Fantasy Football 2010: State of the QB Address

Fantasy Football TraderContributor IMarch 31, 2010

SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 03:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers calls out a play against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on January 3, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Redskins 23-20. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Recapping 2009

With running-back-by-committee (RBBC) permanently devaluing the fantasy stock of nearly all National Football League runners and fueling the intense demand for stud wide receivers, some fantasy owners opted to draft a top quarterback in the early rounds to secure a reliable source of high scoring.

We watched the elite passersparticularly Drew Brees , Peyton Manning , Aaron Rodgers , and Tom Brady disappear off many draft boards as early as the second round. If you had spent a high-round selection on Brees, P. Manning, Rodgers, Brady, Philip Rivers , Tony Romo , Kurt Warner , or Matt Schaub , you obviously received a great return on your investment.

Waiting until the latter rounds to select two or even three QB2s for a “starting-quarterback-by-committee” approach was still an effective strategy, even though the number of reliable middle- and lower-round starters was smaller than some had predicted. Some fantasy owners stuck gold with this strategy, but others struck out.
  • Anyone lucky enough to select Brett Favre or Ben Roethlisberger received top-10 fantasy passer production.
  • Despite Eli Manning ’s week-to-week consistency problems, he thrived in New York’s unexpectedly pass-heavy offense, finishing 2009 as the fantasy QB10.
  • Donovan McNabb missed a couple of games because of an injury (ribs), which has become normal for him in recent years, but he still closed out the season as the fantasy QB13.
  • Although Vince Young and Alex Smith did not start the entire season, some owners relied on them as solid starters during the second half of 2009.
  • Matt Ryan did not build on the success of his stellar rookie season due to a turf toe injury and the Atlanta Falcons’ unwavering dedication to utilizing a run-first offense.
  • After starting 2009 on a hot streak, Joe Flacco cooled off big time in the second half because of tougher matchups, a weak wide receiver corps and the Ravens’ unyielding dedication to their running game.
  • Jay Cutler wrapped up 2009 as the fantasy QB11. However, his poor supporting cast, consistency issues and league-leading 26 interceptions made him a crapshoot start some weeks.
  • Pegged as a 2009 preseason bounce-back candidate, Carson Palmer was a major disappointment because of possible lingering elbow issues, a shortage of strong receiving options and the Bengals’ new run-first offensive philosophy.
  • Another popular preseason 2009 rebound prospect, the aging Matt Hasselbeck , was slowed by lingering back problems and hampered by a weak supporting cast.
  • After enjoying success in the New England Patriots offense in 2008, Matt Cassel struggled in his first season as the starter for a rebuilding Kansas City Chiefs team, looking surprisingly inept at times.
  • Although Kyle Orton came on late in the season, he never took a big step forward as a fantasy passer while playing in what turned out to be a run-first offensive attack rather than a knockoff of the pass-happy Patriots offense.
  • Playing behind a porous offensive line in an inept offense without an experienced offensive coordinator calling the shots, Trent Edwards , yet another preseason sleeper candidate, regressed badly and lost his job when Dick Jauron was fired.
Neither of the two most fantasy-relevant rookies Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez was a reliable fantasy starter most weeks. Limited to 10 starts due to injuries, Stafford managed to either throw or run for at least one score per game. Although Sanchez showed flashes of improvement during the NFL playoffs, his play and fantasy production in New York’s run-first attack was erratic during the regular season.
We did not see any major injuries at the quarterback position. Stafford (knee, shoulder) missed the most games. Roethlisberger (concussion) and Warner (concussion) each missed one game, while McNabb (ribs) and Ryan (turf toe) each missed two contests. After missing a combined 10 games from 2007 through 2008, Schaub started all 16 regular-season games. However, he played the last month of 2009 with a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder.

Looking Ahead to 2010
Some owners will have a preference for selecting an elite QB1 in the early rounds again, but others will choose to rely on the venerable approach of looking for their quarterback(s) in the latter rounds.
The top three fantasy signal-callers Rodgers, Brees and Manning likely will have average draft positions ranging from the late first round to the early second round.

The rest of the elites should disappear off most draft boards by the middle of the fourth round or possibly earlier. The pool of top quarterbacks will be a little smaller this year, because Warner has retired and Favre may do the same.
Opting to wait until later to acquire quarterbacks for a starter-by-committee approach still looks like an effective strategy. We should have a more promising group of bounce-back, sleeper and solid QB2 talent in 2010 than we did last season.
