Fantasy mailbag: 2008 drafts will have a new look

I know that running backs have been the prominent players selected in the first round of most fantasy football drafts, but will that change after the emergence of stud quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Tony Romo? -- J. Carter, Boston, Mass.

Michael Fabiano: I doubt Brady can produce another season with 50 touchdown passes, but he'll still be the No. 1 overall selection in countless drafts. Romo and Peyton Manning also warrant first-round consideration at this time, though Romo's stock could decrease if Dallas loses offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. I still think true featured backs are the most difficult athletes to land, however, so the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, Joseph Addai and Steven Jackson will be surefire first rounders. Adrian Peterson will be in that first-round mix as well, even more so if Chester Taylor is traded in the offseason.

Overall, I'd bet that at least eight runners will be taken in the first round of a 12-team draft. Where the real changes will occur is in the second and third rounds, where owners will focus on stud quarterbacks and wide receivers rather than questionable No. 2 backs.

I have to keep two players from Tony Romo, Marshawn Lynch, Laurence Maroney, Marques Colston and Larry Fitzgerald. Who should I retain? -- J. Chamorr, Nicaragua

M.F.: As I mentioned in the aforementioned answer, Romo's value could be altered if Garrett leaves Big D to become a head coach. But at this time It would be hard to release a quarterback of Romo's caliber. The second player to retain is Lynch, who would have won offensive rookie of the year honors had it not been for a certain running back in Minnesota. Lynch has all the skills to be a tremendous fantasy option into the forseeable future, and I wouldn't be a bit shocked to see him taken in the first round of seasonal drafts as well.

How will the absence of Mike Martz affect the value of Jon Kitna, Kevin Jones, Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams in 2008? -- W. Gibbons, Jessburg, Md.

M.F.: The Lions fired Martz on Wednesday and will promote offensive line coach Jim Colleto and wide receivers coach Kippy Brown to run the offense. According to reports, Colletto will keep his current role as offensive line coach and will also be named offensive coordinator, while Brown will be promoted to assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. He will also serve as the team's running backs coach.

With Colletto and Brown at the helm, the Lions offense will no doubt see a departure from the pass-laden attack of Martz, so Kitna's value is destined to fall across the board. Jones' value is in question more due to his injured knee, which could cause him to miss part of the 2008 season if it's serious. Johnson and Williams will remain attractive options, but neither will be considered as No. 1 fantasy wideouts.

As for Martz, reports indicate he could land in San Francisco and take over for former offensive coordinator Jim Hostler, who was also fired on Wednesday. If that happens, look for the value of Frank Gore to rise even after an inconsistent 2007 season.

I need to retain two running backs from Joseph Addai, Ryan Grant and Brian Westbrook. Is Grant the real deal? -- J. Trzaska, N/A

M.F.: Grant was fabulous for fantasy footballers once he took over the featured role in Green Bay, but he still isn't on the same level as Addai or Westbrook. If you want to be an aggressive owner, however, look to package Grant with Addai and send a trade offer to the team that has LaDainian Tomlinson. A backfield with Addai and Westbrook is solid, but one with L.T. and Westbrook is that much more formidable.

I need to protect six players from Eli Manning, Edgerrin James, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, Dwayne Bowe, D.J. Hackett, Hines Ward and Jason Witten. Suggestions? -- M. McGratten, Canada

M.F.: The most obvious choices are Jones-Drew and Witten, and Turner could be solid as well. The San Diego back is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and chances are he'll land with a team that will put him in a more prominent offensive role. I'd also retain Bowe, who has a bright future in Kansas City, and it might be smart to retain James if it's a larger league because runners will be difficult to find in the re-draft. That leaves the final choice between Manning and Ward, and it might be hard to pass on the former if it's a 12-team league. I would bet that at least the top 10 quarterbacks will be retained in that case, which would make Manning a little more valuable than Ward.

Thanks for your advice on handcuffing running backs. I won my leagues with Kenny Watson and Aaron Stecker at running back, who I had as insurance for Rudi Johnson and Reggie Bush. -- B. Goette, Frisco, Texas

M.F.: Congratulations on the league titles! At a time when backfield committees are more prominent, the handcuff makes more sense than ever. Furthermore, the NFL is loaded with faster and stronger defenders that sometimes use their bodies like projectile missiles, so it's no shock that injuries to running backs are on the rise. After all, runners do take the most punishment of all the offensive skills positions, so handcuffs (especially for the more valuable backs) are one of fantasy football's simplest and most effective strategies.

I have to keep either Earnest Graham or Willis McGahee. Help! -- C. Johns, Little Rock, Ark.

M.F.: Graham proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can be a productive featured back at the pro level, but the presence of Cadillac Williams has his overall value for next season in some doubt. Williams was solid before an injured knee forced him to miss most of the season, so it's not like he doesn't deserve a chance to retain the top spot on the depth chart. But here's the catch: Doctors have told Williams that he will need at least nine months and maybe a full year to recover from a surgical procedure to repair his patella tendon, so he could miss most (if not all) of training camp.

Regardless, I think McGahee is the better (and safer) choice. He had his best all-around season at the NFL level in 2007 -- he rushed for 1,207 yards and caught a career-best 43 passes -- and he'll remain the centerpiece of the offense even with Brian Billick now done as Baltimore's head coach.

I could not be more confused on who to keep at quarterback. I have Derek Anderson and Drew Brees. What should I do? -- J. Graham, Malibu, Calif.

M.F.: Anderson was the top sleeper of the 2007 season, but he's a restricted free agent and has rookie Brady Quinn behind him on the depth chart. The Browns could place a first- and third-round tender on Anderson -- there's a chance he could even be franchised -- so chances are he'll remain the team's No. 1 quarterback for 2008. However, there are no guarantees beyond next season, as Quinn will no doubt push for a chance to start or look to be traded. With all of these scenarios on the table, I think Brees is the better choice.

Despite the fact that he started the season slow, Brees still recorded career bests in passing yards (4,423), passing touchdowns (28) and total touchdowns (29). He'll remain an elite quarterback next season and should be retained ahead of Anderson in most cases.

I've read that Randy Moss is a free agent in 2008. If he leaves New England, what will that do to the value of Tom Brady in seasonal drafts? -- B. Stuart, West Hartford, Conn.

M.F.: I think that Brady's value would take a tremendous hit if Moss left as a free agent. After all, Moss was the recipient of close to half of Brady's 50 touchdown passes, and neither Wes Welker nor Donté Stallworth can make up for his absence in the vertical pass attack. As a result, I would have to knock Brady down a few notches at the quarterback position (at least behind Peyton Manning) if Moss leaves. However, I don't see how a player who has been in NFL purgatory (Oakland) would ever leave pro football nirvana in New England. Moss could win multiple titles with the Patriots, and his chances to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame seem much better in red, white and blue.

Where do you think Donovan McNabb will land next season? Can he rebound and be a more consistent fantasy quarterback, or has his fall from the elite started? -- R. Gregory, Philadelphia, Pa.

M.F.: Reports out of Philadelphia indicate the Eagles will retain McNabb as their No. 1 quarterback for next season, so another team would have to make one of those "Godfather" trade offers to land him in an offseason deal. It's a positive that McNabb seemed to be much more comfortable as a runner late in the season, which is an indication that he gained confidence in his surgically-repaired knee down the stretch. Unless the Eagles go out and land an impact receiver, I think McNabb will be no more than a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy option in 2008.

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