Fantasy mailbag: Andre Johnson should explode in 2008

I need to retain three players from Ryan Grant, Larry Johnson, Andre Johnson and Steve Smith. I think the two running backs are the most obvious keepers, so which wideout should I retain? -- D. Pittman, Rochester, N.Y.

Michael Fabiano: I would agree that Grant and Johnson should be retained, and I would side with Johnson over Smith at the wide receiver position. As much as I like the Carolina wideout, a lot of his success (and failure) is based on his quarterback, Jake Delhomme. With Delhomme under center, Smith is a top-five fantasy receiver. Without him, he is more like a No. 2 fantasy option.

I think you have to retain Johnson, who has a ton of upside and showcased it last season with 60 receptions, 851 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games. Project those numbers over a full 16-game season, and Johnson would have totaled 107 receptions, 1,513 yards and 14 touchdowns. Those numbers equate to 235 fantasy points, which would have placed him second among receivers behind Randy Moss (280 points) based on NFL.com's standard scoring system.

I'm in a keeper league where you lose the round of the player you decide to retain. I'm leaning towards keeping Tony Romo (Round 10), but I also have Marshawn Lynch (Round 3), Randy Moss (Round 6) and Braylon Edwards (Round 9). Do you agree that Romo is the best option? -- A. Berchtold, Erie, Pa.

M.F.: All four players are tremendous values based on their individual rounds, but I'd agree that Romo in the best bargain. He'll be a first- or second-round selection in all drafts, and he could have another weapon in his arsenal if Dallas trades for Javon Walker. With Romo in the bank, I would focus on a featured running back in the first round and another runner in at least one of the next three rounds. Also look to add a stud wide receiver or two and don't be concerned with another quarterback until the late rounds.

I loved your article on the dominant fantasy wide receivers, but as a loyal Green Bay Packers fan, I noticed Don Hutson was not mentioned. He was arguably the best receiver of all time. I'd love to see how Hutson stacks up! -- J. Thomson, N/A.

M.F.: When I ranked the greatest all-time fantasy seasons from wide receivers, I focused on players in the Super Bowl era (1966-present). Hutson, who retired in 1945 after 11 seasons, held 18 NFL records, including 488 reception, when his career ended. He led the NFL in scoring in five consectuive seasons, led all players in receiving in eight of his 11 seasons and was named the NFL MVP in 1941 and 1942. Hutson was considered an innovator as a pass receiver, and it was well known that his presence between the white lines would alter defensive strategies.

Hutson, who was a 60-minute player (there were no free substitutions in his time), was also a skilled defensive back and recorded 30 interceptions in his final six seasons. He was also known for kicking the extra point after his touchdowns.

What makes Hutson's success even more notable is that it almost didn't happen. At the end of his collegiate career, Hutson signed contracts with the Green Bay Packers, who featured a pass-laden offense, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, who featured the running game and rarely threw the football. NFL President Joe Carr ruled that Hutson would go to the team with the earliest postmark on its contract.

The Packers' deal was postmarked 17 minutes before the Dodgers, so Hutson went to Wisconsin.

Hutson's best fantasy season came in 1942, when he recorded 74 receptions, 1,211 yards and 17 touchdowns in 10 games. Those numbers equate to 223 fantasy points. Project them over 16 games (or a current full season), and Hutson would have totaled 118 receptions, 1,937 yards, 27 touchdowns and 355 fantasy points. That would have destroyed the current best fantasy season at the wide receiver position, which was accomplished by Randy Moss (287 points) in 2007.

I am in a 10-team keeper league and need to retain DeAngelo Williams (Round 5) or Kellen Winslow (Round 8). With DeShaun Foster out of Carolina, should I retain Williams? -- M. Emanuel, Hudson, N.H.

M.F.: Williams has seen a nice rise in value with Foster out of the mix, but I'm not sure he'll be a featured back. In fact, Panthers head coach John Fox confirmed at the NFL Combine that the team will add another runner to complement Williams. "We feel like we've got a good, viable guy in DeAngelo and we're going to have to find someone else," Fox told the Charlotte Observer. "Obviously, we're going to have a need there."

Winslow, who has had a recent arthroscopic procedure on his knee, recorded career bests across the board in 2007 and is a nice value for an eighth-round selection. Overall I'd retain Williams in a standard format (unless he lands in a committee), but I would consider Winslow much more in a league that rewards points for catches.

