Fantasy mailbag: Ware remains a solid IDP option

Hey Michael, I just joined an IDP league that rewards more points for sacks than the rest of the defensive categories. Which defenders should I target for the 2008 season based on this scoring system? Thanks! -- L. Truitt, Syracuse, N.Y.

Michael Fabiano: The most obvious names in such a format include the likes of Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Mario Williams, Patrick Kerney, Osi Umenyiora, Aaron Kampman and Shawne Merriman. All of these defenders recorded at least 12 sacks last season and should continue to find success in 2008. If this is your first run in an IDP league, chances are tackles will also be ultra important. As a result, I'd look to add players that can record solid tackle and sack totals like Ware, Trent Cole, Julian Peterson and James Harrison.

I haven't heard much about the fantasy value of JaMarcus Russell, outside of the rumors that he weighs 300 pounds. Where will he be selected in seasonal fantasy drafts? -- M. Braun, Alpharetta, Ga.

M.F.:Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp told the Contra Costa Times that Russell is between 265-270 pounds, not the 300 pounds that has been reported. The Louisiana State product will open next season atop the team's depth chart, but a quarterback with 31 pass attempts at the NFL level is bound to endure some growing pains. The team did improve his core of weapons with the addition of Javon Walker and Drew Carter, and there's also a chance the silver and black will draft Darren McFadden next month. Overall, I'd consider Russell a low-end No. 2 fantasy quarterback who will show flashes of brilliance at times but won't be consistent enough to earn a prominent role in most formats.

I'm in a 10-team keeper league and can retain three players from Derek Anderson, Larry Johnson, Willie Parker, Clinton Portis, Marques Colston and Larry Fitzgerald. I would keep the three backs, but we start one runner, one flex (RB/WR) and two receivers in this league. Should I retain Parker and then look to re-acquire Colston or Fitzgerald with the No. 4 overall selection in the draft? -- M. Oliver, Canada

M.F.: With such a favorable position in the re-draft, I would retain all three running backs and then look to re-acquire either Colston or Fitzgerald in Round 1. Even in a smaller league that starts just one runner, true featured backs will come at a premium. Furthermore, you can leverage the depth you have at the position for potential trades down the road. Remember that backs take the most punishment of all the offensive skill positions, and there's no doubt a few of the better runners will miss at least some time due to injuries. That was evident last season, when the list of backs to miss significant time with various ailments was one of the top stories of the 2007 fantasy football season.

I'm in a 10-team league and can keep one player per position. I can either retain Tony Romo, Ronnie Brown or Michael Turner or release them all to add a first-round selection. I think Tom Brady, Frank Gore and Clinton Portis will be available. What should I do? -- S. Harkovich, Austin, Texas.

M.F.: Here's the real question -- what is your position in the re-draft? If you have one of the top selections, then it makes total sense to take a chance for Brady, Gore or Portis, all of whom have more value than Romo, Brown and Turner. If your draft position isn't favorable, however, I'd retain the duo of Romo and Brown and release Turner. There is some risk with Brown, who is coming back from a reconstructive knee procedure, but his age (26) and statistical upside make him a runner to retain in most keeper formats.

What sort of value will D.J. Hackett have in Carolina? Do you consider him a sleeper for the 2008 season? -- N. Tankersly, Lincoln, Neb.

M.F.: The Gaston Gazette reports Hackett has been all but guaranteed the second spot on the Carolina depth chart, so he is a player to watch in the preseason. A man with some of the stickiest hands in the NFL, Hackett has dropped one pass over the past two seasons. His downfall has come due to injuries, however, as Hackett has become a bit brittle since his emergence with Seattle. I'd consider him a borderline No. 3 or 4 fantasy wideout and worth a middle- to late-round selection in most 2008 drafts.

Reggie Bush was a real disappointment for most fantasy owners last season. Will he rebound and produce better numbers in 2008? What's the status of Deuce McAllister? -- M. Robertson, Lafayette, La.

