What sort of numbers do you predict for the top fantasy players in San Francisco? - F. Thomsen
Michael Fabiano: Let's start with Frank Gore, who has the potential to record 1,700-1,900 scrimmage yards and 10-plus touchdowns as the team's best offensive weapon. He also has a very favorable schedule, which just adds to Gore's first-round value. Vernon Davis isn't going to duplicate the 13 touchdowns he scored last season, but he should post 800-900 yards and seven to nine scores. Anything less and he'll be a disappointment. Michael Crabtree is a high-end sleeper with 1,000-yard potential, and there's no reason he can't score six to eight touchdowns. Alex Smith has a chance to post nice numbers for owners -- around 3,500 yards and 20-22 total touchdowns -- based on a favorable slate of games and the load of talent around him.
M.F.: All five of these players are highly valuable in keeper leagues, so part of your decision needs to be based on the scoring system. But on the surface, I think you should retain Mendenhall, Fitzgerald and Johnson. It's a close call between Mendenhall and Greene at running back, but I'd take the Steelers runner because of his age and potential in the team's offense. With arguably the two top wide receivers in fantasy football on your roster, I'd look to target a quarterback and another running back in the first two rounds of the re-draft. You might even be able to re-acquire Greene, who I think has major potential as well, depending on your draft position.
Starting this season, offensive players in our non-PPR league will be awarded one point per every 25 return yards, and six points for each return touchdown. Based on that change, which wide receivers should receive a boost in value? - J. Law, Collinsville, Va.
M.F.: The first wideout that comes to mind is Josh Cribbs, who might be the most dangerous return man in the entire league. There are a number of other wideouts with added value in your new scoring system (which is a great way to go, by the way). That list includes DeSean Jackson, Wes Welker, Percy Harvin, Eddie Royal, Kenny Britt, Nate Burleson, Jacoby Jones, Johnny Knox, Jordy Nelson and Ted Ginn. In deeper leagues, players like Danny Amendola and Eric Weems could even have some late-round appeal.
You've talked a great deal about how the NFL has become a passing league, so fantasy players should take quarterbacks earlier in drafts. However, it seems to me that you should wait on taking a quarterback due to the fact that there are so many good ones in the league. I think it's more important to get a running back early. Thoughts? - S. Blobaum, Chicago, Ill.
M.F.: This is an excellent question. Honestly, whether you decide to go with Rodgers or stick with a running back has a great deal to do with draft position. If you have one of the top five picks, I'd take Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and Frank Gore (all backs) in that order. If Rodgers is on the board in picks six through nine, I'm grabbing him as my top signal-caller. That's because those picks are in the middle (or close to the middle) of each round, so you'll have a better chance at landing solid running backs and wideouts in the next few rounds. Where taking Rodgers, or any other quarterback for that matter, becomes an issue is if you have one of the final three picks of Round 1. Here's the problem. If you take Rodgers and a running back with your first two picks, for example, you have very little chance of drafting an elite receiver. Sure, you'll have the best quarterback in fantasy football, but your No. 1 receiver is going to be someone like Steve Smith (Giants), Anquan Boldin or Steve Smith (Panthers). In my mind, those wideouts are far more valuable as No. 2 options. You're also in danger of having to take a No. 2 running back that might not be so reliable a choice in the fourth or fifth rounds. It's that long wait between picks that's the killer. So I do agree with your statement, to a point. I think Rodgers, Brees and Peyton Manning are all worth first-round picks. You just have to be very careful about your draft strategy when it comes to filling the running back and wide receiver positions.
M.F.: I'd side with Moreno, Turner and Marshall. Moreno has a ton of upside and is an even better option in PPR formats. Despite the fact that he doesn't catch a ton of passes, I'd keep Turner as well. While the "Curse of 370" could still be a cause for some concern, Turner has major rushing yardage and touchdown potential as a prominent member of the Falcons offense. Marshall, a PPR machine, should remain productive at his new South Florida address. With two running backs and a wideout on the roster, be sure to target a quarterback and another receiver in the first two rounds of the re-draft.
