Undrafted rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel is making a case for being a legitimate fantasy option as the Buffalo Bills head toward Week 1 against the New England Patriots.
Tuel has had some help in the journey to fantasy relevancy. Starting quarterback EJ Manuel may miss the opener with a knee injury according to the team's official site, and backup Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion that is threatening his career:
Marrone: concussion confirmed for Kevin Kolb. Speculation on threat to career did not come from Kolb. Focused on recovery first.— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) August 26, 2013
Source tells me Bills concerned Kevin Kolb's concussion may be career-ending and they're proceeding with that in mind.— Tim Graham (@ByTimGraham) August 25, 2013
As a result of these injuries at the position, the Bills' Twitter account confirms that head coach Doug Marrone's plan for now is to start Tuel in Week 1:
Marrone: Plan now is for QB Jeff Tuel will start week 1 against the New England Patriots.— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) August 26, 2013
The good news is the Bills have done a solid job preparing for this type of scenario. Per Chris Brown of the Bills' official website, Marrone claims Tuel has seen more snaps than any third-string quarterback in NFL history:
Coach Marrone said the other day that Jeff Tuel has seen most action of any 3rd QB ever in preseason. He might be glad now. #Bills— Chris Brown (@ChrisBrownBills) August 24, 2013
The Bills have always liked what Tuel brings to the table. General manager Doug Whaley told the media in early August he was thrilled to land Tuel as an undrafted free agent per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
More #Bills GM Doug Whaley on Jeff Tuel: "As an undrafted guy, to get a guy like that, I mean, that’s a testament to our scouting staff."— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 24, 2013
Things are now in Tuel's hands as the opener approaches. Manuel is the obvious long-term starter considering he's healthy, but if he is not healthy or hasn't had enough time to prepare, Tuel is the quarterback that has been receiving the preparation snaps.
Is Tuel worth a fantasy roster spot?
Owners may scoff at the idea of adding Tuel, but his work up to this point has been sold. In college at Washington State, Tuel completed 61 percent of his passes with a 33-to-25 touchdown-to-interception ratio despite being sacked a ridiculous 119 times.
According to ex-NFL scout Russ Lande, via Rotoworld, one of the knocks on Tuel coming out of college was a perceived lack in arm strength. An added bonus to his resume was a 4.60 40-yard dash time that allows him to be mobile in the pocket and make plays with his feet.
Tuel's numbers have actually jumped since entering the NFL. Through three preseason games, Tuel has completed 72 percent of his passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and a 106.6 quarterback rating. He's looked fairly comfortable in the pocket too.
Granted, it's only the preseason, but Tuel seems to be picking things up quickly. If Tuel truly takes the field as the Week 1 starter, he will be surrounded with some quality weapons such as wide receiver Stevie Johnson and elite running back C.J. Spiller.
Johnson has a knack for getting open and can be utilized in creative manners by the coaching staff to get him the ball with Tuel at quarterback.
Spiller figures to see a career-high in attempts rushing the ball against the Patriots if Tuel is the starter. He is also an elite weapon for Tuel to use in the passing game for easy completions as Spiller is dynamic in open space and caught 43 passes for 459 yards last year.
Furthermore, if Tuel gets the nod in Week 1, he’ll be facing a New England defense that allowed the eighth-most yards on defense last season and ranked fourth-worst against the pass. The Patriots gave up 271.4 passing yards per game in 2012, and they didn’t do a whole lot to suggest they’ve drastically addressed that weakness.
According to FantasyPros, Tuel does not even have a rank in standard leagues, meaning no owners are picking him up. Some owners (likely in very deep leagues) are drafting JaMarcus Russell, John Skelton, Derek Anderson, Tyrod Taylor and Tim Tebow above Tuel—just to name a few on a list of 73 players.
Yet Tuel is poised to get a shot as a starter in an uptempo offense with speedy playmakers around him. At the very least, he'll make a serious case for the No. 2 spot when Manuel returns from injury.
Through a combination of what Tuel has shown and the weapons around him, Tuel is worth consideration in all fantasy leagues. It's simply smart fake-football strategy to take an unknown like Tuel with a big opportunity on the chance something major happens.
Tuel should by no means be a fantasy starter—that much is painfully obvious. But to ignore the potential, especially with the injuries in front of him that could continue, is simply bad fantasy strategy.
Fantasy roster spots are critical and the quarterback position is insanely deep. Rather than taking a flier on yet another tight end or running back who may never see an opportunity unless several injuries occur, consider stashing Tuel deep on the bench.
Just in case he pulls off something magical in Buffalo.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling