Pick Your Poison: Jay Cutler vs. Kyle Orton

Joe FortenbaughCorrespondent IJuly 31, 2009

LAKE FOREST, IL - MAY 20: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears participates during an organized team activity (OTA) practice on May 20, 2009 at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In the National Football Post’s third installment of our “Pick your Poison” series, we take a look at one of the most talked-about trades of the 2009 offseason.

On April 2, the Chicago Bears traded quarterback Kyle Orton and three draft picks to the Denver Broncos for Pro Bowler Jay Cutler and a fifth-round pick. The move sent shock waves through the NFL, as well as the fantasy world.

With both quarterbacks set to open the 2009 season with new teams and new offenses, let’s look at which signal-caller is likely to produce a better fantasy year.

In addition, your fantasy football drafts are right around the corner. Be sure to purchase the NFP’s 2009 draft guide to get the inside track on which players you should be targeting this season.

The case for Cutler

Cutler comes to Chicago with the Windy City’s (as well as Bowen’s and the Puma’s) playoff expectations riding on his shoulders. The cannon he possesses in lieu of a right arm will be a major benefit to the Bears’ offense late in the season when the vicious winds off Lake Michigan start cutting down the passes of weaker-armed QBs.

His transition into Chicago’s offensive scheme will be helped along by dual-threat running back Matt Forte and pass-catching tight end Greg Olsen. If the Bears’ receivers struggle to create separation and get open down the field, Cutler will have two very capable check-down options to target.

Speaking of the Chicago receivers, they may be a downgrade from what Cutler was used to in Denver, but consider these numbers: Former Bears quarterback Kyle Orton was one of the top fantasy QBs during a five-week stretch last season (weeks 3-7) when he threw for 1,370 yards and racked up 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

And he did it with the SAME receiving unit. If Orton could find some success, expect a Pro Bowler like Cutler to find some as well.

The case against Cutler

The aforementioned receiving unit will be the key as to whether Cutler heads back to the Pro Bowl in 2010. We’re going to find out very quickly whether the receivers in Denver made Cutler look good, or the other way around.

One of the important questions heading into 2009 is, how often will the Bears throw this season? Cutler attempted 616 passes last year in Denver (second in the NFL), which was a big reason for his fantasy success.

On the flip side, Orton and the rest of the Chicago quarterbacks combined for 528 attempts, 88 fewer than Cutler. Can you blame them? With a running back like Matt Forte in your backfield, you shouldn’t need to throw the ball over 600 times.

The case for Orton

Orton made the NFP’s 2009 sleeper list for several reasons. He begins life in Denver with one of the more impressive receiving tandems in the NFL—Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal—who combined for 195 receptions last season, ranking first among one-two punches in the league.

In addition, he will be running a new Denver offense installed by rookie head coach and former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. McDaniels may have gotten off to a rough start in Colorado, but remember, this is the guy who turned Matt Cassel into a fantasy sensation in New England last season.

Orton has some good experience and knows how to make plays with an average receiving unit. Keep in mind, there’s a reason McDaniels wanted Orton included in the trade for Cutler. He sees potential.

Also, look for the Broncos to keep their foot on the gas for four quarters. The Denver defense went through several personnel changes this offseason, but it’s going to take some time to turn around a unit that gave up 374.6 yards (29th) and 28 points (30th) per game in 2008.

A defense that gives up a lot of points may not be good for wins in the NFL, but it’s a big plus for fantasy quarterbacks.

The case against Orton

He’s got a 55.3-percent career completion percentage, has been sacked 59 times in 33 games, has never posted a passer rating higher than 79.6 in a single season and has thrown almost as many interceptions (27) in his career as touchdowns (30). Not the most promising of statistics for a fantasy quarterback, are they?

Another factor to keep in mind is backup quarterback Chris Simms. McDaniels made the call earlier this offseason that Orton would be the starting quarterback entering 2009, but what if he stumbles coming out of the blocks and can’t get the job done during the first month of the season?

The possibility (although small) exists that Orton could be replaced if he proves to be ineffective.

Finally, will Brandon Marshall be a Denver Bronco when Week One kicks off? Trade talks with the Ravens have started to heat up again, and Marshall has made it no secret that he’s unhappy and looking for a new contract. This is one of the main reasons why holding your fantasy draft as close to the start of the season as possible is a good idea.

Pay attention to the schedule

The Broncos play nine games this season against defenses that finished in the top 10 against the pass in 2008. Meanwhile, the Bears only play eight games against defenses that finished in the top 17.

Fantasy playoff schedule

Cutler’s final four games: Green Bay (home), Baltimore (road), Minnesota (home), Detroit (road)

Orton’s final four games: Indianapolis (road), Oakland (home), Philadelphia (road), Kansas City (home)

Edge: Orton, but not by as much as you’d think. Three of Denver’s final four games are against defenses that finished in the top 10 against the pass in 2008. While that’s a telling statistic, we still feel that getting Baltimore and Minnesota down the stretch is a tougher challenge.

The verdict

We consider this competition a lot closer than most people might because we believe Orton is going to find success in McDaniels’ offensive system.

However, it all boils down to consistency and reliability, and that’s why Cutler is our choice heading into 2009. The job is 100 percent his, and he’s taken steps forward in each of his three NFL seasons. Don’t sleep on Orton, though.

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