M.F.: Here's the deal with Forte. I think he can be undervalued in PPR leagues, based on the fact that his numbers were so bad last season. As a result, fantasy leaguers are going to be down on him on draft day. With new coordinator Mike Martz calling the plays, however, Forte will have a chance to catch 60-plus passes in 2010. Sure, he'll lose time to Taylor, but backfield committees are the norm in this day and age. Beanie Wells will lose carries to Tim Hightower in Arizona, but he's still a high-end sleeper, right? I'm not nearly as high on Forte in standard leagues, but I do think he could be a bargain in PPR formats.
M.F.: Lynch's value would obviously increase as a member of the Seahawks, but don't make the mistake of thinking he'd be a featured back. Justin Forsett will also see his share of the workload, and the duo of Leon Washington (when healthy) and Julius Jones will compete for carries. On a positive note, I think Lynch would be the favorite to start and have the advantage of an extremely favorable schedule. With that said, his keeper value would still pale in comparison to that of Mendenhall or Charles. As for Cooley, I think he could turn into one of the better draft values in fantasy football among tight ends. Shanahan likes to utilize the position in his offensive attack, and Cooley's schedule is very favorable. The one thing I worry about is the presence of Fred Davis, who was a terrific option for fantasy owners last season when Cooley was lost to an injured ankle.
How do you see the backfield situation in Cleveland playing out this season? I'm in a dynasty league and have a chance to get Montario Hardesty. - R. McDonald, Canada
M.F.: Hardesty is well worth taking in dynasty leagues. In fact, he has more value in those formats than in seasonal or keeper leagues. I see him as a viable sleeper candidate during his rookie season, even with Jerome Harrison on the roster. While the veteran did shine at the end of the 2009 campaign, he also benefitted from a favorable schedule and an average of over 35 carries per game in his final three starts. A recent report in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer also predicts that Hardesty will be the Browns' Week 1 starter. While the schedule isn't at all favorable for the rookie runner, Hardesty is someone that fantasy leaguers need to watch in training camp.
Do you think Tony Scheffler will make a major impact in Detroit? Is he worth taking a chance on in the late rounds ahead of someone like Zach Miller or John Carlson among tight ends? Also, what kind of numbers do you think Mark Sanchez will produce in his second NFL season? - D. Jenkins, Davie, Fla.
M.F.: There has been a lot of talk about Scheffler playing a big part in the Lions offense. In fact, his projected role has drawn comparisons to the one Dallas Clark sees in Indianapolis. Will he be the next Clark? Not likely. But it does appear that he's in line for a major increase in targets compared to his final season with the Broncos. While I don't see him being a better option than either Miller or Carlson, Scheffler is well worth a late-round look as a No. 2 tight end on draft day. As for Sanchez, he's in a great position to vastly improve on his rookie totals. Not only will he be protected with Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield, but he also has a ton of talent in the passing game with Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller all at his beck and call. I'd expect him to throw for 3,200-3,400 yards and score 18-20 total touchdowns. Those numbers would make him a viable No. 2 fantasy quarterback and occasional matchup-based starter in most leagues.
There has been a ton of hype around Dez Bryant this offseason. Will he meet expectations as a rookie? I've seen him going as high as the fifth or sixth round in a lot of mock drafts. Is he worth that high of a draft pick? - R. Jones, Lancaster, Mich.
M.F.: Bryant does have a ton of long-term potential, but I wouldn't expect him to come out and make an enormous impact as a rookie. A select few wideouts have ever recorded 1,000-plus yards in their first NFL season, and even some of the greatest names at the position were invisible as rookies. The great Jerry Rice had 49 receptions, 927 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. Steve Largent had 705 yards and four touchdowns. Michael Irvin, who used to wear the same No. 88 that Bryant now dons, posted 32 catches, 654 yards and five scores in his first season. Do I think Bryant can unseat Roy Williams atop the depth chart? Without question. But I would temper expectations for Bryant in an offense loaded with talent. Not only is Williams in the mix, but Miles Austin and Jason Witten will also see targets. I'd prefer to take him after Round 6.