Fantasy mailbag: Smith has competition in San Francisco

Michael, what do you think about the quarterback position in San Francisco? I like Shaun Hill, but will Alex Smith remain the starter in 2008? -- C. McConnell, Winder, Ga.

Michael Fabiano: We might have to add a third name to the San Francisco quarterback situation, as new offensive coordinator Mike Martz told the Sacramento Bee that J.T. O'Sullivan could end up as the team's starter in 2008. While that could be a bit of an overstatement from Martz, it proves that no one player has the edge in what will become a preseason competition to watch. Smith will be seen as the favorite in the court of public opinion based on his $49.5 million rookie contract, but Hill showed promise last season. Whoever earns the top spot will have more value because of Martz's offense, but none of Smith, Hill or O'Sullivan will be worth more than a reserve spot in fantasy circles.

I'm looking for some sleeper running backs for our keeper league draft. Suggestions? -- M. Edwards, St. Paul, Minn.

M.F.: Michael Turner will be a popular candidate after his move from San Diego to Atlanta, but he'll be more of a sleeper/breakout option in 2008 drafts. There are a few other backs such as Julius Jones and DeAngelo Williams that have seen their value increase due to free-agent movement, but one player who will be under the radar and has a chance to make some noise is Houston's Chris Taylor. With a brittle Ahman Green and Darius Walker the top two options on the team's current depth chart, Taylor could earn a prominent role. He has worked hard to recover from the injured knee that cost him the entire 2007 season, and head coach Gary Kubiak sees Taylor as a perfect fit for the team's zone-blocking scheme. I wouldn't be at all shocked to see Taylor's name mentioned quite a bit around fantasy circles in the weeks and months to come, so keep him on the radar for next season.

I'm in a keeper league and need to retain one player from Greg Jennings (Round 12), Dwayne Bowe (Round 15) and Selvin Young (Round 15). I lose the round that corresponds with the player's draft position from last season. Suggestions? -- C. Mancini, Pawtucket, R.I.

M.F.: I think all three players are solid values based on the rounds listed, but I'd keep Jennings and put Bowe and Young back on the free-agent market. He will lose some value with Aaron Rodgers, not Brett Favre, under center, but Jennings is a talented wideout nonetheless and is still a viable No. 2 fantasy option. I might have favored Bowe, who is a tremendous talent for Kansas City, but I'm not convinced that the team's quarterback situation is stable with Brodie Croyle and/or Damon Huard at the helm of the offense.

I am in a 10-team, PPR keeper league and can retain two players as long as they're not at the same position. There is a serious shortage of running backs because every team keeps one and drafts one in the first round, and I'm stuck with Rudi Johnson as my best back. I have been offered Larry Johnson for my first-round pick and Marshawn Lynch for my second-round pick. Should I retain Johnson or make a deal? -- M. Hochdanner, Buffalo, N.Y.

M.F.: I love Lynch headed into his second NFL season, so much in fact that I think he'll warrant a first-round selection in all 2008 drafts. Buffalo's new offensive coordinator, Turk Schonert, wants to utilize Lynch as a true featured back, so the California product has a chance to produced increased numbers across the board. What's more, Lynch will have added value in PPR formats if Schonert allows him to utilize his solid skills as a receiver on a more consistent basis. As a result, I'd deal that second-round selection for Lynch, retain him and release Johnson back into the pool of available players.

Michael, can Alge Crumpler become a No. 1 fantasy tight end in Tennessee? Who would you rather have for 2008: Crumpler or Greg Olsen? -- N. Salmons, San Francisco, Calif.

M.F.: Crumpler will enter a similar situation in Tennessee to the one he had in Atlanta. The team has a versatile quarterback with no true No. 1 wideout, so I wouldn't be shocked to see Crumpler bounce back with 50-plus receptions and 500-plus yards in 2008. With that said, I'd still much rather have Olsen in all fantasy leagues. The Chicago tight end should see a real spike in statistical success with Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad both out of the mix, so Olsen will be a tremendous sleeper candidate.

