Engel's mailbag: Keeper analysis and draft advice


David, Los Angeles: I don't get this doom and gloom stuff regarding Larry Johnson if Brodie Croyle starts. He is going to face exactly what Damon Huard did when he became the starter last year. Defenses will dare the quarterback to beat them. In his first two games last year with Huard at the helm, Johnson had 227 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The next week he had 106 yards receiving and a touchdown. Croyle being the starter just means Johnson is a lock to get 400 carries again. He should still be the third running back off the board.

Engel: In this week's Offseason Notebook, I said if the Chiefs opened the season with Croyle as their starter, it would hurt Johnson's outlook, especially early in the season. A look back at Huard's performances as a starter early in the year reveal that, even though he was initially regarded as a mediocre journeyman, he exceeded expectations quickly, and defenses could not employ the strategy of heavily focusing on Johnson for very long. In his first start in relief of the injured Trent Green in Week 2, Huard completed 17 of 23 passing attempts. In the third week, he completed 18 of 23 attempts for 208 yards and two touchdowns. In the fourth week, he threw for 288 yards and two more scores. So obviously defenses were having no success daring the quarterback to beat them, and offensive balance was established under Huard, who also completed 12 of 20 passes for 140 yards and a score in relief of Green in the opener. Huard immediately proved he could keep defenses honest. While it was a surprise to see him play well, keep in mind he also had nine years of NFL experience to his credit when he took the field, and it wasn't the first time a veteran backup stepped in and played well in a relief role. Croyle has no experience as a pro passer, only one year of learning on the sidelines, and has a much steeper learning curve. He will not succeed as a starter initially and I will drop Johnson to at least fourth overall at running back if Croyle wins the job. I also expect the Chiefs to give Johnson more rest this year, preventing him from reaching the 400-carry mark again. Plus, playing from behind with an inexperienced quarterback will mean abandoning the running game at times.

Chris, Tasmania, Australia: I'm in a dynasty league with only one starting running back, and we get bonus points for big plays. I have Reggie Bush, Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts. I've received package offers to trade Bush. In one, I get Steven Jackson, and in another I get Brian Westbrook. My thoughts are to take Jackson,, and I'm thinking it will give me good long-term, high scoring ability. To me, Bush is still a big question as to whether he'll do what I need season after season. Also, should I try to deal Portis and Betts, maybe as a combo?

Engel: I think Bush has a ton of upside and I see no reason why he can't consistently produce outstanding fantasy numbers on an annual basis in the future. I likely would not trade him for Westbrook in a dynasty league, since both players are used at the same position and will ultimately offer similar types of production, with Bush being at an earlier point in his career. Getting Jackson is more intriguing, because he has already firmly established himself as a fantasy superstar. I would not trade Bush based on doubts that he can produce in the future, which you shouldn't have. I would consider trading for Jackson based on the fact that he is already considered the second-best running back in fantasy football, period. It all depends on what other player you have to give up with Bush. I would not include another fantasy superstar in the deal from another position if you have one, or a first-round pick. I would certainly be open to making the trade, but you should not go overboard to do it. Bush will serve you well if you keep him. As for dealing the two Washington running backs, Portis still commands a lot of name value on the trade market, so you should certainly see what offers you can get in return. Getting a backup running back who has fewer playing time questions than Portis or Betts would be the goal.

Tim, Ewa Beach, Hawaii: I am in a 14-team league where we keep two players but cannot retain multiple players at any one position. Everyone is keeping one running back and either a wide receiver or quarterback (Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and Drew Brees are being kept). We start 1 QB, 2 RB, and 3 WR with six points for a passing touchdown. I have the 10th pick in a snake draft. I am considering going for a quarterback if Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb or Marc Bulger are still available. This obviously means I will have to wait 20 picks to get my second wide receiver.

Engel: The six points for a touchdown pass obviously puts a slightly higher emphasis on the quarterback position, but you still start only one guy. You still must draft two more starting wide receivers if you already have one, and if you can still get an outstanding guy with the 14th pick, as a lot of other owners may take running backs, I would do it. You don't have to nab a top-six quarterback to stabilize the position, even though the dropoff after the top six seems considerable. You could see a very good top-15 wide receiver fall to you with that second pick, and you will also have to consider what running backs are available as well. When you only start one quarterback, I can't advise using your first draft pick on one when your other positions demand more starters, especially at wide receiver. You can still grab Philip Rivers or Matt Leinart later on and go into the 2007 season with a lot of confidence, especially if you grab a solid backup in the middle rounds and even rotate two starters. I'd focus on the other positions with your first draft choice.

Maguire, Avon, Mass.: I am in a 12-team three-keeper league. My potential keepers are Reggie Bush, Cedric Benson, Thomas Jones Chad Johnson, Marc Bulger, and LaMont Jordan (if traded to the right team) ... I'm leaning towards Bush, Benson, and Johnson but having trouble leaving Bulger out.

Engel: There are no indications Jordan will be traded so, unless you start two quarterbacks, my dilemma would be deciding between Benson and Jones. Bush and Johnson should be locks, and you can still spend your first draft choice on a quality starting quarterback. I'd rather have the opportunity to keep an outstanding second starter at running back, a position of higher demand and importance. It's a close call, because Jones is more proven, but in a keeper league, upside is more important, so I'll recommend Benson as your third player to retain.

Josh, Jenison, Mich.: I'm going into the second season of my 10-team league, keeping Frank Gore and Joseph Addai. With the first pick in the draft in a .5 points per reception format, would you suggest taking Carson Palmer, Steve Smith or Chad Johnson?

Engel: As much as I like Palmer, I wouldn't keep the quarterback unless you have to start two. So it comes down to a decision between two elite wide receivers. Considering you play in a PPR league, I'll go with Smith, the only reliable receiver on the Panthers. Johnson will have to share more catches with T.J. Houshmandzadeh this season, and with both players being very close in value, I'll give the edge to Smith because I think he will be targeted more often and his touchdown totals will be slightly better as well.

Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.