Young NFL quarterbacks experience more growing pains than Kirk Cameron ever did.
Passing statistics are at all-time highs, records are being broken more often than glass at Jewish weddings and phenoms like the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck are acting like it is no big deal to start straight out of college and be successful.
However, there were some young quarterbacks who struggled last season and gave their fantasy football owners more headaches than stat services whose servers crash on Sundays.
You should not be too quick to give up on young, talented quarterbacks, though. One bad year does not make them Akili Smith or Ryan Leaf. There are three quarterbacks who struggled mightily last year but definitely have the talent to turn things around, and they should now be in more beneficial situations that should help them become fantasy forces in 2014 instead of the fantasy flops they were in 2013.
So here are three young quarterbacks ready to bounce back this season.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
The team he plays for may not be called the Redskins much longer, but Griffin will always be RGIII. And while fantasy owners likely called him much nastier names over the course of last year, Griffin should get back into the good graces of those burned fantasy fans as soon as this season.
Even though Griffin’s 2013 passing statistics were not Blaine-Gabbert-bad (3,203 passing yards, 16 TDs, 12 INTs), they represented a steep drop from what he had done in his breakout rookie season (3,200 yards, 20 TDs, five INTs, much higher completion percentage and QB rating). The only things that went up in 2013 for Griffin were his passing yards (in two fewer games) and probably his blood pressure.
Griffin can throw a great long ball, and now he has a burner on the outside who can track down his rainbow-like launches. Washington signed former division rival DeSean Jackson in the offseason after the Philadelphia Eagles released him. Ask Michael Vick and Nick Foles how much better Jackson made them look. Jackson immediately takes Griffin’s fantasy worth up a couple notches.
Washington’s offense should look different this season with new head coach Jay Gruden implementing his system and scrapping Mike Shanahan’s. This should mean less zone-block rushing and more passing, and more passing means more opportunities for Griffin to post nice numbers.
Griffin’s rushing numbers should also bump up after being another year removed from knee surgery. Many fantasy owners would be overjoyed if their quarterback ran for 489 yards in a season. But considering RGIII had dashed for 815 during his rookie campaign, the drop-off was hard to swallow, not to mention the fact that he failed to score on any scampers in 2013 after running for seven touchdowns in 2012.
This year, Griffin is not going to be the inconsistent fantasy mess he was last year. His knee is stronger, he does not have the Shanahan clan around him, he has a potent one-two combo at receiver with Jackson and Pierre Garcon and a new head coach who love, love, loves calling pass plays. Sounds like a recipe for fantasy football success that would make Guy Fieri drive his bus to flavor town.
Projection: 4,136 passing yards, 628 rushing yards, 28 touchdown passes, six touchdown runs and 11 interceptions.
E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills
If Manuel fails in his sophomore season as a pro, it will not be because of a lack of weapons. In two years' time, the Bills have gone from a receiving corps of Stevie Johnson and not much else to first-round phenom Sammy Watkins, former Tampa Bay baller Mike Williams and second-year slot guy Robert Woods—forming a dangerous trio.
Manuel also now has three above-average running backs to hand off and throw screens to as Buffalo added Bryce Brown to the fold to go along with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. With all the speed the Bills have surrounding Manuel, the only thing hotter than Buffalo’s offense this year might be Buffalo’s wings.
But this puts the pressure on Manuel. Can his knobby knees hold up? The guy had more problems with his knees last year than Kanye West had with the paparazzi. Watkins, Williams and Woods will not be of any use if Manuel is hobbling in the pocket like Joe Namath did circa 1977.
And will better receivers help Manuel throw more accurately? He ranked 28th in the NFL with a 58.8 completion percentage in 2013. Unless you are Eli Manning and have a couple Super Bowl rings to fall back on or Colin Kaepernick and have super speed to rely on, completing less than 60 percent of your passes does not cut it in the NFL anymore.
With a season under his belt and an upgrade of his receiving corps, Manuel will be better. Will he be healthier? Will he throw more spirals and less than dying quails? No guarantees on either, but Manuel has talent, weapons and an offensive-minded coaching staff that will set him up for success more than it will set him up for failure.
Projection: 3,405 passing yards, 22 touchdowns passes and 14 interceptions.
Geno Smith, New York Jets
Speaking of squads that upgraded their speed on offense in the offseason, the New York Jets could not have gotten more speed if they went to a track in Connecticut and adopted a half-dozen greyhounds.
While Smith looked very Mark Sanchez-like during most of last season due to his ill-advised interceptions and costly fumbles, he showed signs of solid quarterbacking at the end of the year. He had four touchdown tosses and only two picks over his last four games after having an eight-to-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio leading up to the last month.
But where Smith really shined was with his scrambling. His feet were stuck in cement the first three months of the campaign; then he dashed for 183 yards and three scores over the final four contests.
Now after a rookie season where Smith had to deal with Santonio Holmes always being hurt and Stephen Hill running bad routes, he has free-agent prize Eric Decker (1,288 yards and 11 TDs) and second-rounder Jace Amaro (1,352 yards at Texas Tech) to throw to and super-speedy tailback Chris Johnson to throw swing passes to.
The Jets did add some Smith insurance by signing Michael Vick to a contract. Vick is the backup for now, but a great training camp for him and/or a poor camp for Smith could mean curtains for Smith’s middling fantasy value. Of course, Vick is always one scramble away from handing the job right back, so he is not the threat other veterans might be.
So forget about Vick stealing Smith’s job like Chris Paul steals a basketball from under a point guard’s nose, at least for now. What if Vick became a Randy Jackson-like mentor and taught Smith how to scramble? Under Vick’s guidance, maybe Smith could become one of the top running quarterbacks in the NFL.
If Smith keeps the starting QB spot all season, his fantasy value will go up. It has nowhere to go after last year’s performance. But better accuracy and more scrambling could make Smith a solid No. 2 QB in fantasy leagues.
Projection: 3,355 passing yards, 540 rushing yards, 20 touchdown passes, seven touchdown runs and 16 interceptions.
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