Kickoff return rule will have negative fantasy impact

How will the new kickoff rules impact defense and special team units in fantasy football? - Bo_Westbrook (via Twitter)

Michael Fabiano: Clearly, the league has made rule changes on kickoffs to improve player safety. But with kickoffs now taking place from the 35-yard line, we're going to see more touchbacks and fewer opportunities for return specialists like Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington. Back in 1993, which was the last year kickoffs started from the 35-yard line, almost 70 percent of them were returned. In 2010, with kickoffs at the 30-yard line, 80 percent were returned. The impact in fantasy leagues with traditional scoring systems is minimal because yardage isn't factored into the equation. If you're in a league where individual players are rewarded points for return yards and touchdowns, however, there is a much bigger impact. Last season, a total of 16 players recorded 1,000-plus kick return yards and 23 touchdowns were scored. In 1993, Colts wideout Clarence Verdin was the only player to record 1,000-plus kick return yards. What's more, a mere four touchdowns were scored off kick returns. That's a huge drop off in production. As a result, prominent players in return yardage leagues like Cribbs, Washington, Devin Hester, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Jacoby Ford will lose quite a bit of their luster.

Where would you select C.J. Spiller in a 2011 fantasy draft? - LeGibb (via Twitter)

M.F.: Spiller was an enormous disappointment last season, so there isn't going to be a ton of risk in drafting him in 2011. With Fred Jackson ahead of him on the Bills depth chart, the Clemson product is not going to warrant much more than a middle-round pick on draft day. Keep in mind, though, that he's still a talented player -- coach Chan Gailey has even compared his skill set to that of Jamaal Charles -- so there's no reason to completely take Spiller off the fantasy radar.

I'm in a 10-team keeper league and need to protect Andre Johnson or Mike Wallace. Although Johnson is ranked as the No. 1 wide receiver for 2011, he hasn't been durable over the past few seasons. He's also never scored more than nine touchdowns in single season. On the flip side, Wallace has blazing speed and the potential to surpass his 2010 stats with Ben Roethlisberger under center for a full 16 games. Which wideout would you protect? - J. Conforto, Southington, Conn.

M.F.: You make some terrific points about Wallace, and I'm right there with you -- I have him ranked sixth among wide receivers on NFL.com. However, I would still release Wallace in favor of Johnson. The Texans wideout has more receiving yards than any other player over the last three years, and he's only missed three games during that time. You also mentioned that he's never scored more than nine times in a single season. Is that really that bad, especially when you consider that he's also a very good bet to record around 100 receptions and 1,500 yards? Again, I love Wallace's skills and upside -- he was one of my 2010 preseason sleepers -- but I would still retain Johnson ahead of him.

I'm in a 10-team PPR keeper league and need to retain Darren McFadden, Calvin Johnson or Hakeem Nicks. Any thoughts? - whiskeybill88 (via Twitter)

M.F.: This decision boils down to what kind of fantasy owner you are -- if you want to play it safe, Johnson is the best option. He's clearly an elite wide receiver, and I don't think he's hit his statistical ceiling. The Georgia Tech product is also quarterback proof, posting great numbers with the likes of Daunte Culpepper, Shaun Hill, Dan Orlovsky and Drew Stanton under center. If Matthew Stafford can avoid injuries in 2011, Megatron could be an even bigger stat-sheet monster. On the other hand, McFadden is an intriguing player. Despite the fact that he missed three games last season, the Raiders running back actually scored more fantasy points than Johnson in PPR leagues. Of course, the downside with McFadden is injuries -- he's never played more than 13 games in a season. If your league favors running backs and you're willing to take a risk, then McFadden could be your best option. Before concluding, let me quickly ring in on Nicks as well. While I don't think he has more value than Johnson, he's very close. In fact, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he leads all wide receivers in fantasy points in 2011. Make no mistake, the Giants wideout is that good.

