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Who comes after L.T.? NFL strategists differ

Who's No. 2?

The top dog in this year's fantasy football galaxy is LaDainian Tomlinson, and that's as much a no-brainer as it gets in this game. If you hold the top pick and would even consider anybody else, it's time to develop a new hobby.

The great debates start A.T. -- after Tomlinson, who scored an NFL-record 31 times last season for the San Diego Chargers. And judging by the national fantasy publications that are beginning to dot the newsstands, there is no consensus No. 2 -- other than it's a running back. Fantasy Football, The Sporting News Fantasy Football Owners Manual and Street & Smith's Pro Football Yearbook all favor Kansas City's Larry Johnson. Fantasy Football Index and Rotowire both like St. Louis' Steven Jackson.

And there's no reason to confine this discussion to the state of Missouri. Fantasy Football Index uses a panel of 25 experts to tabulate its selections. Other backs who received votes to be among the top three overall picks include Seattle's Shaun Alexander, Denver's Travis Henry, Indianapolis' Joseph Addai and San Francisco's Frank Gore.

Now I know there are still some strong feelings locally for Henry, who rushed for 2,794 yards in 2002-03 with the Buffalo Bills and was born again strong last season with 1,211 yards for the Tennessee Titans. Plus the Broncos have produced five different 1,000-yard rushers since 1999. But he will likely have to share carries with Mike Bell, who rushed for eight touchdowns as a rookie last season. First-rounder? Maybe. Second overall? No way.

There are pros and cons to the other five possibilities:

*Addai: With 1,081 rushing yards last season he became the first in NFL history to top 1,000 without making a start. With Dominic Rhodes, last year's Colts starter, now with the Oakland Raiders, Addai could put up numbers similar to those of Edgerrin James, from 1999-2005. But with Peyton Manning at quarterback, the Colts averaged 269.3 yards passing per game to rank second in the league. Don't look for that trend to change.

*Alexander: How the mighty fell last season. He went from 1,880 rushing yards and 28 TDs in 2005 to 896 yards and seven scores in '06, when a broken foot wrecked about half his year. But he averaged 19.2 touchdowns per year from 2001-05, is only 29 years old and his Seahawks are still the team to beat in the NFC West. Losing receiver Darrell Jackson (to San Francisco) and tight end Jerramy Stevens (to Tampa Bay) may mean more carries but also more defensive focus on Alexander.

*Gore: No fantasy player has skyrocketed faster than the third-year man from Miami (Fla.), and with good reason. He averaged 5.4 yards on 312 carries, best among the elite rushers, and put up 1,261 yards from scrimmage in the final eight games. He also caught 61 passes, five more than Tomlinson, for 485 yards. The Darrell Jackson factor poses the same uncertainty for Gore as for Alexander.

*Steven Jackson: His 2,334 yards from scrimmage accounted for the fifth-best total in NFL history. Like Gore, he had a monster finish. In the final six games of last season, Jackson put up 1,032 total yards and scored 11 of his 16 touchdowns. Durability had always been an issue with Jackson during his first two pro seasons but he was on the field for 83 percent of the Rams' offensive downs in 2006. He scored on only one of seven carries from the 1-yard line last season.

*Johnson: Because of the unbelieveable expectations he faced last season because of his fantastic '05 finish after Priest Holmes was injured, Johnson was probably -- and wrongly -- perceived as somewhat of a bust in 2006 even with 1,789 rushing yards and 19 total TDs. He led the NFL with 84 red-zone carries and this is a contract year for him. But he's gotten 824 touches the past two seasons and that heavy workload is definitely a concern.


Will Kane be as able?

What timeline can fantasy hockey owners expect for South Buffalo native Patrick Kane, whom the Chicago Blackhawks made the first pick of the 2007 NHL entry draft?

Seven of the previous 10 overall No. 1 selections were forwards and all seven went immediately into the NHL. Sidney Crosby (drafted in 2005 by Pittsburgh), Alexander Ovechkin (2004, Washington), Rick Nash (2002, Columbus), Ilya Kovalchuk (2001, Atlanta), Patrik Stefan (1999, Atlanta), Vincent Lacavalier (1998, Tampa Bay) and Joe Thornton (1997, Boston) have combined for 1,001 goals, 1,368 assists and 2,369 points in 2,749 career games -- an average of .86 points per contest.

As rookies, they averaged 23 goals, 29 assists and 52 points.


Sprinting doesn't pay

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Todd Coffey, who sprints from the bullpen to the mound each time manager Jerry Narron summons him, isn't using that energy in positive fashion.

First opposing hitters are batting .344 (11 of 32) against him.


Start your engines

In 24 career starts, Jeff Burton's average finish is 13.2 at New Hampshire International Speedway, site of today's Lenox Industrial Tools 300 (2 p.m., TNT). He has four victories on the Loudon track, including one a year from 1997 to 2000.

Burton, who starts 26th today, placed seventh in both of last year's New Hampshire races, including September's Sylvania 300, and is second behind Jeff Gordon in career earnings ($2.116 million) at the track. Burton's average speed of 117.134 mph in capturing the 1997 Lenox race still stands as the track record, by more than 5 mph.


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