Perils of pigskin predictions

JOEL COLOMBY

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

Perhaps if we had more than one championship banner in our office pool from 18 years of trying, we'd feel a little more compelled to dispense advice about whom to take in your NFL draft.

Instead, we've enlisted the help of about 20,000 other poolies to present a fantasy projections guide for the coming season.

The Internet has a few sites that compile composite draft lists, but we're going to use myfantasyleague.com's Draft Tracker as our guide. More than 2,000 NFL fantasy leagues already have submitted how their drafts unfolded -- round-by-round -- and, give or take a few spots on the rankings list up or down, is a pretty good indication of the selection order.

Below are the Draft Tracker's listings for about the first five rounds. They are based on yardage plus scoring, but for those of you in touchdown-only formats, we've included TD predictions, as well. We personally don't agree with all of them, but we'll let you make up your own minds.

Even with so much input, predicting a player's performance is never a given. In fact, as we've pointed out in this space previously, odds are that at least half of this year's first-round picks will be disappointments. Last year, six players-- most of them at the top of the order -- played well enough to merit first-round selections this year. And that was an unusually high number.

Injuries and age play significant roles in how well a player will produce. So, too, does coaching changes and the skill level of his teammates around him, the difficulty of his team's schedule and even his contract status. They are all things an attentive poolie will consider before making his choices.

Recent years have seen a definitive first-round swing towards running backs, and for good reason -- they gain more yards and score more often than the pass-catchers. In fact, last season, a dozen running backs wound up with more fantasy points than the top wide receiver, Marvin Harrison of the Colts.

Indy quarterback Peyton Manning poses another dilemma because his fantasy totals rivalled those of Chargers running back and overall points leader LaDainian Tomlinson. But Manning will drop in many drafts simply because there are a larger number of quarterbacks who can put up decent fantasy numbers than backs.

Do you select him early and watch the points roll up weekly, or do you pass on him to grab those 1,200 yards and 10 TDs from one of the handful of top running backs left on the board?

It's all part of the fun and frustration of NFL draft day.

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COMPARING FIRST-ROUNDERS

2006

Shaun Alexander, RB

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB

Larry Johnson, RB

Tiki Barber, RB

Peyton Manning, QB

Steven Jackson, RB

Rudi Johnson, RB

Edgerrin James, RB

Ronnie Brown, RB

Cadillac Williams, RB

Lamont Jordan, RB

Clinton Portis, RB

2007

LaDainian Tomlinson, RB

Steven Jackson, RB

Larry Johnson, RB

Frank Gore, RB

Shaun Alexander, RB

Joseph Addai, RB

Peyton Manning, QB

Brian Westbrook, RB

Reggie Bush, RB

Willie Parker, RB

Rudi Johnson, RB

Laurence Maroney, RB

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RUNNING BACKS

LaDainian Tomlinson, SD: If he's not No. 1 overall, someone blew it (22)

Steven Jackson, STL: Workhorse scored 10 TDs in his last six games (18)

Larry Johnson, KC: Surrounding elements no worse than last year (16)

Frank Gore, SF: A top-end RB, but only if he keeps goalline carries (12)

Shaun Alexander, SEA: Lack of receiving yards drops him slightly (15)

Joseph Addai, IND: The new Edge. Yards, but 0-for-5 from goalline (12)

Brian Westbrook, PHIL: He'll run less, catch more with McNabb back (11)

Willie Parker, PIT: Steelers didn't need the Bus down low, after all (12)

Reggie Bush, NO: Averaged 100 yards and a TD over final 10 games (11)

Rudi Johnson, CIN: Durable, and has 12 TDs each of past four years (12)

Laurence Maroney, NE: Inherits more touches, but gets dinged a lot (12)

Travis Henry, DEN: Shanahan's RB magic should strike again (12)

Willis McGahee, BAL: Every-down back, but not much of a receiver (10)

Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX: Committee threat knocks him down (9)

Ronnie Brown, MIA: Another bad O-line means another ho-hum season (8)

Cedric Benson, CHI: Jones is gone and Bears will run a lot, again (9)

Edgerrin James, ARZ: Is Cards' new workhorse up to the challenge? (9)

Clinton Portis, WAS: Expected to share backfield time with Betts (8)

Thomas Jones, NYJ: Will start, but may be back in an RB committee (8)

Brandon Jacobs, NYG: New No. 1, just don't expect Tiki-type yards (9)

Deuce McAllister, NO: Should get enough touches to makek an impact (9)

Marshawn Lynch, BUF: Rebuilt O-line will cause him problems early on (8)

Adrian Peterson, MIN: Great future but will be eased in as a rookie (7)

Cadillac Williams, TB: Will be undervalued after a brutal second year (7)

Marion Barber, DAL: Time-sharing RB's value remains tied to his TDs (9)

Ahman Green, HOU: Will find the going even tougher with Texans (8)

Jamal Lewis, CLE: Won't have the Browns to fatten his stats against (8)

DeAngelo Williams, CAR: A decent No. 2 RB after he replaces Foster (7)

Julius Jones, DAL: Handcuff him to Barber and hope one emerges (6)

Best of the rest: Jerious Norwood, ATL, Lamont Jordan, OAK; LenDale White, TEN; Tatum Bell, DET, Ladell Betts, WAS; Brandon Jackson, GB.

