Michael Fabiano: Slaton is the best option of the four players, so your final decision boils down to Brown, Cutler and McFadden. While the Raiders back has the most long-term potential, the prospect of a committee scenario that includes Justin Fargas and Michael Bush hurts his overall value. Furthermore, it's just hard for me to trust any players wearing Silver & Black. As a result, I'd retain Brown. He has one full season under his belt after an ACL operation and will be motivated to produce solid numbers in what is slated to be a contract year. At the age of 27 and with a mere 781 career carries, Brown should be a productive option for at least two or three more seasons.
What kind of year do you think Frank Gore will have in 2009? Is he a first-round lock? Thanks! -- J. Altman, Chippewa Falls, Wis.
M.F.: Gore is well worth a first-round selection in both standard and PPR formats, but he does come with some degree of risk due to past injuries. Still, the fact that he'll be a featured option in an offense that will lean on the run under new coordinator Jimmy Raye makes him a valulable asset. I'd project Gore, who plans to see most of the workload next season, to finish with around 1,600 scrimmage yards and seven to nine touchdowns.
M.F.: I don't think there's even a question that Fitzgerald is the player to retain. As much as I like Rodgers moving forward, Fitzgerald is the consensus top option at his position. Unless he becomes the next victim of the dreaded Madden cover curse, there's no reason to believe he won't post terrific numbers in 2009. With the trio of Fitzgerald, Peterson and Turner on the roster, I'd be sure to target a quarterback (Ryan is an option) and another wide receiver in the first two rounds of the re-draft.
M.F.: Honestly, I'm not even sure that Green-Ellis will make New England's final roster. The team had Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris before it added Fred Taylor, which guarantees a backfield committee. Green-Ellis can't be added to the practice squad -- he's no longer eligible after appearing in nine contests as a rookie -- so he'll either be buried on the Patriots depth chart or land with a different team in 2009. Morris looks like the best fantasy option right now, but no one except Bill Belichick knows what the backfield structure will look like next season. As it stands, this is a situation that fantasy owners should look to avoid if at all possible.
Philip Rivers put up 300-plus yards, three touchdowns and completed 60 percent of his passes in a postseason game against a Steelers defense that ranked first against the pass in 2008. How well do you think he'll do against the notorious defenses of the NFC East this season? -- T. Sanders, New Orleans, La.
M.F.: Rivers has a difficult slate of games next season, facing eight teams that ranked in the top 10 in the league in pass defense in 2008. That includes starts against the Eagles (3rd), Cowboys (5th), Redskins (7th) and Giants (8th). Overall he has 11 games against teams that were ranked 15th or better against the pass. Still, you have to take those statistics with a grain of salt. Defensive effectiveness can change from one season to the next, so what looks like a difficult slate on paper might not be as difficult when the games actually occur. Rivers can also put up solid totals against tougher opponents, which you pointed out in your question with the Steelers example. Despite what looks like a tough schedule, I still see Rivers as a top-five fantasy quarterback.
M.F.: You're right, recent reports on Brady have been more than positive, so his value in fantasy land is increasing across the board. He was able to practice with his teammates for the first time this week since tearing his ACL during last season's regular-season opener against the Chiefs. He also told Sports Illustrated that he has no discomfort or limitations when running or cutting and is "confident" that he'll be "back to playing normally when the season starts."
As I mentioned in my fantasy question about the Patriots, I think Brady could be a terrific draft value. In fact, a season with 4,000-plus yards and 30-35 total touchdowns is certainly possible if he avoids setbacks. I'd still take Brees ahead of him based on the immense and consistent level of production he's had in recent seasons, but Brady is a very close second at the position.
I can see that you're optimistic about Roy E. Williams next season. What makes him a better choice than someone like Brandon Marshall or Terrell Owens? -- J. Evans, Newport News, Va.
M.F.: I really think Williams will be motivated to prove that he is one of the elite wide receivers in the league. Remember, he had a plantar fascia ailment and wasn't really utilized to the best of his abilities last season. He also played second fiddle to Terrell Owens, but that obviously won't be the case again in 2009. Williams has also shown a great work ethic in the offseason and will no doubt have a great rapport with Tony Romo once the season starts.
If he can avoid injuries -- which has been a problem in the past -- Williams should post 70-plus receptions, 1,100-1,200 yards and seven to nine touchdowns as the Cowboys' top wide receiver. Right now, I'd take him over Marshall based on a possible league-imposed suspension facing the Broncos wideout. I also think T.O. is heading for a less-productive season as a member of the Bills.
Michael, what sort of value will Michael Crabtree have in his rookie season? Thanks! -- L. Drannem, Canada
M.F.:Fantasy leaguers always need to temper their expectations for rookie wide receivers, even one as talented as Crabtree. Look at Calvin Johnson. He was touted as the best collegiate prospect at the position in a decade, but finished his first NFL season with a mere 756 yards and four touchdowns. As it stands, Crabtree isn't even a lock to start for the 49ers next season. Josh Morgan has received rave reviews the entire offseason and is pushing for a prominent role. Isaac Bruce, Brandon Jones and Jason Hill are also in the mix in what will be a crowded competition in training camp. In a best-case scenario, I can see Crabtree finishing with around 850 yards and five touchdowns.
M.F.: All indications are that Quinn is the favorite to open the season atop the depth chart. He took the first-team quarterback snaps ahead of Anderson at a recent minicamp, and the coaches have been impressed with Quinn during offseason workouts. He's a good fit for the Browns' ball-control offense, which will be implemented under new coach Eric Mangini. With that said, Quinn isn't going to put up huge numbers in the new system and hasn't shown enough at the NFL level to predict a breakout season. The Notre Dame product should be seen as little more than a fantasy reserve and late-round selection in drafts. As for Edwards, I don't see him putting up the same sort of numbers as he did in 2007. That's doesn't mean he won't improve on last season's totals, but I'm tempering expectations because of his lack of a complement in the pass attack and the team's run-based offense.
Long-time reader, first-time emailer here! What sort of numbers are you projecting for Kyle Orton next season? I'm thinking about waiting on a quarterback until later in our draft and taking Orton. I have a feeling he'll put up huge numbers in Denver. What are your thoughts? -- B. Bergeron, Pensacola, Fla.
M.F.: While I do think Orton is a nice sleeper candidate, I don't trust him enough to make him my weekly starter at the quarterback position. Unless your league is very quarterback heavy in terms of the scoring system, there should be some good options on the board in the middle rounds. In fact, you can probably wait on the position and still land someone like Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler after the sixth round. Orton is better selected as a fantasy reserve and occassional matchup-based starter in most formats.