What did we learn about the most fantasy-relevant quarterbacks in 2009? Who is on the rise and why? Who is on the decline and why? What can we expect from each player during the upcoming season?
Here is a breakdown of the top-25 fantasy passers from 2009 in scoring systems that awarded one point for every 20 yards passing, four points per touchdown pass, one point for every 10 rushing yards and six points for each rushing touchdown. Note: Vince Young, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, and Matt Moore were added to the rankings with their 2009 statistics projected over a 16-game regular-season schedule.

The Tier One Quarterbacks

1. Aaron Rodgers l Green Bay Packers l 2010 Fantasy Value: RISING
  • After watching Rodgers follow up his outstanding 2008 breakout season (he finished as the fantasy QB2) with an even more impressive 2009 fantasy QB1 showing (350/541 for 4,434 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions), there should be absolutely no doubt that he has matured into an outstanding fantasy quarterback.
  • Thanks to some surprising mobility (316 rushing yards and five rushing scores in 2009), Rodgers was able to provide a little boost to his fantasy point total some weeks.
  • The 26-year-old Rodgers is at his best when he spreads the ball around to all his talented wide receivers and tight ends, rather than locking in solely on Greg Jennings.
  • Rodgers took a beating behind an average-at-best offensive line that surrendered 49 sacks in 2009, but the sixth-year pro proved his durability by playing through injuries and starting all 16 games.
  • With the Green Bay offense running like a well-oiled machine, bigger fantasy numbers from Rodgers in 2010 are a real possibility.
2. Drew Brees l New Orleans Saints l 2010 Fantasy Value: STEADY
  • Many fantasy owners did not notice that Brees’ 2009 completions/attempts (363/514) statistics dropped off noticeably from his 2007 (440/652) and 2008 (413/635) numbers.
  • Is Brees declining? Nope. Are the Saints evolving into a running team? Absolutely not. Brees and head coach Sean Payton still love to throw. However, unlike previous seasons, the Saints made a commitment to run the football more often in 2009. They have found a run/pass balance that helped them win a Super Bowl, and they probably will not deviate from it in 2010.
  • Although the 31-year-old Brees did not match his gaudy 2008 passing numbers, the Super Bowl XLIV MVP preserved his reputation as one of the most consistently productive fantasy passers with yet another fine performance this past season (363/514 for 4,388 passing yards with a career-best 34 touchdowns and 11 picks).
  • Brees continues to spread his passes around as well as any quarterback in the league to an impressive big-play wide receiver corps. While Brees should produce his usual elite fantasy numbers in 2010, do not expect another 5,000-yard season from him any time soon.
3. Matt Schaub l Houston Texans l 2010 Fantasy Value: RISING
  • Schaub is talented enough to post top-five fantasy quarterback numbers if he can stay healthy for an entire season.
  • After missing a combined 10 starts in two seasons (2007 and 2008), Schaub started all 16 regular-season games in 2009, leading the NFL in completions (396), attempts (583) and passing yards (4,770), which were career highs, and only four quarterbacks tossed more touchdown passes (29) than he did.
  • The 28-year-old passer succeeded despite playing the second half of 2009 without Owen Daniels (knee), which allowed opposing defenses to put more effort into containing Andre Johnson, and despite receiving very little regular support from an embarrassingly anemic running game.
  • With a full complement of weapons at his disposal this season, Schaub could top his 2009 numbers assuming he has put the injury issues behind him.
  • Some fantasy owners still question Schaub’s durability, which is why he probably will not be among the top-five quarterbacks to come off most draft boards.
4. Peyton Manning l Indianapolis Colts l 2010 Fantasy Value: STEADY
  • The 34-year-old Manning is heading into his 13th pro season, but he has shown no signs of decline and continues to set a standard of excellence matched by very few fantasy passers.
  • Many had thought the Indianapolis Colts’ decision to spend a first-round pick on Donald Brown in the 2009 NFL Draft was a signal that they wanted to run the football more, but Manning is still the engine that makes the Indianapolis offense go.
  • Despite playing virtually the entire season without starter Anthony Gonzalez (rookies Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie filled in), Manning turned in his usual stellar numbers (393/571 for 4,500 passing yards with 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions).
  • The future Hall of Famer has amassed in the neighborhood of 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdown passes year in and year out for most of his career.
