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Priest back in fantasy picture; McNabb on the mend

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The name Priest Holmes used to strike fear into the opposition, both on the field and in the world of fantasy football. A versatile veteran who became the heir apparent to Marshall Faulk as the NFL's best running back, Holmes rushed for an impressive 5,933 yards with the Kansas City Chiefs after he signed with the team in 2001. He went on to score what was than an NFL-record 27 total touchdowns in 2003 and found the end zone a total of 66 times from 2002-2004.

 

A serious neck ailment suffered against the San Diego Chargers in October 2005 has kept Holmes off the football field for the better part of the past 22 months. But now he's back in training camp and hopes to make a miraculous comeback.

 

"In order for me to come back, it's going to require discipline, hard work and determination," Holmes told reporters. "One thing that's always been said: Without struggle, there's no purpose. I definitely will struggle in the next four weeks to come back to the level in which you need in order to be back in pads."

 

Holmes' sudden announcement throws a man-sized monkey wrench into what is already an uncertain backfield situation. Larry Johnson, who took over as the starter and became an elite fantasy runner in Holmes' absence, is now in the midst of a contract holdout and seems serious about his stance on a new deal.

 

The longer he holds out, the faster Johnson will fall in the first round of drafts.

 

The one positive is that most of these situations are usually resolved in time for the start of the regular season -- that was true in the cases of Shaun Alexander, Terrell Owens, Javon Walker and Hines Ward in recent seasons -- but for now the L.J. situation and the possible return of Holmes is headline fantasy news.

 

Holmes, who is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, doesn't expect to even put on shoulder pads for a month. Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson said the team would take it slow with Holmes, though the 33-year-old back will have a chance to contribute. But after such an extended absence, it's hard to envision a scenario where Holmes becomes a true statistical factor for owners.

 

In the event that Holmes makes the final 53-man roster and Johnson's holdout extends into the regular season, the Chiefs will look to a backfield committee that includes Holmes, veteran runner Michael Bennett and rookie Kolby Smith. Holmes, Bennett and Smith will be worth middle- to late-round fliers, but none of this trio will make a consistent statistical impact between the white lines.

 

If the past is an indication of the future, it will be Johnson, not Holmes, who is in the Chiefs backfield when the team opens the season vs. the Houston Texans.

 

DONOVAN MCNABB'S KNEE AT "75 PERCENT"

 

The Philadelphia Eagles and fantasy football owners have the same question on their minds with training camps now in full force: Can Donovan McNabb return from an injured knee and find enormous statistical success without setbacks?

 

McNabb believes he can, even if his knee isn't 100 percent.

 

"I'd say it's still about 75 percent," McNabb said. "I haven't tested it yet, but I can do everything I need to do in order to be successful. At 75 percent, I personally feel I can be one of the best quarterbacks in the league."

 

One of the most talented signal-callers in all the NFL, McNabb was an absolute stud for owners last season. He was second in passing yards (2,534) and tied for second in passing touchdowns (17) before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in November game against the Tennessee Titans.

 

It was his third serious ailment in the past five seasons.

 

McNabb missed the final six regular-season contests of 2002 with a broken ankle, the final seven games of 2005 with a sports hernia and the final five contests of last season due to the injured knee. Such a track record will hurt his overall draft value, but McNabb feels he has learned from his health woes.

 

"I came back after my ankle and my groin -- you know how to prepare for it," he said. "Coming into this situation, I know what I have to do once I step on the field: Be patient."

 

McNabb, who knows he must meet both physical and mental challenges with the knee, plans to wear a brace throughout the season as long as it doesn't bother him. That could mean fewer rushing yards (he was on pace for 377 last season), but that won't alter his value much in an offense that leans on the pass attack.

 

Head coach Andy Reid hasn't decided if McNabb will start the team's preseason opener against Baltimore on Aug. 13, but he will not rush his star quarterback onto the field. One thing is for certain: McNabb's first exhibition start will be an important one in the determination of his value, much like Carson Palmer's first 2006 preseason start (a three-touchdown performance vs. Green Bay) eased the minds of owners and made it much easier to risk a prominent selection on him.

 

The definition of a high-risk, high-reward player, McNabb warrants a fourth- to sixth-round choice if his preseason is free of setbacks. However, owners who do take him should also target a viable backup at the position such as Philip Rivers, Tony Romo or Matt Leinart, all of whom could fall into the middle to late rounds.

 

NEWS AND NOTES

 

Adrian Peterson, the No. 7 overall selection in the NFL Draft, signed a five-year, $40.5 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings and is expected to report to training camp this week. While his value does suffer a bit due to the presence of incumbent starter Chester Taylor, Peterson's potential and talents alone will make him a viable No. 3 fantasy back and flex starter in all formats.

 

The latest news on Kellen Winslow could be a cause for concern. The skilled tight end has been limited in his practice time as he continues to recover from a microfracture procedure on his knee, which he admits won't be 100 percent for awhile. He has now endured three knee surgeries in less than two years, and questions about his health could cause him to fall into the late rounds in drafts.

 

While it could be meaningless, it's interesting to note that the Charlotte Observer's projected depth chart for the Carolina Panthers has DeAngelo Williams, not DeShaun Foster, as the team's starting running back. While head coach John Fox is still expected to utilize a committee approach, the former Memphis standout has far more potential than his veteran teammate and remains a tremendous sleeper candidate.

 

Brandon Jackson has shared the first-team offensive carries with Vernand Morency in training camp. The former Nebraska runner could see even more work now that Morency has a minor knee ailment, so be sure to keep tabs on this important roster battle. Head coach Mike McCarthy said he doesn't have a preference between featured back or committee, but Jackson's upside makes him the better fantasy choice.

 

A problematic toe continues to bother Darrell Jackson, who isn't sure when he will be back at 100 percent health. While he has practiced with his new team -- he ran with the 49ers first-team offense at split end -- Jackson's proneness to injuries over his career will no doubt cause him to fall in most drafts. In fact, he could still be on the board in the middle rounds and be had as a borderline No. 2 or 3 fantasy wideout.

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