Fantasy mailbag: Lynch's value on the rise in fantasy land

I'm in a keeper league that rewards running backs points for catches. I need to retain one of the following: Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch or Steve Smith. I also need to keep two from Ryan Grant, Michael Turner and Marques Colston. Who will produce the best numbers in 2008? -- J.R., Marietta, Ga.

Michael Fabiano: Gore will have added value in leagues that reward points for receptions under new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, but I would side with Lynch. The former California standout showed some real flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, and I love him as a breakout candidate in 2008. Buffalo's new offensive coordinator, Turk Schonert, plans to utilize Lynch in a more featured role next season, so I wouldn't be shocked if he caught 50-plus passes out of the backfield. In terms of your second list of players, I would retain Grant (to pair with Lynch in the backfield) and Colston if wideouts also receive points for catches. However, if it's standard rules for receivers and the league has 12 or more teams, I would retain Turner instead. With three backs in the mix, you can then focus on a quarterback and receivers in the first four rounds.

I've been invited to a new 8-team league that starts two quarterbacks, two running backs, three wide receivers and one tight end, and I have the first pick overall in a serpentine format. I've always lived off runners, but I'm tempted to go with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Tony Romo with the first selection. What do you think? -- T. Wall, Chapel Hill, N.C.

M.F.: I might have advised against this if it weren't such a small league, but I think Brady does make sense as the No. 1 overall selection. The fact that you're required to start two quarterbacks will create a greater focus on the position in the first two rounds, so there will be at least somewhat of a lesser sense of urgency to land a top runner. In fact, I think Brady, Manning and Romo will all come off the board in the first 12 selections in such a format. I would be certain to focus on backs (based on the flow of the draft) in the second or third round, where runners the caliber of Marion Barber, Ronnie Brown, Ryan Grant, Willis McGahee, Willie Parker and Clinton Portis will be available.

I'm in a 12-team keeper league and can retain two players, losing the draft pick and the round you originally selected them in. I pick dead last in the first round, so retaining LaDainian Tomlinson (Round 1) is a no-brainer. However, who should I keep from Anquan Boldin (Round 4), Jason Witten (Round 6), Fred Taylor (Round 10), Brandon Marshall (Round 11) and David Garrard (Round 12)? The league does not award points for receptions, and all touchdowns are worth six points. -- A. London, Jacksonville, Fla.

M.F.: Witten and Garrard are nice values, but I would take Marshall for an 11th-round selection. However, I would be certain to keep tabs on his status in the weeks and months to come after a surgical procedure to repair vein, nerve, artery and tendon damage to his right arm. Marshall sustained the injuries while reportedly wrestling with family members. The best value of the players you've mentioned in my opinion, Marshall was selected in the third round of the recent NFL.com mock draft for the 2008 season.

I'm in a 10-team keeper league and need to retain two players for next season. I have to choose between LaDainian Tomlinson (Round 1), Chad Johnson (Round 3), Randy Moss (Round 4) and Tony Romo (Round 5). The two that are chosen must be taken in the round I selected them in the previous season (shown above in parenthesis). I am stumped! -- M. Aicard, San Diego, Calif.

M.F.: I think you have to keep Tomlinson for a first-round selection, and I'd pass on Johnson and Moss and retain Romo. Sure, both wideouts are solid keeper options, but Romo is the best value. The Dallas quarterback was taken in the first round of the recent NFL.com mock draft, and I think he'll be selected no later than Round 2 in all formats. Romo threw for 4,211 yards and recorded an impressive 38 total touchdowns in 2008, so he'll be one of the top three quarterbacks taken across the board.

I'm in a three-player keeper league that does not award points for catches. I need to choose from Tony Romo, Ronnie Brown, Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne and Jason Witten. Any insight on what three I should choose? -- J. Yepma, Temple, Texas

M.F.: I would retain Romo for certain (see the previous answer), Gore and Moss. You might want to retain Brown ahead of Moss if this is a larger league and running backs are harder to find in the re-draft, but I would guess there are no more than 12 teams based on the players you've listed. If you decide to retain Moss, be certain to add a second runner in the first round. However, I would target a wide receiver (you might be able to re-acquire Moss, Houshmandzadeh or Wayne) if you hold onto Romo and the two backs.

Hey Michael, I'd like to know what you expect from Ronnie Brown next season. He was a star under Cam Cameron before he tore his ACL, but now he has to make a comeback from reconstructive surgery. Will he hit the ground running and remain Miami's workhorse? How much will Ricky Williams hurt his value? -- Billy, Modesto, Calif.

