Monday, June 13, 2005

FANTASY FOOTBALL QUARTERBACK WRAP-UP

"Wrapping Up Fantasy Football's Quarterbacks Part III"
The Best of the Rest!
By Jamey Feuer

If ANYTHING is certain in the National Football League, and a scant few things are, it's that the sport has become a 365 day affair. At the time of this writing, the Combine, draft, rookie mini-camp, team mini-camp, "voluntary" workouts, and June 1st cap cuts have all come and gone. And, accordingly, now is when serious fantasy football buffs will start assembling their draft sheets, cheat sheets, "Keeper" lists, and "rookie watch lists." Over the course of the summer, this ongoing column will break down the NFL's skill positions. To date, we've reviewed fantasy ball's top, and 2nd tier signal callers. Now, we'll take a much briefer look at the quarterbacks who remain. But, allow me to preface; there are at least a few athletes remaining who, assuming you have at least a pair of top skill position players on your roster, will aid you in your quest for Roto league bragging rights. Winning fantasy teams, much like their NFL counterparts, are the product of hard work, astute talent assessment, and blend veteran studs with young athletes who are on the rise.
One of the things that we love so much about football, and sports in general, is that each season sees a Drew Brees, Big Ben Roethlisberger, Domanick Davis, Julius Jones, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Albert Pujols, and Clint Barmes emerge, arrive, or play out of his mind ball. And, what's one of the things that makes fantasy sports so rewarding and so much fun? Being the savvy, plugged-in owner who dared to make the call on that athlete, for you drafted, traded for, or pulled him off of your league's waiver wire... 'cause you knew... you had a sense... you saw something in him last season- in pre-season- for no reason.

LAST OF THE SECOND TIER QUARTERBACKS:

Seattle Seahawks; Matt Hasselbeck: 1 1/2 STARS: 3,382 yards, 23 TDs (1 rushing), 15 INTs, Passer Rating 83.1:
The Seahawk signal caller would have to be considered one of fantasy (and real) football's greatest disappointments in '04. Although he started every game last season, and played through some aggravating injuries down the stretch- no small feat for a QB, he was largely unspectacular. Hasselbeck threw for 201 yards or less in 7 games, recorded 0 - 1 TD passes in 7 games, and there were but 3 games last season wherein he threw for 3 TDs. In NO game did Hasselbeck throw for more than 3 scores. Pay heed, those of you in scoring leagues. In addition, the 'Hawk field general's ball security was mighty weak; Hasselbeck tossed at least 1 pick in 10 contests, and recorded an utterly abysmal 1 TD, 4 INT performance in Arizona. Maybe the heat of the desert went to his head and affected his decision making? Maybe not. Not to be underestimated were the "poor-formances" of the Seattle wide receiving corps. To be fair, Hasselbeck played much better ball in the season's final 4 games. Against the Cowboys, Vikings, Jets and Falcons, the much maligned QB threw for 1,140 yards, 11 TDs (1 rushing), and committed a far more reasonable 4 turnovers. So, let's close the book on the '04 season and look towards '05.
Another appearance on the police blotter ensured that WR Koren "stone hands" Robinson wouldn't be around to drop anymore passes. Robinson was given his unconditional release on Thursday, June 2nd. Yet Robinson's misfortune will assuredly be someone else's gain, for the 'Hawks have a semi-logjam of pass catchers. The mostly likely beneficiaries of the troubled pass catchers’ newfound free agency will be reliable Darrell Jackson, Hasselbeck’s favorite target last year; he netted 7 TDs and almost 1,200 receiving yards on a franchise record 87 catches, and veteran journeyman Jerome Pathon; owner of a 17.1 YPC average on 34 receptions. In addition, young tight end Jerramy Stevens is said to have rededicated himself to the game. If that is indeed so, the athletic Stevens will probably supplant incumbent Itula Mili on passing downs. At 6’7, and 260 Lbs, Stevens will pose nightmarish matchup difficulties.

