Hang on to LT, but worry about other slow starters

The Baltimore Sun

So let's get this straight. At this juncture of the fantasy football season, you'd be vastly better off having owned LaMont Jordan, Jamal Lewis and Edgerrin James than LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson and Larry Johnson.

The first three guys, popular names on all-avoid lists in the preseason, have combined to rush for 934 yards and five touchdowns.

Tomlinson, Jackson and Johnson, the consensus first three picks in fantasy drafts around the land, have combined for 503 yards and one touchdown.

Tomlinson, the No. 1 pick in 99.9 percent of drafts, ranks 33rd in the NFL in rushing, behind guys such as Pittsburgh Steelers backup Najeh Davenport, Buffalo Bills rookie Marshawn Lynch and New England Patriots fullback Sammy Morris.

As usual, we're three weeks into the season and it feels as if we're living in some kind of Bizarro World.

It's one in which Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, who didn't have a starting job halfway through the preseason, is a better passer than the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees, a consensus top-five pick at the position.

It's one in which Philadelphia Eagles receiver Kevin Curtis, a nonentity on most draft lists, carried anyone crazy enough to start him to victory Sunday.

I throw this out there not to make you weep at the vagaries of our mortal coil but to suggest that if you've been a victim of these improbabilities, you almost have to shrug it off and laugh. Because any three-week stretch of an NFL season -- or, for that matter, a baseball or NBA season -- will produce its share of ridiculous happenings.

And, no, I might not be taking a stance of such removed wisdom if Donovan McNabb hadn't propelled my teams to two narrow victories last weekend.

But he did and I am. So I implore you not to bench Tomlinson or trade him off for that Davenport-Lynch-Morris trifecta.

Seriously, though, it's no fun to start a fantasy season 0-3, especially when leagues begin their playoffs after Week 13 or 14. It's not like baseball, where a .255 team average in May can easily be .280 by September.

The losses don't just go away. So if you're in the mood to make serious decisions about your team, here are some guys I might actually worry about.

You have to be concerned about Brees. The Saints haven't scored more than 14 points in three games against middling defenses, and he has thrown seven interceptions to only one touchdown pass. The offensive line appears diminished, the defense looks terrible and the Saints just lost their workhorse runner in Deuce McAllister.

Brees is a good player who has excelled in several different contexts, so he probably will perform better individually. But as one wise co-worker said: "He probably can't overcome all that."

If you own Brees and don't feel comfortable with your No. 2 quarterback, you might at least want to deal for a strong backup.

I'd worry about Marc Bulger for some of the same reasons. The St. Louis Rams' line was hurt by Orlando Pace's injury, their best offensive player, Jackson, has a partially torn groin, and wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce probably are on the decline.

Defenses will be able to rush Bulger with abandon, and though he remains an accurate passer, I think you have to consider sitting him when he faces bad matchups (such as the Ravens in Week 6).

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have looked terrific on the surface. But Roethlisberger threw four of his six touchdown passes in Week 1 and is averaging only 26 attempts and 188 yards a week. He faces problems opposite to those of Brees and Bulger. He might continue to play well but fail to pile up numbers because Pittsburgh jumps to early leads and focuses on its running game.

Now, let's get back to the bad teams. Johnson's Kansas City Chiefs have looked pretty awful, scoring a total of 26 points in three games against tough defenses. The schedule should get a little easier in mid-October, but the line isn't good and quarterback Damon Huard isn't likely to scare defenders.

Even if Johnson is physically perfect, an open question after he carried the ball 416 times last year, he might have trouble producing at an elite level.

Let's wrap up this string of misery with a guy who just might not be a very good player. I've tried to give Cedric Benson the benefit of the doubt.

But 3.2 yards a carry doesn't cut it. And his 46-yard effort against the Dallas Cowboys' defense, dominated by the New York Giants' running game in Week 1, was disheartening. Benson retains some value because the Bears lack alternative end zone options. But I don't ever see him becoming an elite back.


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