Fantasy owners shouldn't overrate Cowboys' Bryant as a rookie

What do you think about Dez Bryant? Seems like he's getting rave reviews from Cowboys' camp. Should he be drafted ahead of Roy Williams? I love Bryant's upside. -- F. Brooks, St. Louis, Mo.

Michael Fabiano: Bryant does have a ton of long-term potential, but I wouldn't expect him to come out and make an enormous impact as a rookie. A select few wideouts have ever recorded 1,000-plus yards in their first NFL season, and even some of the greatest names at the position were invisible as rookies. The great Jerry Rice had 49 receptions, 927 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. Steve Largent had 705 yards and four touchdowns. Michael Irvin, who used to wear the same No. 88 that Bryant now dons, posted 32 catches, 654 yards and five scores in his first season. Do I think Bryant can unseat Williams atop the depth chart to open the season? Without question -- even though Williams did recently compared his rapport with Tony Romo to that of Joe Montana and Rice. But I would temper expectations for Bryant in an offense loaded with talent. Not only is Williams in the mix, but Miles Austin and Jason Witten will also see targets. Overall, I'd expect Bryant to produce 700-800 yards and five to seven touchdowns in 2010.

I'm in a keeper league and have great depth at the running back position with Ray Rice, Steven Jackson, Knowshon Moreno and Pierre Thomas. I have a chance to trade Jackson and Pierre Garcon for Rashard Mendenhall. Would you make this deal? -- W.B., Akron, Ohio

M.F.: This is a trade I would definitely make. Jackson hasn't been the most durable player during his career, and the fact that he's coming off back surgery is a cause for at least some concern. Mendenhall is younger with more statistical upside and major breakout potential next season. Honestly, I think Mendenhall is a better option in seasonal, keeper and dynasty leagues. Losing Garcon in the deal shouldn't be a major factor either, so pull the trigger and acquire Mendenhall.

I have a hypothetical question for you. If Brett Favre decides not to return this season, where would you rank the top fantasy players in Minnesota? Whose value would fall the farthest? Would Sidney Rice still be a No. 1 fantasy wideout? -- H. Samuels, Washington, D.C.

M.F.: Regardless of whether or not Favre returns, it's hard not to list Adrian Peterson as one of the top running backs in fantasy football. He was a stud before Favre was in the offense, and he'll be a stud when Favre is no longer under center. However, the value of Rice, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe would all decrease. Rice is ranked at No. 11 among wide receivers on my current board, assuming Favre returns. If Tarvaris Jackson is the starter, though, Rice would be more of a No. 2 option behind Anquan Boldin and Carolina's Steve Smith. Harvin, my No. 20 at wideout, would fall into the No. 3 level. Shiancoe, who is ranked No. 10 among tight ends, would be a high-end No. 2 behind Chris Cooley.

What are your thoughts on Steve Slaton? He was a stud for me during his rookie season, so I was shocked to see his numbers fall so far in 2009. Will he return to form, or was he for all intents and purposes a one-season wonder? -- L. Petrovick, Canada

M.F.: Slaton is coming back from neck surgery and has yet to be cleared for contact. While he expects to be fine for the start of the regular season, it's hard to envision a scenario where Slaton would re-capture his rookie form. Aside from the health risk, Slaton will also lose carries to rookie Ben Tate and Arian Foster. I see Tate as the eventual starter with Slaton serving in more of a passing-down role. In a recent experts league draft, Slaton was a low middle-round pick. I would expect him to come off the board in the same area in most standard formats with Tate going ahead of him.

How much value does Kellen Winslow lose now that he's coming off another knee operation? He seems like a risk to me. Also, which of the Buccaneers wide receivers do you think will make the greatest fantasy impact? -- G. Drake, St. Petersburg, Fla.

M.F.: Winslow is reportedly coming off his fifth knee surgery in the last six years, but this latest operation was arthroscopic and shouldn't keep him out of training camp. Despite his knee problems, the veteran has still played in 16 games in three of the last four seasons and is no more a risk now than he's been since 2006. I have him ranked at No. 9 among tight ends, and I won't move him down based on this latest news. At wide receiver, rookies Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams appear to be the favorites to start. Benn is the more attractive of the duo and is worth a late-round flier in seasonal formats, but it's a good idea to keep tabs on both players during camp. Someone has to catch the ball other than Winslow, and the Bucs don't appear to have much faith in Michael Clayton.

