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.
When Dominic Rhodes returns from his suspension, will LaMont Jordan still be a featured back?
Some might consider this question the fantasy football equivalent of "if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" It isn't. The Raiders of yesteryear are gone. Gone are Aaron Brooks, Randy Moss and Art Shell. Here are Lane Kiffin, Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell (eventually), Dominic Rhodes and Michael Bush. And -- not to be underestimated -- Robert Gallery has switched positions. These Raiders are different, even if they still project to be among the weaker teams in the NFL.
LaMont Jordan has been the ultimate fantasy tease. For years he displayed flashes of brilliance as he languished, buried behind Curtis Martin in New York. Finally in 2005, he escaped the future first-ballot Hall of Famer's shadow and landed a five-year contract with the Raiders, which all but assured him of the starting gig he so desperately craved. In his first season with Oakland, he produced a 1,588-yard, 11-touchdown season. Finally his time had come, leading many to eagerly select Jordan as their first pick in 2006 fantasy drafts. Jordan's 2006 campaign can be described only as abominable. Nine games, 508 total yards and only two touchdowns are not what owners expected when they selected Jordan. Thus began the fantasy football community's distaste of Jordan.
While Jordan and the rest of the Raiders were busy disappointing last year, Indianapolis Colt Dominic Rhodes recaptured some old glory by posting a solid 892 total yards and five scores despite being limited by being in a time-share with rookie Joseph Addai. Rhodes had performed well in the past, specifically in 2001 when he filled in for an injured Edgerrin James and scored 186 fantasy points. Perhaps it was because of these two years that the Raiders offered him a free-agent contract. Instantly, fantasy owners began warming to the idea of the surprising Rhodes replacing the disappointing Jordan. That excitement cooled when it was announced that Rhodes would be suspended for the first four games of this season due to a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
While training camp repetitions are being pretty evenly split, by virtue of having no competition for the first four weeks, Jordan will open the season as the Raiders' clear No. 1 running back. So, what are the prospects for Jordan actually surprising the fantasy community and posting good numbers? In my opinion, they are excellent. In Week 1, Jordan draws the habitually-unable-to-stop-the-run Detroit Lions who finished 21st in the league in terms of rushing yards allowed last season. In Week 3, Jordan will feast on the similarly-challenged Cleveland Browns, who finished 29th out of the 32 teams in that same stat. Those are two games in which Jordan could easily post a combined 275 total yards and three scores. Couple in two decent performances against the middle-of-the-pack run defenders known as the Denver Broncos and better-than-average rush stoppers, the Miami Dolphins, and through four games, Jordan could easily have 425 yards and four scores. That's a pace for 1,700 yards and 16 scores.
While the Raiders' scheduled bye in Week 5 certainly will give Rhodes a shot to earn playing time as he'll have two full weeks to get back in the mix, Rhodes' first opponent will be the run-dominating defense of the San Diego Chargers. It'll be extremely hard for Rhodes to push Jordan out of the mix against them, and the next three games for Jordan -- Kansas City, Tennessee and Houston -- are a fantasy owner's dream. By this point, Jordan should be looking at 800 total yards and seven or more touchdowns. Those numbers -- through the first eight games -- means this is Jordan's job as long as he can stay healthy.
Are there reasons to be concerned about LaMont? Sure, his injuries and a new coach should raise questions. A torn MCL definitely isn't what you look for in a starting running back. However, that injury did not require surgery to correct, so his bounce back time is less than others who have gone under the knife to fix similar ailments. What you should be looking for to evaluate the impact the injury might have this year are signs of his explosiveness. In an Aug. 18 preseason loss to the 49ers, Jordan was fantastic: He rushed for 67 yards and a score.
New head coach Kiffin is a question mark himself. However, he already has made at least one decision that should help Jordan, and that's the move of Gallery from tackle to guard. Gallery was perhaps one the biggest offensive lineman busts in the history of the NFL draft and Kiffin was smart enough to move him to a position of less importance. That alone should result in more first downs, which translates into more opportunities for Jordan. Furthermore, Kiffin displayed the creativity you want to see from an offensive mastermind during his days at USC. He found ways to get the ball to his playmakers there, and Jordan is one of them here.
So, no, this definitely isn't a tree falling in a forest. This is opportunity knocking. Jordan's average draft position places him in the seventh or eighth round, depending on the size of your league. His potential is phenomenal, even if he did disappoint many last season. You are buying this year's version of Jordan and the Raiders, not the Art Shell-coached 2006 version. Jordan is a steal, don't hesitate to take him. And for Rhodes, well, let him be someone else's disappointment.
Ken Daube is a senior columnist for talentedmroto.com and fantasy football expert for ESPN.com. You can email him at KenDaube@talentedmrroto.com