Fantasy mailbag: Willis tops all IDPs for 2008

I'm in a 10-team IDP keeper league and need to retain two defenders from Chad Greenway, David Harris, Aaron Kampman and Patrick Willis. Suggestions? -- L. Martin, St. Louis, Mo.

Michael Fabiano: Willis had an incredible rookie season in San Francisco with 174 total tackles (135 solo), four sacks and five passes defensed. That will make him the first defender selected in all seasonal drafts and the most valuable option in keeper leagues as well. Greenway and Kampman are nice defenders in fantasy land, but Harris will have more value. With Jonathan Vilma now in New Orleans, Harris will be one of the most valuable players at his position across the board. He had an impressive 127 total tackles (90 solo), five sacks and three passes defensed as a rookie, and he could improve on those numbers in 2008.

Mike, what would happen to the fantasy value of Roy Williams if he ends up in Dallas? Also, how would that affect Calvin Johnson? -- T. Widner, Memphis, Tenn.

M.F.: Reports indicate the Lions will not trade Williams before the start of next season. In fact, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram suggests it would take a "Herschel Walker" deal to land the talented wide receiver. If he does somehow end up in Dallas, however, Williams would be more of a low-end No. 2 fantasy wideout. The downfall, of course, is that his chances to produce monster numbers would decrease with Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Patrick Crayton all in the mix. Such a scenario would upgrade Johnson from a borderline No. 2 or 3 fantasy wideout to a borderline No. 1 or 2 option.

I'm not a fan of Matt Leinart and his off-the-field exploits. It seems like he doesn't take football serious enough to become a top-notch quarterback. I'd rather have Kurt Warner as Arizona's quarterback, but that's me. What does Leinart's presence under center mean for the value of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald? -- W. Tinslon, Austin, Texas

M.F.: Based on Leinart's five starts from last season, fantasy footballers should prefer Warner as the Arizona quarterback. Leinart did little to impress before he was lost for the season, so he does have much to prove at the NFL level. In terms of Boldin and Fitzgerald, let's look at the three games this trio played together last season. It was evident that Leinart favored Boldin (22 receptions, 286 yards, three touchdowns) more than Fitzgerald (15 receptions, 192 yards, 0 touchdowns), but Fitzgerald's numbers increased in Weeks 4 and 5 after Boldin was lost with an injured hip. Fitzgerald will remain the more valuable wideout in all fantasy drafts, but again, Leinart has some work to do in 2008.

I have Chris Henry in a 14-team keeper league, and now it seems I should release him. Who should I retain in his place from Kevin Curtis, Nate Burleson or Vincent Jackson? -- M. Drayton, Alpharetta, Ga.

M.F.: Henry is almost certain to be suspended for the entire 2008 season after yet another off-the-field incident, and his future in the NFL looks bleak at best. With that in mind, now is the time to cut ties with him in keeper and dynasty leagues. I think Curtis is a better option than Burleson and Jackson and would retain him ahead of Henry. Curtis was inconsistent last season, but 77 receptions, 1,110 yards and six touchdowns is nice production from a No. 3 fantasy wideout.

Hi Mike, is there a quarterback out there that could fall in drafts but still has a chance to produce like a No. 1 fantasy quarterback? Regardless of last season, I will take running backs and wide receivers first and will wait to take a quarterback until after the first four or five rounds. Thanks! -- L. Braddock, Lawrence, Kan.

M.F.: I think Marc Bulger and David Garrard could be nice value picks in all 2008 drafts. Bulger's value took a hit last season due to injuries and a patchwork offensive line, but he's back to 100 percent health and should receive much better protection behind center. OT Orlando Pace will return from an injured shoulder, and St. Louis could also decide to take Michigan OT Jake Long in the NFL Draft. Regardless, Bulger should be seen as a low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback.

The same holds true for Garrard, who just signed a six-year contract with Jacksonville and is now the team's unquestioned franchise quarterback. With Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield and Jerry Porter now in the passing game, Garrard has some nice options in the offensive attack. If he can avoid injuries, the East Carolina product should have the best season of his NFL career.

I'm in a 12-team keeper league and have run out of patience with Cedric Benson. Should I cut ties with him and retain DeAngelo Williams instead? -- V. Pelson, Spain

M.F.: The Chicago Sun-Times reports Benson should be ready for the start of training camp, but he might have lost a step after a surgical procedure to repair a broken ankle. Furthermore, it appears the Bears will look to add competition for Benson in the NFL Draft. While these little factoids seem to favor Williams in this scenario, keep in mind that Carolina is also in the market for a back after the release of DeShaun Foster. In fact, our Pat Kirwan and Mike Mayock both have the Panthers taking a running back in their most recent mock drafts, so Williams, like Benson, are also certain not to be featured backs. I'd still side with Williams for now, but be sure to keep close tabs on the NFL Draft (April 26-27).

Mike, I watched the segment you did on Total Access about Jim Zorn's impact on the fantasy value of Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, but how will his offense affect the stock of Clinton Portis? I have him in my keeper league and would love to get similar production to his 2007 totals. Thanks! -- L. Slanton, Newport News, Va.

M.F.: Reports of Washington indicate new head coach Jim Zorn could start the 2008 season as a run-based offense, which would give Jason Campbell time to adjust and learn another offense. Portis had some nagging injuries last season but will be at 100 percent, and Zorn should lean on him as his featured back. Zorn has also been impressed with Portis and his skills as a receiver out of the backfield (he had a career-best 47 receptions in 2007), so he should still be seen and drafted as a low-en No. 1 fantasy running back.

I'm in a 10-team keeper league and need to retain one running back from Reggie Bush, Marshawn Lynch and LenDale White. Help! -- M. Elder, Dublin, Ohio

M.F.: Bush and White both have keeper value, but Lynch has the most value. The California product showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, and now he'll see a more extensive role in the offense of new coordinator Turk Schonert. Lynch warrants first-round consideration in seasonal drafts and will be an attractive keeper in all formats.

Am I nuts to think Larry Johnson will be an enormous bust next season? I know he's considered a first-round selection in most drafts, but I plan to avoid him like the plague. What's your take? -- K. Calderon, St. Paul, Minn.

M.F.: I have Johnson listed sixth on NFL.com's current running back rankings, but he could fall behind the likes of Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch in the weeks and months to come. Kansas City's offensive line has become, well, offensive, over the past two seasons, but the addition of a solid lineman such as Michigan's Long or Boise State's Ryan Clady would improve the situation.

The real issue is at the quarterback position, where Brodie Croyle is the current favorite to start. The Alabama product hasn't shown much at the NFL level, and I have doubts that he has the tools to be a productive starter for head coach Herman Edwards. The Chiefs are also lacking at wide receiver, where Jeff Webb and Devard Darling are the favorites to start opposite Dwayne Bowe. Unless the team makes improvements, Johnson could fall into the second round in fantasy drafts and be at risk to become a very serious disappointment.

I realize most Florida wide receivers don't meet expectations at the NFL level, but isn't Chad Jackson a solid sleeper candidate for next season after the departure of Donté Stallworth? I feel like Jackson is a lot more talented than Jabar Gaffney (another Florida wideout). Thoughts? -- P. Gonzalez, West Palm Beach, Fla.

M.F.: It appears Gaffney is locked into the second spot on the New England depth chart behind Randy Moss, while Jackson will battle Kelley Washington for the role of slot receiver. Gaffney did fail in Houston and Philadelphia, but he's been resurrected with the Patriots. In fact, he should record career best across the board in 2008. Jackson might have more skill and upside, but its' Gaffney who will be taken in most drafts.

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