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Cutler's value on the rise; Titans RB Johnson a strong keeper pick

Which quarterback would you pick first in a seasonal fantasy league, Jay Cutler or Philip Rivers? -- D. Griffith

Michael Fabiano: Both of these young and talented quarterbacks are coming off breakout seasons, but I think the players around Cutler and the offense he'll lead under new coach Josh McDaniels makes him the better option. He threw for 4,526 yards and scored 27 total touchdowns in 2008, and I think he can even improve on those numbers. Cutler also finished seventh among quarterbacks with 200 rushing yards, so he can pull the football down and run with it when needed. Again, it's a close call but I'd keep Cutler.

Career statistics:
Completions: 2,301

Attempts: 3,653

Yards: 26,446

TDs/INTs: 197/86

I'm in a 12-team dynasty league (14-man rosters, PPR, start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 2 FLEX) and need to retain seven players from Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Joseph Addai, Ronnie Brown, Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, Pierre Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, Roddy White and Roy E. Williams. I'm tempted to keep a combination of seven running backs and wide receivers and either release or trade Brady and Rivers. Is this crazy? -- A. Franssen, Richmond, Va.

M.F.: It never hurts to see what you can work out in a trade, but I don't think I'd release Brady back into the pool of available players. Sure, he is coming off major knee surgery and faces months of rehabilitation, but quarterbacks like Rivers and Carson Palmer have come back from similar procudures and found immediate success. Brady is also just 31, so he has a number of productive seasons in his future with New England. The six other players to keep are Brown, Jackson, Johnson, Fitzgerald, Marshall and White. It's a close call between Brown and Thomas, but I think the former will see a spike in numbers for Miami over the next few seasons. Williams could also have more value down the line once Terrell Owens is out of the mix for Dallas, but he's still not more valuable than any of the trio you'll retain in Fitzgerald, Marshall and White.

I need to retain five players from Jay Cutler, Donovan McNabb, Earnest Graham, Steven Jackson, Larry Johnson, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Smith, Cadillac Williams, Braylon Edwards, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne and Tony Gonzalez. I have the No. 7 overall selection in the re-draft, so Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and Tony Romo should be available. Thanks! -- R. Kinley, Canada

M.F.: On the surface I think Cutler, Jackson, Smith, Edwards and Wayne are your five best keepers. However, if you throw Cutler back into the pool of free agents and you're certain to land Manning or Romo (or re-acquire Cutler) in the first round, I would instead retain Jackson, Johnson, Smith, Edwards and Wayne. That would ensure depth at the running back position without sacrificing an elite quarterback. If that's the scenario you ultimately choose, then look to add another wide receiver in the second round.

I drafted Santonio Holmes in the earlier rounds last season thinking he would break out, but that didn't happen until the postseason when he was amazing and won a Super Bowl MVP. Will his postseason success carry over into 2009? Should I keep him? -- G. Bosco

M.F.: I also thought Holmes would break out, so his 821 yards and five touchdowns were a disappointment. The decision to retain or release a player should be based in part on what other options you have on your roster, but I still don't see Holmes as a keeper in most cases. He did have a monster performance in the Super Bowl, but Holmes caught a combined four passes in the previous two postseason games. Furthermore, the last two wideouts to win the Super Bowl MVP (Hines Ward, Deion Branch) both saw a drop in production over the next two seasons. That might not be a legitimate statistical trend, but it's worth noting. Right now, I see Holmes as no more than a No. 2 fantasy wideout.

Hi Michael, great job keeping the fantasy football chatter going during the offseason! I was wondering how you'd rank Le'Ron McClain for 2009 drafts. He's in a run-first offense and could be a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown back if he sees enough carries, but the presence of Willis McGahee and Ray Rice worries me. Is he a great sleeper candidate, or will he frustrate me all season? Thanks! -- J. Vorrasi, Florida

M.F.: There is no offseason in fantasy football at! Thanks for the kind words. McClain was just 98 yards short of being that 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown back you mentioned, but I'm not sure he can surpass those totals next season with Rice and McGahee in the mix. Rice had started to establish himself as the Ravens' third-down back as a rookie, but an injured shin limited his playing time. Still, he's expected to work on his receiving and blocking skills this offseason and could see a greater role in the offense in 2009. Then there's McGahee, who might be the most talented runner of the trio but wasn't 100 percent for most of the 2008 season. While McClain's numbers make him the best fantasy option for next season, I don't see him as more than a No. 3 back or flex starter. Overall, I would rather avoid this three-headed monster altogether.

