Mike, I see that you have the Ravens defenses ranked No. 6, but other sites have it ranked closer to No. 2 with just about every site listing the Steelers as the top defense in fantasy football. Why do you have the Ravens ranked so much lower? Also, why do defenses generally fall into the later rounds? -- R. Shoults, Manchester, N.H.
Michael Fabiano: Predicting the fantasy value of most defenses -- even the Ravens -- can be a difficult task. Remember, the purple and black actually finished 26th in fantasy points among defenses on NFL.com in 2007 before improving to third last season. Players like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed remain, but the team will have a new look after losing coordinator Rex Ryan, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard to the New York Jets. Greg Mattison takes over as coordinator, and cornerback Fabian Washington moves into a starting role after the release of Chris McAlister. Lewis and Reed aren't getting any younger, either. As a result, I moved this unit down a few spots but still at a prominent sixth among defense. I'd rather take a defense like the Steelers, Giants, Vikings or even the Jets, who could breakout for fantasy owners.
Hey Mike, keep up the great work. Here are some of my bold predictions for the 2009 season: 1. Brandon Jacobs will play a full slate of games and become a top-5 pick in 2010 drafts; 2. Pierre Thomas will be the next Michael Turner and a top-10 fantasy back by season's end; 3. Vincent Jackson will become the next yearly top-10 wide receiver. I see him surpassing last season's totals (1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns is feasible) and becoming the go-to guy in San Diego; 4. Tom Brady and Randy Moss will return to the top of their respective positions -- I can see Brady throwing 40 touchdowns and Moss catching 20 of them; 5. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ochocinco will both re-emerge as No. 1 fantasy receivers; 6. Felix Jones will gain 1,000 yards and score at least eight touchdowns in a Chris Johnson-type role for Dallas. -- N. Traicoff, Boston, Mass.
M.F.: Good stuff -- I'm not sure I agree on Jacobs and Jackson, though. Jacobs is expected to see more carries after the loss of Derrick Ward, but he was often hurt when he was splitting carries. He is more of a high-end No. 2 fantasy back. Jackson is more of a No. 2 fantasy wideout than an elite option. Thomas is a nice breakout candidate, but whether or not he can match what Turner did last season (1,699 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns) while in a committee with Reggie Bush is questionable. As for Brady and Moss, there's no doubt that both have a chance to return to the top of their positions. I also think Ochocinco could turn into a nice draft value. Jones, a fantasy sleeper on NFL.com, could be undervalued as well but needs to avoid injuries to make an impact.
I'm in a 10-team PPR league with the No. 6 overall pick in the re-draft. I need to retain three players from Drew Brees, Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith and Roddy White. I wish I could keep them all! Who would you retain? I'm edging toward Brees, Gore and Johnson. Please help! -- N. DeStefano, Canada
M.F.: I'd have to agree with your first instinct and retain Brees, Gore and Johnson. That gives you an elite quarterback and wide receiver, not to mention a featured back who can catch the ball out of the backfield, to build the rest of your team around. Since you're in a smaller league, you should be able to add a No. 2 runner and a No. 2 wideout in the first two rounds of the re-draft without much of a problem. You might even be able to re-acquire one or more of Portis, Smith or White.
Hi Mike, love the column! I won my second championship last season with lots of help from you! Anyways, here are some of my bold predictions for next season: 1. Larry Fitzgerald will finish no better than fifth among wide receivers. Call it the Madden curse or whatever, but Kurt Warner is getting older, the schedule will be tougher and the running game will be better with Chris Wells; 2. Dallas Clark will lead all tight ends in touchdowns. With Marvin Harrison gone, Reggie Wayne seeing double coverage and Anthony Gonzalez expected to break out, I think Clark will be a real factor. He could finish with around 750 yards and 10 touchdowns; 3. Tony Romo won't score more than 25 touchdowns. The Cowboys will run the ball more often next season, and losing your No. 1 wide receiver is never easy. Thanks for hearing me out! -- P. Doukas, Canada
M.F.: While I'm not the most superstitious person in the world, I do like to mess around with curses, hexes and give the readers something to think about. Fitzgerald is the consensus top wide receiver in fantasy football, but he has to contend with the Madden and Super Bowl curses next season. If Warner, who is almost 40, suffers a long-term ailment, Fitzgerald's numbers could easily disappoint. I can see Clark leading all tight ends in touchdowns -- he did it two seasons ago -- and I agree with your prediction about Romo. I think he can post around 25 total touchdowns but not much more in what will be a more run-laden offense with Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice in the backfield. It will be interesting to see what new wrinkles coordinator Jason Garrett adds to get this trio more involved in the offensive attack.
