IN FANTASYFOOTBALL there are Palmers and there are Peytons. Palmers, whose namesake,Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, is returning after mangling his left knee,are high-risk, high-reward players. But because of either an injury-riddledpast (DeShaun Foster), an insufficient track record (Reggie Bush) or a historyas a head case (Terrell Owens), they keep their fantasy owners up at night. Onthe other hand Peytons--named after everyone's top-rated QB, the Colts' PeytonManning--perform as productively year in and year out as Exxon stock. Moreimportant, you know what you're getting. Every winning fantasy team has a fewPeytons (or Alexanders or Tomlinsons). These are five you should buildaround.
The only player in NFL history with at least 26 touchdown passes in eightstraight seasons
THOUGH HIS 2005numbers (3,747 yards, 28 TDs) dropped off from his statistical bonanza of '04,few quarterbacks have been as consistently great as long as Manning has. The30-year-old has passed for 3,000 yards for eight straight seasons--the thirdlongest such stretch in NFL history--and he has never thrown for fewer than 26TDs in a season. (For comparison, the Seahawks's Matt Hasselbeck has neverthrown for more than 26 touchdowns in a season.) The reasons for Manning'sconsistency? 1) He's durable, having never missed a start in his eight years.2) The Colts' offensive philosophy, directed by nine-year coordinator TomMoore, hasn't changed. 3) Manning has enjoyed stability in his receiver corps,led by 10-year vet Marvin Harrison. Oh, and talent and a dash of dad Archie'sguidance have also had something to do with it.
The first NFL player with 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in thesame season
EVERY YEAR itseems that Barber is coming off a season he can't top. And every year he topsit. In 2003 the shifty, undersized (5'10", 200 pounds) back rushed for1,216 yards. The next year he bumped that up to 1,518, and last year he amazedwith an out-of-nowhere 1,860 yards, plus 530 receiving yards and 11 totaltouchdowns. He's 31 years old, so it's unlikely that his production will jumponce again. (Even Barber has said in training camp that he wouldn't mind hisbackups getting more carries.) But with a careerlong history of running rightover the skeptics, why bet against him? "I keep telling myself there is noway I'll do that again," says Barber, who has not missed a game in the lastfour seasons. "[But] I keep exceeding my own expectations."
Has averaged 26.3 TD passes over the last four seasons; only Manning and BrettFavre have been better
TWO QUARTERBACKShave ranked in the top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns every year since2002. One is Manning. The other is Brady, who has shed his rep as a great"real" quarterback but a fantasy flop (see: Troy Aikman). A starter in78 straight games, Brady has thrown for between 3,620 and 4,110 yards and 23and 28 touchdowns in the last four seasons. That's not just consistent; that'sconsistently terrific. Last year, with running back Corey Dillon battling ankleand knee problems, Brady had arguably his best year. And that came afteroffensive coordinator Charlie Weis left for Notre Dame, proving that Brady willkeep chucking no matter who's calling the plays.
Since December 2003 has not played in more than two straight games without atouchdown catch
KURT WARNER. MarcBulger. Jamie Martin. Ryan Fitzpatrick. It doesn't matter who throws the ballfor the Rams, Holt catches it. The receiver known as Big Game is the onlyplayer in NFL history to have six consecutive seasons with at least 1,300receiving yards. And over the last three years he has never finished with fewerthan nine touchdowns. Granted, it has helped that he has avoided injury (he hasmissed just two games in his career, both last season) and played in formercoach Mike Martz's passing circus. But even as new coach Scott Linehan stressesthe run, the 30-year-old Holt remains the No. 1 target on the Rams. Pencil himin for another 1,300 and nine and rest easy.
More than 1,000 yards from scrimmage in all nine of his pro seasons
CALL HIM TikiLite. Like Barber, Dunn is 31 years old, small (5'9", 180 pounds), shifty,a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield and as dependable as thesunrise. Though not as productive as Barber, Dunn keeps churning out ProBowl--caliber seasons at an age when most other backs fade. Last year he ran280 times for 1,416 yards--both career highs--averaging 5.1 yards per rush asthe main cog in the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense. He also had 11 runs of 20yards or more. T.J. Duckett, a 2002 first-rounder, has been unable to dethroneDunn, who has started 32 straight games. All of which means that you shouldhandle Dunn as the Falcons do: Just plug him in your lineup and watch thepoints roll in.
