Matt Cassel is set to take the reins of the Minnesota Vikings offense from Christian Ponder for the team's Week 4 game in London against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He warrants watching from fantasy football owners in deeper leagues.
The Vikings announced Cassel would get the start Sunday after a couple of days of uncertainty. Ponder has been dealing with a rib injury and wasn't able to make a quick enough recovery to assume his usual starting role for the international showcase.
Ben Goessling of ESPN states Ponder is dealing with a fractured rib, and its proximity to his heart presented too much risk for the quarterback to take the field this week.
Ponder said biggest risk was placement of the rib; too close to his heart to risk another hit.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) September 27, 2013
Minnesota's bye comes after the week in London, which will give Ponder an extra week to recover. Goessling reports the incumbent starter believes he'll be ready to roll to face the Carolina Panthers in Week 6.
Ponder had a CT scan on Monday; initial concern was that he had a bruised lung and couldn't fly to London. Expects to be ready for Panthers.— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) September 27, 2013
The fact that Ponder could be ready for action so quickly is the reason fantasy owners should take a wait-and-see approach regarding Cassel, unless they are truly desperate to get another QB.
Cassel does have more upside as a fantasy asset than Ponder. Three years ago, he posted a 93 quarterback rating with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions for the Kansas City Chiefs, and he could very well provide a spark for a struggling passing game.
Before joining the Chiefs, he was Tom Brady's backup with the New England Patriots. He did well in 2008 when called upon after Brady went down for the season, throwing 21 touchdowns. While he has struggled to maintain that level, he has flashed it in the past.
In contrast, Ponder has thrown just 33 touchdowns in 30 career games. Add in the 30 interceptions, and it's safe to say he hasn't proven himself to be a franchise quarterback. That trend has continued in 2013, as he has thrown two touchdowns and five interceptions in three games.
Who should be the Vikings' starting QB?
With a strong showing in his first start of the season, Cassel could, at the very least, force the coaching staff to make a tough decision. It will be very difficult to send him back to the bench if he can help the 23rd-ranked passing offense show signs of progress.
It's not a guarantee he will remain the starter coming out of the bye, which is why fantasy owners shouldn't drop even a semi-valuable asset to pick him up yet. There are too many question marks to risk losing somebody who could help down the line.
But if he comes out and starts putting up good numbers, similar to what Brian Hoyer did in Week 3, it will be time to start considering him seriously.
Remember, defenses are focusing much of their energy to make sure Adrian Peterson doesn't run wild. That leads to a stacked box and plenty of space to work in the secondary. Ponder couldn't take advantage of that on a consistent basis.
It wasn't due to a lack of weapons, especially with the arrival of Greg Jennings this season. Add the reliable veteran to Kyle Rudolph, Jerome Simpson and Cordarrelle Patterson, and enough pieces are in place to take advantage of overly aggressive defenses.
If Cassel can prove more capable of making plays down the field in Week 4, he'll move firmly onto the fantasy radar. As a full-time starter, he has No. 2 QB value in fantasy leagues, which is important during bye weeks.
Week 4 Projection: 18-of-30 for 220 yards, two touchdowns and one interception