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 (Julius Jones, DeShaun Foster, etc), or a player's current injury will likely limit him in at least the early going of this coming season (Domanick Davis, Braylon Edwards, 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.
Larry Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Clinton Portis look to be the only members of the 400-plus touch club. Shaun Alexander and Rudi Johnson would also join them if they were utilized more as receivers. Last season, Tiki Barber (411) and Edgerrin James (404) were the only two backs with more than 400 touches. Barber figures to see a somewhat smaller load this season, and James will lose some touches thanks to Arizona's aerial show.
Players who figure to see the biggest gains and are near the top of the list are Ronnie Brown (239 touches in 2005), Steven Jackson (297), and Chester Taylor (158). Brown no longer will be competing with Ricky Williams for touches, Jackson is finally out of Marshall Faulk's literal shadow, and Taylor joins the Vikings as their featured back after four seasons as an understudy in Baltimore.
There are currently at least eight non-injury related platoons or platoon-like situations. They include: Atlanta (Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett), New Orleans (Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush), Denver (Ron Dayne, Tatum Bell, Mike Bell?!), Baltimore (Jamal Lewis, Mike Anderson), Chicago (Cedric Benson, Thomas Jones), Indianapolis (Dominic Rhodes, Joseph Addai), San Francisco (Frank Gore, Kevan Barlow), and the New York Jets (Cedric Houston, Derrick Blaylock, Curtis Martin?).
The most recent news regarding Curtis Martin's status came via an August 7 article in The Star-Ledger, in which a Jets team official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the veteran's knee is "bone on bone." Statements like "there is growing concern that Martin's career is in jeopardy" and "If Martin does play this season, it's unlikely it will be at the start of the season" were also contained in the piece. Considering all the factors, the projections for the Jets here assume that Martin makes little to no impact as a player this season. Cedric Houston filled in reasonably well for Martin late last season, so he is the assumed starter with Derrick Blaylock getting some consistent touches, as well. Rumors are circulating that the Jets are pursuing the Titans' Chris Brown and the Bears' Thomas Jones, with Brown being a more likely candidate for a trade. Obviously, any trade would affect the numbers for both of the backfields of the teams involved.
The Cardinals offense will produce the most looks for a single receiver for the second consecutive season, but Larry Fitzgerald (165 looks in 2005) replaces teammate Anquan Boldin (171) atop the list. Fitzgerald, already one of the top talents in the game, will be entering mythical fantasy territory as a wide receiver in his third NFL season and, if history is any indication, Boldin will likely miss at least one game to injury.
One of the biggest gainers in looks this coming season will, of course, be Terrell Owens (92 looks in 2005). Owens played just seven games last season after pulling a series of "Terrell Owens'" that eventually led to his eventual dismissal from the Eagles. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells will likely reap the benefits from and the accolades for a reformed Owens this season, but fantasy owners who get production from Owens for the full season (barring injury) have the hard line that the Eagles took to thank. Anything beyond this season is still a crapshoot, however.
Also likely to be among the biggest gains in looks are Jaguars wideouts Matt Jones (69 looks in 2005) and Ernest Wilford (74). Jimmy Smith saw 128 looks in 2005, and his retirement presents great opportunities for Jacksonville's big, young receivers. The 6-foot-4 Wilford has done nothing but impress in camp and is poised for a breakout campaign as option No.1 for Byron Leftwich. The 6-foot-6 Jones has been battling a recent ankle sprain, but is the most intriguing "talent" and, according to reports, is facing very little competition for a starting role from the ever-disappointing Reggie Williams, who happens to be 6-foot-4 himself.
You don't have to be listed as WR1 to make a serious fantasy impact. Players currently listed as WR2 who figure to be among the top 40 most targeted receivers include: Reggie Wayne, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Javon Walker, Jerry Porter, Michael Clayton, Matt Jones, Nate Burleson, Amani Toomer, Donte' Stallworth, and Marty Booker.
Antonio Gates will once again top the leaderboard at TE, as he lead the position with 140 looks in 2005. With Philip Rivers taking over at quarterback in San Diego, his importance as a safety valve and dependable target in general will be even more paramount this season.
Gates would face serious fantasy competition from Ben Troupe if the Titans weren't so happy with spreading the ball around. Titans tight ends, including Troupe (80 looks in 2005), Erron Kinney (72) and Bo Scaife (56) combined for 211 looks, easily the most in the league. Baltimore finished second, targeting Todd Heap and company 170 times, and San Diego finished third with 160.
L.J. Smith could be a big fantasy surprise at tight end. He is currently the 10th tight end drafted in Yahoo! leagues on average. However, with the Eagles' wide receiver corps average at best, Smith is likely to be targeted by Donovan McNabb an exceptional amount, and his fourth NFL season should easily be his best.