  • Even if the Colts make a serious effort to run the ball more often in 2010 their rushing attack ranked No. 29 last season Manning will keep compiling his usual fantasy stud numbers. He is still one of the safest choices you can make on draft day.
The Tier Two Quarterbacks

5. Tony Romo l Dallas Cowboys l 2010 Fantasy Value: RISING
  • It looks like the pieces are finally in place for Romo to enjoy long-term fantasy success, but there are no guarantees.
  • Thanks in large part to the release of overbearing blabbermouth Terrell Owens, the emergence of stud wide receiver Miles Austin, the usual steady play of Jason Witten, the timely on-the-field contributions from Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams and the support of a rock-solid rushing attack, Romo took a big leap toward permanently joining the ranks of the top fantasy passers.
  • The 29-year-old Romo posted the best numbers of his career since becoming the starter in Big D, amassing career highs in completions (347), attempts (550) and passing yards (4,483) to go along with 26 touchdowns and just nine picks.
  • Playing a regular-season game in December or January is no longer poison to Romo and his owners. In Romo’s last five games of the 2009 regular season (four played in December, one played in January), he averaged 310.0 passing yards, 1.8 touchdown passes, 0.4 interceptions and 23.0 fantasy points per game.
  • Some think the best is yet to come from Romo in what is starting to look like a pass-first Dallas offense, while others think we saw Romo’s best stuff in 2009.
6. Brett Favre l Minnesota Vikings l 2010 Fantasy Value: UNCERTAIN
  • Only a handful of quarterbacks posted better fantasy stats than the 40-year-old veteran did last year. Favre went 363/531 for 4,202 passing yards with 33 touchdown passes his highest total since 1997 and a league-low (tie) seven interceptions.
  • On the downside, there are whispers that Favre’s deep ball is starting to leave him.
  • The Silver Fox is still as tough and durable as they come. Even you Favre bashers have to respect the man for enduring that unmerciful beating from the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship game.
  • Although the Vikings present themselves as a run-first team with Adrian Peterson, we saw Minnesota morph into a pass-first team late in the season with Favre, not Peterson, driving the offense.
  • With Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Visanthe Shiancoe and Peterson in the fold, Favre has more than enough help and does not have to carry the offense by himself.
  • Favre will turn 41 years old October 10, and his contract runs out after 2010. If Favre returns, his fantasy stock should remain steady.
7. Tom Brady l New England Patriots l 2010 Fantasy Value: FALLING
  • Although Brady compiled some of the better statistics of his career in 2009 (371/565 for 4,398 passing yards, 28 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions), we learned late in the season that all is not well in Foxboro.
  • The Patriots offense struggled noticeably toward the end of the season, looking bland and predictable. In three of Brady’s last four regular-season starts, he did not top 200 yards passing and threw a total of two touchdown passes.
  • Brady, who turns 33 in August, was sacked just 16 times all season, but he was knocked down and hurried constantly, suffering rib, shoulder and finger injuries that lingered all season. The Patriots O-line resembled a turnstile during that playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
  • Opposing defenses were able to take Randy Moss out of games with surprising ease many times, which obviously did not help Brady.
  • It’s not clear whether Wes Welker (ACL surgery) will be ready to play during the opening part of 2010, which is huge. Brady struggled in the three games that Welker his security blanket missed last season, averaging 215.67 passing yards, 1.00 touchdown passes and 1.33 interceptions per outing.
  • Even with a less-than-100-percent Welker on the field, Tom Terrific probably will have his share of struggles while trying to carry a team that has slid into rebuilding mode. All signs point to a noticeable drop in his numbers.
8. Ben Roethlisberger l Pittsburgh Steelers l 2010 Fantasy Value: FALLING
  • There is no doubt the 28-year-old Roethlisberger can sling the rock when the Steelers let him, and he has an underrated group of wide receivers/tight ends at his disposal.
  • Despite being stuck with a porous offensive line (he was sacked a league-high 51 times) and a struggling Troy Polamalu-less defense for a good part of the season, the two-time Super Bowl winner proved that he could shoulder the offensive load, posting career bests in completions (337), attempts (506) and passing yards (4,328) to go along with 26 touchdown passes and just 12 interceptions.
  • We have seen offensive explosions from Roethlisberger during the 2007 and 2009 seasons, with a dud 2008 season performance sandwiched in between the two. What is the story?
