Michael Fabiano: Forte is an obvious choice. He'll be a first-round selection in all fantasy drafts next season, so keeping him for a sixth rounder is nothing short of highway robbery. I'd also retain Rodgers ahead of Brown and Bryant. The Packers quarterback emerged as an elite option, finishing third in fantasy points on NFL.com. With a lot of offensive talent in Green Bay and a full season as a starter under his belt, Rodgers will remain a valuable asset.
Who should I start at quarterback this week for the Playoff Challenge: Donovan McNabb or Kurt Warner? -- L. Scolia, Lafayette, La.
M.F.: I'm going to side with Warner. He's been a far more consistent and reliable option than McNabb, both on the field and in fantasy football. He also found a lot of success against the Panthers earlier this season, throwing for 381 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-23 loss at Bank of America Stadium. Furthermore, I think the Panthers will beat the Cardinals and advance to the NFC Championship Game, so I'd use Warner now because I don't think he'll be around next week.
Michael, what do you think about DeAngelo Williams for next season? I have him in a keeper league, but someone has offered me Brian Westbrook for him straight up. Should I make the trade? I would lose either back after 2010. -- M. Fowler, Alpharetta, Ga.
M.F.: I would stick with Williams, based on the fact that he's more durable and younger than Westbrook, who turns 30 at the start of next season. However, I also wouldn't expect Williams to duplicate his immense 2008 numbers. Before Williams, a total of 18 running backs had scored 20 or more touchdowns in NFL history. Of those 18 backs, only Marshall Faulk (2001), Priest Holmes (2003) and Emmitt Smith (1995) were able to reach the 20-touchdown mark the next season. Jim Brown scored 21 times in 1965, but he retired after that season and was not considered in researching this trend.
Furthermore, no running back who's scored 20 or more touchdowns (other than Larry Johnson, Faulk, Holmes and Smith) came within five touchdowns of equaling their previous season's total. It should also be noted that Faulk, Holmes and Smith all failed to come within 10 scores the season after their second 20-touchdown campaigns. Overall, the 17 runners (not including Brown) to score 20 or more times in a season averaged an impressive 22.7 scores. Those same 17 runners averaged 13.2 touchdowns the next season.
Is Williams still a solid keeper? Of course. Will he be a first-round selection in all seasonal drafts? No question. But these statistics are something to keep in mind. So when you're projecting Williams' numbers, think more in the neighborhood of 1,200 rushing yards and 12-14 touchdowns.
M.F.: I'm a bitter Cowboys fan myself! Sure, I think Romo is an elite quarterback because of his immense numbers. He might not have produced a postseason win as the main man in Dallas, but it's hard to argue with his statistics. Despite missing three games, Romo still threw for 3,448 yards and 26 touchdowns. Project those totals over a full 16-game slate, and Romo would have finished with over 4,244 yards and 32 touchdowns. With the potential to produce on such a high level, not to mention an offense that's chock-full of talent, Romo should still be seen as a top-five fantasy quarterback. Of course, you might want to trade him before December!
Hi Michael, what do you think about Rashard Mendenhall? I have him in a keeper league where we retain five players, and it's a toss up between him and Kevin Smith. Do you have any suggestions? -- L. Laird, San Francisco, Calif.
M.F.: Mendenhall's value is almost completely based on the status of Willie Parker, who has one more year left on his current contract with the Steelers. If the team decides to part ways with the veteran back in the offseason, Mendenhall would become a serious sleeper candidate. Otherwise, he'll be mired in a committee situation that will make him far less attractive. Regardless, I'd retain Smith for next season. I see him as a potential breakout candidate for the Lions team who will have a new look in 2009.
I have Steven Jackson and Clinton Portis in a 12-team keeper league. Who should I retain? It seems like there are pros and cons with both backs. Help! -- J. Tallet, Syracuse, N.Y.
M.F.: I realize it's January and we haven't even crowed a Super Bowl XLIII winner, but I'm already down on Portis for 2009. After becoming the top running back in fantasy football to start the season, he was a mess of injuries down the stretch. What's more, Portis finished with 342 carries. That's the third-most carries he's had in a single season. His highest total came in 2005, when he carried the rock 352 times for 1,516 yards and 11 touchdowns. He missed half of the following season due to injuries.
Portis might be just 27, but he's a very weathered 27 for a running back. Jackson has had injury problems of his own, but he's younger (25) and has far fewer carries on his body. There's some risk associated with both runners to be certain, but I think Jackson is the better keeper and should be retained ahead of Portis.
Will Anthony Gonzalez be a fantasy sleeper next season? -- P. Calisson, St. Paul, Minn.
M.F.: I think Gonzalez could be a huge sleeper if the Colts decide to part ways with Marvin Harrison, who's skills were obviously eroded this season. The Ohio State product would see a more prominent role in the Colts offense, so a season with around 1,000 yards and six to eight touchdowns would be well within reach. Gonzalez will also be entering his third NFL season, which is when a number of wideouts break out and record increased numbers. He's definitely someone to keep in mind for 2009.
Who do you think will be the first wide receiver selected in fantasy drafts next season? What is your top five at the position? Thanks! - D. Baumgardner, Nova Scotia
M.F.: This is a difficult call between Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, but I'm going with the latter in standard formats (non-PPR) for next season. Sure, Johnson is an absolute beast and a true star in fantasy land, but he's never scored more than eight touchdowns in a season. Fitzgerald has averaged an impressive 98 catches, 1,120 yards and 11 scores over the past two seasons, and he's scored double-digit touchdowns in three of his last four seasons. Of course, Fitzgerald's value would decrease if the Cardinals don't re-sign Kurt Warner, who is slated to become a free agent. But as it stands, I like Fitzgerald as the top wideout. My top five at the position for next season includes Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Anquan Boldin (again, if Warner is back) and Greg Jennings.
I keep tabs on fantasy football news 365 days a year, so I feel like I'm always in the loop on stories, trends, etc. I've been reading a lot of about Maurice Jones-Drew and his potential without Fred Taylor next season? What's your take on MJD? Is he a first-round pick next season? -- G. Paulus, Harrisburg, Pa.
M.F.: Jones-Drew can be inconsistent at times, but it's hard to argue with his overall numbers. In his three NFL seasons, the UCLA product has scored 38 total touchdowns. He's a versatile back as well, averaging 49 catches and 469 yards as a receiver out of the backfield. With rumors that the Jaguars could part ways with Fred Taylor, Jones-Drew could become the featured back in an offense that's based on the run. That scenario would make "Pocket Hercules" well worth a first-round selection.
Thomas Jones was an absolute stud for me all season long, but now I have to decide between keeping him or Frank Gore. With Mike Martz out of San Francisco, will Gore's value take a hit? Am I better off with Jones in 2009? - S. Ferris, England
M.F.: Jones actually finished third in fantasy points among running backs on NFL.com, behind only DeAngelo Williams and Michael Turner. But I would be shocked if he's able to duplicate the 1,312 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns he had in 2008. First off, there's a chance the Jets won't have Brett Favre back under center. Without Favre keeping defenses honest, Jones would see far more stacked fronts. Second, Jones will be 31 to start next season. While he hasn't had the same sort of career workload as some backs his age, Jones has averaged 302 carries over the last four seasons. He averaged just 148 carries in his previous five seasons.
Regardless of who the 49ers hire to be their offensive coordinator, I can't see a scenario where Gore doesn't remain the centerpiece. He's far younger than Jones as well, which is more of a factor in keeper decisions. So despite the fact that Jones had a better 2008 season, Gore remains the better long-term option across the board.