I have the No. 9 overall selection in a 12-team draft. What positions should I target? I was thinking about going after a running back in the first round and then a quarterback in the second round. Also, when should I draft a kicker and a defense? -- T. Oyler, Tampa, Fla.
Michael Fabiano: I've done several expert league drafts in recent weeks, and I've been taking a running back in Round 1 and an elite wideout in Round 2 in all of them. Based on your draft position, you should be able to land a back like Clinton Portis, Marion Barber or Marshawn Lynch in the first round. I would then target a receiver like Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne or Braylon Edwards in Round 2. While the flow of the draft must be considered, I tend to take a second runner in Round 3 and a second receiver in Round 4.
Unless there's a run at the position, you can still draft a solid quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Hasselbeck after the fourth round. If you decide to pass on a quarterback until the middle rounds, you can always target two borderline starters (for example, Jay Cutler and David Garrard) and use them based on the matchups. Also remember that you can find attractive tight ends in the middle rounds as well, so don't pressure yourself to add one in the first few rounds. As for a kicker and defense, I never advise anyone to draft these positions until the final three rounds.
M.F.: I like the fact that you're trading from depth to improve a weaker skill position, but I might look to deal Forte or Young for a lesser but still solid wideout like Calvin Johnson. In that case, you'd still have Lynch and Gore in your backfield and make a real improvement over Jackson as a No. 3 wideout. Overall, I like the deal much more if you're required to start two running backs and three wideouts.
Michael, do you have a link for your personal player rankings for this season? Also, I have the No. 5 overall selection in our 10-team league. Is it safe to take Steven Jackson if he falls to me? What is the best option otherwise? -- T. Pelton, Washington, D.C.
M.F.: My personal player rankings can be found at nfl.com/fantasy. The rankings are updated daily (as needed) and include defensive linemen, defensive backs and linebackers for those hardcore fans who participate in IDP (individual defensive player) leagues. As for Jackson, NFL Network's Adam Schefter is reporting that Jackson will end his holdout on Thursday. He might be behind in learning the offense of new OC Al Saunders, but Jackson was a participant in offseason workouts and has some idea of its intricacies. He's a surefire first-round selection.
What are your thoughts on Jabar Gaffney this season? I'm guessing defenses will focus on covering Randy Moss and Wes Welker, so could Gaffney put up solid numbers? -- S. Karpiel, Chicago, Ill.
M.F.: I always get a little scared of drafting wide receivers that come out of the University of Florida, but I do think Gaffney has some low-end sleeper value this season. I see him as a late-round, No. 4 or 5 fantasy wideout in leagues with 12-plus teams. Unless he fails to perform and Chad Jackson steps up during the season, Gaffney should finish with around 700 receiving yards and four to six touchdowns.
M.F.: Things are looking up for Gates, who passed a physical earlier this week and returned to practice on Tuesday morning. He was limited to individual drills, but this is still a very positive step in his return from foot surgery. While he's unlikely to see any preseason action, Gates' chances of being active in time for San Diego's regular-season opener against the Carolina Panthers have improved. Witten and Winslow could still be selected ahead of him as some owners err on the side of caution, but I'd doubt that Gates will be available after Round 5 in most drafts.
Curtis did post career bests in receptions (77) and yards (1,110) last season, but he was inconsistent overall. In fact, he had a mere three 100-yard performances and scored 50 percent of his touchdowns in one game. What's more, his status for the start of this season is now in question because he'll soon have hernia surgery. Coach Andy Reid told the Philadelphia Inquirer & Daily News that Curtis could miss "significant" time after the procedure. He should be downgraded on your rank lists.
Our 16-team league is adding return yardage into the scoring system (1 point for every 25 yards) this season. The returner has to be listed as a running back, wide receiver or tight end. Which players see the greatest increase in value? -- D. Kinney, Maine
M.F.: The first name that comes to mind is Devin Hester, who is a double-sided threat in this format. Not only will he continue to see time as a return specialist, but Hester is also listed as a starting wideout on Chicago's current depth chart. Joshua Cribbs is also a more attractive option, especially if he can earn some time as a wideout in Cleveland due to the absence of Joe Jurevicius. However, Cribbs sustained a high ankle sprain in Monday night's preseason loss to the New York Giants, so his status is a bit uncertain.
If you want a sleeper to consider in the middle to late rounds, take a look at Ted Ginn Jr. in Miami. He's listed as the team's No. 1 wideout, but coach Tony Sparano won't scale back his duties as a return specialist. Other players with added value in this format include Ahmad Bradshaw, Jerious Norwood, Leon Washington and André Davis.
I drafted Ronnie Brown hoping he could turn out to be a high-end No. 2 fantasy back, but now it looks like Ricky Williams could start for Miami. Should I keep him or look to deal him now? My other backs are Justin Fargas, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker. -- Z. Purdy, Bernardsville, N.J.
M.F.: Williams is in fact listed as the No. 1 running back on the Dolphins' current depth chart. But the Miami Herald reports the decision is based on the fact that Brown hurt his thumb in the team's last preseason contest and is questionable for Saturday's exhibition tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs. As a result, this might be the worst time to deal Brown, because no one will offer you much value for him. For now, I'd hold onto him and possibly add Williams in the unlikley event that he's still on the waiver wire.
Is it time to be worried about Peyton Manning? It seems like he could miss the first week of the regular season. -- J. Berriman, New Orleans, La.
M.F.: Manning is on schedule in his return from a surgical procedure on his knee, but there is an outside chance he'll miss the regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears. Still, coach Tony Dungy thinks Manning could begin practicing next week. The Colts are also opening a new stadium (Lucas Oil), and it would be a shock for Manning not to be under center when the team plays its first game there in Week 1. The two-time MVP has also never missed a regular-season start at the NFL level.
Barring setbacks, Manning will remain one of the first three quarterbacks off the board in all drafts. And if you're worried about him missing the opener, simply target the likes of Aaron Rodgers (vs. Minnesota), Jon Kitna (at Atlanta) or Jeff Garcia (at New Orleans) as an interim No. 1 quarterback based on their favorable matchups.
Would it be a good idea to draft Kurt Warner as insurance if you take Matt Leinart in a fantasy draft? -- K. Lian, Wichita, Kan.
M.F.: I'm all for handcuffing your top running backs, but I don't subscribe to insuring a No. 2 fantasy quarterback like Leinart (or any other for that matter). The Southern California product does have some definite potential and has looked solid in the preseason, but he has much to prove before he can be considered a viable starter in most formats. I think the only way you even take Warner is if and when he passes Leinart on the depth chart or you're in a much larger league and can stash him on your roster.
I'm in an 10-team league and drafted Michael Turner and Thomas Jones as my top two backs. I also have Braylon Edwards and Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver. Can Turner the Burner and Jones be productive enough to lean on all season, or should I shop one of my wideouts for an elite back? Love the mailbag! -- D. Brunner, Coeur d' Alene, Idaho
M.F.: While I see them both as No. 2 fantasy backs, Turner and Jones have great potential this season. The Burner is a perfect fit for Atlanta's power running game, and he's looked great in the preseason. Jones might be closing in on the age of 30, but his value rose with the addition of OG Alan Faneca, OT Damien Woody and Brett Favre.
The New York Jets now have four first-round picks on their offensive line and a quarterback who will keep defenses honest, so Jones could post 1,500-1,700 scrimmage yards and 5 to 7 touchdowns. I think you could have done a bit better in a 10-team seasonal draft, but I'd stick with this duo unless some make you a "Godfather" trade offer.