McFadden will be a risk-reward pick in 2011 drafts

When would you draft Darren McFadden next season? - mjbaroz (via Twitter)

Michael Fabiano: I have McFadden ranked at No. 11 among running backs on NFL.com, and he'd be even higher if it wasn't for his lack of durability -- the Arkansas product hasn't played in more than 13 games in a season during his time with the Raiders. So despite the immense statistical potential he showed off in 2010, there is clearly some risk when investing a first-round selection in him. It's also worth noting that like McFadden, Michael Bush is also coming off his best year at the NFL level. If he remains with the team (Bush is scheduled to become a free agent), that alters McFadden's stock. A lot can happen between now and the start of next season, but right now I see McFadden as a late first-round pick.

Who is your No. 1 rated quarterback for the 2011 fantasy season? - hockeyking1x (via Twitter)

M.F.: The obvious answer would be Michael Vick. After all, he led the position in fantasy points despite playing in just 12 games in 2010. But when something is too obvious, often times it doesn't pan out. In fact, no signal-caller has finished first at the position (based on fantasy points) in consecutive seasons in the last five years. With that said, my top quarterback is Aaron Rodgers. He's finished no worse than second in points at the spot over the last three seasons -- now that's what I call consistent production. What's more, Vick is more at risk to see his production fall compared to his ridiculous 2010 totals. Vick will likely be taken ahead of Rodgers in a lot of drafts, maybe even with the first overall selection, but Rodgers is just a safer choice to me.

Can a healthy Montario Hardesty make an impact for the Browns next season? - poeticwayz (via Twitter)

M.F.: If Hardesty can remain free of injuries, which has been a major problem ever since his collegiate days, I'm pretty certain he'll become a playmaker for new coach Pat Shurmur. With that said, I don't see him overtaking Peyton Hillis atop the depth chart. Hillis earned the right to start last season, posting huge numbers in what was a breakout campaign. Also keep in mind that Hardesty is coming off major knee surgery -- that typically slows a player down a bit in his first year back on the field. It's almost a guarantee that there will be more of a committee look compared to 2010, but I still see Hillis receiving more carries and having more fantasy value in drafts.

If Alabama running back Mark Ingram ends up with the Dolphins, do you think he'll be an early-round fantasy pick? - lp_239 (via Twitter)

M.F.: The Dolphins backfield is certainly in a state of flux right now. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are scheduled to become free agents (dependant on a new CBA), so the Fins could be looking to upgrade the position. Ingram is clearly one of the elite runners in the 2011 class -- NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks lists him as the top back heading into the Scouting Combine -- but the cards would have to fall into the right place for him to be an early-round fantasy pick. If Ingram lands in the right situation, Miami or otherwise, he'll certainly have a chance to be the first rookie taken.

Ryan Mathews was overvalued in 2010. What round do you think it's safe to take him next season, and will Mike Tolbert continue to affect his value? - R. Holguin (via Facebook)

M.F.: I thought Mathews was worth as much as a late first-round pick in fantasy drafts last season based on a number of factors. First, it appeared that he would be the Chargers' featured back. Second, coach Norv Turner (who has coached a ton of successful running backs) suggested that Mathews could see 325 touches as a rookie. And third, he looked explosive in the preseason. Unfortunately, Mathews couldn't stay healthy and ended up losing major touches to Tolbert. On the positive side of things, he did put up a ridiculous stat line to end the 2010 campaign with 120 rushing yards and three touchdowns against the Broncos. He'll also be healthy entering training camp with a full year of NFL work under his belt and a favorable schedule. While I still expect Tolbert to be a part of the team's backfield, I can see Mathews being a bit undervalued in fantasy drafts. He's ranked at No. 20 on my current running backs board, so I see him as a middle-round, No. 2 option at this point in time.

Will Knowshon Moreno be a featured back under new coach John Fox, or will there be a committee in Denver like Fox had in Carolina? - J.T. Wang, Akron, Ohio

M.F.: Fox did have a backfield committee with the Panthers, but that was because he had two stars in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. He doesn't have that luxury in the Mile High City, however, so I do expect that Moreno will be the bell cow. He has shown flashes of potential at the NFL level, but the Georgia product needs to avoid injuries to make a consistent and significant impact. I see him as a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy back with the skills to be a top-10 performer at the position.

Your current rankings have Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers behind Tom Brady. With Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson coming back for the Chargers, and Manning having all of his receivers healthy, why would Brady be ranked ahead of either of them? - L. Karr, Champaign, Ill.

M.F.: There are so many good quarterbacks in the league that you can literally inter-change any one of Brady, Manning, Rivers and Drew Brees among the position's top players. I have Brady ranked ahead of Rivers simply because he's been the better option over the last five years. Aside from 2007, when he missed most of the season due to an injured knee, Brady has finished (on average) fourth in fantasy points at the position. In the four times where Rivers has finished in the top 10 since 2006, he's ranked an average of sixth. As for Manning, he's been the most consistent quarterback in fantasy football for most of the last decade. But based on their respective schedules, Brady has a greater number of favorable matchups. There's no exact science to the rankings process, of course, and you're right in your analysis of Rivers and Manning. But based on the overall numbers, I think Brady has a (very) slight edge.

The tight end position suffered a down year in 2010. Are there any breakout or sleeper candidates at the position for next season? - matthewgreg (via Twitter)

M.F.: The position did see a downward turn in fantasy production, but that was due mostly to the loss of Gates, Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley. Those three stars missed a combined 27 games due to various injuries. Looking ahead to 2011, I think Finley remains a breakout candidate (he still hasn't had a true "breakout" season), and my top sleepers at the position include Brandon Pettigrew and Jimmy Graham. I also think Owen Daniels and Zach Miller could both turn into very solid fantasy draft values.

Who will have the better fantasy season in 2011: Dez Bryant or Mike Williams (Buccaneers)? - acharp89 (via Twitter)

M.F.: Williams was clearly the better fantasy option in 2010, but I think Bryant passes him in terms of production and value next season. The Oklahoma State product is ultra-talented and has the skills to develop into an elite player at his position over the course of his career. I also think he possess more upside than Williams, who could be a perfect candidate to have a sophomore slump. Currently, I have Bryant ranked at No. 12 among wide receivers with Williams a few spots behind (No. 15).

In your opinion, who is the safest pick in the first round of 2011 fantasy drafts? What about the biggest risk? - ccharney86 (via Twitter)

M.F.: I think Peterson is clearly the safest pick, which is why he's atop my current board. He's finished in the top five in fantasy points among running backs in four straight seasons -- no other player at that position can boast that accomplishment. I also think Chris Johnson is an extremely safe pick. At the quarterback spot, there isn't a safer choice than Rodgers. Manning is also a virtual guarantee to produce solid numbers across the board, but I don't see him as a first rounder in most leagues. The riskiest picks will be guys like McFadden and Frank Gore, due in large part to their proneness to injuries.

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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