  • Pittsburgh’s schedules were reasonably soft in 2007 and 2009, but the 2008 slate of games was extremely difficult. With a 2010 list of opponents that ranks No. 23 in difficulty, we should expect to see more Air Roethlisberger.
  • Roethlisberger, however, is facing some legal problems stemming from a rape accusation, which he has denied. Depending on how things go this is the sexual assault allegation that Roethlisberger has faced in the last eight months he could face a long suspension for violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.
9. Philip Rivers l San Diego Chargers l 2010 Fantasy Value: STEADY
  • Because the San Diego rushing attack is now a shell of its once dominant self (No. 31 in the league) mainly due to the decline/release of LaDainian Tomlinson and the lack of a suitable replacement, Rivers has become the straw that stirs the drink in the Chargers offense.
  • Thanks in large part to the tutelage of quarterback guru and head coach Norv Turner, we saw the 28-year-old Rivers put together the most productive fantasy season of his career in 2009, compiling career highs in completions (317), attempts (486) and passing yardage (4,254) to go along with 28 touchdowns.
  • Rivers has dramatically minimized his mistakes (just nine picks last season), choosing to throw the ball away rather than zip it into coverage unnecessarily.
  • For the last two seasons, Rivers’ passing yardage numbers and his resulting fantasy-point totals have fluctuated wildly from week to week, which is what has kept him from becoming a top-five fantasy quarterback.
  • Although the Chargers will likely acquire a new starting running back, their offense will still belong to Rivers in 2010, and, barring an injury, there is little stopping him from having another great fantasy season.
The Tier Three Quarterbacks
10. Eli Manning l New York Giants l 2010 Fantasy Value: STEADY
  • Because the Giants’ once-vaunted rushing attack struggled mightily and their usually impenetrable defense tanked due to poor play, questionable coaching and injuries, Manning’s arm was New York’s most reliable weapon in a majority of games last season.
  • Manning went 317/509 for a career-high 4,021 passing yards and a personal-best 27 touchdown passes, but his passing yardage varied wildly from week to week.
  • The 29-year-old Manning has a nice up-and-coming group of pass-catchers at his disposal: Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Kevin Boss.
  • It’s doubtful the Giants will be able to successfully repair their defense during the offseason and the running game will likely struggle again, so we will probably see Manning throwing frequently to give his team a fighting chance to win most of the time.
  • If the New York running game improves, we will see a slight dip in Manning’s numbers. Tom Coughlin prefers to run the ball whenever possible.
11. Jay Cutler l Chicago Bears l 2010 Fantasy Value: RISING
  • Because the Bears could not run the ball effectively with a terrible offensive line and a dinged-up/ineffective Matt Forte, and because their withering defense struggled frequently, Cutler’s arm was Chicago’s main weapon during most games.
  • Most of Cutler’s league-leading 26 interceptions happened because he felt the pressure to carry the team on his back each week after the Bears parted with two first-round picks to acquire him. Cutler threw a career-high 27 touchdown passes and amassed a respectable 3,666 passing yards.
  • Cutler looked more like his Pro Bowl self late in the season when he had wide receiver Devin Aromashodu he is Cutler’s favorite target in the starting lineup.
  • Any quarterback in new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s system has posted huge fantasy stats based on the sheer volume of pass attempts that they get. Since Chicago’s running game and defense are not expected to improve dramatically, the opportunities to throw will be there for the strong-armed Cutler.
  • Will Cutler get enough help from a weak wide receiver corps and a porous offensive line? The Bears offense will have its good days and bad days.
12. Donovan McNabb l Philadelphia Eagles l 2010 Fantasy Value: FALLING
  • Although he will turn 34 in November, McNabb can still make all the throws, but his accuracy remains just slightly above average as always.
  • The 12th-year pro’s durability continues to be a concern. McNabb missed two games in 2009 because of injured ribs, and he has missed a combined 10 regular-season starts in the last four years.
  • McNabb is still a solid fantasy starter, as evidenced by his 2009 statistics (267/443 for 3,553 passing yards, 22 touchdown passes, 10 picks, 154 rushing yards and two scores last season), which look like a typical McNabb season.
  • With stellar targets DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant around him, McNabb is playing with what looks like his best supporting cast ever.
  • According to media reports, McNabb, who is entering the final year of his contract, is available for trade in exchange for a top-42 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. If he stays in Philadelphia, there is a chance that he could lose his starting job to the young Kevin Kolb. McNabb’s 2010 fantasy value is obviously tied to his playing situation, which looks shaky at the moment.
