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Quarterback solutions for 2011

Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks

Matt Hasselbeck. Image via Wikipedia

We’ll take a brief break from our playoff coverage to try and give some hope to the teams who landed outside of the final four. To do this, we’re going to break down the quarterbacks who may be available to switch teams this offseason. We’re going to break them down by categories so that you can see just how likely it is that your favorite team can land each guy.

If you have ideas of great matches between a quarterback and a team, leave them in the comments below, and we’ll talk about it.

We’ve also created a post of teams with quarterback needs to help you play a matching game.

Unrestricted Free Agents (Free to sign anywhere)
Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Matt Hasselbeck, Kerry Collins, Alex Smith, Marc Bulger, Rex Grossman, Billy Volek, Seneca Wallace, Chad Pennington, Luke McCown, Charlie Frye, J.P. Losman, Kyle Boller, Patrick Ramsey

First of all, cross Manning and Vick off your list. The Colts and Eagles will not let these franchise quarterbacks leave via free agency, unless something incredibly screwy happens with the new CBA (whenever it is signed). While Manning and Vick are unrealistic pipe dreams, the other guys on this list are on the market. Hasselbeck’s strong postseason play for the Seahawks likely increased his price tag, and he’s likely in line for a multi-year deal now, which may price him out of Seattle given the team’s investment in Charlie Whitehurst. The Seahawks say they want to keep Hasselbeck, but will they be willing to pay him $15 million-plus as a franchise player? We can’t buy that. Therefore, our hunch is that Hasselbeck is the one 2011 starter who could step in somewhere else – especially somewhere with a West Coast type of scheme like Minnesota or Cleveland – and provide an upgrade immediately. Collins and Bulger, both of whom were backups this year, are more of stopgap options. Collins played some in Tennessee with mixed results, while Bulger got a break from the beating he took in St. Louis by sitting behind Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Neither is a long-term answer, but both could provide competition for an average quarterback or serve as a placeholding starter for a team developing a young QB. Smith is the wild card of this group. He has talent, but it never worked out in San Francisco. But some team might choose to invest and take a look to see if he can step up his play in a more stable situation. Grossman is in the perfect situation in Washington because he’s been with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan longer than Donovan McNabb and seems to be favored over the higher profile QB. If Grossman wants another shot to start, now’s the time to leave after a solid end-of-season performance, but his best chance to succeed and maybe to start is with the Redskins. Volek showed flashes of ability in Tennessee years ago, and he could be a stopgap in Carolina, where the new coach and offensive coordinator saw him practice in San Diego. Wallace is a decent backup who can run the West Coast offense and also move around a bit, but aside from Cleveland president Mike Holmgren, few NFL types see him as more than a No. 3. Pennington was once a quality starter, but his shoulder’s in such bad shape that he’s just a No. 3 at this point. The other guys on this list are not starters but could provide some veteran assurance for a team looking for a third guy.

Limbo Free Agents (Players with four or five years of service who would be unrestricted free agents in a system like 2009 or before but not under the 2010 system)
Tarvaris Jackson (5), Bruce Gradkowski (5), Matt Leinart (5), Kellen Clemens (5), Brodie Croyle (5),  Drew Stanton (4), Tyler Thigpen (4), Matt Moore (4), Trent Edwards (4), Troy Smith (4)

These players may or may not be unrestricted free agents, and all are risky. Gradkowski has had the most success as a starter, making up for physical limitations with gutty play, and it appears he’s not a favorite of Al Davis in Raiderland. He could be a decent stopgap somewhere. Leinart never lived up to his billing in Arizona, but we could see him getting one more shot to compete somewhere. Jackson had his moments in Minnesota, but he was never consistent, and the Vikings have decided he’s not their quarterback of the future. Clemens showed some promise with the Jets before getting stuck, first behind Brett Favre and then behind Mark Sanchez. A change of scenery should provide a better opportunity than he’s had in three years. Croyle is nothing more than a backup. Thigpen had a long chance in Kansas City and a brief chance for the Dolphins this year, but his win/loss record is abysmal. Still, he may be a guy a team wants to bring in as a competitor for a starting job. Stanton had shown little promise until this year in Detroit, where injuries to Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill forced him into action. Stanton played well enough to at least move up from a No. 3 quarterback to a backup, and perhaps even enter a competitive environment. Moore and Edwards have had shots to start in Carolina and Buffalo, respectively, but both lost their jobs. They’re likely to fill in as backups instead of a starting candidates. Smith showed some spark in San Francisco this year, but he looks to be an energetic backup who can step up in a pinch instead of an every-week starter.

