A rough schedule will test Jake Locker's resolve over the next month, but the quarterback will close the year as a sound pick-up for patient owners willing to forgive a shaky start.
Locker's opponents have firmly dictated his fantasy value early in the season. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans, the AFC's most frugal passing defenses, Locker accrued a combined 273 passing yards.
It felt like the 25-year-old was regressing during his second full season as a starter. He wasn't much of a fantasy asset last season either, completing 56.4 percent of his passes with 197.8 passing yards per game. Maybe Locker just wasn't mean to be a prominent fixture in the fantasy universe.
Not so fast. He stepped up to the plate last Sunday, earning 299 passing yards, 68 rushing yards and two scores (one passing, one rushing) to beat the San Diego Chargers. Does that well-rounded fantasy effort warrant consideration for the Tennessee Titans' signal-caller?
Yes and no. Locker has the skills to at least flourish as a No. 2 option, but Tennessee's early schedule will not do him any favors. Look at what Locker has to deal with before his Week 8 bye.
|Week||Opponent||Passing Yards Allowed Per Game (Rank)|
|4||New York Jets||190 (7th)|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||185 (5th|
|6||at Seattle Seahawks||147 (1st)|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||191 (8th)|
That means Locker will have played six of his first seven games against current top-eight passing defenses, only receiving one week to breathe against the NFL's worst squad against the pass.
He'll exit that brutal stretch bruised and battered, but his second-half itinerary will feel like a piece of cake in comparison to his early adversaries.
Are you picking up Jake Locker in your fantasy football league?
The Rams feature a bend-but-don't-break secondary, but its weak rushing defense presents Locker with an opportunity to make plays with his feet. Only six quarterbacks have recorded more rushing yards than Locker's 81 through three games.
While the Jacksonville Jaguars also rank in the top 10 in terms of passing yards allowed, opponents have moved the ball efficiently on the lowly squad. Their 65.5 opposing completion percentage rates 22nd, and quarterbacks have collected seven passing touchdowns against them.
Come playoff time, Locker gets some friendly matchups in the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Jaguars. Denver and Arizona each rank among the bottom 10 passing defenses while Jacksonville will be competing for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
When you toss in two contests with the Indianapolis Colts and a rematch against Houston to conclude the season, his second-half schedule isn't the easiest. But it's manageable for Locker, especially if he can continue to avoid interceptions while making plays with his legs.
As CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora highlighted, he is among only three quarterbacks that have yet to throw an interception this season.
Best I can tell, Peyton Manning, Alex Smith and .... Jake Locker are only 3 QBs to start all 3 weeks and not throw a pick— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) September 24, 2013
Locker won't transform into a fantasy superstar, and most fantasy owners will probably forget all about this discussion when he enters November with shaky numbers, but Locker can provide top-15 value during the second half of the season.
If you want to avoid the rough patch and let Locker rot some more on the waiver wire, fine. Just be sure to keep his schedule in mind if you need some quarterback insurance during the final leg of your playoff push.