Fantasy mailbag: Knee injuries will limit RB draft values

Hey Michael, I love reading your opinions and strategies, most of which I agree with. I was curious to know how running backs usually fair in the season following a bad knee injury (or surgery). I'm referring of course to Ronnie Brown, Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister and Cadillac Williams. All these backs had huge potential last season, especially Brown, until they got hurt. How will their injuries effect them this season, and where do you think they will go in most standard drafts? -- J. Gillespie

Michael Fabiano: Funny you should ask that question. I broke down how knee injuries have altered (and can alter) the value of running backs as part of NFL.com's extensive 2008 draft kit. In most cases, backs do tend to struggle in their first season after a surgical procedure on their knee, so the value of Brown, McAllister and Williams will suffer as a result.

For example, Brown would have been worth as much as a top-five pick in fantasy drafts this season if not for the torn ACL he sustained in 2007. Now he's more of a second-to-fourth round selection. Bush's knee ailment wasn't nearly as serious the ones Brown, McAlister and Williams suffered, but his struggles have made him more of a risk-reward option.

This season our 12-team auction league will switch from a standard scoring system to a PPR league with catches worth half a point. This should increase the value of some running backs and all wide receivers. In the past I've targeted two running backs in the first two rounds (with great success), but should I alter this strategy now? -- D. Kinney, Maine

M.F.: I would still focus on a running back in the first round, but your second- and third-round selections should depend on the flow of the draft. If there are a number of solid backs on the board in the second round, then it makes sense to target one of the elite wideouts like Randy Moss or Terrell Owens. If there's a run of running backs and a glut of attractive wideouts remain, then, of course, you might want to secure your backfield in the first two rounds and wait on a wideout until Round 3. Also remember to target backs with added value in PPR leagues such as Frank Gore or Maurice Jones-Drew (to name a few) rather than a back like Jamal Lewis or Rudi Johnson, who aren't utilized as much in their respective team's pass attacks.

What sort of value does Selvin Young have now that Denver released Travis Henry? -- G. Danson, Colorado Springs, Colo.

M.F.: Young should now be seen as a viable No. 2 fantasy back in all formats, but predicting what head coach Mike Shanahan will do with his backfield is much like trying to predict the weather in New England. That means rookie Ryan Torain should be seen as a solid sleeper candidate, especially when you consider the success of previously unknown backs like Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary and Reuben Droughns under Shanahan in the past. Michael Pittman, who signed with the team last month, has also seen an increase in value as a result of Henry's release.

I recently took part in a 10-team, 15-round mock-draft with the rest of my league and received heavy criticism (aka open mockery) after taking Derek Anderson with my second-round (No. 19 overall) pick. Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees had all been selected by that point, so I felt Anderson was my best option. Was my decision justifiable or was it a stretch? -- S. Martin, Charlotte, N.C.

M.F.: I won't join in on the mockery, but that was a stretch. If you wanted to take a quarterback at that spot, it should have been either Ben Roethlisberger or Carson Palmer, not Anderson. Assuming that you took a running back with the second overall selection in the first round, I would have taken a No. 2 running back with the 19th overall selection and waited until the third round to take a quarterback or wide receiver.

I'm in a 10-team PPR keeper league and have two picks in the first round (No. 2 and No. 10). By virtue of our keeper system, players get forced back into the draft pool every few years, with this year's most notable being LaDainian Tomlinson and Tom Brady. My keepers will be Tony Romo, Adrian Peterson and Michael Turner. Is Brady valuable enough to take at No. 2? I could then grab the top available runner or wideout at No. 10. I could also take the best overall available runner or wideout and take a wideout at No. 10, or I could keep Brandon Marshall or Kellen Winslow rather than Romo. What strategy makes the most sense? -- M. Mygrant, Tucson, Ariz.

M.F.: There are two scenarios that need to be considered. First, is the owner with the first overall selection guaranteed to take Tomlinson, or will he/she draft Brady instead? If you feel L.T. will be the No. 1 overall choice, I would retain Peterson, Turner and Marshall and release Romo. In that case you'd draft Brady in the first round to replace Romo at the quarterback position. However, if it looks like Brady will be taken with the first selection, I would retain Romo, Peterson and Marshall and draft Tomlinson with the second pick. If your league utilizes a flex position, though, I would keep Turner ahead of Marshall and focus on a wideout with the No. 10 overall selection.

I'm in a 14-team keeper league and need to choose three players from Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Joseph Addai, Larry Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Wayne and Kellen Winslow. I am keeping Addai and Wayne, but who should I keep between Lynch and L.J.? Lynch was a rookie last season and Johnson is getting up there in age with a coach that's running him to the ground. I am leaning towards Lynch. -- G. Cashman, Lakeland, Fla.

