Fantasy Football 2012: 8 Quarterbacks Who Could Shine with More Weapons
Some quarterbacks make their teammates look better.
Take, for example, Peyton Manning.
With him in 2010, the Colts went 10-6 and made the playoffs. Manning threw for 4,700 yards, 33 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Without him in 2011, the Colts went 2-14. And despite having essentially the same offensive weapons as in 2010, Manning's replacements threw for a combined 2,742 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Or consider Tom Brady.
With Randy Moss, Brady threw for 4,398 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2009.
With a receiving corps that featured a mediocre Deion Branch and an even worse Troy Brown, Brady still threw for 4,110 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2005. Who needs Randy Moss?
At the opposite end of the spectrum are quarterbacks who stink up the fantasy landscape despite having offensive weapons.
Then there are quarterbacks who could excel if given more weapons.
These are the guys the savvy fantasy football owner will follow closely this offseason because if these guys get bullets in their guns, they could truly shine.
So who are these guys?
1. Andrew Luck
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If you're expecting big things from Andrew Luck in 2012, I've got some land in Florida to sell you.
Word on the street is that Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne will be a package deal on the free-agent market.
Pierre Garcon avoided the franchise tag and is likely to snag a lucrative deal elsewhere, considering the 25-year-old caught 70 passes for 947 yards and six touchdowns from the likes of Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky.
That leaves just Austin Collie and soon-to-be 33-year-old tight end Dallas Clark as receiving options.
Collie is solid (despite a horrid 2011) but he's not a legit No. 1 receiver.
Throw in the fact that the Colts running game seems to have been shot with a tranquilizer gun, and you have a situation where Luck will be hard-pressed to be relevant in fantasy this year.
No serious rushing attack to keep defenses honest + no serious receiving threats = no fantasy significance from Luck in 2012.
But if the Colts got some receiving help for Luck as well as a better quality running back, then things could change.
With his elite physical skills and his equally elite mental/decision-making skills, Luck could truly be the next Peyton Manning.
But as a rookie quarterback in 2012, he'll need serious offensive help before being worthy of fantasy consideration.
2. Robert Griffin III
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Whether Griffin lands in Cleveland or in Washington via trade with the Rams, he will be in an offensive desert.
Both the Browns and the Redskins lack any legitimate receiving weapons. And only the Redskins have a running back that has demonstrated sustainability.
While RG3 will likely merit fantasy attention due to his running ability, he still needs at least one No. 1 wideout in order to really shine.
Recall that fellow rushing quarterback Cam Newton had Steve Smith to play catch with and keep defenses honest.
Subtract the No.1 receiver and Newton likely has fantasy numbers more like Tim Tebow—that is, solid but not stud-like.
The Redskins have a significant amount of cap space (between $45-48 million) so they could be serious players in the Vincent Jackson derby, and possibly for a couple other free-agent receivers.
The Browns have about $25 million, which is good enough to also be worthy competitors for Jackson in the free-agent market.
The Browns should also try to swing a deal for a running threat to complement Griffin, like this proposal I suggested to get Buffalo's C.J. Spiller.
But whoever lands RG3 better make sure they give him the offensive weapons he needs to shine.
3. Jay Cutler
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Of the quarterbacks already in the league, no one has the potential and yet the bare cupboard of Jay Cutler.
The Bears quarterback has the gun to zip the ball to anybody anywhere on the field. Unfortunately, the Bears don't have anyone on the field who is a true receiving threat.
It's clear by now that Johnny Knox will never be a legit No. 1 receiver.
It was clear two years ago that Devin Hester is not the No. 1 receiver that head coach Lovie Smith continues to insist he is.
Earl Bennett is a pretty decent slot receiver, but that's pretty much his ceiling.
As a result, Cutler averaged just 16.2 FPPG—17th among the 32 NFL starters.
The Bears, with around $25-28 million in cap space, need to be aggressive in the free-agent market for receivers.
We've seen what Cutler can do with a receiver like Brandon Marshall catching his passes in Denver. So the fact that Cutler has been mediocre since coming to the Bears is easily attributed to his lack of receiving weapons.
Get the man some legit wideouts to catch the ball and he will shine in fantasy once again.
4. Tim Tebow
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While Tebow may be a polarizing figure to the masses, he is widely accepted in fantasy circles as a solid fantasy quarterback, thanks to a stout 20.8 FPPG average that tied him for eighth among fantasy signal-callers.
Tebow's production came predominantly from his running, as Eric Decker was wildly inconsistent and Demaryius Thomas didn't become relevant until Week 13.
Much has made been of Tebow's unorthodox passing mechanics, and he has been working on his mechanics so far this offseason.
Tebow showed against a stiff Pittsburgh defense that he can make big-boy throws, so there's no reason to expect that he won't continue to get better.
But what would also help Tebow really shine is having the keys to a more dangerous offense.
Willis McGahee had a decent season (1,199 yards and four touchdowns) but generally came up small down the stretch.
And having a stud receiver opposite the blossoming Thomas could make Tebow really dangerous in 2012.
Denver has substantial cap space—close to $50 million—so they can be a major player in the free-agent market if they want to get Tebow some more weapons on offense.