I'm in a 12-team PPR keeper league and need to retain one player from Drew Brees (Round 2), Chris Johnson (Round 5) or Aaron Rodgers (Round 9). I will lose the round of the player I retain. I also need to retain either Rodgers (Round 10) or Johnson (Round 12) in a standard 12-team keeper league. Notice how I liked Johnson and Rodgers in both drafts? What's your advice? -- R. Tornabene, Cleveland, Ohio

M.F.: Good call on Johnson and Rodgers, but I'd keep the former in both of your leagues. He'll be a steal in your PPR league for a fifth-round selection, and keeping him for a 12th rounder is nothing short of highway robbery in your second league. Johnson is a versatile and explosive runner in a Titans offense that will remain run-heavy in 2009, so I can see him improving on the 43 receptions, 1,488 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns he posted in his rookie season.

I need to keep three players from Drew Brees, Matt Forte, Thomas Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Braylon Edwards and Brandon Marshall. Who should I retain? -- M. Berreau, Benson, Minn.

M.F.: I'd retain Brees, Forte and Lynch. Marshall also warrants serious consideration, especially when you consider Lynch's off-the-field issues, but at the end of the day it's more important to have a secured backfield. With a quarterback and two runners retained, I would focus my attention to the wide receiver position in the first two rounds of the re-draft. Based on your draft position, there's a chance you could even re-acquire Marshall or another elite wideout in either the first or second round.

Regarding scoring systems for defense and special team units, I don't think it's fair that "points against" is affected when a quarterback throws an interception that results in a touchdown. Neither the defense nor the special teams allowed the score. Instead, I would penalize the quarterback two points for the interception and six points for the touchdown. What do you think? -- N. Dorsey, Canada

M.F.: When a turnover occurs, the offense ultimately becomes the defense. If you feel it's not fair to penalize the defense for points allowed for an interception or a recovered fumble that results in a touchdown, you can always discuss a rule change with the commissioner. With our League Manager, the commissioner can alter the points rewarded for each of the defensive categories at the end of the fantasy week. That can be accomplished by going into the Gamecenter area, scroll to the bottom of the page and clicking the red "adjust scoring" link. The commissioner can then adjust the scoring to reflect the rule and include a written reason for the rule change for clarification.

I'm in a PPR keeper league that also rewards points for passing attempts, completions and rushing attempts. I need to keep two players from Jay Cutler, Frank Gore, Tim Hightower, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Marques Colston, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Wayne. Quarterbacks dominate the Top 10 scorers, so Cutler makes the most sense. But what if I had a shot to draft a quarterback that will put up good numbers? I'm stumped! -- J. Bollinger, York, Pa.

M.F.: Cutler had to be an absolute star in this sort of league last season. He was second only to Brees in pass attempts (616) and third to Brees and Kurt Warner in completions (384), and that's before you factor in his yardage and touchdown totals. In a league where quarterbacks are so heavily rewarded, I would be shocked if the elite at the position, a list that includes Brees, Peyton Manning, Romo, Rivers, Rodgers, Brady and Warner, weren't all retained. What's more, giving points for passing completions and attempts would make quarterbacks much more valuable than any other position. As a result, I would keep Cutler (he would have scored close to 1,800 points if completions were rewarded two points and pass attempts one point). I would also retain Chris Johnson, who would have scored close to 500 fantasy points based on this scoring system.

I'm in a 12-team keeper league and need to retain two players from Aaron Rodgers, Frank Gore, Willie Parker and Calvin Johnson. Advice? -- J. Miller, Valparaiso, Ind.

M.F.: Rodgers really improved his overall keeper value after a season with 4,038 passing yards and 32 total touchdowns, but I think you have to release him in favor of Gore and Johnson. The 49ers will use a more run-based offense under new coordinator Jimmy Raye, so Gore should see 20-25 carries a game. He's also one of those rare non-committee backs who will see most carries week in and week out, so Gore remains a valuable asset. Johnson, who might be the most athletic and talented wide receiver in the NFL, is someone I would hold on to in most cases. Even without a consistent quarterback, Megatron still posted 78 receptions, 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

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