Restricted Free Agents (Players with three years experience who could move teams via offer sheet)
Dennis Dixon, Brian Brohm

Dixon, the Steelers’ backup, has had a couple of starting shots and has played OK. He’s not great, but someone might be enamored with his potential. If the Steelers don’t place a high tender on Dixon, he could be targeted. Brohm was a higher draft pick than Dixon, so an offer sheet is more unlikely. His Buffalo tenure has been uneventful.

Trade (These players are under contract in 2011)
Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, Matt Flynn, Kyle Orton – UPDATE: Carson Palmer?

These names are more speculative, but they’re likely to be targeted to some degree or another. The Titans definitely want to be rid of Young, and if they can’t trade him, they’ll release him. At some point, some team will give up a late-round pick to get an exclusive shot at rehabilitating a former top-3 pick who has a winning record as a starter. McNabb may draw some interest as well, although he’s clearly in his decline phase and isn’t worth more than a mid-round pick. But with just one year left on his contract, don’t be shocked to see McNabb shopped. Like McNabb, Orton signed a one-year extension during the season, only to see the starting job go to a younger player during the year. Since Tim Tebow is longer for Denver than Orton is, the Broncos might consider dealing Orton at the right price – likely a mid-round pick. It’s unlikely that the Packers will deal Flynn, but after his solid debut start against the Patriots late this season he’ll be a dream answer for teams looking for a young starter. If the price gets high enough, the Packers might make a move. But the cream of this crop is Kolb, who has one year remaining on his contract at a reasonable price. Certainly, the Eagles would prefer to keep Kolb to back up Vick, whose versatile style exposes him to more of an injury risk than other QBs. But if the Eagles were offered a first-round pick, they’d have to consider trading Kolb and letting young prospect Mike Kafka step in as their backup. That’s a move that Andy Reid’s mentor Mike Holmgren used time after time in Green Bay to build draft equity. Kolb has shown enough in his starting stints to be considered an average NFL starter right away with the promise to emerge into even more.

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FR: April pre-draft signings

In this post, we’re comparing signings between the beginning of April and the NFL draft. For previous signings in free agency, go to the March signings post and work your way back. We’re using a comparison in which 10 marks the team with the most noteworthy moves and 1 indicates the team with barely noteworthy moves.

10 – Jets (added UFA OLB Jason Taylor) – Taylor is a specialty player at this point as a 3-4 outside pass rusher, but he had seven sacks in that role last year and should be able to shine in Rex Ryan’s attacking scheme. He got a two-year deal nominally worth $13 million, but in reality it’s a one-year deal worth up to $3.75 million with a bunch of funny money in the second year. Taylor will help the Jets continue to gear up for a major run at a championship this year. And his Dancing with the Stars-inspired acting career won’t suffer from a year in the Big Apple, either.

9 – none

8 – Saints (added DE Alex Brown and UFA DT Jimmy Wilkerson) – Brown was cut in Chicago after Julius Peppers landed there, and now he makes his way to New Orleans. There, he’ll take the spot of former first-round disappointment Charles Grant. Brown is a pretty good (but not great) defensive end who can rush the passer and stop the run, and he’s better than any other defensive end on the market in April – by a lot. For the Saints to get him was a coup that came at a reasonable two-year, $5.5 million price. That’s fair but not excessive starter money. Wilkerson got a one-year, $2 million deal even though he’s recovering from an ACL injury. If he gets healthy, he’ll be a fine second or third tackle who can help stabilize the interior of the Saints’ defense.

7 – Vikings (added CB Lito Sheppard) – Sheppard has bounced around the last couple of years, after being dissatisfied in Philly and falling out of favor with the Jets. But he’s still a pretty good player who will help a Vikings secondary that’s probably the weak link on an otherwise stacked team. Sheppard can’t play man-on-man coverage all day long, but he can be a dependable cog in a strong defense, and that’s exactly what the Vikings have. So getting Sheppard for $2 million over one year is a coup for the Vikes.

6 – Patriots (added WR Torry Holt, DT Damione Lewis and P David King) – Holt had an OK but not spectacular season in Jacksonville last year, and he’s definitely falling off from his Greatest Show on Turf days. Holt will get up to $1.7 million this year, which is a fair price for a veteran receiver, but you have to wonder if the Holt signing will repeat the failed Joey Galloway experiment of last year. Lewis had plenty of good moments as a rotation tackle for the Panthers, showing that he can get into the backfield on occasion. But the Panthers, in a youth movement, let Lewis walk. Now he goes to New England, where the Pats need a backup who can bring the pass-rush skills that Jarvis Green used to bring. Lewis is a decent bet to fill that role well, and that makes him worth a low-cost shot for the Pats. King is another of the Australian Rules Football players trying to make the move into the NFL punting fraternity.