If the Broncos do, Tebow would go from 'solid star' in fantasy football to 'stud.'
5. Andy Dalton
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The Bengals rookie quarterback acquitted himself nicely in 2011, with 3,398 yards passing to go with 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
But from a fantasy perspective, Dalton was merely a backup quarterback, posting a 15.7 FPPG average that ranked him 18th among NFL starters.
Dalton is a smart QB with solid skills and plenty of intangibles. He made a smooth transition to Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's West Coast offense from the spread offense at TCU. And despite his limited arm strength, Cincinnati coaches were impressed enough with Dalton's play to jettison Carson Palmer.
What the Bengals need to do now is turn their offense from a Camry into a Ferrari. And with almost $60 million in cap space and two first-round draft picks, they certainly are in position to do that.
One required step is to replace free-agent running back Cedric Benson (I proposed acquiring Carolina's Jonathan Stewart).
Another step is to add another standout receiver opposite elite wideout A.J. Green. For fantasy purposes, it would be preferable for the Bengals to get a young vet rather than drafting a rookie and waiting for him to develop.
And with a full year of playing experience under his belt, pairing Dalton with a wealth of offensive weapons in 2012 would unquestionably make him shine.
6. Alex Smith
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Despite Jerry Rice campaigning for the 49ers to sign Peyton Manning, it still looks like Alex Smith will be returning to the Bay Area.
And if he does, the guy who produced a meager 15.0 FPPG, which ranked 20th out of the 32 NFL starting quarterbacks, could blossom with more weapons at his disposal.
Consider that in his sixth playing season (he did not play in 2008 due to a shoulder injury), Smith built a 90.7 quarterback rating based on 3,144 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions.
This past year was his first cracking 3,000 passing yards and also the first time he did not throw double-digit interceptions in a full season (despite having the most passing attempts in his career).
What's more, Smith performed very well against the Saints and the resurgent Giants defenses in the playoffs, throwing for five total touchdowns and no picks—good for an average 101.0 QB rating.
Could it be that Smith is finally maturing?
Also consider that in his career, Smith has never really had a standout receiver. The closest was Darrell Jackson in 2007, who joined the 49ers off a 956-yard, 10-touchdown season for Seattle but became a big bust.
Other receivers for Smith included such luminaries as a then-undistinguished Brandon Lloyd, Antonio Bryant, Arnaz Battle, Bryant Johnson, Ashley Lelie, a near-retirement Isaac Bruce, Josh Morgan and the still-underperforming Michael Crabtree.
If the light has finally turned on for Smith and he gets some true weapons, he could finally shine in fantasy.
7. Sam Bradford
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This one is a bit tricky.
Bradford had a decent rookie year in 2010 (3,512 yards passing and 18 touchdowns to 15 interceptions) but appeared to regress in 2011 before his season was cut short due to a high ankle sprain.
So it's unclear whether Bradford is ready to take a step forward even if given weapons.
Furthermore, speculation is building that the Rams may end up trading Bradford in order to take Robert Griffin III with their No. 2 pick in the draft.
In that event, we may not know whether his head coach, offensive coordinator and a host of other factors will unlock his potential or regress him further.
But assuming Bradford stays with the Rams, there's a decent chance he could rebound if given some weapons.
Although Bradford had talented receiver Laurent Robinson in 2010, he was a rookie quarterback.
And in his defense of his subpar 2011, Bradford had a porous offensive line. And his best receiving option was the underwhelming Brandon Lloyd (683 yards, five touchdowns).
In 2012, he will be entering his third season—the magical time when talented quarterbacks and receivers are most likely to "get it" in the NFL.
Unfortunately, the Rams have only $3-6 million in cap space, so it is unlikely they'll be able to sign a top free-agent receiver. Their best hope is to take Justin Blackmon with their No. 2 pick (or the No. 4 pick if the Rams trade with Cleveland).
8. Cam Newton
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With a fourth-best 26.5 FPPG average in 2011 as a rookie quarterback, Newton's fantasy star is already shining bright.
But it could be even brighter if he had more weapons.
With a strong ground game, receiver Steve Smith and pass-catching tight end Greg Olsen, Newton has a pretty solid arsenal.
But what if Newton had a premier receiver opposite Smith?
Someone who is a deep threat and doubles as a legit red-zone threat.
Someone like Randy Moss.
According to reports, Moss worked out for the Saints Tuesday and completely dazzled them.
It's unknown whether he could still run the 40 in 4.3 seconds as previously claimed since he didn't run the 40 in the workout, but I imagine Newton wouldn't complain either way if Moss joined the Panthers instead of the Saints.
The only problem with this scenario is that Carolina is over the cap by approximately $5 million. So they may have to restructure some contracts to make a Moss arrangement work.
It's not impossible. Though the Saints have about $25 million in cap space, they still have to pay Drew Brees and Carl Nicks—possibly Marques Colston too.
So like Carolina, New Orleans would have to be creative with contracts if they wanted to add Moss.
Imagine if Newton had Steve Smith on one side and Randy Moss on the other. Newton's fantasy star would shine so bright he could be a fantasy supernova.