13. Jason Campbell l Washington Redskins l 2010 Fantasy Value: FALLING
  • Don’t let Campbell’s career-best statistics (327/507, 3,618 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 15 picks, 236 rushing yards and one rushing score) last season fool you into thinking he is on the rise following his third season as Washington’s starter.
  • Campbell still is what he is: a mediocre-at-best pro and fantasy option trapped in an offense that lacks bona fide playmakers in the passing game and a good offensive line (Campbell was sacked 42 times in 2009).
  • Thanks to Sherm Lewis emphasizing a pass-happy approach, especially late in the season, Campbell piled up some nice fantasy numbers some weeks mainly because of soft matchups and garbage-time production.
  • Although the 28-year-old Campbell is expected to remain with the Redskins in 2010 (they still could trade him), he probably will have to compete for a starting job on a talent-poor offense while learning a new scheme.
  • Many think Washington is planning to use a high-round draft pick on a quarterback. Even if Campbell is Washington’s Week One starter, it’s hard to see him keeping the job all season. All signs point to Campbell’s fantasy stock dropping big time in 2010.
14. David Garrard l Jacksonville Jaguars l 2010 Fantasy Value: STEADY
  • Garrard continues to cement his reputation as a rock-solid QB2 fantasy option and passable QB1 in deeper leagues.
  • The 32-year-old Garrard posted numbers (3,597 passing yards, 15 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, 323 rushing yards and three rushing scores) last season that were similar to his career-best numbers from 2008.
  • Garrard averaged 18.1 fantasy points per contest, and he racked up 16+ fantasy points in 12 out of 16 regular-season games.
  • Garrard successfully squeezed production out of a young group of pass-catchers Mike Sims-Walker, Mike Thomas, Zach Miller and Jarrett Dillard and played effectively behind a revamped offensive line.
  • Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio has referred to Garrard as a “middle-tier quarterback” during the offseason, so Garrard’s job security is apparently a little shaky.
  • Nevertheless, he is expected to easily win a training camp challenge from Luke McCown, with another veteran or a rookie possibly in the mix.
  • Unless he gets hurt, don’t expect a major swing in Garrard’s numbers.
15. Kyle Orton l Denver Broncos l 2010 Fantasy Value: STEADY
  • When Orton is on his game, this blue-collar type player can make most of the throws and rarely commits any critical mistakes.
  • On the downside, Orton was not good enough to rescue the Broncos from closing out the 2009 season with a 2-8 nose dive.
  • Despite taking more than half the season to get comfortable in new head coach Josh McDaniels’ New England-style offense, Orton posted career-best numbers across the board (336/541 for 3,802 passing yards, 21 touchdown passes and 12 picks), relying on Brandon Marshall as his No. 1 target.
  • The 27-year-old Orton did start to produce some consistent QB2 fantasy stats toward the end of 2009, throwing more frequently to keep the Broncos in games because their defense faltered.
  • With a year of experience in McDaniel’s offense, Orton’s weekly fantasy numbers should be more consistent, but don’t expect a huge uptick in his statistics since Denver is expected to continue utilizing a run-first offensive approach whenever possible.
  • Orton should easily win a training camp challenge from Brady Quinn.
16. Vince Young l Tennessee Titans l 2010 Fantasy Value: RISING
  • We all know Young is electric as a scrambler, but he displayed some surprising competence as a passer when he closed out 2009 as Tennessee’s starter.
  • Young racked up one 300-yard passing game (387 yards and one touchdown pass against the Arizona Cardinals), but don’t expect that to happen regularly.
  • In 10 starts, Young amassed 1,879 passing yards, 281 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns. He averaged 17.4 fantasy points per start (a product of his passing and rushing stats).
  • The biggest change was in Young’s attitude. He looked like a revitalized, mature team player when he took over as the starter in Week 7, not the pouting, angry player who quit on the team after Titans fans booed him during the 2008 hope opener.
  • Will Young’s 2009 magic carry over into the new season when he continues to start? It should, so expect a small uptick in Young’s statistics assuming he starts all 16 games. As long as Chris Johnson is in the backfield and Young’s attitude stays positive, the former Texas star looks like a solid game-manager and fantasy QB2.
