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Fantasy football

Fantasy football drafts essentially begin with the No. 2 pick. After a record-breaking season, San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson should be the No. 1 pick in every fantasy draft. The next few picks have fantasy owners scratching their hea...

Fantasy football drafts essentially begin with the No. 2 pick.

After a record-breaking season, San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson should be the No. 1 pick in every fantasy draft. The next few picks have fantasy owners scratching their heads until they're bald.

Four running backs most often are mentioned as candidates for the No. 2 pick. Let's take a look at them, in the order they should be chosen.

Steven Jackson, St. Louis

Upside: After getting 346 carries and 90 receptions last season, he's a lock to get a ton of touches. His 2,334 total yards last year is the fifth-highest total ever. The 24-year-old runs with speed and strength.

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Downside: The ridiculous number of touches he gets increases his chances to sustain an injury. With the additions of wide receiver Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael, he likely will see his reception total decline.

Larry Johnson, Kansas City

Upside: Next to Tomlinson, he's the best running back in the NFL. Last season, the Chief recorded 1,789 rushing yards (second only to Tomlinson) and scored 19 touchdowns (second only to Tomlinson).

Downside: Johnson is an injury risk after taking a beating last year with a league-record 416 carries and missing a ton of time in training camp due to a contract holdout. The Chiefs' offensive line is suspect after Pro Bowl guard Will Shields retired.

Shaun Alexander, Seattle

Upside: There's no question what type of talent the Seahawk has after being a fantasy stud for years. He's a touchdown machine (96 touchdowns in 106 career games) and is just two years removed from his 28-touchdown season.

Downside: He hits the 30-year-old age when many running backs start to see their numbers decline. He recorded a career-low 3.6 yards per carry and missed six games with a foot injury last season. He isn't a top-notch receiving threat.

Frank Gore, San Francisco

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Upside: Gore led NFL with 15 runs of 20 or more yards last season. San Francisco's offensive upgrades and a more experienced Alex Smith at quarterback will take some pressure off the third-year pro and lead to more touchdowns.

Downside: Gore has two red flags that scare me: he's unproven, and he has an injury history. He has been an elite running back for just one year, raising concerns about whether he can do it again. He's already had reconstructive surgeries on both knees and surgeries on both shoulders, and now he's recovering from a broken hand.

Breakthrough player

Joseph Addai, Indianapolis: Last year as a rookie, Addai split carries with Dominic Rhodes. Not this year. He rushed for 1,081 yards, getting just 55 percent of the carries. Bump that to the 86 percent Edgerrin James got as the Colts' featured back in 2005 and Addai could rush for 1,800 yards, if he averages the 4.8 yards per carry he did last season. He likely won't rush for that many yards, but 1,400 is realistic.

Overrated

Travis Henry, Denver: This is a classic example of a player being overhyped because of the new team he's with. There's no doubt he's in a great situation in the Broncos' ultra-successful run system, but let's not forget that coach Mike Shanahan has a history of having a quick trigger when it comes to pulling struggling running backs. Also, Henry has an injury history and doesn't have the pass-catching skills many backs do now.

Underrated

Edgerrin James, Arizona: Improved quarterback play and a new coach add up to a rebound year for James. Coach Ken Whisenhunt comes to Arizona after being the offensive coordinator at run-crazy Pittsburgh. Last season, when quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart were struggling, defenses focused on stopping James. Once Leinart began succeeding toward the end of the season, James had three 100-yard rushing efforts in the Cardinals' last five games.

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Sleeper

Jerious Norwood, Atlanta: The second-year pro will get a ton more carries with quarterback Michael Vick out of the picture and veteran running back Warrick Dunn banged up with a back injury and only getting older (32). Norwood averaged an eye-popping 6.4 yards per carry last season with his big-run ability, and he also has great pass-catching skills.

Running Back Rankings

1. LaDainian Tomlinson -- San Diego Chargers

2. Steven Jackson -- St. Louis Rams

3. Larry Johnson -- Kansas City Chiefs

4. Shaun Alexander -- Seattle Seahawks

5. Frank Gore -- San Francisco 49ers

6. Willie Parker -- Pittsburgh Steelers

7. Joseph Addai -- Indianapolis Colts

8. Brian Westbrook -- Philadelphia Eagles

9. Rudi Johnson -- Cincinnati Bengals

10. Laurence Maroney -- New England Patriots

11. Reggie Bush -- New Orleans Saints

12. Willis McGahee -- Baltimore Ravens

13. Edgerrin James -- Arizona Cardinals

14. Travis Henry -- Denver Broncos

15. Maurice Jones-Drew -- Jacksonville Jaguars

16. Ronnie Brown -- Miami Dolphins

17. Brandon Jacobs -- New York Giants

18. Cedric Benson -- Chicago Bears

19. Thomas Jones -- New York Jets

20. Deuce McAllister -- New Orleans Saints

21. Clinton Portis -- Washington Redskins

22. Jerious Norwood -- Atlanta Falcons

23. Carnell Williams -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers

24. Marion Barber -- Dallas Cowboys

25. Adrian Peterson -- Minnesota Vikings

26. Marshawn Lynch -- Buffalo Bills

27. Brandon Jackson -- Green Bay Packers

28. Ahman Green -- Houston Texans

29. Jamal Lewis -- Cleveland Browns

30. Tatum Bell -- Detroit Lions

Jason Lauren's Fantasy Football column runs weekly in the News Tribune. Position previews continue Saturday with wide receivers. Lauren can be reached by e-mail at jlauren9 @yahoo.com.

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