Michael Fabiano: It's hard to predict their potential fantasy impact until they're drafted, but I doubt either Stafford or Sanchez will be much more than waiver-wire fodder in their rookie seasons. NFL Network's Mike Mayock made a great point earlier this week while discussing Ryan and Flacco, who were both fifth-year seniors coming out of college. That additional experience was a big reason for their instant success at the NFL level. Also keep in mind that neither Ryan (15th) nor Flacco (20th) finished in the top 12 in fantasy points among quarterbacks on NFL.com, so it wasn't like they lit the fantasy world on fire. In a best-case scenario, Stafford could have some late-round value if he lands with the Lions and beats out Daunte Culpepper for the top spot on the depth chart. However, even that could be a bit far fetched for the Georgia quarterback.
I'm a touchdown-only keeper league and need to retain three players each season. I have been offered Matt Forte and either LaDainian Tomlinson or DeAngelo Williams for Maurice Jones-Drew and a third-round pick. The team that has offered me the deal has two solid keepers in Calvin Johnson and Steven Jackson, so he obviously likes Jones-Drew more than Forte, L.T. or Williams. Since Jones-Drew and Steve Smith are my only legitimate keepers, I think I have to make this trade. What do you think? Who would you take between Tomlinson and Williams? -- R. Paley, Canada
M.F.: I would definitely pull the trigger on this deal. Jones-Drew has seen his value rise with Fred Taylor no longer in the mix, but I would argue that Forte is the better back. He was a fantasy superstar in his rookie season, posting 63 receptions, 1,715 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns, and now he'll have Jay Cutler under center. Cutler's presence will make it harder for defenses to focus strictly on stopping Forte and the run. What's more, Forte could see more opportunities as a receiver out of the backfield. Based on the fact that Tomlinson will be 30 at the start of next season, I would ask for Williams in the deal. I doubt that he'll match his impressive 2008 totals, but Williams is still a good bet to rush for around 1,200-1,300 yards and score 10-12 total touchdowns in what will remain a run-based Carolina offense.
M.F.: Again, a lot of Johnson's value will depend on the team that drafts him. If he went to the Colts, he would have a chance to earn a spot in a backfield committee with Joseph Addai. However, I've heard rumblings that the Colts could pursue Georgia's Knowshon Moreno in the first round. Johnson, a collegiate teammate of Jonathan Stewart, rushed for 1,201 yards with 13 touchdowns and averaged an impressive 7.1 yards per carry in his final collegiate season. While his lack of size (5-foot-9, 209 pounds) could hurt his stock, Steve Slaton proved last season that size can be overrated. I'll have the full breakdown on Johnson over the weekend when we know where he lands.
Michael, love the fantasy advice! How do you think Jay Cutler will do in Chicago? Do you think Kyle Orton can be a threat in coach Josh McDaniels' offense? I'm a Broncos fan and I kind of like the trade. I think Orton will do well with weapons like Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal at his disposal. What are your thoughts? -- D. Brunner, Coeur D' Alene, Idaho
M.F.: Cutler's numbers are certain to fall with the Bears. While offensive coordinator Ron Turner will obviously utilize the pass more often with Cutler at the helm, the quarterback has no chance to reach the 616 pass attempts he had last season. In fact, the last Bears quarterback to have over 500 pass attempts was Erik Kramer, who had 522 in 1995. Cutler also has far fewer weapons in the pass attack in Chicago -- his top wide receiver, Devin Hester, is a former defensive back. I still see him as a No. 1 fantasy quarterback, but he's not an elite option now. As for Orton, I think he could turn into a very nice draft value. Coach Josh McDaniels will allow Chris Simms a chance to start, but I think Orton is the clear-cut favorite. He scored 21 total touchdowns in what was his final season with the Bears, and now he'll have much better weapons at his disposal. He'll also be in a division with two questionable pass defenses (Chargers, Chiefs) and playing from behind quite a bit because of the deficiencies of his own defensive team. Orton will come off the board in the middle rounds in most drafts as a No. 2 fantasy quarterback, but he'll be a regular matchup-based starter across the board.
I'm in a 12-team keeper league and need to retain either Eddie Royal (13th round) or Tom Hightower (14th round). I like Hightower's potential as a power back, but his yards per carry were unimpressive. What do you think? -- B. Buckminster
M.F.: Much depends on the needs of your team. If you're lacking at running back, Hightower for a 14th-round selection makes sense. But if you're loaded at running back and need a wide receiver, than Royal is obviously the better option. Overall, Royal has more value based on his solid rookie season. He'll be used much like Wes Welker in McDaniels' offense, which should mean plenty of targets. Reports out of Arizona suggest that Hightower is expected to be the Cardinals' No. 1 running back in 2009, but the team is almost certain to take a running back in one of the first two rounds of the draft. That makes it very unlikely that he'll be featured in the offensive attack.