More Rock-Solid Players
1 - MarvinHarrison WR COLTS
Safety in numbers: seven straight 1,000-yard, 10-TD seasons.
2 - EdgerrinJames RB CARDINALS
Consistency will be tested when he runs behind a suspect offensive line.
3 - Terrell OwensWR COWBOYS
The bad 'Boy would be No. 1 if not for his inflammatory episodes.
4 - Brett FavreQB PACKERS
Green Bay blows, but Favre always throws--for 3,000 yards and 20 TDs.
5 - MattHasselbeck QB SEAHAWKS
Favre's ex-protégé has averaged 3,561 yards over the last three seasons.
6 - Rod Smith WRBRONCOS
He's 36 but continues to produce: eight 1,000-yard seasons in nine years.
7 - CLINTONPORTIS RB REDSKINS
Famous for his weekly alter egos, Portis must just not have been himself in2004 (five rushing TDs), the only subpar season among his four.
8 - Alge CrumplerTE FALCONS
Michael Vick's safety valve is always good for 500 yards and four TDs.
9 - EddieKennison WR CHIEFS
Steady Eddie has had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and keeps improving.
10 - T.J. DuckettRB FALCONS
A goal line back who's valuable in leagues that emphasize TDs.
Soon to Be Rock-Solid
1 - Rudi JohnsonRB BENGALS
Two years ago: 1,454 yards, 12 TDs; last year: 1,458 yards, 12 TDs. That'sconsistency.
2 - LarryFitzgerald WR CARDINALS
Always shows up; in '05 he had either 100 yards or a TD in 12 games.
3 - Antonio GatesTE CHARGERS
New QB? No problem for this chain-moving two-time Pro Bowler.
4 - CHAD JOHNSONWR BENGALS
His Lord of the Dance antics notwithstanding, Johnson is already one of themost reliable players in the league. The only reason he's not in the PeytonManning--Tiki Barber class is that he's only played three years. But what athree years: Since 2003 his yardage totals have been 1,355, 1,274 and 1,432,and his touchdown totals have been 10, nine and nine. Until the sutures inCarson Palmer's left knee prove strong enough to hold it in place, there's alittle doubt surrounding Johnson. But only a little.
5 - BrianWestbrook RB EAGLES
Underutilized by Andy Reid but still a steady producer when called upon.
6 - Anquan BoldinWR CARDINALS
If it weren't for a knee injury in '04, he'd have three straight 1,000-yardseasons.
7 - DomanickDavis RB TEXANS
Though often nicked up, his numbers hardly waver from year to year.
8 - Santana MossWR REDSKINS
A bad hamstring explains the only down year (2004) in his last three.
9 - Reggie WayneWR COLTS
It helps to have the world's most dependable QB throwing to you.
10 - Jason WittenTE COWBOYS
Has at least 65 catches and six TDs in each of the last two seasons.
Get the latest NFL news, plus ratings for all fantasy football positions anddaily injury updates at SI.com/fantasy.
NOT SOLID ...JUST ROCKY
How will this up-and-down trio do? Who knows?
Either he needs to rejoin Derrick Mason or his 2004 (1,247 yards, 11 TDs) wasan aberration.
Great '02. Bad '03. Great '04. Bad '05 (733 yards). Does that mean a great '06?We'll see.
Snake or Fake? Denver dervish had 4,089 yards in '04 but slipped to 3,366 in'05.
AL TIELEMANS (BARBER)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (PLUMMER)
SIMON BRUTY (MANNING)
AL TIELEMANS (BRADY)
BARRY TAYLOR/WIREIMAGE.COM (HOLT)
DAVID BERGMAN (DUNN)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (PORTIS)