Even without Warner, Fitzgerald remains a top fantasy wideout

How has the value of Larry Fitzgerald been affected by the retirement of Kurt Warner and the trade of Anquan Boldin? It seems to me that he has a less-accurate passer in Matt Leinart and no one to alleviate double teams. However, you still have him ranked second at wide receiver. Wouldn't Reggie Wayne or DeSean Jackson be more deserving of this spot? - L. Karr, Champaign, Ill.

Michael Fabiano: I've seen Fitzgerald dropped out of the top five altogether at wide receiver, but I can't commit to such a move even in Warner's absence. Wayne is a nice option, but there's a lot of competition for targets in the Colts offense with Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez all in the mix. I also like Jackson, but I can't put a receiver who's posted 62 catches in each of his first two seasons second at the position. Fitzgerald is quite simply one of the most athletic and talented receivers in the NFL, and I don't see any reason he can't record 1,000-1,200 yards and 10-12 touchdowns even with Leinart under center. Remember, Calvin Johnson finished the 2008 campaign with 78 catches, 1,331 yards and 12 scores with a combination of Jon Kitna, Daunte Culpepper and Dan Orlovsky at quarterback. Megatron is good, but he's not on the same level of Fitzgerald, at least not yet. Was Fitzgerald a more attractive choice with Warner at the helm? Yes. But I can't put Wayne, Jackson, Randy Moss, Miles Austin, Roddy White or Brandon Marshall ahead of him.

I plan on keeping Peyton Manning and Wayne, but I also need to pick two running backs to retain from Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles and Ryan Grant. I would like to keep Charles, simply because I doubt I'll be able to get him back in the re-draft. I'm also leaning towards Benson over Grant. What would you do? - B. Timukas, Canada

M.F.: I agree with you on both accounts. Despite the addition of Thomas Jones, Charles is still a top-10 fantasy back and an attractive keeper. He's already shown a ton of statistical potential (I've compared him to Chris Johnson because of his skill set), and there's no reason to believe Charles won't remain the offensive centerpiece in Kansas City. I also like Benson, who is one of the few featured backs left in the league. At the age of 27 and with an average of just 187 rushing attempts per season, there's a lot to like about the veteran's potential for the future. While I do like Grant, I think he's already reached his statistical ceiling. Benson, on the other hand, still has plenty of room for growth.

I saw your latest mock draft and was wondering if LeSean McCoy really deserves a third-round pick. He never ran for over 100 yards in a game and scored just four times as a rookie. Even with Brian Westbrook out of the picture, should he be drafted before more proven backs such as Jonathan Stewart? - S. Miller, Orlando, Fla.

M.F.: As it stands, McCoy is the unquestioned No. 1 running back for coach Andy Reid. Even if the Eagles add Mike Bell into the backfield mix, I still don't see anyone who will put a serious dent into McCoy's touches. While he won't put up the same numbers as Westbrook in his prime, there's no doubt that he's a nice fit for the offense. McCoy's tools as a receiver out of the backfield make him a threat to catch 50-60 passes, and a season with 1,200-1,400 scrimmage yards is well within reach. With so many confusing backfield committees to deal with around the league, it makes sense to target a runner like McCoy who we know is going to get consistent touches. I would also much rather have him than Stewart. Keep in mind, the Panthers back averaged just 11.6 carries and 54 rushing yards in 13 games with DeAngelo Williams active last season.

What do you think of Matthew Stafford? I saw some potential in him as a rookie. Do you consider him a sleeper? When would you draft him (if at all)? - B. Billet, Flint, Mich.

M.F.: Stafford won't become a No. 1 fantasy quarterback in his second NFL season, but I do think he has sleeper appeal. First off, he was on pace to finish his rookie season with close to 3,650 passing yards and 24 total touchdowns before injuring his shoulder. By comparison, Peyton Manning had 3,739 yards and 26 scores in his first season. Second, Stafford will have more weapons in the passing game alongside Calvin Johnson. The Lions added Nate Burleson, and Brandon Pettigrew should be back from a torn ACL. The final reason to like Stafford is his schedule. He has one of the most favorable FPA ratings at his position, as nine of his games are against teams that were in the top 14 in allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks last season. I see Stafford coming off the board in the late rounds as a fantasy reserve and occasional matchup-based starter.

I'm in a 12-team keeper league and need to retain three players from Jay Cutler, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall, Michael Turner, Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith (Giants) and Vernon Davis. This is a PPR league that rewards four points for passing touchdowns, and we don't lose the rounds of the players we retain. - J.P. Decker, Canada

M.F.: Your three best options are Turner, Mendenhall and Marshall. I'm expecting big things from the Burner, who missed five games last season with an injured ankle but will be back to 100 percent in 2010. Mendenhall is a young runner with tremendous upside, and Marshall is hard to ignore after posting 100-plus receptions for the third consecutive season. With two running backs and a solid wideout on your roster, be sure to target a quarterback and another wide receiver in two of the first three rounds.

