Fantasy mailbag: Wayne's a definite keeper in 2008

I'm in a keeper league that allows us to retain three players, but we lose the round of the players we hold. I have Adrian Peterson (first round), Randy Moss (third round), Reggie Wayne (fourth round) and Jamal Lewis (fifth round). I realize A.P. and Moss are no-brainers, but I'm not sure about Wayne and Lewis because the better running backs will be retained. I would have to wait until the fourth pick in the second round to take a No. 2 back if I retain Wayne. Help me out man! -- N. Goldberg, Canada

Michael Fabiano: I realize the concern in terms of the No. 2 back, but Wayne is too valuable to release. Lewis was solid last season and ranks as a high-end No. 2 fantasy runner. However, it's important to keep in mind that there is an absolute slew of rookie backs that will be available in the re-draft (Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Forte, Kevin Smith, Rashard Mendenhall, Felix Jones,Chris Johnson), not to mention other backs in committee situations that could be released. Backs have also lost some luster in fantasy land after last season, so you could be shocked to find that there will be more options available when it's your turn to draft in the second round.

I'm in a 12-team keeper league that retains four players with a maximum of two per position. My best keepers are Marion Barber, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, Andre Johnson and Randy Moss. Since I have depth at running back, what sort of draft pick can I expect to receive in a possible trade? There are three teams in our league that need to upgrade at the position. To give you some examples of previous trades, Reggie Wayne was dealt for a third-round selection and Kellen Winslow was dealt for a fourth rounder last season. -- M. Grant

M.F.: I always promote the concept of trading from depth to improve a weaker part of your team, and I think you can land a second- or third-round selection for either Jones-Drew or Turner. Also remember that all's fair in love and fantasy football, so it's smart to target (aka take advantage of) fellow teams and owners that are in dire straits at a position you have depth in headed into to re-draft.

Michael, I just read your article on the all-time rookie fantasy running backs. Loved it! But what about Fred Taylor? He had 1,223 rushing yards, 421 receiving yards and 17 total touchdowns! Keep up the good work! -- S. Kim

M.F.: Great call on Taylor! In fact, I had Taylor and Terrell Davis on a fantasy team in Taylor's rookie season and took home that league's championship based on their success. The Florida product was an absolute beast in his rookie season and became a lock first-round selection in 1999, but he missed six games due to injuries. He bounced back in 2000 with 1,399 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns; then he missed most of the 2001 season due to injuries and burned owners once again. That proneness to long-term ailments made him a risk-reward draft choice for most of his career and spawned the nickname "Fragile Fred" in fantasy football circles.

What sort of value will Tarvaris Jackson has in 2008? I'm a hugh Minnesota Vikings fan out here in Australia. Thanks for your help mate! -- B. Maxwell, Australia

M.F.: Jackson showed some flashes of potential in the second half of last season and now has Bernard Berrian in the pass attack, but Minnesota will be more of a run-based team and focus its offense on Peterson and Chester Taylor. While I can see Jackson's numbers improving over his 2007 totals, I don't think he'll be anything more than a fantasy reserve. Should Jackson continue to make bad decisions, though, don't be shocked if head coach Brad Childress turns to his newest addition, John David Booty. The USC product could be an upgrade over current No. 2 quarterback Gus Frerotte and has some long-term potential in Childress' West Coast offense.

I'm in a keeper league and need to retain either Ronnie Brown or Maurice Jones-Drew. Suggestions? -- L. Moriak

M.F.: Jones-Drew has been to the NFL Network studios this offseason, and I still can't believe I'm taller than him. Anyways, the smallish runner out of UCLA plays much bigger than his 5-foot-7 frame and is a bit more valuable than Brown in keeper leagues. Brown was on pace to produce career numbers last season, but a torn ACL landed him on the sidelines. He now has to regain both mental and physical confidence in the knee, so Brown could have a slow start to the 2008 season. Even into the forseeable future, it's hard not to like the durable Jones-Drew and his 24 career touchdowns more than Brown, who has nine fewer scores in one more pro season.

