Linebackers in 3-4 defenses can be stars in IDP fantasy leagues

Do you think Willie Parker will be a solid No. 2 fantasy running back? He's in a contract year and I think he has more fantasy value than Rashard Mendenhall. -- I. Welsh, Chicago, Ill.

Michael Fabiano: I agree that he has more value than Mendenhall, but I don't think Parker will be a solid No. 2 fantasy back. The wear and tear of being a featured NFL back has caused him to miss a combined six games over the past two seasons, including five in 2008. Remember, Parker went from seeing minimal carries in college at North Carolina to averaging 304 attempts for the Steelers from 2005-2007. That's a huge increase in workload. Coach Mike Tomlin will continue to use him in a starting role, but I think Mendenhall will see his share of the carries. Don't forget, Mewelde Moore could also figure into the backfield mix as well. Based on his recent injuries and the presence of both Mendenhall and Moore, I see Parker as more of a borderline No. 2 or 3 fantasy back with more value as a potential flex starter in most leagues.

I failed to get enough wide receiver depth in my draft and am looking to trade for a reliable No. 3 wideout. My fifth and sixth running backs are Julius Jones and Ray Rice. What do you think I could get in a trade for one of (or both) of these two runners? Thanks. -- B. Baker, Dallas, Texas

M.F.: First off, I'd take a look at the rest of the teams in your fantasy league and see who lacks backfield depth but can afford to trade a wide receiver. You might also want to check out who drafted Willis McGahee and offer Rice as a handcuff in exchange for a wideout. If you make a one-for-one trade, I think Jones or Rice can fetch you a receiver like Donald Driver, Jerricho Cotchery, Laveranues Coles, Devin Hester, Steve Breaston or Donnie Avery. As always, aim high in your trade talks.

Love your column! I've used your advice exclusively for two years now and have made it to the championship twice. This season our league has adopted using IDPs and the research has proved difficult. It would seem to me that a team's defensive alignment would have a major impact on which positions would excel (4-3 defenses would favor the defensive ends while a 3-4 defense would favor linebackers. I am having a difficult time finding which teams will use which schemes. Any guidance you can provide with either finding that information or how to interpret it would be a great benefit. -- D. Rodgers, Aurora, Ill.

M.F.: Thanks for the kind words. Let's take a look at the 3-4 defense, which got its name from the formation (three down linemen, four linebackers). Teams that use the 3-4 defense entering the 2009 include the Browns, Chargers, Cowboys, Jets, PatriotsRavens and Steelers. Other teams like the 49ers, Cardinals and Dolphins will also utilize elements of the 3-4 defense. The Chiefs, Broncos and Packers will be switching to a 3-4 defense in 2009. From a fantasy football perspective, defensive tackles and nose tackles will lack production in this scheme while linebackers (as you mentioned) will thrive on the stat sheets. Outside linebackers tend to produce the most sacks, but inside linebackers will produce the most tackles, along with a few sacks and interceptions, and hold the most value in IDP formats.

You have the best job on the planet! I always look forward to hearing what you have to say. I'm joining a new keeper league and I have been blessed (or I could argue burdened) with the No. 1 overall pick. It's hard to argue against taking Adrian Peterson, but there's this part of me that keeps nagging at me to take Matt Forte instead. It's not a PPR league, which I feel does bring his value down a bit, but would it be ridiculous to not take Peterson? -- V. Chew, Canada

M.F.: Having the first overall pick isn't what it use to be, that's for sure! But for those owners who hold that spot, I think you have to take Peterson in standard and PPR formats. Sure, I've seen Forte and Jones-Drew selected first overall in PPR drafts, and I can't argue with it. However, Peterson is the most reliable and consistent back in fantasy football -- he's the lone runner to finish in the top five in fantasy points at his position the past two seasons -- and you need to get as close to a sure thing as possible with the first overall selection. When (notice I said when and not if) Brett Favre signs with the Vikings, that will make Peterson even more attractive.

Do you think Ryan Torain and Robert Meachem, two of last season's sleepers, have any value for 2009? I haven't heard much about these two players in most of the fantasy articles. Thanks. -- D. Nicholl, Apex, N.C.

M.F.: In a word, no. I was pretty high on Torain in 2008, and he produced for all of one half against the Browns before tearing his ACL. He has since returned to football-related drills, but Torain is still a candidate to open the season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. What's more, the presence of Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter, Peyton Hillis and Lamont Jordan all but decimates any chance Torain had of making a fantasy impact even if he is at 100 percent. Meachem has had a strong offseason, but he'll be no more than fourth on the Saints' depth chart behind Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Devery Henderson. Unless Colston (knee) and/or Moore (shoulder) suffers a setback in their recovery from offseason surgeries, like Torain it's hard to envision a scenario where Meachem will make much noise in fantasy land.