* EXTRA POINTS: With luck, troubled receiver Koren Robinson’s departure will remove one very big distraction, and allow the receiving corps to both gel and improve collectively. Hasselbeck’s 3rd consecutive 3,000+ passing yard season might not have been a thing of beauty, but his owners could have done FAR worse. The Seahawks confirmed their belief in the franchise quarterback by rewarding him with the contract he was seeking, his fantasy owners should confirm their faith as well. Look for Hasselbeck to improve upon last season’s numbers, and be much closer to the top fantasy performer he was in ‘03.

Denver Broncos; Jake Plummer: 1 1/2 STARS: 4,089 yards, 28 TDs (1 rushing), 20 INTs. Passer Rating 84.5:
Plummer’s the hot girl you meet at a party at 3 AM on a Saturday night- What you wake up with on Sunday morning... ok, Sunday mid-afternoon, looks nothing like what you started with. Head coach Mike Shanahan’s (I. E just waking up on a Sunday) bunch hasn’t won a playoff game since Elway retired. Is that a reflection of Shanny’s coaching skills... or is it a manifestation of Plummer’s poor decision making? Nothing kills a game, or a franchise’s momentum, like a costly turnover. One turnover can alter an entire season, and Jake Plummer generously distributed 20 picks and 6 fumbles last year. “Where the rubber hits the road,” as my father is wont to say, is that despite putting some career numbers on the backs of his football trading cards in ‘04, and linking the name “Plummer” to a few franchise records (passing yards: 4,089 and passing TDs: 27), “The Snake’s” tendency to force passes, and trying to make somethin’ out of a whole lotta’ nuthin’, came back to bite his team more often than not. Plummer’s passion is undeniable, but his judgment is awful... and has been since he broke into the league as a Cardinal. But what does this mean to your franchise? Plummer, much like the infinitely more talented Brett Favre, is a “gunslinger.” The term gunslinger refers as much to a QB’s style of play as it does his mentality, and crack ‘Pack quarterback (LOVE that onomatopoeia!) Brett Favre is the ultimate gunslinger. Although his physical skills have begun to erode, Favre is able draw a play up in the snow, and execute it as if it’d been part of the playbook since spring training. And, on those inevitable occasions when a designed play breaks down, Favre is able to decisively scan the field while on the move, and get the ball to the open man. Plummer, while nimble and able to throw with accuracy while on the go, simply makes poor decisions. Statistically, however, for those of you in yardage leagues, Plummer’s turnovers are irritating as they will cost you a couple of fantasy points, but 15 games of 220 (Ok, he tossed 219 in one game) or more passing yards is enough to make you overlook his iffy decision making. Further, Plummer’s last 3 games (Tennessee and 2 games against Indy’) saw him post 833 passing yards, 7 TDs, and 2 INTs ... and yeah, throw in a pair of fumbles for good measure. Bottom line? Plummer is a MUCH better fantasy QB than real one, and is as likely to have a huge game (see week 8 against Atlanta: 499 passing yards, 4 TDs... and you bet, add 3 INTs for good measure) as he is a poor one. I wouldn’t want MY fantasy team’s fortunes to ride upon this Bronco’s back.

* EXTRA POINTS: Renowned for being a ‘back factory, Denver’s running game makes the passing game far more lethal. Look for sophomore RB Tatum Bell to be the next in a loooong line of 1,000 yard runners. Bell is a slasher, and Denver’s nimble, athletic O-linemen excel at run blocking. Although Bell was a dogged by nagging injuries last season, he averaged over 5.5 yards per tote in each of the final 5 games. As for this year’s curious 3rd round draft pick, RB Maurice Clarett? His contributions will probably be minimal this coming season. Denver has another 1,000 yard man already in the stable, north / south runner Mike Anderson. Also, the Bronc’s can trot out jitterbugging Quentin Griffin on 3rd downs. Affecting Plummer’s value far more dramatically is the mile high receiving corps. A quarterback’s fantasy value is contingent upon his pass catchers, and Plummer’s pass catching contingent is questionable. Venerable Rod Smith (age 35), who has been playing for SO long, it seems, that he may have worn a leather helmet when he broke into the league, can’t be expected to carry the passing game at his age. Expect the veteran pass catcher, whose skills have diminished somewhat, to yield #1 receiver status to the promising Ashley Lelie. Lelie has gotten his feet wet in the NFL, now it’s time for total body immersion. Lelie teased coaches with glimpses of talent, but was unable to maintain any consistency until last season when he broke out for 1,084 yards, 7 TDs, and a positively gaudy 20.1 YPC average. Should Lelie pick up where he left off, Plummer’s value will increase correlationally. Moving right along, “Hall of Famer to-be” Jerry Rice is now a Bronco. While he can still be productive from an NFL standpoint, not to mention making teammate Rod Smith look like a youngster, fantasy owners can expect his impact to be minimal. WRs Triandos Luke and Darius Watts round out the rest of the “pass catchers who matter.” Of that group, Watts has shown the most potential, and could be a dangerous #3 receiver.


