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Bush a risk-reward fantasy pick; Owens loses value in Buffalo

Is Terrell Owens still a No. 1 fantasy wide receiver? I have no doubt that his presence will help with value of Trent Edwards and Lee Evans, but I think he's almost certain to see his numbers fall compared to what he had in Philadelphia and Dallas. What do you think? -- E. McCulley

Michael Fabiano: I agree with your assesment of the situation, in that Owens makes Edwards a sleeper and Evans should see fewer double teams from opposing defenses. However, I no longer see T.O. as a No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy football. The Bills aren't about to become a pass-laden offense, and Edwards isn't at the same level as either Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo. Owens has always been known for staying in exceptional physical shape, but at 35 he's no spring chicken, either. I would project T.O. to post 60-70 receptions, 1,000-1,100 yards and around eight touchdowns. He'll be a high-end No. 2 fantasy wideout and should come off the board in the early to middle rounds in most drafts.

Hey Mike, which running backs have the easiest schedules during the fantasy football postseason (Weeks 14-16)? Thanks! -- R. Anderson, Jersey City, N.J.

M.F.: Checking out the late-season NFL schedule can be helpful in determining player values, but I would take it with a grain of salt. Defensive effectiveness can rise and fall from one season to the next, so what looks like a good matchup now during the offseason might not be so favorable when the actual games are games. The Jets ranked 29th against the run in 2007, for example, but offseason moves helped them rise to seventh last season.

With that said, the running backs with the best matchups for the fantasy postseason include Larry Johnson (BUF, CLE, CIN), Julius Jones (HOU, TB, GB), Thomas Jones (TB, ATL, IND), Frank Gore (ARI, PHI, DET), Jamal Lewis (PIT, KC, OAK), Darren McFadden (WAS, DEN, CLE), Knowshon Moreno (IND, OAK, PHI), Steve Slaton (SEA, STL, MIA) and Chris Wells (SF, DET, STL).

I'm in a PPR keeper league and need to retain three players from Jay Cutler, Kevin Smith, Calvin Johnson and Roddy White. I think Johnson is a no-brainer and I'm leaning toward White as well. My real dilemna is between Cutler and Smith. What would you do? -- J. Rolston, New York

M.F.: Unless your league's scoring system favors quarterbacks, I'd release Cutler and keep Smith. That might not have been the case had Cutler remained in Denver, but he loses some of his luster -- in seasonal leagues and keeper leagues -- as a member of the Bears. Smith showed flashes of potential and finished his rookie season on high note, putting up 291 rushing yards and three touchdowns in his final three starts. I also like his upside under new coordinator Scott Linehan, who should utilize Smith as his featured back. With Smith, Johnson and White on the roster, I would focus on taking another running back and a quarterback in the first two to three rounds of the re-draft.

Can you help me understand why Reggie Bush is ranked so low among running backs? Will Pierre Thomas cut into his production that much, or are you just concerned about his knee problems? Also, what are your thoughts on Marques Colston? Thanks! -- G. Blose, Dayton Beach, Fla.

M.F.:'s running back rankings are based on a standard scoring system that does not reward points for receptions, which is the reason Bush didn't crack the top 25. He'll have much more value in PPR formats. However, the fact that he's missed 10 games over the last two seasons doesn't endear him to fantasy owners, regardless of the scoring system. Bush is also coming off microfracture knee surgery, which was performed in December. He said he's about 75 percent recovered from the procedure and feels like he's ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation, but he'll be limited in the Saints' organized team activities.

The presence of Thomas doesn't hurt Bush's stock a ton, simply because the Southern California product has always shared carries at the NFL level. Bush's skill sets are also different than those of Thomas, so he'll still see plenty of opportunties to produce as a runner and receiver. Bush, the epitome of a risk-reward back, will be worth a middle-round pick in standard leagues. Colston, who is coming off an arthroscopic knee procedure, will also be limited in OTAs but is less of an injury risk than Bush. In an offense that boasts Drew Brees and will continue to throw the football a ton under coach Sean Payton, Colston should be seen as a low-end No. 1 fantasy wideout in 2009.

I'm in a PPR keeper league that allows us to retain between two and four players per season. However, we lose a fourth-round pick if we keep three players and all four of our top picks if we retain four players. I'm definitely keeping Steven Jackson and Steve Slaton. My remaining options are Ben Roethlisberger, Bernard Berrian, Brandon Marshall, Chad Ochocino and Wes Welker. Should I keep one or two of these players or re-draft in the third and fourth rounds? I have the fifth overall pick. -- R. Keller, Mesa, Ariz.