First off, thanks for your advice! You helped me win the championship last year in my first season playing fantasy football. My question is concerning tight ends. I've been targeting Greg Olsen in my drafts, but in one league I was forced to take Visanthe Shiancoe in the later rounds. What can I expect from him this year? If Brett Favre does sign with the Vikings, he could prove to be a sleeper unlike Olsen who is forced to share his receptions with a monster like Matt Forte (who I drafted). NFL.com has Shiancoe ranked at No. 18 at his position even though he put up good point totals last season. What should I expect? -- C. Bell, Wichita, Kan.

M.F.: Always glad to help -- helping you win your fantasy leagues is my goal season in and season out. As for Shiancoe, he's been one of the more difficult tight ends to project. Believe it or not, he finished fifth in fantasy points at the position on NFL.com in 2008. Despite that lofty rank, he was still owned in just 52 percent of leagues at season's end. The problem for Shiancoe was that he wasn't at all consistent. In a standard (non-PPR) league, he scored six of fewer fantasy points 10 times. Furthermore, 52 percent of his points came in just three games. The presence of Favre will help his value, but I'm not ready to label Shiancoe a fantasy starter just yet.

I have to decide on my dynasty keepers and can retain a maximum of four players, but I have to forfeit whatever round they were selected in from the original drafts. I'm solid with Adrian Peterson (Round 4) and Reggie Wayne (Round 6), but I need to decide for my next two keepers from Marques Colston (Round 5), Kevin Smith (Round 8) and Pierre Thomas (Round 10). I really like Colston, but I don't know if he'll be healthy enough to warrant missing three straight rounds of picks. My gut still tells me to keep Colston and Smith. What are your thoughts? -- T.C., Wheaton, Ill.

M.F.: I agree with your gut instinct and retain Colston and Smith. That gives you a nice backfield with Peterson and Smith and a pair of No. 1 fantasy wideout in Colston and Wayne. The fact that you can retain Peterson for a fourth-round pick more than makes up for the fact that you'll have a three-round wait in the re-draft. I would target a quarterback, a third running back and a third wide receiver. Depending on your draft position, you might be able to re-acquire Thomas in the first round.

Hey Mike, you really have the best fantasy advice out there! I have a big decision to make in my keeper league. It's a standard point system, but the only difference is we have a tight end and a flex position (WR/TE). I'm keeping Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Michael Turner and Larry Fitzgerald, but I'm not sure who my fifth keeper should be between Tony Romo, Wes Welker and Tony Gonzalez. I could even trade a draft pick for Dwayne Bowe or Roddy White. Should I hold on to Romo and not have to worry about drafting a quarterback or should I solidify my tight end position by keeping Gonzalez? Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten are already being retained. I know Gonzalez won't have a year like he did in 2008, but I still need a good tight end or two. -- D. Hindle, Hemet, Calif.

M.F.: Wow Peterson, Johnson, Turner and Fitzgerald is one heck of a quartet! You've been very successful in past drafts (or this is a very smaller league). I realize tight ends could have some added value in this league, but you should look to make your flex starter a wide receiver rather than a tight end. I would also agree that Gonzalez is not going to duplicate his 2008 numbers not that he's with the Falcons, and I wouldn't keep him ahead of Romo or Welker. The decision on which of this duo to keep should be based on the league's scoring system and your position in the first round of the re-draft. Since points aren't rewarded for catches, I'd retain Romo. But if you have a favorable spot in the re-draft and think you can re-acquire the Cowboys quarterback (or get a better signal-caller), then Welker would make for a nice second wideout.

I'm in a 12-team keeper league and need to retain three players from Jay Cutler, Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton and Reggie Wayne. I know Cutler has lost some value after being traded to the Bears, but what do you think? -- D. Williams, Staples, Minn.

M.F.: I'm wondering about your draft position -- if you release Wayne, can you re-acquire him (or another wide receiver of his caliber) in the first round? I ask that because I think you should retain the three running backs and throw Cutler and Wayne back into the pool of available players. Jackson and Slaton are featured runners, and those are rare in this age of the backfield committee. Even if you use one of them as trade bait, they're all more valuable than Cutler or Wayne. With those three stars on your roster, I'd look to either re-acquire Wayne or another solid wideout (as I mentioned) in the first round. Take a second wideout and a quarterback in Rounds 2 and 3.

What do you think about Ryan Grant for next season? I don't see any future in drafting him on fantasy teams. Also, what are your thoughts about A.J. Hawk? Like Grant, I think his value in fantasy leagues is falling. -- S. Tollifson, Shepherdstown, W.V.

M.F.: I'd have to disagree with you on both players. Packers coordinator Joe Philbin wants to run the ball more often, and Grant is one of those rare featured backs that still seeing a majority of his team's carries. He'll have a full training camp for the first time since joining the Packers and should be seen as a nice No. 2 fantasy back. As for Hawk, he's expected to replace teammate Nick Barnett as the team's inside linebacker in coordinator Dom Capers' new 3-4 defense. That means the Ohio State product will have to concentrate on stopping the run and in turn has a real chance to lead the Packers in tackles. That will make him a definite target in all IDP formats.

Have a burning question for Michael Fabiano on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section below or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

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