Stewart could be an elite fantasy running back in 2011

Where would you rank Jonathan Stewart if DeAngelo Williams is no longer with the Panthers next season? - BillGalvin6 (via Twitter)

Michael Fabiano: If the Panthers decide to part ways with Williams, Stewart's fantasy value is going to explode. Despite the fact that rookie Jimmy Clausen was ineffective under center, Stewart still put up nice yardage totals in the second half of the 2010 season while Williams was sidelined. With the addition of a veteran quarterback expected this offseason, Stewart will have some help in what should be a better offensive attack. He will also face one of the most favorable schedules among running backs, which makes the former Oregon standout even more attractive. As it stands, Stewart is ranked No. 18 among running backs on NFL.com. If all the cards fall into place, though, I can easily see him moving into the top 15.

Which running back do I retain between Maurice Jones-Drew and LeSean McCoy? - DurtyBirdz (via Twitter)

M.F.: Both backs are solid keepers, but I would side with Jones-Drew -- at least for right now. However, it's going to be very important to keep tabs on his return from knee surgery. Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union said on her Twitter page that "the recovery will take 4 months that it was bone-on-bone in the back of the knee." If word comes out that Jones-Drew needed a microfracture procedure rather than a routine scope, it could have a greater impact on his career down the road. In that case, you might want to go with McCoy (especially if this is a PPR league).

Is there a quarterback out there that is highly ranked that you would avoid in 2011? - DougGausepohl (via Twitter)

M.F.: Unless one of the elite quarterbacks ends up on the cover Madden 2012 (I'm kidding, well kind of) there isn't anyone I'd automatically avoid. There are a ton of good players at the position heading into the 2011 campaign, and I'd be fine starting anyone in my top nine. There are a number of signal-callers that I wouldn't want to lean on as my regular starter, however -- a list that includes Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Tim Tebow and Matt Cassel. Manning, Cutler and Cassel were all inconsistent based on fantasy points in 2010, and I need to see more of Tebow before I advise anyone to make him their No. 1 fantasy quarterback. He has the skills to make an impact, but he's not a fantasy starter just yet.

I'm in a PPR keeper league and need to retain three players from Tony Romo, Rashard Mendenhall, McCoy, Greg Jennings, Miles Austin and Jermichael Finley. Thoughts? - bpark1978 (via Twitter)

M.F.: The three players to retain are Mendenhall, McCoy and Jennings. Romo is a nice keeper, but he's a bit more expendable based on the high number of good quarterbacks that should be available in the re-draft. I have Mendenhall ranked in the top five among running backs, and McCoy's value rises based on the PPR format -- he had an impressive 78 receptions this past season. Jennings, who is a top-five player at the wide receiver position, is also a very attractive option -- even more so in the PPR format.

I'm in a 16-team keeper league and need to retain two players from Ray Rice, Ryan Torain, Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall and Finley. Who should I keep? - Jess1820 (via Twitter)

M.F.: The obvious keeper here is Rice, who remains a solid option among running backs despite a decrease in fantasy points in 2010. That leaves Torain, Boldin, Marshall and Finley for your second keeper, and I'd side with Marshall. While he is coming off his worst statistical season since his rookie campaign, Marshall is still one of the league's most talented, young wide receivers. He's currently ranked No. 14 at his position on NFL.com.

My PT Cruiser has a blown tire. Can I find a spare running back on the Saints roster, or should I avoid Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Chris Ivory? - joeyeoman (via Twitter)

M.F.: The Saints backfield is in a state of flux right now. Thomas, who is coming off left ankle surgery, could wind up as an unrestricted free agent (it's not certain due to the current state of the CBA). Ivory, who was arguably the team's most impressive runner in 2010, is also coming off a surgical procedure -- his was to repair a Lisfranc ailment. Bush is owed $11.8 million in 2011, which is a ton of money for a running back that is extremely prone to injuries. He said that he's willing to renegotiate his deal, but the former Southern California standout is clearly no lock to return to the Saints. If all three are back with the team, Thomas will likely be the best fantasy option but seems destined to see a shared workload. Ivory has the most upside, though, and will no doubt have sleeper value barring a setback from surgery.

Which running backs do you project to be drafted in the first round next season? - ScottJFisher (via Twitter)

M.F.: I can see as many as 10 running backs being taken in the first round of a standard, 12-team league, with Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick being the exceptions. Those runners are (in order) Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, Mendenhall, Jones-Drew, Jamaal Charles, McCoy, Frank Gore, Rice and Darren McFadden. Michael Turner will also warrant first-round consideration, though his lack of pass-catching skills does make him somewhat less attactive. If the Panthers decide to part ways with Williams, Stewart could also warrant some late first-round consideration.

Looking at 2011 fantasy mock drafts, what rounds are you targeting skill position players (ex. running back in Round 1, wide receiver in Round 2, etc.)? - knadiesel (via Twitter)

M.F.: My strategy for 2011 fantasy football drafts is going to be very simple -- I'll be taking a running back in the first round and likely a wide receiver in Round 2. I will also field two backs, two wideouts and possibly even a tight end before I look at a quarterback. Obviously, the depth at that position will drive this strategy. And of course, I will fill all of my offensive skill positions and wait to draft a defense or a kicker until the final two rounds. I don't think that strategy will ever change.

Does Jamaal Charles belong in the top-three running backs behind Chris Johnson and Foster? - green145169 (via Twitter)

M.F.: Charles is going to be a first-round pick in the vast majority of fantasy drafts. However, I don't think he's in the top three at his position. Charles, who finished third in fantasy points among runners on NFL.com in 2010, is still in line to lose at least some carries to Thomas Jones (he's under contract with the Chiefs for one more season). There's also a trend that makes me think he'll slide a bit in 2011. Over the last five seasons, no more than two running backs to finish in the top five in fantasy points at the position accomplished that feat the very next year. The top five from last season were (in order): Foster, Peterson, Charles, Peyton Hillis and CJ2K. So if the trend continues, no more than two of those runners will put up top-five points again. And if I had to venture a guess, I would pick Charles to be one of the runners to fall out of that list. That doesn't mean he won't finish among the top 10 at the position -- likely, he will -- but ranking him in the top three is going to be tough.

I need to retain two players from Aaron Rodgers, Mendenhall, Pierre Thomas, Felix Jones, Terrell Owens and Roddy White. It's a PPR league. Advice? - rgregory07 (via Twitter)

M.F.: This is a tough call, because Rodgers, Mendenhall and White all have a ton of keeper value. But as it stands, I'd have to retain Rodgers and Mendenhall. The Packers quarterback has finished in the top three in fantasy points at his position in three consecutive seasons, and I don't see his level of production falling in the near future. I have long been in favor of keeping elite running backs ahead of elite wide receivers, even in PPR leagues, just based on the depth at the position. Mendenhall is a featured back, and that's hard to find in a time when so many teams have gone with the backfield committee approach. So unless the points rewarded for receptions is drastic and makes White far more productive, I would retain the Steelers running back and target a wideout in the first round of the re-draft.

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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