Fantasy Implications of Titans Starting Matt Hasselbeck over Jake Locker

ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 21:  Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Tennessee Titans calls an audible during an NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Gary DavenportNFL AnalystOctober 25, 2012

2012 was supposed to mark the beginning of the Jake Locker era under center in Nashville, but after a rocky start to the year and a shoulder injury, it appears that for the Tennessee Titans the more things change the more they stay the same.

14th-year pro Matt Hasselbeck will make his fourth consecutive start for the Titans this week when they face the Indianapolis Colts, and while the wily veteran has won two of his three starts to this point in the season, head coach Mike Munchak insists that the starter's job is Locker's once he's healthy according to The Associated Press via ESPN.

"If Jake's ready to play this week, Jake will start," Munchak said. "If Jake's ready next week, Jake will start and from there we'll figure it out."

We'll just see about that, especially if Tennessee wins on Sunday and gets back to .500.

From a fantasy football perspective, team owners should be hoping that either Munchak's blowing smoke or that Locker is a slow healer, because the Titans' skill players have certainly seemed to benefit statistically from the change under center.

Without question the biggest beneficiary of the insertion of Matt Hasselbeck has been running back Chris Johnson. The first month of the 2012 season was somewhere between a fiasco and a nightmare for the fifth-year pro, who averaged less than 2.5 yards a carry in each of Tennessee's first three games.

Hasselbeck entered the lineup in Week 4 when Locker was injured against the Houston Texans, a game in which Johnson rolled for 141 yards on 25 carries.

Since then no running back in the NFL has rushed for more yards than Johnson, and although "CJ2K" didn't go so far as to say that he's benefited from the quarterback switch in a recent interview with the AP via Fox News, it's not overly hard to read between the lines.

"It was a situation where I didn't have many chances to actually run the ball and things like that. More and more we're in the game. We have a chance to continue to run the ball and get better and better throughout the game."

The improvement hasn't been as noticeable or pronounced for receivers such as wideout Nate Washington or tight end Jared Cook, but frankly that's to be expected. No one's going to say that Matt Hasselbeck has a stronger arm than Jake Locker, and that's meant fewer vertical passes and more dinking and dunking, as well as fewer "garbage time" stats as the Titans are forced to play catch up.

However, that also means that the Titans are staying in ballgames, and in order to do that they have to be much more consistent offensively than they were earlier in the season. That's a wash that most fantasy owners are willing to take, especially those in point-per-reception leagues, since shorter passes mean more catches.

If Munchak really is serious about getting Locker back on the field by Week 12, when the Titans return from their bye, youth will once again supplant experience under quarterback in Tennessee and Matt Hasselbeck will go back to holding a clipboard as the Titans look towards the future.

However, for the sake of the present for fantasy football squads let's all hope that Hasselbeck can reel off a couple more wins in the meantime and present Munchak with a situation in which he's best served to be in no rush to do so.

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