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WIDE RECEIVERS

Steve Smith, CAR: Jake has no choice but to force-feed him the ball (10)

Chad Johnson, CIN: Averaging 1,400 yards the past two seasons (10)

Marvin Harrison, IND: Chemistry with Peyton his biggest asset (11)

Torry Holt, STL: Still not all he way back from off-season knee surgery (11)

Terrell Owens, DAL: Six of 13 TDs came from inside the 10 last year (11)

Reggie Wayne, IND: Will surpass Harrison one of these years. Is this it? (9)

Larry Fitzgerald, ARZ: Emphasis on run might open things up for him (9)

Roy Williams, DET: Pass-heavy playbook may result in a career year (9)

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, CIN: Palmer's prime target inside the red zone (9)

Marques Colston, NO: Clear No. 1 WR in an explosive Saints offence (9)

Javon Walker, DEN: Broncos hoping he finally meshes with Cutler (8)

Anquan Boldin, ARZ: Will get the yards ... until the Cards hit red zone (7)

Lee Evans, BUF: If Losman has the time, he will shine. But that's a big 'if.' (8)

Randy Moss, NE: A lot of experts like him. Just as many don't (7)

Andre Johnson, HOU: Suspect line, RB, QB may hold him back ... again (7)

Donald Driver, GB: On the decline, but Favre will still target him often (7)

Plaxico Burress, NYG: TDs up last year (7 to 10), but yardage way down (7)

Hines Ward, PIT: Numbers inching south, but still money in red zone (7)

Calvin Johnson, DET: History works against rookie WRs blossoming (6)

Deion Branch, SEA: Hasn't earned it, but is now the top WR on team (6)

Reggie Brown, PHIL: Eagles' spread offence will keep his numbers down (7)

Laveranues Coles, NYJ: Pennington's weak arm hurts him (7)

Santana Moss, WAS: Long-ball threat played hurt much of last season (6)

Darrell Jackson, SF: Should rebound, if he can just hang on to the ball (6)

Braylon Edwards, CLE: We'd like his chances if QB situation was better (7)

Chris Chambers, MIA: Has the tools, but no nose for the football (6)

Vincent Jackson, SD: Team's top WR has plenty of competition for ball (6)

Mark Clayton, BAL: Led team in yards, TDs, but that's not saying much (6)

Joey Galloway, TB: At 38, still has speed for flanker-friendly offence (6)

Best of the rest: Donte Stallworth, NE; Kevin Curtis, PHIL; Bernard Berrian, CHI; Terry Glenn, DAL; Devery Henderson, NO; Santonio Holmes, PIT.

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QUARTERBACKS

Peyton Manning, IND: No. 1 passer also ran in for two TDs (33)

Carson Palmer, CIN: Unlike 2006, starts the season healthy (30)

Tom Brady, NE: Cool, consistent and has three quality new WRs (27)

Drew Brees, NO: Averaged 300-plus yards in his last seven starts (27)

Marc Bulger, STL: Thrown more than 550 passes each of past 2 years (25)

Donovan McNabb, PHIL: Knee surgery likely to keep him from running (24)

Vince Young, TEN: Low passing yards, but could run in for six TDs (18)

Tony Romo, DAL: Faded in second half after a big early splash (23)

Jon Kitna, DET: Now under a pass-crazy coach in Mike Martz. (23)

Philip Rivers, SD: Won't reach upper tier QBs with LT lugging ball (22)

Matt Hasselbeck, SEa: Alexander, iffy WR corps, work against him (21)

Matt Leinart, ARZ: New emphasis on run may stunt QB growth (20)

Jay Cutler, DEN: Started last five games, but hit 200 yards just twice (19)

Ben Roethlisberger, PIT: Will call his own number down close (18)

Eli Manning, NYG: Bad second half, loss of Tiki are concerns (18)

Best of the rest: Jake Delhomme, CAR; Brett Favre, GB; Alex Smith SF; J.P. Losman, BUF; Matt Schaub, HOU.

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TIGHT ENDS

Antonio Gates, SD: Solid No. 1 in an otherwise weak field of tight ends (10)

Tony Gonzalez, KC: Still the Chiefs' only serious receiving threat (7)

Todd Heap, BAL: Had four or more catches in all but one game last year (7)

Jeremy Shockey, NYG: Injury bug all that is holding him back (6)

Vernon Davis, SF: Best young TE in NFL, but may need one more year (5)

Kellen Winslow, CLE: Knee surgery once again dulls his potential (5)

Chris Cooley, WAS: Won't get huge yards, but is a first-look in close (6)

Alge Crumpler, ATL: New offensive system, no Vick, won't help him (5)

Jason Witten, DAL: T.O.'s arrival cut into his TD potential last year (5)

Ben Watson, NE: Great skills, but Patriots spread the wealth (5)

L.J. Smith, PHIL: McNabb's favourite target near the goalline (6)

Dallas Clark, IND: Stats were inflated by lining up often as a slotback (5)

Randy McMichael, STL: Moves from Miami to the pass-friendly Rams (5)

Heath Miller, PIT: A Big Ben favourite. Fantasy value with short TDs (5)

Best of the rest: Owen Daniels, HOU; Greg Olsen, CHI; Eric Johnson, NO; Alex Smith, TB.


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