Hi Mike, it's never too early to think about the next fantasy season! What do you think of the backfield situation in Carolina? Will DeAngelo Williams still have more value than Jonathan Stewart? -- K. Walker, Albany, N.Y.
Michael Fabiano: You're right, it's never too soon to think about next season! Williams, who will be taken in the first round in most drafts, will certainly have more value than Stewart in 2009. However, fantasy leaguers need to temper their expectations for him. Few running backs who score 20 or more touchdowns come close to that mark the next season, and Williams will be no different. In fact, I'm projecting him to rush for around 1,300 yards and score 14 total touchdowns. I'm also projecting Stewart to rush for closer to 900 yards -- a slight increase from his rookie total of 836 yards -- and eight touchdowns. He'll come off the board somewhere in the middle rounds.
I'm a frustrated Broncos fan here in Colorado! Where do you think Jay Cutler will land and who is going to be the quarterback for my beloved Broncos in 2009? I also have Cutler in my keeper league, and I'm thinking of trading him for Aaron Rodgers (yes I'm that mad at him!) What are your thoughts? -- T. Cannon, Colorado Springs, Colo.
M.F.: I'd be frustrated too if I rooted for the Broncos. It's almost like the football gods are getting back at the team for John Elway! Strictly from a fantasy perspective, I would do cartwheels if Cutler landed in Detroit. Imagine the fantasy combination of Cutler and Calvin Johnson? That would be incredible! Cutler would also throw the football a ton on a team that would be behind a lot. However, reports indicate that Georgia's Matthew Stafford wowed the Lions at his private workout. If the team loves Stafford enough to take him with the first overall selection in the draft, then a trade for Cutler would of course be out the window. The Buccaneers would also be a decent destination for Cutler's value. New coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski likes to take chances downfield, and Cutler would be able to sling it to Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow.
The Browns, who have a first-round pick and two viable starting quarterbacks in Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn to deal in a potential trade, could also be in the mix. The team that I hope doesn't get Cutler, again from a fantasy perspective, is the Jets. Sorry Fireman Ed, but Cutler in green and white would kill his value. First off, the Jets will utilize a ball-controlled, run-based offense under new coach Rex Ryan. Second, Cutler wouldn't have a star wideout like Brandon Marshall to throw the ball to in the pass attack. Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith or David Clowney, anyone? A few sleeper teams that could have some interest in Cutler include the 49ers, Bears, Jaguars and Redskins.
It's impossible to predict who will be under center for the Broncos in Week 1, but the leading candidates could be Quinn (potential trade with Browns), Chris Simms or Jeff Garcia (free agent). That's all speculation, though -- it's anyone's guess at this point. One thing is for certain. This whole situation with Cutler is going to have enormous implications on fantasy football. As for your trade, I would really sit back and wait to see where Cutler lands before making a rash decision to deal him away.
Michael, great job on all your advice throughout last season! Anyway, our league keeps two players that count for your first- and second-round picks. I don't have a great quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) or a top-notch wide receiver, but I do have Marion Barber, Larry Johnson and Thomas Jones. Barber was a disappointment last season and might share carries in Dallas. I think Johnson has some gas left in the tank, but he's a risk. Jones was a beast in 2008, but can he do the same without Brett Favre? Which one of these backs should I retain? -- N. Bryant, Madison, Wis.
M.F.: Always glad to help! If you need to retain one runner out of the three you've mentioned, I would keep Barber without question. Sure, he struggled last season and might not even start for the Cowboys in 2009, but that could actually be an advantage. Look at the numbers -- Barber was a far better fantasy back when he served as the "closer" in the team's backfield. In fact, only LaDainian Tomlinson had more total touchdowns than Barber among running backs from 2006-2007. The Cowboys are also expected to run the ball more this season, so there will be no shortage of opportunities, especially near the goal line, for Barber to produce significant points for your fantasy team.
Hey Mike, what is your definition of a fantasy sleeper? I'm always confused about what constitute a sleeper, especially when I saw that term used to describe Willis McGahee on another website last season. I think Tyler Thigpen was the prefect example of a sleeper in 2008. What do you think? -- C. Marshall, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
M.F.: Great question! I also saw McGahee listed as a sleeper last season. I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed at that one. I even saw Thigpen listed as a sleeper for 2009, before the Chiefs added Matt Cassel. Thigpen was a sleeper last season -- he couldn't be a sleeper two seasons in a row! I think there are two kinds of sleepers. The first is a player who has never put up good numbers in the past, but is now in line to compete for a greater role on his team. A perfect example of this is Anthony Gonzalez. With Marvin Harrison out of the mix, Gonzalez will step into the starting lineup for what should remain a productive Colts offense. Unfortunately, the second sort of sleeper is the one you can't predict in time for drafts. Those sleepers arise from injuries to players ahead of them on the depth chart. These can only be predicted during the regular season, which shows the importance of the waiver wire. Some prime examples over the last two seasons include Thigpen, Ryan Grant and Pierre Thomas.
