I don't understand why no one is talking about Steven Jackson. In my opinion, an argument can be made that he should be the No. 2 pick behind Adrian Peterson, especially in PPR formats. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo plans to make Jackson an even bigger part of the offense than he has been in the past, and that makes him dangerous. Jackson could be the most physically gifted back in the NFL and he's still only 25, although injuries have derailed him a bit the last two seasons. But with a healthy offseason and a chance to improve on his 2006 totals of 16 total touchdowns, 346 carries and 90 receptions, I would take him with the second overall pick and feel good doing it. What do you think? -- D. Ferrante, Portland, Maine
Michael Fabiano: It's funny you brought up this question, because I tweeted Jackson this week. He responded, "Thanks for the support I PROMISE I will RUN like the only way I know how. That's BEAST MODE!!" He also warned fantasy players that they better draft him, saying "you don't you will be sorry, it's on you." It's pretty obvious that Jackson is motivated to produce, and your comments about how Spagnuolo wants to use him are right on the mark. I've seen Jackson ranked outside of the top 10 at running back on other sites, but I have him at No. 7 on NFL.com. I also think he moves up in PPR leagues, but I wouldn't take him second overall (I'd take Matt Forte and Maurice Jones-Drew). Jackson should put up his best numbers since 2006, if he can avoid injuries. He's a surefire first-round selection in all formats.
If I draft a running back like Brian Westbrook, it's obviously wise to spend a late-round pick on his handcuff, LeSean McCoy. But what about drafting the handcuffs of one or two of my opponent's running backs? I'm thinking it could pay off, since you can always count on somebody getting hit by the injury bug, at which point you could have a viable starter or valuable trade bait. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this idea. Thanks! -- J. Law, Bassett, Va.
M.F.: Once the top-rated running backs are off the board, owners are going to take the best runner available in the middle to late rounds. With such an increase in backfield committees around the league, many of those backs will be high-end handcuffs. Even if you don't take Marion Barber, there's no reason you should pass on Felix Jones in the middle rounds based on his sleeper value. As a result, most owners will likely end up with another owner's handcuff (or handcuffs) without making it a strategy. Of course, it doesn't hurt to target the handcuffs of starting backs with injury woes or excessive career carries. But in a situation like the one you've mentioned, I would make sure I drafted McCoy to insure Westbrook. The veteran is coming off both ankle and knee surgeries, and the fact that he'll be 30 next season makes him even more of a risk-reward player. You'll have to take McCoy several rounds earlier than other handcuffs such as Ladell Betts or Jamaal Charles, but it's important to make the move.
I'm in a 14-team league with a standard scoring system and need to retain two players. I am targeting a quarterback early, and for arguments sake will have the choice between Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner. Based on your rankings, Rivers is the obvious choice. However, Warner has possibly the easiest schedule in Weeks 14-16 (PLAYOFFS BABY!) My team will be stacked as I have five picks in the first 30 overall selections, so I feel confident of making the playoffs. Should I draft the weakest of the three quarterbacks hoping for the best playoff showing or go with consistency and youth and take Rivers? Thanks! -- L. Karr, Champaign, Ill.
M.F.: Warner does have a virtual cake walk in the fantasy postseason, facing the 49ers, Lions and Rams. But I'd still side with Rivers despite the fact that he has a less favorable overall schedule. Sure, using strength of schedule is a good tool in determining a player's value, but it's not the only factor. As you said, age is an issue with Warner -- he turned 38 last month and has been an injury risk in the past. Rivers also showed last season that he can put up great numbers even against the top pass defenses. In the second half, he threw for three touchdowns against the Raiders (10th vs. pass), four scores against the Buccaneers (fourth) and three touchdowns against the Steelers (first) in the AFC Championship Game. Rivers also has some favorable matchups, facing the Broncos, Chiefs, Browns and Bengals during a five-game stretch from Week 11-15, so he'll no doubt help a lot of fantasy leaguers make a championship run.
Hey what's going on Michael, I've got a quick question to ask. Do you think that trading Darren McFadden and Ahmad Bradshaw for Jonathan Stewart would be a good move? I've been thinking about acquiring Stewart because I have DeAngelo Williams. Look forward to your response. -- A. Acosta, Fort Worth, Texas
M.F.: I do like your thought process in trying to get Stewart to handcuff Williams, but I'd still pass on the deal. Unless you're absolutely loaded at the running back position, I would guess that McFadden is your No. 2 back or at the very least a flex starter. Based on the expected increase for Oakland's ground game, McFadden should improve on his own rookie totals. Bradshaw's stock is also on the rise after the departure of Derrick Ward, who signed with the Buccaneers in the offseason. Bradshaw is now the favorite to back up Brandon Jacobs and will see far more carries as a result. Considering Jacobs' proneness to injuries, Bradshaw could become a valuable asset.
