Tomlinson's keeper value falls, but don't buy Sproles for 2009

I'm in a 12-team, PPR keeper league and need to retain three players from Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning, Darren McFadden, Steve Slaton and LaDainian Tomlinson. I'm up in the air about McFadden. What do you think about his long-term value? -- F. Scott, Lynchburg, Va.

Michael Fabiano: The fact that you're in a PPR league makes Johnson an even more valuable option, so I'd retain him along with Manning and Slaton. Yes, that means I would release Tomlinson back into the free-agent pool. I think the writing is on the wall with the Chargers runner, who turns 30 in June and is coming off both toe and groin ailments. He's now logged 2,657 career carries (not counting the postseason), so a decrease in his effectiveness and production shouldn't come as a shock. He's still a definite keeper option in most leagues, but I think Tomlinson's time as the king of the mountain are at an end.

McFadden was an enormous disappointment in his rookie season, so it's hard to be excited about him unless the Raiders allow him a chance to earn a more featured role. Justin Fargas remained atop the depth chart and led the team in carries and rushing yards, while McFadden floundered due to injuries and a shared workload. I still see him as a viable keeper across the board, but you have better alternatives in Manning, Slaton and Johnson.

I'm in a standard, 12-team keeper league and need to retain either Philip Rivers or Kurt Warner at the quarterback position. Whoever I retain would have to be released after the 2010 season. Seems like a toss up to me! -- J.J. Langley, Tempe, Ariz.

2008 statistics:
Completions: 312

Attempts: 478

Yards: 4,009

TDs/INTs: 34/11

M.F.: The stipulation that you'd have to release one of these quarterbacks after the 2010 season makes this somewhat of a closer call, but I'd still side with Rivers. Even if Warner does return to the Cardinals in 2009 (he's slated to become a free agent), he'd still be 38 to start the season and far more prone to potential injuries. Rivers, on the other hand, is 27 and now entering the prime of his career. He's also coming off his best fantasy season, throwing for an impressive 4,009 yards and 34 touchdowns.

Michael, I wanted to thank you for all your great information all season. I won 50 percent of my fantasy leagues as a rookie owner with the help of your advice! Thanks for talking up Tyler Thigpen when others were less confident in him -- he won me a championship! I'm also a die-hard Cowboys fan, so my question is what do you think will happen with our team next season, both on the field and in fantasy football? -- T. Gaddy

M.F.: I appreciate the kind words and congratulations on the championships! Nothing makes me happier than to help readers and viewers win their leagues. In terms of the Cowboys, well, as a fan I'd love to see them move on from Wade Phillips and sign Mike Shanahan to take over as the head coach. I just don't see Phillips as a championship caliber coach, and I think he's proven that over the last two seasons. From a fantasy football perspective, I think this team does have a ton of value.

I know he struggled down the stretch, but I still see Tony Romo as the second-best fantasy quarterback behind Drew Brees. People seem to forget that before he suffered finger, back and rib injuries, Romo threw for three touchdowns in four of his first six starts. Marion Barber will remain a first-round pick in most drafts, even with Felix Jones back in the mix. Despite the success of Tony Gonzalez, I still see Jason Witten as the No. 1 fantasy tight end. Jones, Roy E. Williams and Nick Folk will also come off the board in drafts, as will the Cowboys defense. DeMarcus Ware will remain the team's most attractive IDP option, though Bradie James is also coming off a huge season.

I'm hearing reports that the Chargers will part ways with LaDainian Tomlinson before next season. If that's true, what sort of value will Darren Sproles have in keeper leagues? - H. Owens, Coronado, Calif.

M.F.:Chargers general manager A.J. Smith recently told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the team drafted Sproles to help its in three facets, "kick returns, spot play as a running back and catching passes out of the backfield." Smith did not mention a role as a featured back. Sure, Sproles is explosive and is a proven playmaker, but it's hard to envision a scenario where Sproles he would be an every-down back based on his lack of size (Sproles is listed as 5-foot-6, 181 pounds). Furthermore, Sproles will be a free agent in 2009, so Tomlinson's status in San Diego might not even affect his status. Regardless, I don't see Sproles as a viable keeper option in the future.

Michael, I need to retain two players from Anquan Boldin, Marshawn Lynch, Aaron Rodgers and Michael Turner. I think Turner is a lock, but can I trust Lynch? I know that running backs are important, but so are consistent quarterbacks and wide receivers. What should I do? -- C. Gaulin, Saratoga, N.Y.