Hey Mike, what do you think of Marc Bulger for next season? If St. Louis drafts Michigan's Jake Long, the offensive line should be much better. Can Bulger still post solid fantasy numbers? -- C. McConnell, Buford, Ga.

M.F.: With new offensive coordinator Al Saunders on the staff and what should be a much healthier offensive line in front of him, Bulger has a chance to bounce back and record solid numbers. I wouldn't be shocked to see him finish with 3,500-plus passing yards and 20-plus touchdown passes. Bulger could become a nice draft value as well after a 2007 season that saw him falter in all statistical categories, so don't be surprised if he falls into the middle rounds in leagues with 10-12 teams.

I am in a 10-team keeper, PPR league and plan to retain Tony Romo and Terrell Owens. Who else should I keep from Larry Johnson, Willis McGahee, Larry Fitzgerald, Torry Holt and Brandon Marshall? I'm leaning towards Johnson. -- M. Friebohle, Leeper, Pa.

M.F.: If running backs come at a premium, it might be better to retain Romo, Johnson and McGahee and focus on adding one or more of Owens, Fitzgerald, Holt or Marshall in the first two rounds of the re-draft. If runners aren't as valuable due to the position's overall failures last season, however, I would lean towards Johnson, who will be back to 100 percent health (and well rested) for the 2008 season. In that scenario, I would then look to re-acquire Fitzgerald, Holt or Marshall in one of the first two to three rounds.

Is Frank Gore still worth a first-round selection with Mike Martz in as the new offensive coordinator in San Francisco? -- A. Bertschy, N/A

M.F.: There have been reports that San Francisco will add DeShaun Foster within the next week, but I'd still take Gore in the middle to late first round. Runners like Marshall Faulk and Kevin Jones produced solid all-around numbers in the offense of Martz, who utilizes backs often as receivers out of the backfield. With no legitimate threats in the pass attack outside of Vernon Davis, Gore is almost guaranteed to catch 60-plus passes in 2008. The Niners runner was taken in the first round (No. 5 overall) in NFL.com's recent mock draft.

Mike, I'm in a 12-team league that uses a standard scoring system. We can retain one drafted player from the previous season (Willis McGahee was my keeper in 2007), but that player can't be kept in consecutive seasons. My choices are Willie Parker (Round 1), Marc Bulger (Round 3), Plaxico Burress (Round 6), Bernard Berrian (Round 7) and Roddy White (Round 8). At this point I'm leaning towards Burress. Also, I have the ninth overall selection in the re-draft. Thanks! -- D. Carraway, Titusville, Fla.

M.F.: I agree that Burress is a nice draft value for a sixth-round selection (he'll be off the board in the third or fourth round in most cases), and I would guess Parker will still be on the board when the ninth overall selection comes around. It's harder to determine which backs will be out there in a league that utilizes what amounts to one-year contracts for drafted keepers, so you could land a runner with even more value than Fast Willie in the first round.

I plan to keep Steven Jackson in our 10-team league, but I also need to retain one of Carson Palmer, Frank Gore, DeAngelo Williams, Larry Fitzgerald or Brandon Marshall. We start one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. Thanks! -- M. Melanson, N/A

M.F.: I would keep Gore, which coupled with Jackson secures your backfield situation, and then focus your attention on a quarterback and a stud wideout in the first two rounds of the re-draft. Depending on where you land in the league's draft order, there's a tremendous chance you could re-acquire one or more of Palmer, Fitzgerald or Marshall.

Michael, I will retain Joseph Addai and Adrian Peterson in our 10-team, PPR league, but I need to keep two more players from Laurence Maroney, Steve Smith, Wes Welker and Roy Williams. Thanks! -- J. Ferguson, Mich.

M.F.: Since you have two stud runners in your stable, I'd pass on Maroney and retain two wideouts. I think Smith has 100-catch potential with Jake Delhomme under center, so I'd keep him without question. The final player to retain is Welker, who might have hit his statistical ceiling last season but should remain a 70-plus catch receiver in the New England offense. He is slightly more valuable in PPR leagues than Williams, who could have a solid 2008 season (he's in a contract year) but has been prone to injuries as a pro.

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