5 – Giants (added S Deon Grant, kept UFA P Jeff Feagles) – Grant has started every game for the last nine seasons for Seattle, Jacksonville, and Carolina, and his presence at free safety will help protect the Giants against Kenny Phillips’ major 2009 injury. With Grant and Antrel Rolle, the Giants now have a solid safety duo in a spot that was troublesome last year. Feagles returns for a 23rd season, and he remains one of the best directional kickers in the league. Feagles isn’t the boomer he once was, but he gets the job done.

5 (con’t) – Bengals (kept UFA OG Bobbie Williams) – Williams was perhaps the best guard on the market, but the Bengals were able to get a deal to keep him around. He’s been a starter for the last three years, and his physical blocking is one of the reasons the Bengals have strengthened their run game the last two years.

4 – Redskins (added UFA RB Willie Parker, UFA DT Howard Green, WR Roydell Williams, and RB Ryan Torain) – Parker becomes the latest import into the Redskins’ aged backfield, as the Redskins are paying him up to $3.1 million on a one-year deal. This is an uncapped-year special by Washington, which is giving Parker a chance to vie for carries against fellow vets Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. Parker doesn’t have the speed he did in his Fast Willie days, but he probably still has more pop than Portis or Johnson does at this point. Perhaps a five- to eight-carry role will allow Parker to showcase what speed he has left. But our suspicion is that the Redskins just wasted a couple million dollars on a bet that won’t come in. Green is a sturdy 3-4 nose tackle who should probably be a backup but who can fit the role as the Redskins move to that defensive system. Williams once was a prospect for the Titans, but he hasn’t played an NFL game since 2007. Torain was a Shanahan favorite two seasons ago in Denver before injuries shortened his rookie campaign. It’s hard to see him getting a shot behind Parker, Portis, and Johnson, but Torain probably landed with the coach most likely to give him a fair shot.

4 (con’t) – Rams (added LB Na’il Diggs) – Diggs, part of the Panthers’ purge of experienced players this year, lands in St. Louis, where his former LB coach Ken Flajole is the defensive coordinator. Diggs can take over the veteran role Will Witherspoon had in St. Louis before being traded last year. Diggs is consistent, but he doesn’t make many plays from the outside linebacker spot.

4 (con’t) – Seahawks (added OG Ben Hamilton and WRs Mike Williams and Reggie Williams) – The Seahawks’ receiving corps is pretty sorry, and so Pete Carroll is taking a shot on a couple of reclamation projects. Mike Williams, who played for Carroll at USC, hasn’t panned out anywhere as a top-10 draft pick. Reggie Williams showed some flashes of ability in Jacksonville, most recently in 2008, but he sat out last year after repeated legal problems. Reggie is more likely than Mike to make the 2010 roster, but both of these guys look like longshots at this point. Hamilton started eight games for the Broncos last year, but as a holdover from Alex Gibbs’ days as the line guru in Denver, he no longer fit the Broncos. But Gibbs is now in Seattle, and Hamilton’s knowledge of and fit in the system makes him a natural to replace the traded Rob Sims at left guard, at least in the short term.

3 – Lions (kept DE Jared DeVries) – DeVries, who Detroit had released in the offseason, returns to the only team he has played for on a one-year, $1.7 million deal. He’s probably better off as a backup at this point in his career, but DeVries is a veteran who can still be an asset.

3 (con’t) – Jaguars (kept UFA DE Reggie Hayward) – Hayward returns for his sixth season in Jacksonville after coming off an injury that limited him to a single game in ’09. He’s little more than a rotation pass-rusher at this point, but he could provide depth behind youngsters Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey and offseason acquisition Aaron Kampman.

2 – Cardinals (added UFA PK Jay Feely) – Feely, whom the Jets didn’t make a big push to retain, moves to Arizona, where he’ll replace Neil Rackers. Feely has been a reliable kicker in past years, and moving out of the Meadowlands into the Arizona dome at age 34 could help prolong his effectiveness.

