Fantasy mailbag: L.J., Gore should rebound in 2008

It seems like a lot of owners were burned or disappointed with their No. 1 running back this season (Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Larry Johnson). I know you can't predict injuries, but would it be foolish to take a chance on an up and comer like Ryan Grant in the first round over a more seasoned back like Gore, Jackson or L.J.? -- J.T. Carter, Reading, Mass.

Michael Fabiano: I do like Grant headed into next season (he's No. 13 on our current 2008 Running back rankings), but I'd still take Gore, Jackson and Johnson ahead of him. Gore should see an increase in overall value with Mike Martz now the offensive coordinator in San Francisco, and I still see Jackson as a surefire top-five overall selection.

As for Johnson, he should be 100 percent back from an injured foot in time for training camp. I also like the addition of Chan Gailey, who will take over as the new offensive coordinator in Kansas City. There's also been talk that the Chiefs could use a zone-blocking scheme next season, which would help Johnson's fantasy draft value. Again, I like Grant, but I see him as more of a second-round, high-end No. 2 fantasy runner rather than a back that will be taken in the first round.

Our league allows us to retain three players. I plan to keep Tony Romo and Joseph Addai, but I don't know who else to keep from Dwayne Bowe, Anthony Gonzalez and Wes Welker. I like the potential of Bowe and Gonzalez, but do I dare release Welker after what he did this season? -- C. DeVenture, Columbus, Ohio

M.F.: I also like the potential Bowe and Gonzalez showed in their rookie seasons, but I'd still have to side with Welker. He recorded 112 receptions for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season in New England. While that could be the statistical high-water mark of his pro football career, Welker should still be productive in what has become one of the greatest (if not the greatest) offenses of all time.

I'm in a keeper, PPR league and need to retain one player for next season. I lose the round that player was drafted. I need to choose from Clinton Portis (Round 4), Santonio Holmes (Round 9) and Greg Jennings (Round 13). I'm leaning towards Jennings. What are your thoughts? -- J. Hayes, Denver, Colo.

M.F.: Holmes and Jennings do have added value in a league that rewards points for catches, but I'm not so sure it's a great idea to release a running back the caliber of Portis. Despite the fact that he endured a lot of bumps and bruises, the Miami product still produced close to 1,300 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He also recorded a career best 47 receptions for 389 yards, so Portis has added value in PPR leagues. You'll also land him for a fourth-round selection, which is a nice bargain.

I'm in a keeper league and need to retain one running back for the 2008 season. Who should I keep from Kevin Jones and LenDale White? I will also retain Larry Johnson. -- S. Brackens, St. Louis, Mo.

M.F.: I would be concerned about Jones, who couldn't finish another season due to injuries. Furthermore, he could fall down the Detroit depth chart under new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto. In fact, Colletto seemed to indicate that Jones' role in the offense could decrease in a recent interview with the Detroit News.

"We're going to look around (for another running back)," Colletto said. "I don't know how well Kevin Jones is going to respond to the injuries. We've got to find somebody who's going to be consistent."

Based on Colletto's quote, it's clear that Jones's status is in question. That makes White the back to retain in this situation. The Tennessee runner finished with over 1,100 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and reports indicate he wants to lose 15 pounds in the offseason and be in the 230-pound range for 2008. The Titans are also not expected to retain Chris Brown, so White could see more of the workload.

What do you think will happen with the backfield situation in Denver? I had retained Travis Henry in our keeper league, but now it seems like I should release him and keep Willis McGahee instead. Suggestions? -- H. Jansen, Lafayette, La.

M.F.: McGahee, who had one of the best seasons of his NFL career in 2007, is a far more viable keeper option than Henry and is the back to retain. Reports out of Denver indicate Henry will have to take a significant paycut to remain with the Broncos, so I wouldn't be shocked to see him to be in another uniform next season. That would seem to indicate an increase in the value of Selvin Young, but head coach Mike Shanahan doesn't feel that Young is an every-down back. In fact, Shanahan believes the ideal situation for Young is to see 10-15 carries a week and share the workload with a power back that could come in via the draft or as a free agent.

