Fantasy mailbag: Who's No. 3?

Mike, can you give us your top sleepers at receiver, tight end and defense? - M. Rifkin, Selden, N.Y.

Michael Fabiano: There are quite a few tremendous sleepers at the receiver position, but my top choices are Mark Clayton, Vincent Jackson, Santonio Holmes and D.J. Hackett. All should emerge as nice No. 3 wideouts - I think Clayton could even become a viable No. 2 receiver in some formats. At the tight end position I really like Vernon Davis, who is sort of a mix between a sleeper and a breakout candidate. Some true sleepers include Eric Johnson, David Martin and rookies Greg Olsen and Zach Miller. In terms of defenses, I like Green Bay, which seems to be underrated in fantasy circles, San Francisco and Kansas City.

I have the third overall selection in our draft, and it looks like LaDainian Tomlinson and Steven Jackson will be the first two choices. Should I take Larry Johnson, who is in the middle of a holdout, or play it safe and pick Peyton Manning instead? - J. Suen, Minneapolis, Minn.

M.F.: I have said all along that I believe Johnson will end his holdout in time for the start of the regular season, and it seems like that's where the situation is headed. Reports indicate that the structure of a new deal has been reached, but the two sides are around $4 million apart in negotiations. Barring a real turn for the worst in this situation, I would still take Johnson with the third overall choice. Even with the prospect of an inexperienced quarterback under center and a weakened offensive line, L.J. should still rush for 1,400-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns in an offense that will continue to lean on him as its centerpiece.

What sort of numbers will Jerious Norwood record if he's the No. 1 running back in Atlanta? I did some math from his stats last season, and he would have rushed for 1,920 yards based on 300 carries. - J. Altman, Chippewa Falls, Wisc.

M.F.: I can say with confidence that Norwood won't rush for 1,900-plus yards this season, but he does have a tremendous amount of sleeper value. Now considered the favorite to start for new coach Bobby Petrino, Norwood has a chance to rush for 900-1,000 yards and score five to seven touchdowns. He will have to share at least some of the workload with veteran Warrick Dunn and possibly rookie Jason Snelling, but Norwood should see the most carries of the trio.

Mike, what sort of value will Deion Branch have this season? It seems that his stock is a bit low. Also, should I take Steven Jackson if he is still available with the third overall selection? - H. Hard, N.J.

M.F.: Branch might be underrated on some fantasy rank lists, but he's the 20th-rated wide receiver on NFL.com and a solid No. 2 fantasy receiver. He has a terrific chance to post the first 1,000-yard season of his pro career with Darrell Jackson now out of the mix, so owners should consider him in the middle rounds. As for Steven Jackson, I would thank the heavens if he is still on the board with the third overall choice and yes, I would take him there in a heartbeat.

I have been offered Tom Brady and Thomas Jones for Drew Brees and Brandon Jacobs. Should I pull the trigger on this deal? - L. Francis, Spokane, Wash.

M.F.: I'd assume that the owner who has offered you Jones is worried about his recent calf strain and is trying to unload what he feels could be damaged goods. The prognosis on Jones isn't that bad -- he is confident that he will be fine for the start of the regular season -- so you're basically just trading apples for apples. Brady and Brees are close in value, as are Jones and Jacobs, so I would pass on this deal.

I am in a 12-team league and plan to keep Frank Gore. I'm thinking I should take another back in the first round (No. 10 overall), but what position should I focus on in the second round? - B. Shatford, Texas

M.F.: I think you're smart to keep the focus on running backs even with Gore on the roster. I would then target an elite wide receiver in the second round. Of course, it's always a good idea to concentrate on the flow of the draft and alter strategies as needed, but getting an elite wideout in one of the first two to three rounds is advised in most formats.

I am in a 12-team keeper league and have the tenth overall selection in the re-draft. I have retained Tom Brady and Javon Walker, and I have no real hope to land a top-10 running back. Should I pass on a runner and take someone like Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Steve Smith or Marvin Harrison and use them as leverage to trade for a back? - D. Erredge, Ankeny, Iowa

E-mail Fabiano!

One of the most respected fantasy football minds in the business, Michael Fabiano is here at NFL.com. In addition to providing first-class fantasy analysis, Fabiano will answer your fantasy questions in his weekly mailbag. Got a question for Mike? Click here to submit it.

M.F.: The answer to this question really depends on whose available and the overall scoring system. If 10 of the 12 keepers are runner and you pick 10th, you should have your choice of backs like Edgerrin James, Maurice Jones-Drew, Cedric Benson, Marshawn Lynch, Thomas Jones, Brandon Jacobs or Cadillac Williams. If some of those names are in fact still on the board, I would take one of them as my No. 1 runner rather than add another quarterback. While it makes more sense to take a wideout if the league rewards points for catches, I think it's still important to focus on backs. The bottom line here is that Manning probably won't be on the board at No. 10, and the other owners will no doubt lowball you on a trade for someone like Palmer since they'll know you're desperate for a back. I've tried the two top quarterbacks strategy in the past -- I once had Manning and Donovan McNabb on the same team -- and the decision blew up in my face because no one would deal me a stud back in return for either of them.

I have both Julius Jones and Jamal Lewis on my roster. Who is the more attractive No. 3 fantasy back? - J. Morris, Aubur, Ala.

M.F.: Lewis has more value overall than Jones headed into draft since he won't have to share carries in Cleveland. But overall I would play the matchups and determine a starter in that fashion. For example, the Browns face the Steelers in Week 1 while the Cowboys battle the Giants, so Jones would be the more attractive choice. In Week 2, however, Lewis faces Cincinnati while Jones heads to Miami to face the Dolphins, so Lewis would be a better selection.

What's the word on Robert Meachem? Will he make an impact in his rookie season? - G. Craig, Crown Point, Ind.

M.F.: Meachem has returned from a surgical procedure on his knee and shown flashes of potential in the preseason, but at this point the Saints plan to start Marques Colston and Devery Henderson with David Patten in the slot. Henderson is expected to miss around two weeks due to an injured hamstring, however, so the rookie could close the gap if he impresses head coach Sean Payton and his coaching staff. At this time he's worth little more than a late-round flier in seasonal formats with the statistical expectations of about 500-600 yards and three to five touchdowns.

I'm worried about the offensive line in Miami. Does it make sense to pass on Ronnie Brown and take someone like Marshawn Lynch instead? - F. Brandon, Newark, N.J.

M.F.: The O-line in Miami is cause for some concern, but it still wouldn't keep me from picking Brown ahead of Lynch in a seasonal draft. The Dolphins will utilize Brown in a featured role in the offense of new head coach Cam Cameron, and he should even see more opportunities as a receiver out of the backfield. As much as I love Lynch as a rookie, I'd still take Brown ahead of him.

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