"Going For 2" Pre-Season Pre-Dictions"

“On 2 Bigger and Better"

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger: 1 STAR: 2,621 yards, 18 TDs (1 rushing), 11 INTs, Passer Rating 98.1:
Forced into the starter’s role much earlier than expected due to Tommy Maddox’s week 2 injury, Roethlisberger’s cool helped the team reel off 14 straight wins. The monicker “Big Ben” assuredly isn’t ironic, Roethlisberger tips the scales at 6’5, 245 Lbs. For a big guy, like Minnesota’s DT-sized QB Daunte Culpepper, the Steeler signal caller is exceptionally mobile, and is capable of throwing strikes while on the lam. Due to his poise and play, fans were anointing Roethlisberger (whose lengthy name is a HUGE pain to keep typing) the progeny of Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana by week 10. But, the waning weeks of the season... and playoffs, showed the Steeler QB to be just what he was; a rookie, adjusting to the speed of the game and nuances of his position. Big Ben will ultimately benefit from having been tossed to the wolves of the AFC North at such a tender age. Aiding his development is Pittsburgh’s bruising run game, which tends to tire opponents and leaves the passing game room for opportunity. Roethlisberger demonstrated that he can throw with impressive accuracy, posting a completion percentage in excess of 70% on 6 occasions. But the team and it’s young QB will miss tall (6’5”) WR Plaxico Burress’ height and red zone skills. Burress headed up Route I-95 to New York, where he will be a true Giant. What won’t be missed, on a team largely comprised of selfless athletes, is Plaxico’s tendency to place the focus squarely upon himself. WR Hines Ward is, and has been, the heart and soul of Pitts’ pass catching crew. Sure-handed and fearless, Ward had 5- 99+ yard receiving days, 7 TDs, and is an excellent #2 fantasy receiver. “Slash” receiver Antwaan Randle-el and former 49’er Cedrick Wilson round out the receiving corps, but don’t dismiss what rookies WR Fred Gibson and TE Heath Miller will bring to the O. Gibson, who is tall and athletic, was drafted to be a deep threat. The rookie mini-camp returns are positive, and he might fill that role as early as this season. Miller, recovering from off-season hernia surgery, was the hands-down best pass catching tight end in the draft, and could be the key to the offense. Pittsburgh has lacked a threatening tight end for years, Miller could well reverse those fortunes.

Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer:
Palmer, reviewed in the “2 STAR QUARTERBACKS” article (please refer to it if you haven’t yet read it!) demonstrated tremendous physical skills and a good all-around grasp of the game down the stretch last season. Fantasy owners note, the young cat threw for 835 passing yards and 9 TDs in his final 3 games against Cleveland, Baltimore and New England respectively. Although his season concluded early due to injury, such numbers bode awfully well for the future. With a rock solid wide receiving duo in Chad Johnson (1,274 yards/9 TDs) and T.J Houshmandzadeh (978 yards/4 TDs), and a powerful running back in Rudi Johnson (1,454/12 TDs), Cincy’s signal caller has excellent weapons at his disposal and should rank amongst fantasy football’s top 2nd tier QBs by season’s end. And, for those of you who belong to “Keeper / Dynasty” leagues, the sky’s the limit for Palmer in 2006. By then, Palmer will quite probably be numbered amongst the games elite quarterbacks, and the Bengal offense counted amongst the games... dare I say it??? I dare; “most explosive!”

