Engel's mailbag: Who to keep?
Jeff, Chicago: This is a difficult keeper question because of our league's scoring system. Quarterbacks get one point for every 10 yards passing and six points for a passing touchdown. I must pick one keeper between Steven Jackson for a first-round pick or Drew Brees for a ninth-rounder. I may do the unthinkable and keep Brees.
Engel: Brees is an elite quarterback in any scoring system, and a great value for a ninth-rounder. You still have to start more than one running back, though, and I assume many of the best -- besides Jackson -- will be kept by other teams. Unless your league uses two starting quarterbacks, position requirements still put a high emphasis on the running back position. Jackson would come off the board instantly in the draft if you surrender his rights, and I imagine most first-round caliber backs will be similarly kept. I'd rather see you keep Jackson and lose the first-round pick than keep the first-rounder and settle for a lesser running back in the draft. Brees may still be available for you in the second round, and even if you can't retain his rights, the high emphasis on quarterback scoring in your league also raises the value of other passers ranked behind him. You can still get very good production out of a second- or third-round quarterback, but replacing Jackson will be much harder, and that's the key: It's not how good your player is, it's how much better he is than everyone else.
John, McAllen, Texas: I am in a 12-team, three-keeper league. We lose a pick in the round in which we drafted a player. If we picked them up as a free agent, we lose our last-round pick. I have Ronnie Brown (first), Clinton Portis (second), Tom Brady (fourth), Jerious Norwood (free agent) and Ladell Betts (free agent). I am thinking Brown for sure, but am unsure about the other two.
Engel: Brady is worth the fourth-rounder. He is ready to deliver a career season and has more good years left. He's the only safe pick among the four choices, outside of Brown. Portis gets banged up and his value is down heading into the new season. He's expected to share carries with Betts and is not worth a second-rounder. So it comes down to a decision between the two free-agent pickups. Betts can play very well if pushed into an expanded role again. Norwood is on the verge of taking over as the No. 1 running back in Atlanta, and he has a lot of upside. He will share some carries with Warrick Dunn, but Norwood is explosive and can make the most out of a partial workload. He also has the edge in long-term appeal. Betts will be 28 years old when the season starts; Norwood will be 24. In a very close call, I'll take Norwood over Betts. Your three keepers should be Brown, Brady and Norwood.
Joey Entzel, Eden Prairie, Minn.: I have a problem with people believing a quarterback should go so early in a draft. The running back and wide receiver positions have their "elite" players, and after that production drops off, so I can see why people jump on them early. Quarterback fantasy stats are much more even and their "tiers" are much closer. I can't see why a person would take Peyton Manning with the third-overall pick and leave a guy like Larry Johnson on the board when he could take Marc Bulger in the fourth round.
Engel: Many of the top running backs have questions surrounding them, and wide receivers don't offer consistent production. Manning is the safest pick in fantasy football. He has never missed a game and delivers outstanding fantasy totals every year. I would not take him as early as third, but would begin considering him as early as the sixth pick in the first round. Other quarterbacks may outscore him in a given season, but no other player at the position has consistently been at the top of his position like Manning. As deftly noted by Eric Karabell in our Draft Kit, Manning has ranked in the top five in touchdown passes in every season of his nine-year career and in the top two for the past five seasons. He has been in the top three in passing yards every year except for one. Manning scored 306 points in ESPN leagues last year, 36 more than Drew Brees. He averaged 19.1 points per game. Brees averaged 16.9 and Bulger averaged 15.6. Both of those players had career years and didn't approach Manning's production. I agree that most other quarterbacks are not worth first-round draft choices. Manning, however, is the exception to that rule. As for your point about "tiers", I think there is a definite dropoff after the first six or seven quarterbacks are gone. You only have to start one, but guys like Brees aren't going to last past the fourth round in many drafts.
Engel: I don't think either player will be much of a factor in the passing game, so my comparison between the two applies to all formats. Henry, who is 28, is four years older than Benson, but age is not the issue here. Henry is far more established and ready for a great season in Denver. You want to win this year, and Henry is capable of giving you at least two more impressive campaigns with the Broncos. Benson has yet to show us he can carry a full load at the NFL level, and he has been dinged up as a part-timer. Henry is definitely the safer keeper choice, and even if Benson reaches his potential in 2007, he won't outperform Henry behind that Broncos offensive line. Henry is a great bet to come through with the best season of his career in 2007, and you don't want to miss out on that for a guy who has a lot left to prove.
Zach, Utica, N.Y.: I can keep three, and I am definitely retaining the reliable Rudi Johnson. Who else do I choose from Randy Moss, Edgerrin James and Laurence Maroney? I have the second pick in the draft and might be able to pick up a Travis Henry type early.
Engel: Actually, Johnson could see his workload reduced this season. In June, the Cincinnati Post reported that rookie Kenny Irons could get a long look as a complementary back for Johnson and returning veteran backup Kenny Watson, as the Bengals look to rotate their running backs more. For peace of mind, I would consider using that first-rounder on a running back, while also keeping Johnson and Maroney, especially if you can use a flex player. If you only start two running backs, Maroney will provide you with great insurance if Johnson's production starts to fall this season, and by 2008, Maroney should be a clear starter for you. I would still keep Johnson over James, who has already started to stumble, statistically. Then, Moss would become your obvious third keeper and you can grab another wide receiver to complement him in the second round. Keep Johnson, Maroney and Moss.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.
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