Mathews and the return of Barber on the minds of owners

I have to keep two players from Joe Flacco, Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Ryan Mathews, Ray Rice, Vincent Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Thoughts? - Chargers204 (via Twitter)

Michael Fabiano: Rice is clearly your best option and should be the first player retained. With rumors that Willis McGaheewon't be back with the Ravens next season, the Rutgers product could be closer to a featured role in 2011. With so much depth at quarterback, I would pass on keeping Flacco. I also don't see Green-Ellis as a viable keeper, especially if the Patriots make a move to upgrade their backfield this offseason. Jackson and Maclin are good options, but I would go with the upside and retain Mathews. I know, he burned a lot of people (including myself) last season. But the fact remains that he's in a great position to succeed in an explosive Chargers offense. If he avoids injuries, I can see Mathews easily rushing for 1,000-plus yards with seven to nine touchdowns even with Mike Tolbert in the mix.

Do you think Tiki Barber could be fantasy relevant next season? - mattseg (via Twitter)

M.F.: Honestly, I really don't see it happening. Barber, who turns 36 next month, hasn't played an NFL game since a postseason loss to the Eagles back in 2007. He did go out with a bang, rushing for 137 yards in the contest, but that was then and this is now. He could draw interest from teams like the Buccaneers or Broncos, but Barber would be little more than a third-down back regardless of where he lands. He's also no lock to make an NFL roster, either. Overall, his value would be limited to that of a fantasy handcuff.

Is Michael Vick a lock to be drafted in the first round? Vick or Aaron Rodgers? - Darrin_Alex (via Twitter)

M.F.: Based on his ridiculous level of statistical success last season, Vick is a virtual lock to be a first-round pick in 2011. Personally, though, I wouldn't take him (or any quarterback) that high. If we've learned anything from the past, it's that often times a player fails to duplicate a "magical" season. I also think the immense depth among quarterbacks makes it easier to focus on running backs and wide receivers in the earlier rounds and wait on a signal-caller. To answer your second question, I'd take Rodgers over Vick. He's ultra-productive and reliable as well -- Rodgers is the lone quarterback to finish in the top two in fantasy points at his position in each of the last three seasons.

Is Hakeem Nicks ranked among the top wide receivers in your opinion? - crfgabriel (via Twitter)

M.F.: If he can avoid injuries, I think Nicks can become the top-scoring wide receiver in fantasy football. That's not a bold statement, either. If you project the 2010 numbers he put up in 13 games over a full season, Nicks would have finished 1.7 points better than the top scorer, Brandon Lloyd. The North Carolina product is entering his third NFL season and faces one of the easiest schedules at his position, so I'm expecting him to shine. Nicks is fourth on my current board among wideouts, ahead of Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace.

Give me one player who broke out in 2010 who will fall back in 2011, and one player who fell back in 2010 who will rebound in 2011. - BigTroph (via Twitter)

M.F.: The first player that comes to mind when discussing players who broke out last season that will fall back is Peyton Hillis. His production declined sharply late last year, as it appeared he was physically spent after enduring the biggest workload of his career. New coach Pat Shurmur has also hinted that a two-back system that includes Hillis and Montario Hardesty could be coming in 2011. Obviously, that would hurt Hillis' stock as well. Right now I see him as a No. 2 fantasy back -- he comes in at No. 18 in my current rankings. The player who fell back in 2010 who will rebound this year is Tony Romo. He's missed significant time due to a broken collarbone, but he's well on his way to a complete recovery. With the most favorable schedule among quarterbacks and a glut of talent around him, Romo could put up top-five fantasy numbers.

Which running back would you take first next season -- Arian Foster or Adrian Peterson? - bgrayson726 (via Twitter)

M.F.: Foster is the current king of the fantasy football mountain, but Peterson is still the safer choice. The veteran out of Oklahoma has finished in the top four in fantasy points among running backs in each of the last four years -- no other player can boast of that feat. That shows the consistently high level of production you want out of your top pick. There's also more statistical downside with Foster, who will have to contend with much higher expectations and the return of Ben Tate. That's not to suggest that he'll lose his starting role because clearly, he won't. But it is well within reason to think that he'll see a slight decline in touches and statistical success.

What is the order you will draft your team (based on position) -- RB, RB, QB, WR, WR, etc.? - xRenegade (via Twitter)

M.F.: As I mentioned earlier, I'm not taking a quarterback in the first few rounds. I'll almost always take a running back in Round 1, and the flow of the draft will determine if I take another runner or a wide receiver in the second round. After five rounds, I'll have at least two running backs, two wide receivers and either a quarterback or a tight end. I might even have two runners and three wideouts before I take a quarterback or a tight end. Again, it all depends on the flow of the draft. I can tell you one thing for sure -- you will never, ever see me take a defense or a kicker before the final two rounds.

Out of the teams looking to draft Cam Newton, which one would be the best fit from a fantasy perspective? - ToastyMer (via Twitter)

M.F.: I'd be very interested to see what Newton could do with the Bills under coach and offensive guru Chan Gailey. The Auburn product recently had dinner with team executives, according to NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt, so there is some definite interest. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can throw for 23 touchdown passes in 14 starts under Gailey, I think Newton could also be productive in the offense. It might not come immediately, as the transition from college to the pros is always more difficult for quarterbacks, but Newton would certainly have a pile of long-term and dynasty-league value.

Do you consider Jamaal Charles an elite fantasy running back? Is he on the same level as Peterson, Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew? - JustinHarned (via Twitter)

M.F.: I wouldn't put Charles on that level at this point -- he's finished in the top 10 in fantasy points at his position just once -- but he's clearly heading in that direction. Charles is an explosive playmaker with the tools to score just about any time he touches the football, and he's clearly passed Thomas Jones on the Chiefs depth chart. If he can duplicate or surpass his 2010 success this year, we could talk about Charles being an elite runner soon.

Who are your top five fantasy defenses for next season? Any sleeper candidates? - germanmagadan(via Twitter)

M.F.: When it comes to ranking defenses, it's important to lean on the teams that have typically been the most reliable for the longest period of time. As a result, it's no surprise that the Packers, Steelers, Jets, Bears and Eagles are my top five defenses heading into 2011. The Ravens, Giants, Patriots, Chargers and Cowboys round out my top 10. The Cardinals have some sleeper appeal, as do the Lions and Chiefs. But if you don't land one of the elite units, chances are you'll be better off playing the matchups each week and utilizing the waiver wire to find a starting unit.

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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