"2 To Surprise"

Buffalo Bills: J.P Losman:
Losman won the "2 To Surprise" toss-up between he and Giant QB Eli Manning. Manning may soon put the "oooh!" in "Big Blue," but a talented yet aging runner in Tiki Barber, limited talent at the wide receiver position... although newcomer Plaxico Burress improves the group immeasurably, and a fragile, moody, "uptight-end" Jeremy Shockey will undoubtedly limit the young G-Man's potential. Losman, on the other hand, enjoys an embarrassment of offensive riches. Behind a solid O-line, and with sturdy veteran receiver Eric Moulds (88/1,043/5) on one side, explosive WR Lee Evans (48/843/9 and a gaudy 17.6 yards per catch) on the other, and the powerful yet speedy running back Willis McGahee in between? For this season at least, the Bill QB projects to be the better fantasy option. Please note the disclaimer there: “projects.” Unfortunately, my lil’ crystal ball broke. Had it remained intact, I’d be writing this piece while reclining on my private beach... on my private island... having won New York’s “Mega-Millions” lottery. Twice. Anyway, Losman's physical skills are unquestioned. The Bill QB boasts a strong, accurate arm and great athleticism; he's surprisingly mobile and elusive, and is a threat to run once he leaves the pocket. In conjunction, Losman is already looked upon as a team leader. Although the offense lacks a play making tight end (rookie TE Kevin Everett's knee injury will cause him to miss most, if not all of this season), there's a more than ample arsenal at the 2nd year QB's disposal. While the running game will set up the passing game, and a completely healthy Willis McGahee will probably bear most of the offensive burden, Losman should receive excellent production and 100% effort from his pass catching corps, and still be a viable fantasy weapon this season. He's worthy of a mid-round gamble, especially in Keeper and Dynasty leagues. Please note, I am NOT suggesting that Losman be your #1 fantasy quarterback. Rather, I am stating that the Bill QB oozes potential, will make for a dynamite #2, and could catapult up the charts by ‘06.

Oakland Raiders: Kerry Collins:
The Raiders’ new field general was also reviewed previously, please refer to that column if you are unfamiliar with his ‘04 stats. The former Giant has bounced about the league a bit, but much like his predecessor Rich Gannon, Collins is now, more than likely, in an ideal situation. Over the off-season Oakland imported a pair of weapons and in so doing, redefined their offense. WR Randy Moss, the league’s most dangerous pass catcher and TD specialist, is an ideal partner for the Raiduh’ QB. Collins’ greatest strength is the deep ball... so is Moss’. With Moss, who has great speed and an uncanny ability to track and high point jump balls, garnering most of the opposing secondaries’ attention, WRs Jerry Porter (With 9 TDs in ‘04, a lethal pass catcher in his own right), Ronald Curry (6 TDs in ‘04), Doug Gabriel (captured attention last season averaging almost 17 YPC) and gargantuan (6’6” and 260, 14.6 YPC) TE Teyo Johnson will be able to run relatively unmolested. If the black & silver wide receivers gave opposing defensive coordinators headaches last season, Moss’ arrival will cause them to clutch at their chests. Sending those same coordinators to the “Critical Cardiac Care Unit;” the second imported weapon, former Jet RB LaMont Jordan. Curtis Martin was THE show in Jet-land, and Jordan accrued only light mileage spelling Martin during his 4 years with the team. For a big guy (5’10 230 Lbs) Jordan has nice wiggle, deceptive speed, and the ability to score from virtually anywhere on the field. Look for O-Coordinator Norv Turner to turn LaMont... and Moss... and the rest of the O loose.

"Sure 2 Drop"

Green Bay: Brett Favre:
Please refer to my previous piece, “FOOTBALL’S TOP SIGNAL CALLERS,” for Favre’ ‘04 diggies’. But, as stated, Favre’ play entered a slight but perceptible decline over the second half of the ‘04 season. Does that mean you shouldn’t draft Brett? Or worse, release him in “Keeper/Dynasty leagues?” No, absolutely not. Favre threw for 30 TDs en route to his fourth, 4,000 passing yard campaign, and the ‘Pack ‘Back completed a crack 64.1 % of his passes and posted a Passer Rating of 92.4 (5th in the NFC). BUT... always that but, more and more frequently, Favre’s ego is writing checks his body is no longer able to cash. And, at age 35, Favre’s body has endured a tremendous beating. Further, the team did nothing... zip, zilch, zero, and nada, in the draft and off-season to stabilize or improve the team’s chances of winning in the “now,” or to improve an offensive line that will sorely miss veterans Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. Could be that with average... to slightly below average protection, we see Favre running for his very life.