Should fantasy football commissioners plan on actually having a draft this year? Will the season start on time? - mikepahl (via Twitter)

M.F.: If you watched NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's CBA update on Tuesday, it was pretty clear that the league is moving forward as if there will be a season in 2011. I think fantasy football owners should follow suit. Sure, you might have to delay deadlines for making keeper-league decisions or push back draft dates in a worst-case scenario, but I would continue with business as usual in fantasy leagues. While the current situation does seem a bit bleak at this point, I would still be shocked if the entire 2011 season were lost. All we can do at this point is watch things unfold.

Which quarterback would you pick first from Josh Freeman, Ben Roethlisberger and Tim Tebow? - OliverProbert (via Twitter)

M.F.: This is a close call between Freeman and Roethlisberger, but I'm going with the latter. The Steelers quarterback put up great numbers in his 12 starts in 2010, posting 3,200 passing yards and 19 total touchdowns. If we project his overall numbers over a full 16 starts, Roethlisberger would have scored 10 more fantasy points than Drew Brees. Freeman, a potential breakout candidate, will come off the board right around the same time as Roethlisberger in most drafts. As for Tebow, he's not even the favorite to start for the Broncos at this point -- Kyle Orton looks like the team's No. 1 quarterback -- so the Florida product isn't worth more than a late-round choice in drafts.

What do you think about Matthew Stafford? Do you think he could emerge into a No. 1 fantasy quarterback next season? - M. Thomas, Iowa

M.F.: There are a few players I love heading into the 2011 season, and Stafford is one of them. If he can avoid injuries, which has been a major problem, I think Stafford could post top-eight fantasy numbers at his position. Lions coach Jim Schwartz isn't allowed to talk to Stafford due to the current state of the things around the league, but all reports suggest that his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery has been "good." Barring a setback, Stafford should be back in time for the start of training camp. Due to the risk involved in drafting him, though, I don't see him being selected as a No. 1 fantasy quarterback. But I have no doubt that Stafford can become one if stays out of the trainer's room.

Who should be the first overall pick in PPR drafts -- Arian Foster, Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson? - TJezzy009 (via Twitter)

M.F.: Whether it's a standard or PPR format, I'm taking Peterson with the top pick in fantasy drafts. The stud runner has become far more productive as a receiver over the last two years, catching a combined 79 passes for 777 yards. A.D. also told me during a recent interview that one of his personal goals is "to get to 1,000 yards both receiving and rushing" in 2011. He also expects new coordinator Bill Musgrave to establish the run in his offense, saying that "with our quarterback situation, the running game is going to be vital. Establishing that is going to be a big part of our offense." With one of the most favorable schedule among running backs, I expect Peterson to have a huge season.

Does Knowshon Moreno have a chance to break out in 2011? I have to decide between keeping Moreno or Shonn Greene in our 12-team PPR league. Thanks! - K. Stevens, Albany, N.Y.

M.F.: If he can avoid injuries, Moreno could be on the verge of his best season at the NFL level. He won't be a true featured back -- coach John Fox expects to have another runner in the mix -- but Moreno will see enough touches to develop into a legitimate No. 2 fantasy option. Based on his skills as a receiver, I would retain him ahead of Greene. The Jets running back is expected to overtake LaDainian Tomlinson atop the depth chart for 2011, but he isn't much of a pass catcher. In fact, Greene's 16 receptions last season were a career high. By comparison, Moreno recorded personal bests in both receptions (37) and receiving yards (372).

Are Cedric Benson's best fantasy days over in Cincinnati? Also, can you discuss the Giants backfield situation? - JorgeMessianu (via Twitter)

M.F.: New Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to pound the football next season, and Benson could be the team's workhorse. He's filled that role in each of the past two years, combined for 622 carries with a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns. The status of Carson Palmer will have a major effect on what happens with Benson and the running game, but I still see him as a No. 2 fantasy runner. As for the Giants, Jacobs is under contract until 2012 and Bradshaw has been extended a second-round restricted free agent tender. While coach Tom Coughlin has hinted that Jacobs could see a bigger role in the offense, I still see Bradshaw as the superior fantasy option. He posted career bests in catches, scrimmage yards and touchdowns, and scored nearly 100 more fantasy points than Jacobs in 2010.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com or tweet it at Michael_Fabiano!

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