17. Alex Smith l San Francisco 49ers l 2010 Fantasy Value: STEADY
  • After looking completely lost in the pro game for years and undergoing three shoulder surgeries over a two-year period (2007 through 2008), the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft has resurrected his career and it’s not a fluke.
  • Thanks to playing in the team’s new “Raygun” spread offense and thanks in large part to a breakout season from Vernon Davis, Smith played solidly in 2009, averaging 214.4 passing yards, 1.5 touchdown passes, 1.1 interceptions and 17.1 fantasy points per contest during his 10 starts to close out the season.
  • If you project Smith’s 2009 numbers over a full 16-game regular season, you get 3,430 passing yards, 24 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions.
  • The 49ers want to win with their Frank Gore-led running game and defense with Smith serving as a game-manager who occasionally has a big performance, so don’t expect anything more than QB2 fantasy numbers from the 26-year-old Smith most weeks.
  • Nevertheless, a modest uptick in Smith’s passing numbers is likely in 2010, since the multi-talented Michael Crabtree (48/625/2 in 2009) is expected to have a breakout season.
  • According to rumors, San Francisco may be interested in Donovan McNabb. If he comes to the 49ers, you can obviously write off Smith.
18. Joe Flacco l Baltimore Ravens l 2010 Fantasy Value: RISING
  • The 25-year-old Flacco was an above-average fantasy passer in the softer matchups early in the season; he could get the ball regularly to Derrick Mason.
  • Through the first six weeks of 2009, Flacco averaged 279.0 passing yards, 1.83 touchdown passes and 0.83 interceptions per game, but he struggled noticeably in tougher matchups later in the season. Opposing defenses figured out that Flacco’s only reliable playmaker at receiver was Mason.
  • The offseason acquisition of Anquan Boldin tells us the Ravens want to let Joe Cool put it up more than he did in 2009 (career-highs 315/499 for 3,613 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions).
  • With Boldin, Mason and Ray Rice all in the mix, Flacco has some nice targets, and his passing stats should improve noticeably in 2010.
  • Don’t forget the running game is still the bread and butter for the Baltimore offense, so Flacco looks like a nice high-end QB2 at best in 2010.
19. Carson Palmer l Cincinnati Bengals l 2010 Fantasy Value: STEADY
  • The seventh-year pro was a major disappointment in 2009, compiling some of the lowest numbers of his career (3,094 passing yards, 21 touchdown passes and 13 picks).
  • Palmer threw for more than 270 yards in just two contests and tossed multiple scoring passes in just five games. What happened? Laveranues Coles (released) did not even come close to replacing the production of T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals’ new offensive philosophy – pounding the ball with Cedric Benson and playing tough defense – also left little need for a prolific aerial attack.
  • In addition, there are whispers that the 30-year-old Palmer’s right (throwing) elbow, which he injured in 2008, is still giving him problems.
  • Cincinnati has signed Antonio Bryant to help offset the departure of Coles, but non-superstar receivers usually struggle in their first seasons with a new team, which obviously would not help Palmer.
  • Although the Bengals probably would like more production from their passing game, it’s hard to see them abandoning their new run-first/tough defense approach. Big fantasy performances from Palmer probably will be rare again this season.
The Tier Four Quarterbacks
20. Matthew Stafford l Detroit Lions l 2010 Fantasy Value: RISING
  • Despite missing six games last season due to knee and shoulder injuries that required offseason surgery, Stafford showed flashes of the talent and ability that had enticed the Lions to select him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
  • If you project his 2009 statistics (2,267 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and 20 picks) over a full 16-game regular season (and leave out the 422 passing yards and five touchdowns he threw against the Cleveland Browns because it unrealistically skews the projections), you get 3,280 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, 32 interceptions, 173 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, which would have given him fantasy QB21 status.
  • Since Detroit will likely get into a huge number of shootouts, Stafford will get the chance to air it out regularly.
  • With Nate Burleson now in the fold with the talented Calvin Johnson and promising young tight end Brandon Pettigrew, Stafford should post low-end QB2 numbers with an occasional big game against weaker opponents.
21. Matt Ryan l Atlanta Falcons l 2010 Fantasy Value: RISING
  • Although Ryan is talented enough to join the ranks of the elite fantasy passers, it looks doubtful that he will get that opportunity in the short-term.
  • Ryan received numerous chances to sling the rock and carry the Atlanta offense in place of the injured Michael Turner last season, but the Falcons seemed content to keep Ryan in a game-manager role most of the time in a stubbornly run-first offense that featured Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood when necessary.