M.F.: Williams has seen a serious increase in value after the release of Owens, but I still have Bowe ranked ahead of him. Bowe, who is entering his third season, is a serious breakout candidate in an offense that will throw the ball a lot under coach Todd Haley. Haley was the wide receivers coach for the Jets (1995-2000) and Bears (2001-2004), wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator for the Cowboys (2005-2007) and offensive coordinator for the Cardinals (2007-2008). Under his watch, Keyshawn Johnson recorded his two best fantasy seasons at the NFL level. While in Chicago, Haley helped Marty Booker transform from waiver-wire fodder to fantasy superstar. Haley would move on to Dallas in 2005, where he coached Johnson and Terry Glenn before the team added Owens the following season. Owens (85 receptions, 1,180 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Glenn (62 receptions, 1,136 yards, seven touchdowns) would both be productive in 2006. I'm expecting Bowe to be the next wideout to produce big numbers under Haley.
M.F.: This will be a very deep class at the running back position, but I wouldn't expect the same number of rookie runners to make such a significant impact. That's due in large part to the fact that backfield committees have become so prominent around the league. Also, the top names in the class -- a list that includes Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State's Chris Wells and Connecticut's Donald Brown -- are all rumored to be going to teams that would utilize them in reserve or committee roles in their first season. We won't know for sure until after the NFL Draft, but at this point I don't see a rookie back (unless injuries occur) putting up numbers in line with what Forte, Johnson and Steve Slaton produced last season.
Hi Michael, great job on contributing to my "no offseason theory!" I'm in a 10-team PPR keeper league that is very quarterback friendly. I retained Brian Westbrook but traded him along with a seventh-round pick for a first- and second-round pick. I traded a second and a 12th for Larry Fitzgerald and another second to acquire Peyton Manning. I also traded my first for DeAngelo Williams, leaving me with no picks in the second, seventh or 12th rounds. What do you think of these moves? -- M. Copson, Cape May, N.J.
M.F.: Wow, you're like the Daniel Snyder of fantasy football owners with all of those moves! Dealing a second-round pick for Manning in a quarterback-friendly league makes sense, and getting a first rounder for Westbrook was a solid move. He'll be 30 at the start of next season, and I think the Eagles will select his eventual replacement in the first round of April's draft. With Manning, Williams and Fitzgerald on your roster, I would target another running back in the first round and a wide receiver in the third round. In a 10-team league, you should be able to land a decent No. 2 wideout to pair with Fitzgerald. Overall, I think you did pretty well.
What are your thoughts on Steven Jackson for next season? I've heard differing views on his fantasy value. I have Jackson along with Ronnie Brown, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Tim Hightower, Le'Ron McClain and Kevin Smith in a 12-team keeper league. What should I expect from Jackson, and should I look to trade him for a solid wide receiver? Love the column! -- T. Klopp, Cleveland Heights, Ohio
M.F.: Jackson has all the talent in the world, and the Rams have stated their desire to use him as the centerpiece of their offense. The team will also build around Jackson and should improve their offensive line in an effort to make life easier for the veteran back. General manager Billy Devaney has already added fullback Mike Karney and center Jason Brown, and the team is almost certain to take Baylor OT Jason Smith or Virginia OT Eugene Monroe with the second overall selection in April's draft. These moves alone make Jackson more attractive in fantasy circles. You do have depth at the position, however, and trading from that depth to improve a weak part of your roster makes a lot of sense. But rather than deal Jackson, I'd look to package two of Hightower, McClain and Smith in a 2-for-1 deal for a receiver before I put Jackson on the block.
Is there a player (or players) that you will avoid like the plague in your fantasy drafts next season? -- W. Blake, Canada
M.F.: I don't know if I'll avoid anyone like the plague, but I'll definitely be wary of drafting Brian Westbrook. He isn't getting any younger, has a history of knee problems and could end up losing some work to another back. Clinton Portis is also a risk based on the 342 carries he had last season. I also have my reservations about Matt Cassel. He's in a position to find success with the Chiefs, but I'm not ready to anoint him a surefire No. 1 fantasy quarterback. I see him as more of a borderline starter in most leagues with added value against weaker opponents. I also wouldn't get too crazy over Darren McFadden. Sure, he's talented, but he couldn't stay healthy last season and there's little chance of him being a featured back with Michael Bush and Justin Fargas in the mix. I'm also down on Brandon Marshall. I could see he being suspended for at least the first four games of the season due to his off-the-field issues, and his value will fall even further when the Broncos eventually trade Jay Cutler.
I took the Chargers defense in our draft last season, but they ended up being a huge disappointment (I still won the championship though). What do you think of this unit in 2009 with Shawne Merriman back in the mix? -- J. Escoto, Los Angeles, Calif.
M.F.: The Chargers will definitely have more value with a healthy Merriman back in the mix, especially in fantasy leagues that reward bonus points for sacks. This unit was plain awful against the pass last season, however, finishing 31st in pass defense, allowing an average of 247.4 yards per game and 25 touchdowns. Until that changes, the Bolts will be no more than a No. 2 defense in fantasy football. In fact, I'd expect that this unit won't even be selected in most drafts in 2009.