M.F.: Much depends on the size of the league (10 teams, 12 teams, etc.), but I would retain Marshall and Welker based on the PPR format. Marshall's stock has fallen a bit after the loss of Jay Cutler and a potential league-imposed suspension, but he's still one of the league's most talented young receivers. Marshall is also likely to be taken in the third or fourth round in seasonal formats, so you're not losing any value based on draft position. The same holds true for Welker, who's an absolute machine in PPR formats. Welker has 223 catches over the past two seasons, and the healthy return of Tom Brady does nothing but enhance his value. You'll want to target a quarterback in either the fifth or sixth round, depending on the flow of the re-draft, but you should be able to do better than Roethlisberger as your regular starter.

I'm in a 12-team PPR keeper league and have decided to retain Michael Turner, but I'm thinking about trading him for three reasons. First, the Falcons have a very tough schedule. Second, Jerious Norwood is rumored to get more carries next season. Third, Turner isn't involved in the passing game. With that said, do you still think Turner is a top-10 PPR runner? Which backs would you rank ahead of him? -- M. Omohundro, Bloomington, Ind.

M.F.: Turner is most definitely a top-10 fantasy runner in PPR formats. Despite the fact that he caught just six passes last season, the Burner still finished in the top five at his position in most leagues that rewarded points for catches. While the Falcons will look to decrease his workload next season, Turner is in no danger of losing significant carries to Norwood. He'll remain a featured back, one of the few around the league, and that makes him even more of an asset. If you're like me, you'll temper your expectations for Turner in 2009, but a season with around 1,500 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns is well within reach. The backs I'd draft ahead of Turner in a PPR league are Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Maurice Jones-Drew. Chris Johnson is also close in value to Turner based on his skills as a receiver out of the backfield.

I can retain either Dwayne Bowe (Round 8) or Kevin Smith (Round 14), but I lose the round of the player I retain. Please help! -- J. White, Canada

M.F.: As much as I like Bowe as a potential breakout candidate next season, I'd still retain Smith ahead of him based on the fact that he's a better bargain for a 14th-round selection. As I mentioned above, Smith is in a good situation to succeed with the Lions and should see increased yardage production in his second NFL season.

Michael, I just read your blog about the trade rumors surrounding Thomas Jones. Why would you project Shonn Greene to be the starter ahead of Leon Washington? Why would he not be a starter over an unproven rookie? Thanks. -- M. Bruneel, Canada

M.F.: Much like Darren Sproles, Washington is more of a running back specialist than a starter. He's far better suited to coming off the sidelines, serving as a chance-of-pace back and pass catcher out of the backfield. Greene, a viable sleeper in fantasy circles, is a better fit for the top spot on the depth chart. Sure, he has a lot to prove at the NFL level, but the Jets liked him enough to trade away their third, fourth, and seventh-round picks in April's draft to move up eleven spots in the third round to select the Iowa product. The Men in Green wouldn't have made that sort of move for someone who they projected as a reserve. Of course, all of this chatter might be moot with news that Jones will return to the Jets after an initial boycott of voluntary team sessions.

I'm in a PPR keeper league and can retain up to five players. I plan to keep Drew Brees, Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Andre Johnson, but I need to choose between Clinton Portis and Brandon Marshall. There's been no word on Marshall's suspension, so I'm thinking it could be minor. Portis is a featured back, and those are hard to find. Your thoughts? -- B. Brink, Washington

M.F.: Portis is a bit of risk to break down physically after a season with 342 carries and numerous injuries down the stretch, but I'd still retain him ahead of Marshall. As you mentioned, true featured backs are hard to find in this day and age of backfield committees. You can never have too much depth at the running back position, especially if your league requires you to start two running backs and a flex player. I would target a wide receiver in the first round of the re-draft -- who knows, you might be able to get Marshall back if you have a favorable draft position. You should then go after a quarterback and a third wideout, based on the draft flow.

Which of three players will be the best No. 2 fantasy back in 2009: Ronnie Brown, Kevin Smith or Pierre Thomas? Thanks! -- J. Vorrasi, Florida

M.F.: These three runners are very similar in value, but I'd take Brown in what I think will be a productive season. He has one full season under his belt after ACL surgery and will be motivated to produce good numbers in a contract year. Brown should also be able to handle a greater workload than the 214 carries he touted in 2008. In fact, I can see him finishing with closer to 250 attempts over a full season. Look for Brown to come off the board as high as the second round in some larger leagues.

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