M.F.: The best keeper of the quartet is Jones-Drew, whose stock has risen to astronomical heights after the Jaguars released Fred Taylor. The second keeper should be Brady, who has more value than Fitzgerald based on the nature of his position. The Patriots quarterback appears to have made a full recovery from reconstructive knee surgery and now ranks second behind Drew Brees at his position on NFL.com. While it's hard to expect Brady to duplicate his 2007 totals, there's no reason to believe he won't throw for 4,200-4,500 yards with 30-plus total touchdowns. With Joey Galloway now added to a core of wide receivers that already includes Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Brady now has the best weapons he's ever had entering a season. With Brady and Jones-Drew retained, I would target two wide receivers and another running back in the first three rounds of the re-draft.
Hey Mike, love your columns. I'm really looking forward to the upcoming season, but I'm in a bind in terms of keepers! I'm in a 12-team league that uses a standard scoring system, and each team can keep a maximum of three players. I have Thomas Jones, Willie Parker, Anquan Boldin, Eddie Royal and Tony Gonzalez. Do you see three guys that you strongly suggest keeping? I am thinking about keeping Boldin and Gonzalez, but I've put Boldin on the block to see what kind of deals I can get. So far I've been offered Ryan Grant for Boldin. What do you think? -- B. Williams, Canada
M.F.: Honestly, I see Boldin as the only solid keeper. Jones did have a nice 2008 season, but his age (31 in August), the loss of Brett Favre and the addition of rookie Shonn Greene all make him a risk. Parker has shown signs of breaking down in recent seasons, and he'll lose carries to Rashard Mendenhall in Pittsburgh. I also see Gonzalez's numbers dropping compared to his 2008 totals. Plus, I've never been a big fan of keeping a tight end in a non-PPR league unless it's Jason Witten or Antonio Gates. I would work hard to put together a package deal for an upgrade at the running back position -- maybe put Jones and Parker with Boldin in an effort to deal for a player like Marion Barber or Steve Slaton. If you're forced to stand pat or Grant is the only trade option, I'd keep Boldin and give yourself two extra picks in the re-draft.
I need to retain two players from Ryan Grant (Round 12), Brandon Marshall (Round 13), Kurt Warner (Round 14) and Steve Slaton (free agent). I'll lose a final-round pick for keeping Slaton since he was a free agent, so he's a no-brainer. I was thinking of keeping Marshall, but with Jay Cutler gone it looks like Grant and Warner are more attractive options. -- M. Ellison, Cincinnati, Ohio
M.F.: I agree that Slaton is definitely your best option, and I'd keep Grant ahead of Marshall and Warner if your league uses a standard (non-PPR) scoring system. The Packers running back should improve on what was a disappointing 2008 season and is a nice No. 2 back behind Slaton. I'd target two wide receivers and a quarterback in the first three rounds of the re-draft -- you might even be able to re-acquire Marshall and/or Warner based on your draft position.
I have the No. 4 overall pick in my 14-team PPR league (PPR) next season. I'm leaning toward taking DeAngelo Williams (I had him last year). Will he be a running back I can depend on this high? Do you have a recommendation of a player or players I can select other than Maurice Jones-Drew? -- D. Williams, Washington, D.C.
M.F.: There are a few reasons to pass on Williams in this case. First, he has little chance to repeat the impressive totals he compiled last season. Second, Williams doesn't have the same sort of value in PPR leagues. He hauled in just 22 passes in 2008 and has averaged a mere 26 catches in three NFL seasons. Assuming that Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Jones-Drew are the first three players taken, I'd take Michael Turner. He too should see a decrease in numbers compared to last season, but it won't be as drastic -- the Burner is a good bet to rush for around 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns. Chris Johnson, who should see more work in the Titans offense, is also a nice option. If you can get Jones-Drew, though, I'd take him in a heartbeat. He's easily a top-three pick in PPR leagues -- I've even seen him taken No. 1 overall in expert leagues.
Long-time fan, first-time writer. I have the No. 8 overall pick in the re-draft and my goal is to take a solid keeper for next year. I'm trying to decide who I like between Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno and Derrick Ward. I think all three could be strong keepers, but I want to make sure I don't mess up this pick! My season relies on your advice! -- C. Petit, Canada
M.F.: I'm really expecting Moreno to have the best NFL career of the three backs you've listed. The former Georgia standout has all the intangibles -- he's a solid runner with great field vision, can catch the ball out of the backfield and can block at a high level. Those skills make him a viable three-down back and a great weapon for coach Josh McDaniels. Moreno will no doubt be the first rookie taken in almost all fantasy football drafts, both seasonal and keeper.
Hey Michael, I recently had my draft and someone offered me Brian Westbrook and Chad Ochocinco for Steven Jackson and Roy E. Williams. Should I pull the trigger on this trade? -- A. Marchante, Chicago, Ill.
M.F.: I would actually pass on this trade. As I mentioned earlier, Jackson is in a great position to succeed in St. Louis and is less of a risk than Westbrook, who is coming off two offseason surgeries. I also like Williams ahead of Ochocinco. The Cowboys wide receiver is looking to prove that he's an elite player at his position, and there's no question he'll see more than his share of targets from Tony Romo.