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Running Backs

LAS VEGAS Only in fantasy football do quarterbacks rate third in importance to running backs and wide receivers.

Now obviously you have to have a good quarterback, or forget about cashing.

Most leagues require only one starting quarterback compared to multiple wide receivers and running backs. That really reduces the value of the quarterback position.

It sets up an either/or strategy. Either you take Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Drew Brees high in your draft, or wait and get one of the many B quarterbacks.

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There are enough good quarterbacks to go around that my recommendation is to wait. Get your two running backs and fill out your receiver requirements then worry about quarterback.

Dont worry. There are enough good quarterbacks around and Im not even counting the following: Eli Manning, Jake Delhomme, Chad Pennington, Marc Bulger, Trent Edwards, Jason Campbell and Kyle Orton.

These are C quarterbacks. They are backup material. If youre reduced to having one of them as your starter, then you need to trade one of your star running backs or wide receivers.

But it shouldnt come down to that.

Most leagues have 10 or 12 teams. There are 10 strong quarterbacks besides Brees, Peyton Manning, who no longer has Marvin Harrison, and Brady, who still has to prove he is 100 percent after a devastating knee injury.

The key question is who is the third-best fantasy football quarterback? Identify the right one and you very well could win your league.

Ive seen Aaron Rodgers ranked as high as No. 3. His fate is tied to younger receivers stepping up such as Jordy Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley, along with the Packers alleviating their offensive tackles concerns.

Philip Rivers was a perfect example last year of waiting late to take your starting quarterback. Always highly accurate, he moved into elite status throwing for 34 touchdowns and 4,009 yards.

Tony Romo, Donovan McNabb and Kurt Warner are all in the top-five discussion. All are in passing offenses and have good receivers. Romo has a great tight end to throw to plus dangerous change-of-pace backs like Felix Jones, who can turn a swing pass into a touchdown.

McNabb is my favorite. Hes always there in the fifth round. Hes poised for another big year with home run hitter DeSean Jackson and rookie Jeremy Maclin. He also has Brian Westbrook, who is the best pass-catching running back in the NFL.

Warner stayed healthy last year. The result was 30 touchdowns and 4,582 yards. Those are automatic numbers whenever he can play a full schedule.

Let us not forget about Carson Palmer. He was a monster from 2005-2007, averaging more than 4,000 yards and nearly 29 touchdowns per season during those years. Hes on the comeback trail, has an upgraded offensive line and Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles to lessen the sting of losing T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Thats nine quarterbacks. Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger make it 11 excellent quarterbacks.

Yes, Cutler loses value going to the Bears. I dont see a Lovie Smith quarterback airing the ball out 616 times like Cutler did last season. So hes not going to match the 4,526 yards he threw for in 2008. He doesnt have the wideouts either that he had in Denver.

But Cutler does have an excellent pass-catching tight end, Greg Olsen, and will be playing behind a much better defense than he had in Denver. The Bears also have excellent return men, which should mean better starting field position for Cutler.

Roethlisberger has been a better NFL quarterback than a fantasy one. The Steelers never lose sight of being a ground-oriented club. Roethlisberger did have a fantasy breakthrough two years ago when he threw 32 touchdowns. He represents good value as the 10th quarterback.

So, what if youre in a 12-team league? No worries. Matt Schaub and Matt Ryan are available.

Schaub missed nearly one-third of the season and still threw for more than 3,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. His weapons include Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton, Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels.

Slaton emerged as a star the last month of the season. Perhaps its no coincidence that Schaub averaged 320 yards passing during the final four weeks.

Ryan had a super rookie season with 3,440 passing yards and 16 touchdown throws. Hes only going to get better, especially with Tony Gonzalez in the mix.

Thats 13 legitimate starting fantasy football quarterbacks. If you need a fallback plan, though, Matt Cassel, Matt Hasselbeck and David Garrard are there.

Cassel threw for 3,693 yards and accounted for 23 touchdowns last season in a scaled down Patriots offense. He and Garrard are the two best running quarterbacks in the NFL, provided Michael Vick isnt reinstated. (And, no, I dont include Vick on any list right now.)

Garrard is due for a bounce back season with the Jaguars fervently refurbishing their battered offensive line and finally signing a class wide receiver, Torry Holt.

Hasselbeck is going to be forgotten about in many drafts because he missed nine games with back and leg injuries last season. Hes healthy now, plays in a division full of vulnerable secondaries and his receiving corps has been strengthened with the addition of Houshmandzadeh.

A combination of five stud running backs/wide receivers with a mix-and-match quarterback trio of Schaub/Hasselbeck/Garrard just could be the ticket to a fantasy title.

  
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