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Trade talks, keeper decisions dominate as fantasy season closes in

Ricky Williams is my third running back. Even though he'll play second fiddle to Ronnie Brown in Miami, he put up respectable numbers last season and will likely do so in 2009. However, I'm tempted to drop him and pick up Julius Jones -- he's the main back in Seattle and is projected to put up better numbers than Williams. So should I dump Williams and pick up Jones? -- P. Robinson, Rockville, Md.

Michael Fabiano: Is there another player you can release other than Williams to add Jones? Maybe a second tight end, kicker or defense? I'd rather have depth at the running back position if possible. If you are forced to cut Williams, however, I would still make the move. Jones isn't the best back in fantasy football, but he is expected to start in the Seahawks offense which will be more run-based this season. Jones also has some nice matchups on the schedule, facing teams with questionable run defenses like the Buccaneers, Colts, Lions, Packers, Rams (twice) and Texans. I also expect Brown to see more of the workload in 2009, so Williams' numbers could fall.

I'm allowed to keep two players, but if I didn't keep them last season I lose the round they were taken. I was able to pick up Kurt Warner and Pierre Thomas off waivers, so they would count as my 15th- and 16th-round picks. My other options are Reggie Bush (Round 4), Tony Gonzalez (Round 5), Ronnie Brown (Round 6) and Philip Rivers (Round 7). Who should I retain? -- K. Frasure, Portland, Ore.

M.F.: Warner is a tremendous bargain, but his age (38) makes him less attractive in a keeper format. Unless you're in a league that has short-term contracts, I'd keep Rivers ahead of Warner. Even in exchange for a seventh-round pick, Rivers, 27, is a nice value. I'd also retain Thomas, who is an absolute steal for a late-round pick.

I was troubled when I saw the results of the 2009 mock draft results. How does go Ray Rice went 36th overall? Currently you have him ranked as the 41st-best running back and the 96th overall player, so what would warrant an "expert" taking him as the 20th overall back? Between Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, who do you think will come out as the starter in Baltimore? Thanks! -- L. Karr, Champaign, Ill.

M.F.: I'd have to ask David Sabino from Sports Illustrated what his thinking with that selection. When I saw Rice's name come off the board at the end of the third round, I was shocked as well. He is a decent sleeper pick because of Baltimore's dependance on the run and McGahee's injury history. As for the Ravens backfield, Rice and McGahee will battle for the right to start to open the season. McClain is also going to be in the mix, though I'd be shocked (barring a McGahee or Rice injury) if he equaled the 902 rushing yards he posted last season. I wouldn't take any of this trio as more than a borderline No. 3 or 4 fantasy back. Instead, I'd have taken Knowshon Moreno in that spot.

Should I keep DeAngelo Williams (3rd round) or Marion Barber (Round 9) at running back? What about at wide receiver between Anthony Gonzalez (Round 6) and Ted Ginn Jr. (Round 8)? -- M. Fox, Burlington, N.C.

M.F.: Williams is a nice value for a third rounder, but Barber for a ninth-round pick is more of a steal. Even with Felix Jones back in the mix, I think Barber can be a solid option for fantasy owners. He could move back to the "closer" role he thrived in while paired with Julius Jones from 2006-2007. Barber is going in the first and second round in most seasonal formats, so he's a strong value. I'd also retain Gonzalez ahead of Ginn. With Marvin Harrison out of the mix, I think the Ohio State product has a chance to be a 1,000-yard wideout this season. It also doesn't hurt that he has a player like Peyton Manning slinging him the football.

I'm in a 12-team PPR league that starts one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one flex (RB/WR/TE), one tight end, one kicker and one defense, and I have the No. 7 overall pick in the draft I'm hoping Steven Jackson falls to me. If he's not available, is it a good idea to take Larry Fitzgerald instead? Thanks! -- C. Fiore, New York, N.Y.

M.F.: I would stick with a running back in the first round and target an elite wide receiver in Round 2. I'm guessing that the best backs available at the seventh pick will be Jackson, Frank Gore, Marion Barber or Steve Slaton. You might even see DeAngelo Williams fall, but he isn't as valuable in a PPR league because of his lack of production as a receiver out of the backfield. Based on your draft position, I think you can get one of Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson or Steve Smith.

