike Holmgren is actively invested in giving him the ball on the goal line from year to year, and there's the little matter of him holding the all-time record for TDs in a season … Five straight 1,000-yard seasons and two straight over 1,500 … No lingering worries about a formerly-great-but-injured backup (et tu, Priest Holmes) … The fact that Walter Jones at this point in his career is better than Willie Roaf … The fact that Johnson hasn't proven he can do it for an entire season … The fact that Seattle has a crummy schedule and will likely be way ahead in a bunch of games, and thus run even more … All of these are factors that send me, slightly, Alexander's way.

Brad Evans Says: Larry Johnson is the Superman of fantasy running backs, but without the blue tights. New Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards is determined to emphasize more of the bruising ground attack that ranked sixth in rushing last year, likely adding to the 29 carries per game LJ averaged as a starter under Dick Vermeil. Nestled behind an impenetrable offensive line led by anchorman tackle Willie Roaf, Johnson could easily match his 150.1 YPG average as a starter from '05 and threaten Shaun Alexander's single-season touchdown rushing record this year. This Chief is clearly the strongest of the fantasy tribe and my number one pick on draft day.

Matt Buser Says: Johnson or Alexander … that IS the question this season. Let me just say first that I was more than happy to have the No.3 pick in the Yahoo! Friends & Family League this season so that I was able to take Tomlinson without so much as a second thought. That said, both Johnson and Alexander have questions for which we can only wait for answers. How will Johnson's production be affected by the departure of offensive coordinator Al Saunders? How will Alexander's production be affected by the departure of All-World guard Steve Hutchinson? If I do have the first pick in a draft this season, I am going to go with Johnson.

A quick refresh – Johnson averaged 150 rushing yards and 1.8 touchdowns over the season's final nine weeks last season. I'm not necessarily suggesting you base your draft philosophy on those numbers projected over a full season, but Johnson's fantasy potential is simply absurd. Another factor that is often glossed over is that Johnson is a solid pass-catcher, as well – he also averaged 3 receptions and 30 receiving yards down the stretch last season. It's certainly difficult to say a disparaging thing about Alexander's fantasy numbers, but Johnson's upside is just too incredible to pass on.

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