Offensive lines are very important for running back success. Can you rank the top offensive lines for 2008? -- B. Brink, Lynden, Mass.

M.F.: Earlier in the offseason, I examined the top offensive lines in both the AFC and NFC based on their team's 2007 numbers. Overall the top five lines in the league were 1. New England, 2. Green Bay, 3. Dallas, 4. Jacksonville, 5. Cleveland, 6. Indianapolis, 7. San Diego, 8. Minnesota, 9. Denver and 10. Tampa Bay.

I'm in a 12-team PPR keeper league and can retain seven players. I plan to keep Drew Brees, Steven Jackson, Clinton Portis, Plaxico Burress, Marques Colston and Brandon Marshall, but I need to choose one more from Eli Manning, Edgerrin James and Todd Heap. I'm leaning towards Manning but I'm not sure about the decision. I could also look to make a trade with Manning and James. What do you think? -- J. H., Austin, Texas

M.F.: I would look to trade Manning and James if you can make a favorable deal, but I wouldn't retain Manning with Brees on the roster. I realize his value has increased tenfold after his impressive postseason run and Super Bowl championship, but Manning has a little more to prove before I rank him with the elite players at his position. After all, he did throw a career-high 20 interceptions and failed to record multiple touchdowns in 63 percent of regular-season starts. His lack of production down the stretch also killed fantasy owners in their quest for a championship.

Rather than retain Manning, I'd hold onto to Heap and secure the tight end spot. He did fail to meet expectations in 2007, but I think he'll bounce back and have a solid season in Baltimore under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. A former coordinator in San Diego, Cameron knows how to utilize the tight end in his offense. Just ask fantasy owners who had Antonio Gates in Cameron's tenure with the team.

How did Adrian Peterson not make your list of the top rookie running backs of all time? -- J. Baldauff, Canton, Ohio

M.F.: Peterson was without question one of the most productive rookie runners of all time, but his 238 fantasy points fell 14 points short of Marshall Faulk's rookie total of 252 points, set in 1994. Had he not injured his knee and missed two contests, A.P. would have projected to score 272 fantasy points based on his final numbers. That would have put him right in the middle of his fellow rookie backs based on our research.

I was checking out your mock draft and was curious to know why you drafted Shaun Alexander in the eighth round. He was still with Seattle at the time and had little value. Also, why draft a fifth running back or wide receiver before a top-five kicker and defense?! -- D. Hammes

M.F.: I would rather have not taken Alexander, but I needed a third runner and he was one of the lone backs on the board with a chance to start. Now a free agent, Alexander is expected to land with a team that is set to use a backfield committee approach. In fact, there's been talk that he could land with his hometown Cincinnati Bengals and be paired with fellow veteran Rudi Johnson in a move that would hurt both of their values.

In terms of the kicker and defense, I will never draft one outside of the final three rounds. It's close to impossible to gauge the value of kickers and defenses from one season to the next. In fact, most fantasy footballers will find one on the waiver wire that comes out of nowhere to produce solid numbers. That happened last season with Nick Folk, Mason Crosby, Rob Bironas, and the Seattle and Tampa Bay defensive units.

What are your thoughts about Darius Walker? I don't see him in your Top 70 running backs or in the most recent mock draft. I have him in a keeper league and now I'm not sure he's even worth a roster spot. What gives? -- A. Freeman, Canada

M.F.: Walker did perform well in limited time last season, but Houston has added Chris Brown and rookie Steve Slaton to a roster that also fields Ahman Green and Chris Taylor. The Houston Chronicle expects Slaton to become the team's third-down back, and Walker had no chance to be featured ahead of Green or Taylor. With nothing set in the team's backfield, I'd avoid all of these backs until the middle to late rounds. I do love Taylor and his potential in Houston's run-blocking scheme, but even he isn't worth more than a late-round flier in those leagues with 12-plus teams.

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