Do you think the strength of schedule will affect the value of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White next season? The Falcons faces some weak defenses last season, but now they have the fourth-hardest schedule in 2009. I remember the Browns having a weak schedule in 2007, which improved the stock of Derek Anderson, Jamal Lewis, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. Their schedule was much harder in 2008, and all four saw their numbers fall. What do you think? -- F. Angelo, Sugar Land, Texas
M.F.: Strength of schedule has lost some of its luster as a tool in determining fantasy value. Look at the 2008 Dolphins. After a 1-15 season, the Fins were looked at as a virtual "W" by most of their 2009 opponents. The team went on to win 11 games and the AFC East title. While it is worth noting that the Falcons do face a tougher slate, I still don't see Ryan, Turner or White experiencing a complete collapse like Anderson, Lewis, Edwards and Winslow did last season. In fact, I think Ryan's value will rise despite the schedule with Tony Gonzalez now in the offensive attack. Gonzalez's presence is also a positive for White, who posted career bests across the board in 2009.
Hey Michael, I have won my league four years in a row and am a regular reader of your mailbag. Coincidence? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt as I go for a fifth straight title! Anyways, I'm in a PPR league and would love for you to rank the top 10 running backs in such a format going into next season. -- K. Denlay, San Diego, Calif.
M.F.: Good luck in your quest for championship No. 5! Here's my top 10 running backs in PPR formats: 1. Adrian Peterson (still the best regardless), 2. Matt Forte (value rising with Jay Cutler under center), 3. Maurice Jones-Drew (could catch 60 passes next season), 4. Michael Turner (touchdown production is immense), 5. Chris Johnson (look for more catches in 2009), 6. Steven Jackson (could catch 60 passes), 7. Brian Westbrook (will fall if Eagles draft a running back this weekend), 8. DeAngelo Williams (won't duplicate 2008 totals), 9. Marion Barber (quietly had 52 receptions last season), 10. Steve Slaton (touchdown numbers could fall if Texans draft power back).
With the NFL Draft coming this weekend, can you give me a strategy for putting a value on rookies and finding potential sleepers like Steve Slaton from last season? -- D. Garibay, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
M.F.: First, you have to look at the team's depth chart and the competition. Slaton was allowed a chance to start because he had an over-the-hill Ahman Green (and not much more) ahead of him in Houston. Once he earned a prominent role, Slaton was able to thrive. Second, you have to consider the player's talent and whether he can overtake the incumbent starter. Steven Jackson had more potential than Marshall Faulk when he was drafted (2004), but Faulk's presence in the Rams backfield kept Jackson's touches limited as a rookie. On the other hand, Adrian Peterson knocked off Chester Taylor in his rookie season (2007), despite the fact that Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns the previous season. Third, you have to consider the offense the team utilizes. Despite sharing carries with LenDale White, Chris Johnson was still able to see a good number of touches in what was a run-based Titans offense. The speedster went on to become one of the best values in fantasy football.
I'm starting to get worried about Chad Ochocinco's value. All I hear about is him crying that he doesn't want to play for the Bengals, but it doesn't seem like the team wants to trade him. Will he tank it like he did last season because he's unhappy with his situation? -- W. Carpenter, Austin, Texas
M.F.: I'm right there with you on Ochocinco. I refuse to believe that he all of the sudden lost his skills and abilities at the age of 31, but I do believe that he's lost his desire to play for the Bengals. I'm hoping that Carson Palmer can motivate Ochocinco enough to go out there and give 100 percent week in and week out, which is why I have him ranked in the top 20 at wide receiver. But if he continues to complain about wanting to be traded (something that coach Marvin Lewis has said will not happen), Ochocinco is certain to drop on rank lists.
Hey Michael, love the column! I am in a predicament in my 12-team, four-keeper league. I have Kurt Warner, Ryan Grant, Chris Johnson, Larry Johnson, Steve Slaton, Anquan Boldin, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. I'm leaning towards keeping Calvin and Chris Johnson, Slaton and White. What are your thoughts? -- M. Riedel, Milwaukee, Wis.
M.F.: I agree with your decision to keep Chris and Calvin Johnson and Slaton. However, I would retain Boldin ahead of White unless he's traded to another team. With Kurt Warner under contract for the next two seasons, there's no reason to believe that Boldin can't continue to make a significant impact on the field and in fantasy circles. Again, it's imperative to keep tabs on what happens with Boldin in the weeks to come. A move to either Baltimore or New York would make White the better choice.