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Fantasy mailbag: Sleeper QBs hard to find in 2008

I saw your sleepers column and noticed Shaun Hill was the lone quarterback on the list. What about John Beck or Aaron Rodgers? -- C. Livermore, Green Bay, Wis.

Michael Fabiano: When I put that column together, I wanted to avoid some of the more obvious players. After all, a sleeper isn't a sleeper unless that player's success is somewhat unexpected in the preseason. For example, Michael Turner is a borderline sleeper candidate in my mind because most people wouldn't be shocked if he rushed for 1,000-plus yards as a starter in Atlanta. Rodgers fits into that same category since he'll be in a much more prominent role in Green Bay. That's the reason I listed Hill, who showed flashes of potential towards the end of last season but is still not in a prominent position in San Francisco.

As for Beck, I'm not sold on him as a sleeper. He just didn't show me enough to think he can produce on a consistent basis next season. Furthermore, a recent report out of the Miami Herald suggests Josh McCown, not Beck, could be Miami's No. 1 quarterback in Week 1. Whether it's Beck, McCown or Chad Henne atop the depth chart, no Miami quarterback will have much value in seasonal drafts.

I'm in a 12-team standard league and need to retain three players from Jay Cutler, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, LenDale White, Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker and Jason Witten. I have the 11th overall pick in the re-draft. Suggestions? Also, what have you heard about Michael Bush in Oakland? -- D. Steege, Charlotte, N.C.

M.F.: Tomlinson is without question the most obvious keeper choice, but then it gets a little difficult. You'd almost always like to retain two running backs, but I don't see Jones or White as legitimate options in this scenario. And as much as I like Cutler, I think there will be several quarterbacks with similar value released back into the pool of available players. As a result, I'd have to side with Fitzgerald and Witten. You'll secure a No. 1 wideout and one of the top three tight ends in fantasy football. I would then turn my focus on a running back and a quarterback (based on the flow of the re-draft) in the first three rounds.

Bush reportedly looked good in a recent minicamp, and Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin has left the backfield competition wide open. However, I think he'd need to be extremely impressive to finish better than third on the team's depth chart. McFadden is a lock to open the regular season as the first or second option in the ground game, and incumbent starter Justin Fargas will also see his share of carries in the offense.

I have found that different sources utilize different methods to determine strength of schedule for positional players. How is this determined? -- R. Kirincic, Skokie, Ill.

M.F.: I have always broken down each team's strength of schedule based on the opposition's defensive effectiveness (or lack there of) against the **pass** and the **run** in the previous season, not based on records. As a result, I add up the opposition's 2007 defensive rank against the pass and run and calculate a final number. For example, if a team faces Minnesota (32nd vs. pass) and Detroit (31st vs. pass), that team is rewarded with 63 points. The higher the number, the easier the schedule.

Who are the top five rookie running backs in leagues that reward points for receptions? Thanks! -- D. Donahoe, Nashville, Tenn.

M.F.: McFadden remains the most valuable rookie runner in PPR leagues, followed by Jonathan Stewart, Matt Forte, Kevin Smith and Rashard Mendenhall. Stewart never had more than 22 catches in a collegiate season, but the fact that he'll see goal-line carries in Carolina makes him valuable. Forte is a very close third and would pass Stewart in PPR formats if he secures the top spot on Chicago's depth chart. He averaged 30 catches in his final two seasons at Tulane and is seen as a potential three-down back. Smith, who could be the favorite to start in Detroit, caught 24 passes in his final season at Central Florida. Mendenhall posted a career-best 34 catches in his final season at Illinois, but he has little chance to start in Pittsburgh. Chris Johnson might be the best receiver of all the 2008 backs, but like Mendenhall, he has a veteran starter ahead of him.

I'm in a 14-team seasonal league that starts 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 Flex, 1 TE, 1 K and 1 DT. We are rewarded one point for passing and return yards, two points for rushing and receiving yards, 60 points for all touchdowns and minus-45 points for interceptions. In this format, who should be the first six selections? -- D. Fisher, Memphis, Tenn.