M.F.: I would lean towards Lynch as well. While I think L.J. should rebound and produce better numbers under new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, his time as a superstar fantasy back appear to be over behind what remains an unstable offensive line. Lynch is younger and has far more upside, and he's a better keeper option than Johnson across the board. With Addai, Lynch and Wayne on your roster, I would be sure to focus on the quarterback position with one of your first two picks. In fact, you might be able to re-acquire either Brees or Palmer if your draft position is favorable.

I'm in a 14-team league where I can franchise one player and "protect" another. If anyone in the league takes my protected player, I get their first-round pick. The four players I'm wavering about are David Garrard, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner and Andre Johnson. I also have Marvin Harrison, but I just don't trust his age and durability at the moment. Who would you franchise and who would you protect? Thanks! -- B. Glass, Santa Clarita, Calif.

M.F.: I think Jones-Drew is your best option and should be franchised. While he might be small, few running backs have visited the end zone more than Jones-Drew over the past two seasons. The player to protect really depends on the league's scoring system. If you're in a standard format, I would protect Turner and secure two runners since this is a larger league and backs will come at more of a premium. If the league rewards points for receptions, however, Johnson should be protected. Barring a setback with his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery, I think Johnson will develop into an elite fantasy wideout in 2008.

Our 12-team league is converting to a keeper league and will have a re-structured scoring system that seems to have become more favorable for quarterbacks (one point for every 10 passing yards with extra points for long touchdowns). Under the new system, Tom Brady would have scored 300-plus points more than Brian Westbrook (top running back) and Randy Moss (top wide receiver). We are also adding points for catches, which, of course, will help receivers as well as runners who are thrown the football. With the No. 2 overall pick, would you recommend taking Brady or a back like Westbrook and hope to get a top quarterback in the second round? Do you have a general philosophy on drafting in the first few rounds or do you recommend drafting based on the scoring system of the league? Many thanks! -- M. Omohundro, Bloomington, Ind.

M.F.: There's nothing more important than your league's scoring system in the determination of player values, so in this case I would expect quarterbacks to come flying off the board in the first two rounds. Based on the fact that one point is rewarded for every 10 passing yards (that's a HUGE advantage for quarterbacks), I would take Brady with the second overall selection. While I don't expect him to duplicate his record numbers from last season, Brady should still throw for 4,000-plus yards and score around 35 total touchdowns.

You will also need to pay close attention to the flow of the draft. Because quarterbacks are so heavily favored in this format, Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Drew Brees could all come off the board in Round 1. At worst, these four quarterbacks plus Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger, could be taken before the start of Round 3. That sort of scenario should allow for a greater number of solid running backs to be available in the second and third rounds, so be sure to focus on the position once Brady is secured.

I am in a 16-team league that allows us to keep three players. All touchdowns are worth six points, and we receive a point for every 20 passing yards and 10 rushing or receiving yards. I have Marc Bulger, Ryan Grant, Rudi Johnson, Chester Taylor and Chris Cooley as my best keeper options. I know a featured back like Grant is an obvious keeper, but the other two have me confused. Help! -- J. Bradley, Jacksonville, Fla.

M.F.: Grant is definitely the best keeper, and I'd have to side with Johnson and Bulger as the final two players to retain. Unless you have one of the first two picks in the re-draft and can land Darren McFadden or Jonathan Stewart, you almost have to keep Johnson in a 16-team league based on an expected lack of depth at the running back position. While he did struggle last season, Johnson is slated to remain Cincinnati's featured back in 2008 and could be a bit undervalued. The same holds true for Bulger, who dealt with injuries and a patchwork offensive line in 2007 but should rebound with new offensive coordinator Al Saunders at the helm.

Hey Mike, I'm in a 10-team PPR league that allows us to keep a minimum of three and maximum of five players. However, we lose our second pick to keep a fourth player and our first pick to keep a fifth. I have to choose from Drew Brees, Ronnie Brown, Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Braylon Edwards, Andre Johnson and Antonio Gates. Who should I retain? -- B. Brink, Lynden, Wash.

M.F.: I think you have five players with immense keeper appeal in Brees, Lynch, Peterson, Edwards and Johnson and I would sacrifice your first- and second-round selections to retain them. In fact, you have what amounts to two first rounders in Lynch and Peterson and three second or third rounders in Brees, Edwards and Johnson. Gates also figures into the mix, but I think you'll be able to land an attractive tight end in the re-draft easier than an equally valuable quarterback or wide receiver. Brees, Edwards and Johnson are elite options at their respective positions, plus Gates is coming off foot surgery that could limit him in training camp.

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