  • In 14 games played, Ryan amassed 2,916 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, so he was on pace to surpass all his 2008 stats (3,440 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions).
  • Some are also overvaluing the weapons at Ryan’s disposal. Sure Roddy White is a Pro Bowler. However, the aging Tony Gonzalez is starting to decline, and the Falcons like to use him as a blocker regularly. In addition, Michael Jenkins looks like nothing more than just another possession receiver.
  • Although we will see an uptick in Ryan’s numbers, he is nothing more than a quintessential fantasy QB2 as long as Turner is the focal point of the offense. Ryan should rebound, finishing anywhere from QB12 to QB15.
22. Matt Hasselbeck l Seattle Seahawks l 2010 Fantasy Value: FALLING
  • Hasselbeck’s days as a reliable fantasy starter (3,029 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2009) are likely behind him. Receiving little help from a talent-poor offense last season, Hasselbeck notched just two 300-yard passing games, threw multiple touchdown passes in just four contests and struggled noticeably in what were favorable matchups on paper.
  • The durability of Hasselbeck, who turns 35 in September, is a major worry. He missed nine games in 2008 with a bulging disk in his back. Although Hasselbeck missed just two games in 2009 with another back injury, the ailment hampered his effectiveness for most of the season.
  • With Pete Carroll now calling the shots for the Seahawks, Hasselbeck probably will face some training camp competition (the team just traded for Charlie Whitehurst).
  • Hasselbeck is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $5.75 million. Since Seattle is obviously rebuilding, it would not be a surprise to see Hasselbeck traded.
  • Even if he somehow ends up starting for Seattle, Hasselbeck is barely draft-worthy as a low-end backup.
23. Chad Henne l Miami Dolphins l 2010 Fantasy Value: STEADY
  • Although Henne went through some growing pains during his first season as a pro starter, the talented and poised former Michigan star also flashed some deep sleeper QB2 potential for the upcoming season.
  • Granted, Henne’s regular-season statistics (2,878 passing yards, 12 touchdown passes, 14 picks, 32 rushing yards and one rushing score in 14 games) do not look impressive, but he did show some modest improvement down the stretch.
  • During the last five weeks of 2009, Henne notched three 300-yard passing games, averaging 273.2 passing yards, 1.0 touchdown passes and 1.4 interceptions per game (his averages were dragged down by a 140/1/1 outing in Week 17).
  • Although Henne received great protection from one of the better offensive lines in the league, Miami’s shallow receiver corps (Davone Bess was Henne’s No. 1 target last season) and run-first mentality probably will place a low-end QB2 ceiling on his fantasy production.
24. Matt Moore l Carolina Panthers l 2010 Fantasy Value: RISING
  • With Jake Delhomme gone (released), Moore has some nice sleeper potential as a QB2 if he wins the starting job.
  • In five end-of-the-season starts, Moore averaged 198.0 passing yards, 1.6 touchdown passes and just 1.0 interceptions per game while leading the Panthers to a 4-1 mark.
  • With Moore under center, Steve Smith averaged 4.8 catches, 94.5 receiving yards and 0.75 touchdowns per game, which speaks to Moore’s ability to get the ball downfield.
  • If you project Moore’s statistics out over 16 games, he would have wrapped up 2009 as the fantasy QB19.
25. Matt Cassel l Kansas City Chiefs l 2010 Fantasy Value: UNCERTAIN
  • After watching Cassel struggle big time last season, we learned two things: (1) His 2008 success with the New England Patriots was clearly a product of their system, coaching and supporting talent, and (2) there is no guarantee that Cassel will succeed with the Chiefs.
  • Cassel’s 2009 numbers (2,924 passing yards, 16 touchdown passes and 16 picks) were disappointing, even for a new starter who is playing on a team in rebuilding mode. The sixth-year pro racked up just one 300-yard passing game and threw for multiple scores in six outings.
  • In fairness to Cassel, the Chiefs offensive line was terrible he was sacked 42 times.
  • The most troubling thing about the 27-year-old Cassel’s season: he showed no statistical improvement late in the year.
  • The addition of Charlie Weiss as offensive coordinator should help Cassel at least one would think so. Unless he shows huge improvement in the preseason, Cassel does not look draft-worthy even as a low-end QB2.
  Written by Matt Wilson
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