M.F.: This is one of the more unique scoring systems I've ever seen, so I decided to run the numbers you've mentioned in an league to examine the results. Based on your scoring system, Tom Brady (7,752 points), Tony Romo (5,889 points), Peyton Manning (5,444 points), Drew Brees (5,442 points) and Matt Hasselbeck (5,284 points) were the top five points producers from last season. Eight of the top 10 players came from the quarterback position, which isn't a shock based on 60 points rewarded for all touchdowns. The top running back was LaDainian Tomlinson (5,028 points), with Brian Westbrook (4,912 points) a close second among the top 10.

What I don't like about the league is that Jon Kitna, a mediocre fantasy quarterback, had more fantasy points than every running back outside of Tomlinson and Westbrook. And that's with 21 interceptions, which equals minus-945 points! In order to even out the player values for next season, I would decrease the points rewarded for passing touchdowns (some basic leagues reward four points for passing touchdowns and six for all others). If you decide to retain this scoring system, however, the top five players will include four quarterbacks. That would be Brady, Manning, Romo and Brees, with Tomlinson fifth overall.

I'm in a 10-team PPR keeper league and need to retain three players. I will keep Tony Romo and Adrian Peterson, but I'm not sure who to retain between Michael Turner and Brandon Marshall. -- M. Mygrant, Tuscon, Ariz.

M.F.: Marshall is a nice option in PPR keeper formats, but I tend to side with running backs and prefer Turner in this scenario. He has a lot of potential in the offense of Mike Mularkey, who utilizes more of a power running game. With Romo, Peterson and Turner on the roster, I would focus on wide receivers in two of the first three rounds of the re-draft. Who knows, you might even be in a position to re-acquire Marshall.

Fabs, you're on the clock...who do you choose: Joseph Addai, Frank Gore or Steven Jackson? Randy Moss or Reggie Wayne? Braylon Edwards or Larry Fitzgerald? Jason Witten or Kellen Winslow? Thanks! -- S. Mayberry, Mount Pleasant, S.C.

M.F.: Unlike the 2003 Minnesota Vikings, I won't let the clock run out on these selections! I like Jackson among the three running backs, Moss over Wayne, Edwards over Fitzgerald and Witten over Winslow.

I'm in a 10-team PPR league and can retain three players, but we lose the round the players were drafted. I will retain Tom Brady (Round 3) and Randy Moss (Round 7), but I'm torn between Frank Gore (Round 1) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Round 5). Help! -- A. Hustead, Washington, D.C.

M.F.: If we assume that the other nine owners in your league will retain at least one running back (some will retain two), the top options at the position could include the likes of Darren McFadden, Jamal Lewis, Maurice Jones-Drew, Brandon Jacobs and Ronnie Brown. Those are all nice options, but I don't see any of them as No. 1 fantasy backs. Based on that assertion, plus an expected increase in Gore's reception totals under Mike Martz, I'd retain him and release Houshmandzadeh. You're set at the quarterback position with Brady on the roster, so I'd focus on running backs, wide receivers and a tight end in Rounds 2, 4, 5 and 6.

Why is Darren McFadden ranked 18th in your Top 100? Oakland has Justin Fargas, Michael Bush and LaMont Jordan still on the roster! It makes no sense to rank someone so high who hasn't played a single game and could be in a backfield committee. -- D. Musilli

M.F.: I'll respond with a few examples of how past rookies made immediate impacts. Without ever seeing a down at the NFL level, Fred Taylor (1998), Randy Moss (1998) Edgerrin James (1999), Clinton Portis (2002) and Adrian Peterson (2007) all produced explosive numbers and are just a few of the rookies that should have been ranked among the elite fantasy players but weren't in most cases. I might be higher on McFadden than other fantasy writers, but I'd take a chance on his upside and statistical potential. Also remember that running backs will still dominate the first two rounds of most drafts, which adds to McFadden's overall value.

What would happen to the value of Laurence Maroney if the Patriots sign Kevin Jones? -- J. Carlton, Boston, Mass.

M.F.: The Patriots will continue to utilize several backs in their offensive attack, so I think Jones would have more of an affect on Kevin Faulk or Sammy Morris. Jones is solid in short-yardage situations and as a receiver out of the backfield, so he'd complement Maroney more than take away carries. Jones is coming off a surgical procedure to repair a torn ACL, so he'll be limited with whatever team adds him for next season.

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