M.F.: I'm going to focus on this exact topic next week, but the fact of the matter is running backs that sustain torn ACLs tend to see a decrease in production the season after the damage is repaired. Backs like Terrell Davis, Jamal Anderson and Edgerrin James all saw their numbers fall after ACL operations, and that trend could hurt Brown's value in all fantasy drafts. The positives (aside from recent medical advances) for Brown include the fact that he had the surgical procedure soon after the swelling in his knee subsided, and his rehabilitation has been flawless. In fact, Brown's agent told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that his client will be ready for the start of the regular season.

Another positive is that Miami has ignored the position in the offseason, adding 11 free agents but no running backs despite the loss of Jesse Chatman (Jets). There is some risk to be certain, but I still expect Brown to produce around 1,200-1,400 all-purpose yards and six to eight touchdowns in 2008. Williams, who is also expected to return to 100 percent from a torn pectoral muscle, will involved in the offensive attack but should still be seen as more of a handcuff for owners that land Brown.

Michael, I won the championship in my 10-team IDP league last season, which gives me the last pick in our 2008 draft. I get two picks in a row but since I have to wait so long between them, is there anyone or any position I should concentrate on? I plan to keep LaDainian Tomlinson rather than Marion Barber. Is this a wise move? Please help! -- M. Liszewski, Newark, Calif.

M.F.: Tomlinson does turn 29 before the start of next season, but I'd still retain him ahead of Barber in a keeper league. With L.T. on your roster, I would focus on one running back and a stud wide receiver with your first- and second-round selections. You can then look to target a quarterback and another wideout in Round 4 or 5. Of course, that strategical advice should be altered if there is either a monster run at one of the top offensive skill positions or a player with immense value falls to you for some reason.

I'm in a 10-team PPR keeper league and need to retain three players from David Garrard, Eli Manning, Andre Johnson, Lee Evans and Tony Gonzalez. Which three should I choose? I'm forced to release Steven Jackson and Steve Smith back into the player pool (we can't keep a player picked in the first or second rounds) and plan on picking backs with my first two picks. -- J. Pounder, Rancho Bernardo, Calif.

M.F.: Some might disagree, but I would retain Garrard ahead of Manning at the quarterback position. Sure, Manning looked incredible in the postseason en route to what was one of the greatest upsets in sports in Super Bowl XLII, but he was still threw 20 interceptions and was inconsistent in the regular season. Garrard showed flashes of brilliance in his first full season as a No. 1 quarterback, and I think he has the tools to be a starter in fantasy land as well. Johnson has a chance to post the best numbers of his career in 2008 and should also be retained, and I'd side with Gonzalez (despite his extended age) ahead of Evans, who has been inconsistent throughout his NFL career.

I'm in a 12-team PPR league that allows three keepers. My keepers are slim at this point, with Frank Gore, Earnest Graham and Chad Johnson being my best players. With Warrick Dunn back in Tampa Bay and Cadillac Williams on the mend, can Graham still be a solid keeper in 2008? Also, with all the offseason drama surrounding Ocho Cinco, should he still be considered a solid keeper? -- E. Gottlieb, Boston, Mass.

M.F.: Graham is one of the most difficult players to gauge at this time, simply because of Dunn's presence and the fact that Williams should return to the field at some point next season. What's more, Graham, 28, will have more value in seasonal formats than long-term keeper leagues. He was a touchdown machine while in a prominent role last season, so Graham does warrant consideration if he's one of your better options. As for Ocho Cinco, he's still one of the most talented wideouts in the NFL and should remain a solid keeper next season. While he continues to hint that he wants to be traded, chances are he'll remain in Cincinnati. In fact, head coach Marvin Lewis cemented that on NFL Total Access.

"If he wants the chance to play professional football, he's got to do it right here in Cincinnati," Lewis said.

I'm in a 12-team PPR keeper league and can retain one quarterback, two running backs and two wide receivers or get extra picks in our re-draft by keeping fewer than five players. Who do you think I should keep out of Ronnie Brown, Justin Fargas, Willis McGahee and Willie Parker? Should I keep two of my wideouts (Santonio Holmes, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White) and a quarterback (Marc Bulger) or let them go and hope to get someone better with my extra draft picks? Thanks! -- D. Brand, Canada

M.F.: Unless there's talk of the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks being retained in this league, I would release Bulger back into the pool of available players and add up a draft pick. Brown might not post enormous numbers next season as he returns from a torn ACL, but at 26 he still has significant long-term value and should be retained. McGahee and Parker are close in value, but I'd side with the former based on his improved skills as a receiver out of the backfield. Even if each owner retains just one wide receiver, you're still looking at a loss of overall depth at the position. As a result, I would retain Holmes and Johnson.

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