2 (con’t) – Texans (added UFA Neil Rackers) – Rackers lost his gig to Feely in Arizona, and so he moves to Houston to compete with Kris Brown. Neither Rackers nor Brown was at his best last year, and the Texans’ prolific offense needs a consistent kicker to produce maximum points. If Rackers makes good and wins the job from Brown, he’ll earn $4.1 million over two years. But with only $350,000 guaranteed, Rackers will have to go out and take the job from Brown.

2 (con’t) – 49ers (added UFA OLB Travis LaBoy) – LaBoy missed the entire 2009 season with torn tendons in his foot, but before that injury he had 23.5 sacks in five years with the Cardinals and Titans. At age 28, he’s worth a one-year, $1.6 million risk to see if he can recapture his pass-rush skills.

2 (con’t) – Bears (kept UFA LB Pisa Tinoisamoa) – The linebacker we affectionately call The Tower missed most of his first Chicago season with injury, but he knows Lovie Smith’s defense well from St. Louis days and can be an effective fill-in starter.

2 (con’t) – Steelers (kept UFA DE Nick Eason) – Eason started five games last year, but he’s best as a fourth defensive end who can hold up in the 3-4 defense. He’s also one of the all-time good guys and the subject of one of the most telling stories I picked up covering Clemson football back in 2001. Just for personal reasons, I’m glad to see Eason stay in the league as long as possible.

1 – Browns (added C Eric Ghiaciuc) – Ghiaciuc started at center for the Bengals for several years, but he bounced around last year. Now he lands in Cleveland as Alex Mack’s backup.

1 (con’t) – Titans (added QB Chris Simms) – The Titans brought back Simms, who spent last year with Denver, to serve as the No. 3 quarterback behind Vince Young and Kerry Collins.

1 (con’t) – Raiders (added QB Kyle Boller) – Boller, who started a few games as the Rams’ backup last year, moves to Oakland to serve as the No. 3 quarterback behind JaMarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski’s offseason pectoral muscle injury makes having Boller, a veteran who knows new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, a nice insurance policy.

1 (con’t) – Panthers (added PK Todd Carter and S Aaron Francisco; claimed DB Brian Witherspoon on waivers) – Carter, a small-school kicker, comes in to serve as the kickoff guy in Carolina. The Panthers had Rhys Lloyd in that role last year, but finding a first-year player to fill that role saves them $800,000. And right now, every penny seems to count in Carolina. Francisco is a special-teams ace who has played on the last two Super Bowl losers. He won’t make much of a defensive impact, but he could help replace the departed Dante Wesley. Witherspoon brings some kick return skills.

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RP: The draft strategy that fails

As the NFL draft approaches, among the hot names are QBs Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow, and Colt McCoy. Part of this was because of Jon Gruden’s outstanding special on ESPN featuring all four QBs in the film room, but an even greater part is because of our obsession with quarterbacks. While Bradford will go No. 1 and Clausen will go in the first half of the first round (at least according to our mock draft), Tebow and McCoy have a far greater range of possibilities. One of them, of course, is having a team trade into the second half of the first round to take them. But our research shows that this strategy in the NFL draft is a poor one.

We looked back over the past 13 drafts to study the quarterbacks taken between 17 and 32. And it’s remarkable to look back and see how many of the teams who traded up to take one of these quarterbacks flat-out failed.

2009 – Josh Freeman, Buccaneers, 17th (trade up)
2008 – Joe Flacco, Ravens, 18th (trade up)
2007 – Brady Quinn, Browns, 22nd (trade up)
2006 – none
2005 – Aaron Rodgers, Packers, 24th; Jason Campbell, Redskins, 25th (trade up)
2004 – J.P. Losman, Bills, 22nd (trade up)
2003 – Kyle Boller, Ravens, 19th (trade up); Rex Grossman, Bears (trade down)
2002 – Patrick Ramsey, Redskins, 32nd (trade up)
2001 – Drew Brees, Chargers, 32nd (second round)
2000 – Chad Pennington, Jets, 18th
1999 – none
1998 – none
1997 – Jim Druckenmiller, 49ers
(This site helped us track trades up and down)

So six teams traded back into the first round to take quarterbacks – the Ravens for Boller and then Flacco, the Redskins for Ramsey and then Campbell, the Bills for Losman, and the Browns for Quinn. (The Freeman trade by the Bucs last year just moved them up two spots in the draft.) And of these six, only Flacco could be viewed as a success, and of the remaining five only Campbell has becomea regular starter for his team.