I'm interested to know what your thoughts are on Shonn Greene now that the Jets have signed LaDainian Tomlinson. Do you still see him as a top-five fantasy running back? As a Jets fan and an owner of Greene in our keeper league, this is a very big deal! - P. Davidson, Trenton, N.J.

M.F.: I have cooled on Greene just a tad, but not nearly enough to move him out of the top 10 among running backs. Since the addition of LaDainian Tomlinson, I moved him from fifth to seventh at his position behind Turner and Frank Gore. However, I still have him ranked ahead of Steven Jackson, Charles, Williams, Benson and Mendenhall. While some would argue that Jackson should be rated higher, I don't agree. Sure, Jackson is a true featured back and has no real competition for carries in St. Louis. But he's also running behind a less-than-stellar offensive line and has shown a proneness to injuries during his career. Also, keep in mind that Jackson is in an offense that averaged an awful 10.9 points per game last season. As a result, his chances to score touchdowns could be few and far between.

I'm in a league that allows one keeper, and you lose the round of the player you retain. My options are Andre Johnson (Round 1), Ray Rice (Round 5), Brandon Marshall (Round 6), LeSean McCoy (Round 9) and Jamaal Charles (Round 15). In your opinion, should I stick with Charles after the addition of Thomas Jones or go with Rice? - R. Gostic, Pittsburgh, Pa.

M.F.: Charles is an absolute steal for a 15th-round selection, but I would retain Rice ahead of him. The Ravens running back is also a great bargain, as you'll only lose a fifth rounder for a player who'll be a top-five pick in just about every draft. He proved to be one of the league's most versatile backs last season, leading his entire position in catches (78) while averaging a very impressive 5.3 yards per carry. If he ever earned more work near the goal line, Rice could post better numbers than Maurice Jones-Drew. While I love Charles' upside, I also think Rice is a safer pick since he's in a run-based offense with a better offensive line and better talent around him.

I haven't seen much written about Jerome Harrison. I think this kid could turn out to be a top-15 fantasy back next season. Thoughts? - D. Ibrahim, Culver City, Calif.

M.F.: Harrison is the unquestioned favorite to start for coach Eric Mangini, but I still have reservations about him. Sure, he had a few huge performances in 2010. But his three best stat lines came against the Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars. Those three teams finished 31st, 29th and 19th against the run.

The Browns also don't appear likely to have any sort of impactful passing game with Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace under center, so opposing defenses can put a greater focus on stopping the run. I also don't see Harrison as a true featured back.

At 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, he's not built to handle 250-300 carries. That means James Davis, Peyton Hillis and Chris Jennings will have a chance to earn part of the workload. Harrison also has a very unfavorable FPA rating, as 10 of his games are against teams that were in the top 18 in allowing the fewest fantasy points to running backs last season. Right now, I see Harrison as a low-end No. 2 fantasy back or a high-end flex starter. But I don't expect him to put up huge numbers even in a more prominent role.

I saw a report in the Washington Post that Dick Vermeil thinks Larry Johnson will take over the starting role from Clinton Portis next season. I don't see it, but then again I never though Johnson would overcome the "Penn State running backs curse." What do you see happening in this backfield? Who will have more fantasy value? - P. Gomez, Spain

M.F.: Yes, Vermeil did say that Johnson will "take over the running back position" in Washington. While I respect his opinion, I don't agree. Johnson simply isn't the same player Vermeil coached a few seasons back, and his numbers prove it. Since 2007, L.J. has averaged just 671 rushing yards and scored a combined nine touchdowns. At the age of 30, Johnson is no more than a committee back who should start 2010 second on the depth chart behind Portis. However things shake out, I'd avoid this backfield like the plague in fantasy drafts.

I'm in a 12-team PPR keeper league where we can retain two players. We start one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. Who would you retain from Aaron Rodgers, Charles, Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Marshall? I was leaning towards Rodgers and Johnson, but I really like the upside of Charles. - A. Zoller, Cincinnati, Ohio

M.F.: I also love Charles, who's 23 and possesses a ton of upside. But I don't see how you can release either Rodgers or Johnson. I think the Packers quarterback will be the highest-scoring player in fantasy football next season, and Johnson is without question the top option at his position. Furthermore, the fact that this is a PPR league makes him even more attractive. With Rodgers and Johnson on your roster, be sure to target running backs in two of the first three rounds of the re-draft.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!

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