Last season it seemed like quarterbacks overtook running backs as the most important position in fantasy football. Was that an anomaly or should I target a quarterback in a more prominent draft position? -- C. Goodwin, Virginia

M.F.: I think superstar running backs like LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Steven Jackson and Joseph Addai are ultra-valuable because they're more rare in a time when backfield committees have become dominant. However, the statistical explosion from quarterbacks last season will make owners far less likely to wait on the position until the middle rounds. That means the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Hasselbeck and Derek Anderson -- quarterbacks who were taken in the middle rounds (or not at all in Anderson's case) -- will be off the board before the start of Round 6 in a 12-team league. With a number of runners closer to the age of 30 headed into this season, I would also expect the likes of Edgerrin James, Rudi Johnson, Thomas Jones, Deuce McAllister and Shaun Alexander to all be selected a bit later than they were in 2007 drafts.

I am in a 10-team keeper league and need to retain three players from Carson Palmer, Ryan Grant, Willis McGahee, Michael Turner, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Reggie Wayne. Who should I choose? -- L. Kajmakoski, Munster, Ind.

M.F.: Based on the increase in production (and value) at the quarterback position last season, I think it's hard to release Palmer back into free-agent pool. The decision to retain or release the rest depends on the league's scoring system. If you receive points for catches, then I would retain Grant and Wayne. If this is a standard league and true featured backs come at a premium, however, I would side with McGahee and Grant and focus on a wide receiver in the first round of the re-draft. In that case, you might be able to re-acquire either Houshmandzadeh or Wayne in Round 1. Remember that prominent wideouts will be much easier to add than featured backs, so Grant and McGahee will have added value.

Which of these running backs is the best keeper candidate: Earnest Graham, Laurence Maroney or Michael Turner? -- D. Woods, Canada

M.F.: Maroney has a pile of talent, but I question whether he will see more carries with Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk in New England's backfield mix. I might have suggested Graham over Turner a few weeks back, but now the latter appears to be the better option. Tampa Bay added Warrick Dunn to serve as its third-down and change-of-pace back, and the potential return of Cadillac Williams could mean a backfield committee is imminent. Turner is a nice fit for the offense of new coordinator Mike Mularkey and should record the first 1,000-yard season of his NFL career. Unless Williams is unable to return for 2008, I see Turner as the clear-cut best keeper choice of this trio.

I plan to retain Ben Roethlisberger and Ronnie Brown, but I'm not sure who else to keep from Julius Jones, Kevin Jones, Travis Henry, DeAngelo Williams, Roy Williams and Jason Witten. Which two players should I retain with Big Ben and Brown? -- P. Byrne, St. Louis, Mo.

M.F.: Right now I would retain DeAngelo Williams and Witten, but Julius Jones could see an increase in value if (and more likely when) Seattle releases Shaun Alexander. If that happens and Carolina adds a legitimate runner (not named LaBrandon Toefield) to pair with Williams in a backfield committee, then I would instead retain the former Notre Dame product. But if Williams is slated to become more of a featured back for head coach John Fox in 2008, I'd retain him ahead of the new Seattle runner.

Can Antonio Bryant really make an impact in Tampa Bay? Will his presence hurt the value of Joey Galloway next season? I used to love Bryant as a sleeper before he fell off the radar last season. Is he worth a late-round flier? -- O. Killings, San Antonio, Texas

M.F.: The Buccaneers don't have a legitimate threat at the wide receiver position outside of Joey Galloway, so Bryant should be allowed a chance to start ahead of Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall in 2008. Bryant, a former 1,000-yard receiver, has averaged 851 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in his past three NFL seasons and could emerge as a low-end sleeper candidate under head coach Jon Gruden. He'll be one to watch in the preseason and could warrant late-round consideration as a No. 5 fantasy wideout.

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