NFL fantasy mailbag: What to expect from Rashard Mendenhall
Rashard Mendenhall will pass protect more, but is still a first-round option
With Steve Smith gone, Hakeem Nicks has potential to be a top-three receiver
Darren McFadden is valuable in PPR leagues and is worth a first-round pick
Sidelined players continue to pile up in the preseason, making fantasy football draft choices even more challenging. The Cardinals lost running back Ryan Williams to a torn patella tendon in his knee that puts the ball squarely into the hands of Beanie Wells and (for now at least) makes new No. 2 tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling a possible late-round pickup. Jets starter Shonn Greene has a mysterious foot infection that could make LaDainian Tomlinson a great early-season flex option and also also crack the door open for Joe McKnight to show that he belongs. New Orleans may be without top run stopper Aubrayo Franklin, formerly of the 49ers, due to a sprained MCL that could linger into the regular season. If the injury is prolonged, it would surely knock the Saints D/ST down a few spots. And then there's the wildly talented Kenny Britt, who just couldn't seem to stay out of trouble during the offseason and is now staring down a yet-undetermined Roger Goodell imposed suspension. Meanwhile, his fragile quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has already been knocked out of a game even before they've started to count.
Now let's get down to this week's mailbag. Remember that you too can have your questions answered here by tweeting them to me @SI_DavidSabino every week. Thanks to everyone who's been asking so far.
A few "experts" are predicting a sharp decline in Mendenhall's production due to his 2010 workload. What's your take on this?
-- @MattySuzuki (Matty Suzuki)
Mendenhall is one of the league's true workhorse backs. Last season, he got the ball on 68.8% of the Steelers carries, the fifth-highest percentage in the league yet well off the pace of the top four -- Chris Johnson (77.8%), Arian Foster (77.3%), Steven Jackson (76.9%) and Cedric Benson (75%). He was also fourth in overall carries last season with 324, a large figure but one that places him only in a tie for 17th most over the past five seasons and doesn't even come close to cracking the top 100 all time. In fact, when receptions are taken into account, his workload goes down even further, to sixth in offensive touches, behind Foster, Jackson, Ray Rice, Johnson and Benson, which mean Mendenhall's chances to get injured injury due to additional open-field collisions aren't as great. For me, the Steelers troubles with pass protection on the outside of the offensive line is more of an injury concern than workload for Mendenhall, who may be asked to be involved more in pass protection than you'd like for a feature back in an offense that is becoming more and more talented at wide receiver and will tend to open up the passing game more than in the past. I'd draft him with confidence anywhere from the fifth to 10th spot in the first round.
How solid will Hakeem Nicks be this season? Should he be handcuffed with Manningham as a precaution?
-- @David84Tigers (David A.)
First off, Manningham is stepping into the slot vacated by the injury and subsequent departure of Steve Smith, so he's certainly going to be much more valuable than a handcuff this season. I would have no qualms about starting Nicks and Manningham together as my fantasy starting wideouts. Nicks is obviously the superior talent of the two and has an excellent relationship on the field with Eli Manning which translated into an average of 6.1 catches and 80.9 yards per game in 2010, both ranking fifth in the league. Entering what is usually the blast off point for most pro receivers, the pivotal third season, it's not inconceivable to see Nicks become one of the top three receivers in the league as three of the four ahead of him (Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Lloyd) will likely experience a dip in production. If you're looking for a Nicks handcuff, the man to take is Domenik Hixon, who to this point in his career has been more of a special teams/return man type but is going to be counted on for a major role in New York's passing game this season.
DMC 5th? Was that a statement pick? Because surely he would have been there in the 2nd if not 3rd round.
-- @CubbieMike (Mike M.)
No statements here. For those who don't know, Mike is referring to me taking Darren McFadden with the firth overall pick of the first round in the NFL.com experts draft a few weeks ago. Since it is a PPR league, I jumped over Michael Turner to grab DMC with the pick because I believe that he's going to have another outstanding season, especially playing for new head coach Hue Jackson in Oakland. You may not realize this but the Raiders placed second in the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and average yards per carry as well as fifth in scoring. Despite playing just 13 games, McFadden was a big part of that, gaining 1,157 yards -- an average of 89 per contest -- good for fourth in the league. He was second only to fantasy MVP Arian Foster with 128 scrimmage yards per game and he was just one of five players to gain over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and also score 10 touchdowns or more. Fantasy experts all know this so there was no way he was going to make it out of the first round, let alone to the back half of the second. If I wanted him -- and in that spot I did -- that was my one chance to grab him.
Is Randy Moss going to play this year, or is he really done?
-- @RyanMikituk (Ryan Mikituk)
You can make the argument that Moss, one of the greatest receiving talents of the last quarter-century, stopped playing last year as soon as he was shipped out of New England. He did virtually nothing with the Vikings and Titans. While you can never say never with someone as enigmatic as Moss, it's highly unlikely that any team would take a chance on him again. Even if he did return, I wouldn't waste a draft pick or roster spot on him.
Got the 2nd pick in standard league. Peterson, Foster or a qb?
-- @bamadawg (Brookwood Fan)
At this point, even despite the hamstring injury, he's been battling in camp, I'd still side with Foster, ever so slightly over Peterson. That's way too early to take a quarterback with workhorse runners still available.
I can keep one of the three players in PPR league: Mike Vick, Arian Foster, Ray Rice Leaning toward Foster. HELP?
-- @sjbarnier (Steve Barnier)
Well it all depends. Do you lose a corresponding pick in the round you drafted in? If so, I may keep Vick, a borderline first-rounder this year who would've been had at the end of most drafts last season. The same goes for Foster, who was at best a mid-round selection last season. Rice was highly touted and a very early pick, so he's out. So if Foster was after the sixth round I'd go with him and take Vick in the first or second. If you keep the player without losing a pick go with Foster all the way.