M.F.: Bush, who finished last season on the New Orleans sidelines due to an injured knee, is expected to take part in the team's offseason conditioning program. While that is of course good news, the bad news is that Bush averaged a mediocre 3.7 yards per carry in his time as a featured back last season. Furthermore, a report out of the New Orleans Times-Picayune revealed that Deuce McAllister has had ACL and microfracture procedures on his right knee. As a result, the two sides have agreed to postpone the $1 million bonus due to McAllister until April 15. If McAllister doesn't show progress, there's a chance the Saints could cut him and promote Pierre Thomas into a more prominent offensive role.

Bush should still be considered a No. 2 fantasy runner with added value in PPR formats, but the New Orleans backfield situation is a bit clouded. Fantasy owners should be sure to monitor the situation in the weeks and months to come before a final decision on the value of Bush, McAllister and Thomas, who could be a sleeper, are made for 2008 drafts.

I am in a 10-team keeper league and need to retain two players from Ryan Grant, Michael Turner and LenDale White. Who should I choose? -- M. Smith, Memphis, Tenn.

M.F.: White did produce the first 1,000-yard season of his career in 2007, but there have been questions about his motivation, dedication and work ethic ever. There have also been reports that Tennessee wants to add another back to pair with White in the backfield. Those factors make me side with Grant, who produced monster numbers in 2007 and could see a greater role after the retirement of Brett Favre, and Turner, who is a solid fit for the zone-blocking scheme in Atlanta and should record career bests across the board.

Outside of Ronnie Brown, what other Miami Dolphin players will have fantasy value next season? -- T. Carter, Davie, Fla.

M.F.: Looking at the Miami depth chart, it's hard to see any players other than Brown making a significant impact in seasonal fantasy leagues. John Beck is the favorite to start at the quarterback position, but he won't even be considered in most drafts. Ted Ginn will be worth a middle- to late-round selection as a fantasy reserve, but the questions about Beck will limit his value. Ernest Wilford's name could be called in the late rounds, and Ricky Williams will also be drafted in leagues with 12-plus teams as a handcuff for Brown. The Dolphins defense should improve over last season, when it fell completely off the fantasy football radar, but I don't see it warranting much draft consideration.

I would love to see Jonathan Stewart land in Detroit now that the team has released Kevin Jones, but will he fall out of the first round because of his health issues? Can Stewart be a fantasy sleeper in 2008? -- W. Richards, Flint, Mich.

M.F.: Stewart underwent a surgical procedure to repair his big toe last week, and reports indicate he'll be out four to six months. That means he'll have a chance to be back to 100 percent in time for training camp, albeit at the expense of all pre-camp workouts. Reports also suggests teams will not pass on Stewart in the first round despite the ailment, so he's still certain to be considered in the first 31 selections. Whether or not the Lions will take a chance on him with the No. 15 overall pick remains to be seen, but it would be a shock if the team didn't take a runner at some point in the draft. As I've said before, I don't think the top fantasy back in Detroit is on its current roster.

Stewart's value all depends on his health and where he lands, but he has all the tools to be a tremendous sleeper candidate in all leagues. In fact, the Oregon product could come off the board in one of the first five rounds in all seasonal drafts if he ends up with a team that allows him a chance to earn a prominent role.

I am in a standard 12-team keeper league and need to retain either Marion Barber or Larry Johnson. Who will have more value for the next two or three seasons? -- J. Yocum, Elsmere, Del.

M.F.: I've gone back and forth on this question, but I'd have to side with Barber. At the age of 24, I feel like Barber has far more to offer than Johnson for the next two to three seasons. His carries have been limited to this point due to the presence of Julius Jones (Barber has a mere 477 regular-season carries in his three NFL seasons), and Dallas is certain to add another runner either via the free-agent market or draft in the offseason to take some of the workload off his shoulders.

Sure, Johnson was one of the top three players in fantasy football headed into the 2007 season, but there are now a lot of factors that hurt his value. First, Johnson is 28 and coming off a serious foot ailment. He also has a 400-carry season on his pro resume. Second, Kansas City's offensive line is in need of serious improvement after the loss of two potential Hall of Famers in Will Shields and Willie Roaf in recent seasons. Third is the Brodie Croyle factor. I have no faith in Croyle as a No. 1 quarterback at the NFL level, so Johnson is certain to see constant stacked fronts in 2008 and beyond.

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