Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
Are Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor the new Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon?
Huntley and Brinkley. Shaggy and Scooby Doo. "Twilight Zone" reruns and the drunken munchies.
There are some things that just go together, and last year, Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon were one of them. Er, two of them? You get my drift. Anyway, Maroney converted 175 carries into 745 yards and seven scores; Dillon turned 199 carries into 812 yards and 13 touchdowns; and each turned his fantasy owners into psychotic blubbering nincompoops. Until Maroney got hurt late, these two New England backs were a high-powered time-share in the truest sense of the term, and it stank, because by themselves, they'd have been every-week fantasy gold.
Patriots fans won't need to worry about who'll carry the mail for them in '07, as Dillon has gone the way of Matt LeBlanc. But will the same circumstances occur in the Minnesota backfield this season?
Taylor was a nifty fantasy surprise in '07. Long considered a third-down back, Chester Taylor carried it 303 times for 1,216 yards and caught 42 passes for 288 yards. That's full-time-back production from a guy who's 5-foot-11 like you're in the running to be Heidi Klum's gigolo. Nevertheless, the Vikings had University of Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson fall into their laps at No. 7 in April's draft, and (wisely) couldn't pass. Over his final two collegiate seasons, Peterson failed to live up to his Heisman-worthy freshman year (1,925 yards rushing, 15 touchdowns in 2004), but some of that can be attributed to slackening offensive talent around him. And, of course, the rest can be attributed to Peterson's own health problems; he dislocated a shoulder, suffered through a prolonged high-ankle sprain, then broke his collarbone in '06, causing him to miss seven games.
Both these guys will get plenty of touches this season. The quarterback is incredibly green Tarvaris Jackson, and with Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie on the left side of this offensive line, it's an offense built to run. The real questions are: Who'll get the most touches? Will one of these running backs have more value than the other? And can either or both wind up having starter-worthy fantasy value?
My choice to have more value in '07 is Peterson. He's that good. We're talking about Deuce McAllister before the knee injury (although Peterson doesn't have Deuce's receiving hands). Peterson is big (6-foot-2, 218), fast (he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash for scouts) and strong (345-pound bench, 530-pound squat). He's significantly better than Maroney was coming out of college, and look how excited we are about Maroney. And think about it: This isn't a parallel situation. In New England last year, Dillon was able to maintain his fantasy value -- and vulture Maroney's -- because he was the big guy who knew how to get things done in close. That's not the case with the smallish Taylor, who did have a lot of goal-line carries in '06 (15, which put him in the top 10 in the NFL), but still scored only six rushing TDs.
I've no question that the Vikings will begin the year splitting carries between their two primary backs. I just don't think it'll last because there's a natural solution here. Taylor is a quick open-field runner and a very accomplished receiver, which makes him perfect for third down (and first- or second-down long-yardage situations). By midseason, Peterson will be getting twice as many carries from scrimmage as Taylor, although I'm sure Brad Childress will want to keep his rookie as fresh as possible, so no one will get 25 totes in a contest. And when things get close on the goal line, Peterson will be your man, no questions asked.
The bottom line is that unless you're in a point-per-reception league, the Vikings will assign Peterson most of the tasks that earn you fantasy points. He'll carry it most; he'll rack up the most yards; and he'll score the short touchdowns. Taylor will have some value, but nothing like last year's. I have Peterson verging on the top-20 fantasy backs going into training camp, while Taylor probably has to be just outside the top 30. The caveats, of course, are that Peterson has to stay healthy (no sure thing) and that he has to avoid a case of the rookie fumbles. In his three seasons at Oklahoma, Peterson lost only six fumbles, but he dropped it 17 times, often in the open field when he wasn't square to the tackler. That's a potential weakness NFL defenses will test early. Still, this kid's going to be phenomenal. He probably won't get you Dillon's 13 touchdowns from '06, but I daresay that by midseason he'll offer more fantasy consistency (with lower peaks) than either Dillon or Maroney did last year.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.