Engel's Mailbag: Keeper, draft decisions


Mark (Los Angeles): Which of these positions do you keep a spot on your bench for and why: tight end, defense/special teams or kicker? During a bye week if I have to add one of them, then I may have to let go of a running back or wide receiver that has value or is a handcuff. Also, do you think Eric Johnson has any hidden value in the Saints offense? Unless I get Vernon Davis early, I'm waiting a good while for a tight end. Are there other sleepers on the board you suggest at the position?

Engel: I don't draft a reserve tight end, defense/special teams or kicker. If either of the latter two fail me early in the season or don't play up to expectations, I will simply cut them and get a better one off the free-agent list. I'll only use my backup tight end one time, and if he disappoints me I can cut him also, especially if I don't have a top-10 guy. Yes, you must cut a backup player from another position, but by the time the byes start rolling around, you'll have a better picture of whom to release without many second thoughts. You won't be cutting a reserve running back or receiver until at least the fourth week, and by then, you'll know who is expendable for sure. I'd rather draft possible sleepers on draft day and then cut my dead wood after the season starts, when I know more about who will be valuable and who has to go. You can always get a decent one-week play for those three positions anytime during the season, especially based on matchups.

As for Johnson, I think the Saints have too many other weapons for him to be anything more than a fantasy reserve. Even with injuries, Drew Brees will still look to his wide receivers first. If you don't get a top guy, Denver's Daniel Graham is going to be an important part of the Broncos' passing game. I think Randy McMichael will benefit from finally playing with a quality quarterback, and Bo Scaife will be a favored target for Vince Young.

Bryan (St. Louis): I have read the updates on the Ronnie Brown/Jesse Chatman situation in Miami. If I have to choose between keeping Brown or Edgerrin James, does this push the ball into Edge's court? Previously, I had been thinking I would keep Brown.

Engel: There is a perceived running back controversy in Miami, especially with Brown returning kicks and Chatman running with the first-team offense in recent practices. I truly believe this is all motivational tactics by Cam Cameron to push Brown to play at a higher level. In a keeper format, this is a temporary situation that I don't believe will affect Brown negatively in the long-term. If anything, he will respond and play up to expectations. This "news" may drop his value slightly in yearly leagues, but I don't believe it puts a major dent in his long-term appeal. Brown is four years younger than James and has more upside, so I would still keep Brown.

K. Melton (Atlanta): Is taking Reggie Bush a stretch at the No. 9 position? In light of Willie Parker's knee, Rudi Johnson's foot, and Travis Henry's knee, why not take a guy who is healthy and seems ready to explode?

Engel: All three of the injuries you speak of are only short-term concerns and should not affect your draft strategy. Parker returned to action in last week's exhibition game, Johnson's injury is not a major issue at all, and Henry is still expected to be ready for the regular season. In most cases, you shouldn't drop a player's value if he is currently out of action, but won't be out for a long period. Minor injuries shouldn't figure into your draft strategies. Research about each player's injury, and see what it truly means. Thomas Jones' return date is not clear yet, but there's no negative longer-term indications about Parker or Johnson. I like Bush a lot myself, but I expect better rushing yardage from those three players you mentioned and believe they will be more dependable from the fantasy perspective. It's not crazy to pick Bush ahead of Johnson, actually, because Bush can be explosive and Johnson won't be nearly as spectacular, but Parker and Henry are more solid selections. Parker will have better touchdown production than Bush and Henry is primed for a very big season.

Dan (South Dakota): I am in a three-player keeper league where you lose a draft pick for your keepers. I have the sixth pick and I'm keeping Willie Parker, Rudi Johnson, and Drew Brees. Steve Smith, Marvin Harrison, Brian Westbrook, Ronnie Brown, Willis McGahee, Antonio Gates and Tom Brady are available. How would you rank these guys for my needs? Would I be foolish to consider Gates if Harrison and Smith are gone? I don't have a pick in the second round and there is very good depth at wide receiver.

Engel: I don't see the need for Brady since you already have Brees. If you can start a flex, the running backs make sense, otherwise, they shouldn't get strong consideration with that first pick. Considering you already have two running backs, at any rate, I would focus on a wide receiver or tight end. Since you usually have to start at least two receivers and only one tight end, I'd rather get the elite receiver than Gates. So my rankings for your purposes would be Smith, Harrison, Gates, Westbrook, Brown, McGahee, Brady. Of course, any of those could be gone before your pick comes up, so use that list as a short cheat sheet. If any of the first three on that list are not available when your pick comes up, consider the next top wide receiver still on the board.

Sean (Pittsburgh): I am in the third slot, looking at Frank Gore, then probably Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens. I want to take Antonio Gates with my third pick before I take a second running back or wide receiver. He will be the most consistent tight end, and have at least 900 yards and 10 TDs. That is well above what another player at tight end will give you, but normal for a top-15 WR, which I would be passing on. So, does the gap between him and the other tight ends justify taking Gates instead of, say, Marques Colston or Anquan Boldin?

Engel: Gates is indeed a fine third-round pick because he well outperforms everyone else at his position. The only issue I have with taking a tight end first is that you only have to start one in most leagues. So it all depends on your league's requirements. If you have to start three or more wide receivers, I usually pass on Gates that early. If you only start two wide receivers you can easily get a good wideout in the fourth. Also keep the size of the league in mind, too. In leagues of 12 teams or more, I would be less inclined to take the tight end in the third if I could only start one and was required to start more than two receivers. Gates is not a bad pick under any circumstances in the third round because he gives you a weekly advantage at one position. In larger leagues, or in ones that require owners to start three-plus wideouts, though, the league's format is ultimately what would govern a tight decision. Personally, I always focus on running backs and wide receivers first because I have to start more of them.