Which fantasy players are in contract years and need to perform? I think that makes a huge difference, but it's usually hard to find information online. -- B. Tremblay, Canada
M.F.: Our 2009 draft kit includes tons of information to help you dominate your fantasy football league, including a list of some of the more prominent players who are entering contract years. There are a ton of good wide receivers slated to become free agents in 2010, a list that includes Antonio Bryant, Braylon Edwards, Vincent Jackson, Greg Jennings, Brandon Marshall and Roddy White. Other big-names that will be in a contract year include Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ronnie Brown and Willie Parker.
Michael, I'm getting ready to start my first year as a fantasy football writer. I have a B.A. in journalism and would love to get your advice on how I can eventually get where you are in fantasy football. I have written a few columns, but I would love to fine tune my work before I submit it to the big companies. Thanks in advance for the help! -- J. Locklear
M.F.: I get a lot of emails from readers wanting advice on how to become a fantasy football analyst, so here's how I broke into the business. While working for a company in Southport, Connecticut just to pay the bills, I started writing daily sports columns for small websites that allowed amateur writers to get some exposure. The site I used the most was called e-sports.com, but there are several option on the internet. I built up a mailing list via friends, family, word of mouth, etc., and sent out an email to everyone on the list when I posted a new column. Back then I wrote about everything from Bobby Knight's bad behavior at Indiana to the rise of Tiger Woods. Once I was confident enough in my writing skills, I started to submit writing examples and resumes. Luckily, I ended up getting two interviews with CBS SportsLine.com and eventually was hired as a fantasy writer with COMMISSIONER.com, which was the site that built the earlier versions of SportsLine's fantasy products.
Along with working on your writing skills, building a following and trying to get your name out there via writing examples, resumes, etc., it's also important to network. I don't think I'd be where I am today if it wasn't for the relationships I've built in the business with people like Jay Glazer, Brent Jones and Jim Nantz. It does take time and the process can be difficult at times (believe me, I was ready to give up on my dreams more than once), but with hard work, commitment and enthusiasm for your trade, you can accomplish the goals you've set for yourself.
Here's some bold predictions for you: 1. Roy E. Williams will be a top-10 fantasy wideout. He's had time to learn the system in Dallas and doesn't have the distraction of Terrell Owens; 2. T.O. will be no better than a No. 2 fantasy receiver. He's older and doesn't have the same talent at quarterback as he's had in the past; 3. I'd avoid drafting anyone from the Seattle Seahawks, even T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The team has no running game and Matt Hasselbeck isn't getting any younger; 4. Kevin Smith has huge potential and could rush for 1,100 yards and around nine touchdowns; 5. Michael Crabtree will make a huge impact. They're in a weak division and have a solid running game. He won't be Jerry Rice, but he'll be a productive fantasy player. Thanks for your time. -- N. Tetreault, Rhode Island
M.F.: I'm not sure if Williams will be a top-10 wideout, but I do think he'll be more valuable than people think. He's motivated to prove that he was worth the high trade price the Cowboys paid for him and should have a much better rapport with Tony Romo heading into next season. I agree on Owens, but I'd still draft Houshmandzadeh as a high-end No. 2 fantasy wideout. Smith will put up good numbers for the Lions. Crabtree won't post more than 800 yards in his rookie season. The 49ers should have an improved running game, but their run-based offense and a crowded core of wide receivers will limit his overall rookie impact.
I was wondering what you thought of Donovan McNabb's fantasy value for next season now that he has a new contract and better weapons. Thanks! -- M. Kaplan, Philadelphia, Pa.
M.F.: The Eagles are going to the throw the football, so McNabb will always have a chance to produce. His problems have always been injuries and a lack of consistent production, both of which have frustrated fantasy owners and made McNabb a bit of a risk in drafts. He does have the most talent around him since Terrell Owens was with the team, though, so the veteran quarterback will be worth a middle-round selection as a low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback. Barring injuries, McNabb should throw for between 3,700-4,000 yards with 20-25 total touchdowns next season.
Here are some of my bold predictions for the 2009 fantasy football season: 1. Terrell Owens will be a top-five fantasy scorer; 2. Tom Brady will double Peyton Manning's point production; 3. Matt Forte will be the top-scoring running back in fantasy football; 4. The value of Jason Witten will plummet; 5. LaDainian Tomlinson and Clinton Portis will both be busts. -- M. Granville, Mishawaka, Ind.
M.F.: I don't agree with your predictions on Owens and Brady (it would take a Manning injury for the Patriots quarterback to double his production), but I can see a scenario where Forte becomes the top scorer among running backs. I'm a fan of Witten and think he'll be the top tight end in fantasy football next season. As for L.T. and Portis, I think your opinion is warranted based on factors like age, carries, injuries and the overall wear and tear both backs have endured during their careers.
M.F.: Both players are good bargains based on their dollar values, but keep Rivers ahead of Jackson. Rivers is coming off a huge season, posting career bests in both passing yards (4,009) and touchdowns (34), and he's clearly going to be featured in the Chargers offense long after Tomlinson leaves.