M.F.: I know Lynch can be inconsistent at times, but he still produced 47 receptions, over 1,300 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns in 2008. I also believe there is a lot of room for statistical improvement as his career rolls forward. Lynch has also not been leaned on too hard in his first two seasons with 530 carries in 28 games (18.9 carries per game), so he's not in danger of breaking down anytime soon. With Turner also on your roster, I think entering the re-draft with two solid backs is the way to go.

I'm in a 12-team league and need to retain one player from Marion Barber, Chris Johnson and Aaron Rodgers. Who would you keep? -- D. Camara

M.F.: As much as I like Barber and Rodgers, I'd side with Johnson in this case. The talented runner is fast, elusive, versatile and has a nose for the end zone. I was particularly impressed with his performance in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, as he tallied 100 scrimmage yards and one touchdown against a stout Ravens defense. And he did it all in less than one half. While I expect that he'll continue to lose carries to LenDale White, I do think Johnson's role in the Titans offense will expand overall.

What are your thoughts on Ryan Torain next season? I think he showed potential, albeit in a limited basis, as a rookie. -- W. Kranger, Colorado Springs, Colo.

M.F.: Torain did excite fantasy leaguers for about, well, one-plus quarter of his rookie season. But the Arizona State product reminds me of the Mr. Glass character from M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable movie. He suffered a serious foot ailment in college (2007) that cost him most of the season, broke his elbow during training camp (2008), missed the first eight weeks of his rookie season, and then tore the ACL in his left knee after making his first-ever NFL start. Obviously, Torain needs to be more durable to be seen as a prominent option for new head coach Josh McDaniels. Based on the fact that most runners aren't the same in their first season back from reconstructive knee surgery and his overall lack of durability, I think Torain will be no more than a committee back in 2009. He's also not worth keeping right now, either.

Hi Mike, I'm the commissioner of a league that's been in existence for the last 15 years. We've kept the scoring system the same for the most part, but some of us want to mix it up a bit for 2009. Do you have any suggestions about changes we could make? Thanks! -- F. Brennon, Washington, D.C.

M.F.: First off, I'd add points for receptions. In standard formats, a receiver who catches seven passes for 65 yards deserves more than a mere six fantasy points based on his involvement in the pass attack. I'd also consider rewarding players points for return yards and return touchdowns (kickoffs and punts) rather than give those points to the defense and special teams unit (DST). It happens all the time -- you catch the end of a touchdown from one of your fantasy players, say it was Reggie Bush, only to be disappointed when you find out that it was a punt return. But why should the Saints DST receive those points? Shouldn't owners who have Bush be rewarded instead?

Since you can customize your scoring system with our League Manager product, you can reward points to individual players for return yards and return touchdowns and leave those categories off the special teams. This sort of scoring system also makes for a wider variety of players to have value in the draft. Instead of filling out your roster with players you're likely to drop a week of two into the season, you can go after some effective return men (Darren Sproles, Leon Washington) that can help your team.

I need to retain three players from Marshawn Lynch (Round 1), Drew Brees (Round 2), Philip Rivers (Round 5), Matt Forte (Round 7) and Roddy White (Round 8). I lose the round of the players I keep. Your advice would be greatly appreciated! -- J. Gonzalez, England

M.F.: I doubt Lynch will warrant a first-round pick (I see him as more of a second rounder), but I'd still retain him unless you have a top pick in the re-draft. I'd also keep Brees, who will be a second-round selection in most drafts. The third player to retain is the easiest choice, Forte, who is an absolute steal for a seventh rounder. If you retain Lynch (again, based on your draft position), I'd be sure to target wide receivers in the first few rounds.

I'm in a 10-team keeper league and have to retain one running back from Joseph Addai and Brian Westbrook. I'm afraid of Addai's proneness to injuries, but he's also a lot younger than Westbrook. Help! - B. Abraham, Tacoma, Wash.

M.F.: Talk about a difficult decision. Neither back lived up to expectations this season, and there are questions with both in the future. Westbrook, who will be 30 at the start of next season, has already started to show signs of wear and tear. Addai is much younger than Westbrook, but he's been prone to injuries at the NFL level and lost work to Dominic Rhodes in 2008. All things being equal, I'd keep Westbrook and release Addai back into the free-agent pool. But it's important to keep tabs on what the Eagles and Colts do at the position this offseason. Should the Eagles add a runner who could steal carries, well, then Addai becomes a better option because of his age.

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