Dallas Cowboys: Drew Bledsoe:
Although Bledsoe isn’t as old, chronologically, as say... Methuselah, or Noah, or even former Dallas QB Vinny Testaverde, the accumulated thrashings put to Bledsoe (sacked 86 times in his last 2 seasons with Buffalo) behind the awful Bill lines of yore have taken their toll. A classic drop-back passer, Bledsoe has the mobility of a Lawn Gnome and a tendency to get beaten like a piñata. And, behind a line that is counting upon, among other things, graybeards Larry Allen and Flozell Adams’ return to Pro Bowl caliber form, Bledsoe will have a big ol’ bulls-eye on his chest. Although head coach Bill Parcells and his new/old quarterback enjoy a cozy history, the idea is to win football games, not reminisce. Bledsoe’s ability to win will be sorely tested, especially with oldsters Terry “Sherry” Glenn and Keyshawn “Old & Slow” Johnson at the wide receiver positions. Tight end Jason Witten was the leading receiver in ‘04, and while he’s a dangerous receiver with a knack for finding the soft spots in zone coverage, there’s only so much he can do. At best, look for the Dallas QB to be a marginal #2, and more likely a #3, fantasy option.

"Sure 2 Disappoint"

New York Jets: Chad Pennington: 2,673 yards, 17 TDs (1 rushing), 9 INTs, Passer Rating 91.0:
Pennington’s dodgy shoulder has received more than it’s fair share of sports talk radio airtime. The fact is, the Jet QB has been dogged by nagging injuries for much of his brief career. This injury could, however, be more serious than would appear at first blush. Initially, the nature and severity of the injury, torn rotator cuff... pretty severe, was kept quiet. And, since Pennington has never been accused of being rocket-armed, one has to wonder what his arm strength will be like come Fall. However, as Chad’s never made his living off of his arm strength, perhaps it won’t be an issue. The Jet QB could knock a freckle off of a mosquito’s ass at 15 yards, and that’s what New York’s version of the West Coast O demanded. What changes new Offensive Coordinator Mike Heimerdinger will affect remain to be seen, but there has been talk of installing the shotgun formation. The Shotgun is the formation Pennington used most frequently at Marshall (college), thus one can anticipate a definite comfort level. Plus, the formation will permit Pennington a fraction more time to read opposing defenses and find the open man. A smart, accurate passer who has the respect of his teammates, Pennington possesses impeccable touch. The Jet QB, assuming he’s completely healthy, is far better suited to scoring leagues. Of the 13 games in which Pennington played last season, he threw for 225 or more yards just 3 times. He did, however, throw for at least 1 score in 9 of those 13 contests.

Atlanta Falcons: Mike Vick:
Vick has been touted as “the new face of the NFL” since his rookie season. But, as with so many athletes, Vick’s a better real player than fantasy one, and for our purposes that’s all that really matters. Sure, he’s the most exciting player to ever slip into a pair of cleats, but what’s he gonna do for your fantasy team? Going by past experience... he’s an incredibly dangerous runner as last year’s trio of 100 yard rushing games attests- thus, he too is much better suited to scoring leagues. Need proof? Vick threw for 175 or more yards in ONLY 5 games, but scored TDs in 9 of the 15 games in which he played, and multiple TDs in 5. But again, a QB is only as good as his pass catchers. Tight end Alge Crumpler is speedy, has soft hands, and is a headache for opposing defensive coordinators to scheme for, but WR Peerless Price is marginal at best (this is more than likely his last season in Hot-lanta), ‘03 1st round pick Michael Jenkins tallied 7 catches for 119 yards- all season, and Dez White and Brian Finneran round out the uninspiring cast of veteran pass catching characters. Yet, hope remains, THIS year’s first rounder, WR Roddy White, offers great height, better than average hands, and has been making progress on his route running. Bottom line? Look to Vick as a #1 fantasy option ONLY in scoring leagues, and even then, better options remain.

COMING S0ON: “FANTASY FOOTBALL’S 4 STAR RUNNING BACKS”

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