I've been offered Marion Barber for Steve Smith in a 10-team league that allows three keepers. If I took the offer I would keep Maurice Jones-Drew, Barber and Ronnie Brown and release Kurt Warner, Willie Parker, Vincent Jackson and Terrell Owens. What is your expert take? -- M. Werden, Milwaukee, Wis.

M.F.: If your league requires a flex starter and running backs come at a premium in the re-draft, then I would make the deal. The trade is also a viable option if you have a good draft position, since you could make the move, secure three solid backs and target an elite wideout to replace Smith in Round 1. But if it's a PPR format that has no flex spot, then the deal is a little less attractive. After all, Smith is a top-five fantasy wideout and would be a strong keeper with Jones-Drew and Brown.

Hey Mike, in my fantasy league I have a receiving core of Dwayne Bowe, Calvin Johnson and Eddie Royal. My running backs are Joseph Addai, Adrian Peterson and Kevin Smith. I have been offered Brandon Jacobs, Randy Moss and Roy E. Williams for Smith, Johnson and Royal. Should I go for it? Thanks! -- K. Foster, Emmaus, Pa.

M.F.: I would definitely pull the trigger on this deal. As much as I like Smith, Jacobs is an upgrade at running back. Moss and Johnson are a wash in terms of value. In fact, I've moved Moss ahead of Megatron in our latest wide receiver rank list. I also like Williams, who is now the top wideout in Dallas after the release of Terrell Owens, to produce better numbers than Royal. To me, it's a winner for you all around.

Hey Mike, love your advice! I'm in a 12-team keeper league where we start one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. I have to retain two players with the option to keep a third player (for an additional league fee). We do not reward points for carries or receptions. I won the league last year, so I will have the No. 12 pick of each round in a non-snake draft. Who do you think my two keepers should be from Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Brandon Jacobs, Willie Parker, Steve Slaton, Derrick Ward, Brandon Marshall and Steve Smith? Also, should I keep a third player? -- C. Weiss Dix Hills, N.Y.

M.F.: The fact that this is a non-snake draft makes your situation difficult, since you'll have the last pick in every round rather than every other round. Keep Jacobs and Slaton to secure your backfield. If you didn't mind the addition league fee, I'd also keep Brees. That secures the top quarterback in fantasy football and two No. 1-caliber runners. With these three players on the roster, I'd target wide receivers in each of the first two rounds of the re-draft.

I've drafted Marques Colston and Lee Evans as my starting wide receivers, but I'm not convinced about their ability to produce winning numbers. I'm stacked at running back with Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Stewart. Should I offer one of my backs and a receiver for a stud wideout? -- J. Hiew, Australia

M.F.: I would agree that you're a little unsettled at the wide receiver position. While Colston is a viable No. 1 fantasy option, I see Evans as more of a No. 3 or 4 option based on the size of the league. I would first attempt to package Mendenhall or Stewart with Evans an effort to upgrade at wideout. I don't know if that package will get you a stud in return, but it could get you someone like Roy E. Williams or Chad Ochocinco if the other owner is deep at wide receiver. I would try not to involve Gore or Jackson in the trade, though, because I'd rather not have to use Mendenhall or Stewart as a No. 2 back. If you can't pull off a deal, you might be able to land a waiver-wire sleeper once the season starts. Who knows, you could wind up with this season's Antonio Bryant if you pay close enough attention to the happenings in the fantasy world.

I'm in a 12-team keeper league with a great set of running backs (Steven Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Brian Westbrook). However, my receiving core is not the greatest. Do you think Anthony Gonzalez and Donnie Avery will be reliable No. 2 and 3 wide receivers alongside Calvin Johnson? -- C. Virk, Canada

M.F.: I would prefer to have Gonzalez as a No. 3 fantasy wideout and Avery as a No. 4. Gonzalez could become a viable second option now that he's in a prominent role with the Colts. As I mentioned earlier in the mailbag, I could see Gonzalez finishing the season with around 1,000 yards and five to seven touchdowns. My draft strategies include securing at least two stud wide receivers in the first four to five rounds. That keeps me from having to scramble in the later rounds for a wideout like Avery, who has potential but is no lock to post consistently good numbers. While Avery does have sleeper potential, the Rams pass attack hasn't been effective since the days of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. You might want to package either Jackson or Westbrook (don't trade Jones-Drew) and Avery and attempt to trade for another stud wideout to pair with Johnson.

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