I realize Earnest Graham was a stud for the Buccaneers this season, but what will the team do with Graham, Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman in 2008? I have Graham in a keeper league and I'm not sure I should retain him if a backfield committee is imminent. My other keeper option is Edgerrin James. Help! -- B. Critteton, Scottsdale, Ariz.

M.F.: There are a lot of questions about the Tampa backfield after a "rumor" came out at the Senior Bowl that Williams' career could be in jeopardy due to his injured patella tendon. This seems to back the St. Petersburg Times report that the paper is "not convinced" that Williams will help the Buccaneers in 2008, but again, this was a rumor. Pittman is a free agent and could test the waters, so at this time it's Graham who is the favorite to start.

That could be cemented if Graham, who has hired Drew Rosenhaus to be his agent, agrees to a significant contract extension with the team. More news on Williams and the possible Graham extension will come in the offseason, but for now I would side with Graham over James, who is closer to the dreaded age of 30 and is a potential bust candidate in 2008.

Does the impressive postseason performance of Eli Manning improve his fantasy value for 2008? Could this mean he's set to reach the next level and become a more attractive No. 1 fantasy quarterback? -- L. Benson, Canada

M.F.: It's true that Manning does seem to have grown up before our very eyes in the postseason, but I'm not set to crown him a viable No. 1 fantasy quarterback. We need to remember that the position is loaded with talent, as players like Derek Anderson, David Garrard and Ben Roethlisberger have all moved ahead of him for 2008. Also, Manning has folded down the stretch in each of the past two regular seasons. I do see him as a high-end No. 2 fantasy quarterback and worth a middle-round choice, but I wouldn't vault him up the list of quarterbacks for next season.

I am in dire straits in our one-player keeper league. I need to retain either Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (three-year contract) or LaDainian Tomlinson (two-year contract). I know this is a nice problem to have but I am so stuck on the final decision. -- R. Rian, Richmond, Va.

M.F.: Tomlinson still has the edge over Peterson in seasonal drafts (unless Minnesota deals Chester Taylor in the offseason), but the 2007 Offensive Rookie of the Year has more value in keeper leagues. Behind what was arguably the best offensive line for runners, Peterson finished second in rushing yards (1,341) despite the fact that he started just nine times and missed two weeks with an injured knee. A.P. also scored 13 touchdowns, averaged 5.6 yards per carry (second behind Jerious Norwood) and led all backs with runs of 40-plus yards. Peterson also has a significant age advantage over Tomlinson, who will turn 29 this summer, and that's huge (for obvious reasons) in keeper leagues.

What sort of value will Carson Palmer have next season? I read your article on consistent quarterbacks, and Palmer wasn't at all reliable in 2007. Should quarterbacks like Matt Hasselbeck and Ben Roethlisberger have more value in seasonal drafts? -- J. Michaels, Portland, Ore.

M.F.: While it's true that our research showed Palmer was not at all consistent this season, he still finished with a career best in passing yards (4,131) and could have recorded even better numbers had he received better support from this teammates. In fact, a report from the Cincinnati Enquirer suggested that around 80 percent of Palmer's "poor" throws were a result of his receivers running undisciplined routes. We have Palmer listed No. 5 on our current 2008 Quarterback rankings (ahead of Hasselbeck and Roethlisberger), so another season with around 4,000 passing yards and 25-30 touchdowns is in the cards.

What sort of value will Jon Kitna have now that Mike Martz is out of the mix in Detroit? -- R. Hunter, Oakland, Calif.

M.F.:Lions head coach Rod Marinelli told the Detroit News that Kitna will open training camp as the team's No. 1 quarterback, but that doesn't mean he will be the starter in Week 1. In fact, J.T. O'Sullivan, Dan Orlovsky and Drew Stanton will all be in the mix, and the latter will be his most serious competition. If Kitna does retain the role, the fact that the Lions will run a more balanced offense under Jim Colletto will be a serious detriment. As a result, look for the veteran to be seen as more of a No. 2 fantasy quarterback and a potential bust candidate in 2008.

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