I read that Peter King thinks Ryan Mathews will see 320 carries and win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors this season. We've got the opinion of a football expert, so what is the opinion of a fantasy expert? Is Mathews the real deal? -- P. Buehler, Bristol, Conn.

M.F.: I agree that Mathews is the odds-on favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, though I'm not sure he'll see 320 carries. That's a ton. Earlier in the offseason, coach Norv Turner said he'd like to get Mathews around 290 touches. That seems like more of a realistic number. Whatever the scenario, I'd be shocked if Mathews didn't rush for 1,000-plus yards. As you can tell, I'm drinking the Kool-Aid on this kid -- I even have him ranked at No. 14 among running backs -- so consider Mathews in the second round of all seasonal formats.

Does the fact that Chris Johnson is a potential holdout candidate make him less attractive as the top overall pick in fantasy drafts? Would it be safer to take Adrian Peterson? -- J. Hughes, Bay Area, Calif.

M.F.: Players that hold out of all or most of training camp often experience decreased statistical success during the season (Steven Jackson comes to mind), but I don't think such a scenario would keep me from drafting Johnson. Would Peterson move ahead of him on my running back board if the Titans superstar did hold out to start camp? It's entirely possible. But the bottom line is simple -- Johnson is just too talented and too explosive not to be one of the top three picks on draft day.

I want your honest opinion. Do you think fantasy football is more about luck or knowledge? I've played in leagues where the champion was the least-knowledgeable owner! I know you're going to disagree, but I think there is a lot of luck involved. I still love fantasy football, but the best teams don't always win. -- P. Lauderdale, Redding, Pa.

M.F.: I actually agree with you, at least in part. Researching and having an in-depth knowledge of player values, bye weeks, etc., is important to a solid draft. You also need to be diligent on the waiver wire during the season, make trades from positions of strength to improve areas of weakness and follow trends to be the best general manager possible. Of course, injuries can derail your hopes for a championship. Owners who drafted Tom Brady in 2008 obviously had some pretty bad luck. Where luck does come into play more often, however, is during the postseason. Case in point: Last season, NFL.com photo editor Ben Liebenberg fielded a team that included Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Marshall, Vernon Davis and the Jets defense. No, seriously, that was his team. Based on the league's scoring system, he had three of the top four overall point producers (Johnson, Brees, Favre), two of the top seven wideouts (Wayne, Marshall), the second-best tight end (Davis) and the third-best defense (Jets). Seems like an unbeatable team, right? Well, much like Brady's 2007 Patriots, Ben's squad failed to win the championship. He did reach the league finals, but his opponent had a huge week while Ben's players failed to perform on the same level as previous weeks. That's just a case of bad luck. Did he have the best team? There was no doubt about it. But much like in real sports, it only takes one bad week to knock your fantasy football team out of the playoff race.

I'm in a keeper league and plan to retain Aaron Rodgers for a third-round pick. Should I also consider drafting Greg Jennings and/or Donald Driver, and if so, what round do you see them going in? What are your thoughts on drafting a quarterback and wide receiver combo? -- K. Biggs, Hanover Park, Ill.

M.F.: I like the quarterback-wideout combination strategy overall, but I'm not going to pass on someone like Brandon Marshall, for example, in order to grab Jennings (in your case). I see the Packers wideout coming off the board in the fourth round in most drafts, though he might even be a late third rounder in larger leagues. As for Driver, he's more of a middle-round pick. Based on his age (Driver turned 35 earlier this year), however, I think he's on the verge of seeing his numbers fall. He's going to lose targets to James Jones and Jordy Nelson, and tight end Jermichael Finley appears destined to see a more prominent role in the offense as well.

How do you see the backfield situation in Miami shaking out this season? Ronnie Brown is coming off another injury, and Ricky Williams was a beast in his absence in 2009. Any chance Williams takes over a larger role considering Brown's recent proneness to injuries? -- K. Hill, Portland, Ore.

M.F.: The Miami Herald reports that Brown was on the practice field Tuesday during the Dolphins OTAs. He wasn't going at full speed, but the fact that he was even out there is a positive sign. Barring a setback, I still see Brown as the top back on the depth chart for coach Tony Sparano. Sure, Williams did perform very well at the end of last season. But he's more comfortable in a backup/committee role. Brown has the talent to produce strong fantasy numbers, but he's a major risk-reward option. Consider him a No. 2 fantasy back.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!

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