One of the biggest questions this pre-season, in both real and fantasy NFL circles, has been the health of Bengals QB Carson Palmer.
His injury last year presaged a terrible season for the Bengals in which pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
But hopes in Cincy have been raised this year thanks to Palmer’s return, the reemergence of Chad Ochocinco as a player (apparently) focused on winning again, and an emerging defense that is better than it is given credit for being.
Of course, they do have Cedric Benson…but I just said that hopes had been raised, not that the Bengals are perfect.
Either way, the entire house of cards rests on the injured ankle of Carson Palmer, which has prevented the Aikman-like QB from playing in the Bengals’ last two preseason games. From the looks of it, via PFT, the AP, and Mr. Ochocinco himself, Palmer is “fine” and should be ready to go for the season opener on Sept. 13.
In fact, he may even play in the Bengals’ fourth pre-season game this Thursday.
From the AP report updating Carson Palmer’s injury status:
Palmer threw to receivers during the first 30 minutes of practice Monday, the first time he’s done that in nearly three weeks. The quarterback dropped back after taking snaps and moved around without problem on his sprained left ankle.
The only news that could possibly be better for Cincinnati sports fans would be the firing of Dusty Baker. But, actually, even that would not trump the healthy return of Carson Palmer to the football field this year.
So let’s assume for a moment that Palmer is healthy and ready to go on Sept. 13. How do you value this guy in fantasy drafts and/or trade talks?
As recently as last season (despite a less than stellar 2007, based on his own standards), Palmer was one of the top-5 QBs in fantasy. He appeared poised to enjoy a long, continuous tenure among Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees as those year-in, year-out consistently strong QBs that you can build fantasy winners around.
A quick look at Carson Palmer’s stats from 2005 and 2006 manifests this greatness:
- 2005: 101.1 rating; 3,836 yards; 32 TDs; 12 INTs
- 2006: 93.9 rating; 4,035 yards; 28 TDs; 13 INTs
2007 and 2008, however, were not nearly as productive:
- 2007: 86.7 rating; 4,131 yards; 26 TDs; 20 INTs
- 2008: 69.0 rating; 731 yards; 3 TDs; 4 INTs
As you can see, even before getting hurt last year Palmer was not playing to his usual level. Part of that had to do with a complete lack of a running game, as well as the fact that Chad Ochocinco seemed determined to be as big a pain in the ass as he possibly could.
So with Cedric Benson no doubt poised to continue churning out 2-3 yard stumbles where 5-10 yard gains are possible, and TJ Houshmandzadeh now catching passes from Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle, why should there be optimism that the ‘05-’06 Palmer will reemerge in 2009?
Honestly, there probably should not be quite that level of optimism, but still some optimism nonetheless.
Chad Ochocinco has brought a much better attitude to camp, at least it seems. In addition, TJ has been replaced by the steady Laveraneus Coles who, while no longer the burner he once was, is still a productive WR.
And the surprise of Bengals camp has reportedly been a rejuvenated Chris Henry, who has worlds of talent but has never particularly acted like he possessed a brain.
If he truly has matured, that’s still a pretty lethal WR trio for Palmer to air it with.
But without the steady Rudi Johnson providing consistent backfield production any longer, the Bengals will still be somewhat one-dimensional, which will obviously make them easier to defend and probably keep Palmer’s INT totals a little bit higher.
His yardage will probably stay high, because the Bengals should throw a lot, but I don’t see quite the same TD:INT ratio that we saw during his immaculate 2005 campaign.
My Carson Palmer projections for 2009 look something like this:
- QB rating: 92-97
- Passing yards: 4,000-4,200
- Passing TDs: 27-28
- INTs: 17-19
- Rushing: Umm, none…as usual.
I would take the following QBs for sure before Palmer in a draft: Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Aaron Rodgers. After that, I’d rate Palmer right there with Peyton Manning (who is a great QB and consistent but overrated this year for fantasy purposes people!!!), Tony Romo, Donovan McNabb, and Matt Ryan.
He is certainly worthy of starting, and you’re in a great position if you can get him as a backup, but I would expect him to be below the first tier. Draft him expecting 2008-level production, and then be pleasantly surprised if and when he surpasses it.
* – Carson Palmer throwing photo credit: Art Monk Football League