Despite risk, Gore still has first-round fantasy value

Is Frank Gore still a viable No. 1 fantasy running back? -- ColinJones2 (via Twitter)

Michael Fabiano: I think so. There is some risk involved with Gore, based on the fact that he's missed a total of seven games over the last two years due to injuries. But look at the positives -- he's a true featured back (which is rare in the NFL these days), versatile, talented and has one of the most favorable schedules in the league among running backs. Gore would have projected to finish in the top six in fantasy points at his position last season based on his totals in 11 starts. We have him ranked ninth at his position on NFL.com.

Which two players should I retain in a 10-team keeper league from Michael Vick, Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Andre Johnson, Hakeem Nicks and DeSean Jackson? -- JamesMaguire21 (via Twitter)

M.F.: You have some terrific options, so look at the scoring system to make a final decision. On the surface, Vick and Foster look like the best options based on their age and current value. Of course, Johnson would have increased value if the league is a PPR format. But again, Vick and Foster are likely going to be your best bets.

What sort of impact do you expect Jacoby Ford to make this season? -- OliverProbert (via Twitter)

M.F.: Ford, who has drawn some comparisons to Carolina's Steve Smith, is definitely a player to watch in fantasy land. Coach Hue Jackson has stated this offseason that he wants to get the ball into Ford's hands more often, due in large part to his explosive skill set and playmaking ability. I don't think he'll emerge into a truly elite option among wideouts, but Ford is certainly a player who could turn into a potential No. 3 option or flex starter in larger leagues -- especially those that reward points to players for return yards and touchdowns.

Would you still draft a running back in the first round, even with all of the quarterbacks who rack up big points? -- Stephen433 (via Twitter)

M.F.: I see no point in taking a quarterback in the earlier rounds when, as you mentioned, there are so many good options. In 2010, 11 signal-callers scored 230-plus fantasy points. Josh Freeman, a late-round pick, scored 10.76 fewer fantasy points than Drew Brees. Based on the numbers from his 12 starts, Ben Roethlisberger also would have outscored Brees. The position will be even deeper this season, as Tony Romo will return and Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow could all develop into legitimate fantasy starters. When you couple the quarterback depth with the lack of true featured running backs and elite wide receivers, why take a quarterback early when you can get great value in Rounds 3-5? More than likely, I'm still going with a runner in Round 1.

With Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson likely to have rookie quarterbacks under center, does it make sense to draft Foster, Jamaal Charles or Ray Rice instead? -- TXSaint (via Twitter)

M.F.: Honestly, I don't see Christian Ponder or Jake Locker starting for their respective teams as rookies. The Vikings are almost certain to add a veteran -- Donovan McNabb and Vince Young have been mentioned as possibilities. I feel the same way about the Titans, who could sign someone like Matt Hasselbeck or bring back Kerry Collins. But if the scenarios you describe do come to fruition, I still wouldn't pass on A.D. or CJ2K. Sure, playing with a rookie quarterback will mean more stacked fronts. But defenses have been doing that to great running backs forever, and I think Peterson and Johnson are talented and versatile enough to make plays regardless. The fact that both runners have cupcake schedules is another reason not to pass on them, even if Ponder and Locker are under center in Week 1.

Which quarterback do you think will have the best season in 2011: Sam Bradford, Matt Cassel or Matthew Stafford? -- xXLT24Xx (via Twitter)

M.F.: I'd have to go with Stafford, just based on upside alone. He showed flashes of brilliance last season, throwing for 452 yards with six touchdowns in his two full starts. Unfortunately, he missed almost the entire year with a shoulder injury — his second in two seasons. On a positive note, reports indicate he's looked sharp at recent workouts with teammates. While that makes him a risk-reward option in fantasy land, Stafford has breakout candidate written all over him. With a ton of talent at his disposal, none more prominent than Calvin Johnson, I can envision a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown season in 2011. If he can avoid the trainer's room, Stafford is going to be a draft-day bargain.

When would you hold a fantasy football draft, considering the current state of the league? Also, will Mark Ingram or A.J. Green be the first rookie off the board? -- bwillyonefive (via Twitter)

M.F.: Regardless of the lockout, there's no reason to have a draft until August at the earliest. In fact, I prefer to wait until a week or two before the regular season starts if at all possible. Sure, the excitement of having the draft is hard to pass up in July -- but injuries happen, depth charts change and player values adjust during training camp and into the preseason. Look at Foster, who went from being in a competition with Ben Tate for the top spot in Houston to being the unquestioned starter and valued as an early-round pick when the rookie went down with an injury. If you really have that draft itch, you can always participate in mock drafts on NFL.com starting in July. To answer your second question, I think Ingram will be taken far higher than Green. In fact, Ingram and Daniel Thomas will both be worth a middle-round selection in drafts. I talked about Thomas and other rookies earlier this week on "The Finsiders" show. Green, on the other hand, is more of a middle- to late-rounder whose value hinges on the Bengals' quarterback situation.

With an abbreviated training camp a possibility, is it going to be more difficult to project which rookies will make an impact? -- scott8871 (via Twitter)

M.F.: The potential for a shortened camp and/or preseason is going to have a big effect on rookie quarterbacks, who will have far less time to learn the playbook. However, I don't think it will have as much of an effect on running backs. We've seen it throughout the history of the league -- if a rookie is going to make an instant impact, chances are it's going to be a running back. There's far less of a learning curve at the position. Quarterbacks need to learn a playbook the size of "War and Peace," educate themselves on pro-style defenses and how to successfully read defenses and use audibles to their advantage. Wide receivers will also be affected, to a lesser degree, but there isn't a rookie wideout worth a prominent spot in 2011 seasonal drafts.

I'm an Eagles fan, and I'm considering taking LeSean McCoy with the No. 3 overall pick in out PPR league. Is this a homer pick ... or a strong one? -- bagz5 (via Twitter)

M.F.: I wouldn't call it a homer pick at all, as McCoy was one of the top point producers at his position in PPR leagues last season. In fact, he finished ahead of Peterson, Johnson and Rice among running backs. McCoy was seventh in fantasy points among all players in PPR formats. I would also keep in mind that as much as fantasy football is about competition, bragging rights and winning a title, it's also supposed to be fun. So if you want to take one of your favorite players over others with similar value, that's acceptable in my book.

Is Josh Freeman worth a first-round pick in fantasy drafts? -- Jgarcia7795 (via Twitter)

M.F.: Freeman was one of the top sleepers in fantasy football last year, but he's definitely not worth a first-round pick in traditional leagues. That's not to say, though, that you can't use Freeman in the construction of your draft strategy. Based on his potential and the depth at quarterback, you can pass on taking an elite signal-caller and still target Freeman in the middle rounds. That gives you the option of loading up on running backs and wide receivers in the early rounds and still landing a solid quarterback.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com or tweet it at Michael_Fabiano!

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