This bust rate of 66 percent is far above the general bust rate for first-round quarterbacks over the same time period, and it goes to show that teams anxious to find a quarterback of the future end up reaching for guys who aren’t able to succeed. Maybe this says more about the teams doing the reaching than about the players themselves – could any rookie QB have succeeded in the situation Losman found himself in in Buffalo, or in Quinn’s circumstances in Cleveland? Assign blame however you wish – the bottom line is that this is a strategy that fails.

This begs the question of whether a team should move into the first round this week to ensure that they get Tebow or McCoy, both of whom appear to be second-round talents. And the answer that our research shows is no. The teams that tend to employ this failed strategy tend not to be ready for such quarterbacks to come on board, and as a result the quarterbacks who need development and coaching don’t get it.

If teams employ this strategy Thursday night with Tebow and McCoy, it’ll be the draft strategy that fails once again.

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 12

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And you can also check out our fantasy football thoughts during the week via our Twitter feed here on the blog or here.

Quarterbacks

Kyle Boller, Rams – As you look for fantasy fill-ins, Boller is a name that tends to get overlooked. But after throwing for 282 yards and a score against the Seahawks, you should at least notice. Boller is going to have the Rams’ job for at least a couple more weeks, so if you’re desperate, Boller is worth a claim to be a backup. He’s not going to produce as much as Vince Young, but he will surpass guys like Dennis Dixon and Matt Leinart. Verdict: Applaud

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills – This is a bit of a strange call, but Fitzpatrick has provided a spark for the Bills since interim head coach Perry Fewell inserted him in the lineup two weeks ago. Fitzpatrick threw for a touchdown a ran for another this week, and he seems to be good for at least a score a week. That makes him definitely worth a claim and perhaps even worth a start in multi-QB leagues. Verdict: Applaud

Chris Redman, Falcons– Redman was pressed into action when Matt Ryan was hurt in the first quarter of Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay. He responded with 243 passing yards and two touchdowns. If Ryan is out, Redman has enough weapons to be a top-18 fantasy quarterback on a weekly basis. He’s the fill-in you want, not Matt Leinart or Dennis Dixon. Verdict: Applaud

Vince Young, Titans– Young had a huge day with 387 passing yards, including a last-minute game-winning drive. But he only threw for one touchdown, which continues the pattern he’s established since he returned to the lineup. That lack of TD passes keeps Young from being a fantasy starter. He’s good depth, and if you’re missing a starter like Kurt Warner, Matt Ryan, or Ben Roethlisberger, Young can be an emergency option. But he’s not a guy you should be looking to start. Verdict: A fraud

Running Backs

Fred Jackson, Bills – With Marshawn Lynch out, Jackson blew up with 73 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. But Lynch should return soon, and that means that Jackson simply won’t get the opportunities to remain a significant or consistent fantasy producer. Verdict: A fraud

Brandon Jacobs, Giants – In a week where Ahmad Bradshaw was out, against a Denver defense that had been gashed on the ground in recent weeks, Jacobs put up just 27 yards on 11 carries. He’s not a reliable fantasy starter at this point. We figure he’s outside the top 20 fantasy backs, which is a disappointment for a guy who was a first- or second-round pick in most leagues. But it’s time to deal with reality and be willing to put Jacobs on the bench when the matchup dictates. Verdict: A fraud

Larry Johnson, Bengals – Johnson rewarded the Bengals for his second chance by running for 107 yards on 22 carries against Cleveland. But even during the performance, Move the Sticks (a Twitter-based scout) was commenting on how slow Johnson looked. That means that Johnson isn’t worth a run against a better defense. That scouting report, plus the imminent return of Cedric Benson, means that Johnson isn’t a top-40 back going forward. Verdict: A fraud

Felix Jones, Cowboys – Jones broke a 46-yard touchdown this week against Oakland and finished with 68 rushing yards. That performance was a window into Jones for fantasy owners. While Jones is capable of busting a big play, he doesn’t do it often, and unless he does his fantasy value is extremely limited. He’s outside the top 35 at running back from a fantasy perspective and isn’t worth a roster spot in leagues of 10 teams or less. Verdict: A fraud

LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – If you were watching the ticker, you might have seen that Tomlinson scored twice against the Chiefs. But don’t miss the fact that he also averaged just 3.0 yards per carry on 13 totes. He also had just one five-yard catch. While LDT is starting to find the end zone more often, he’s far from the force he used to be. You should still beware. Verdict: A fraud

Wide Receivers

Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin had yet another huge game on Thanksgiving, posting seven catches for 145 yards and a score. Consider that star turn a reminder that Austin is now a top-10 fantasy receiver. Verdict: Applaud

Kenny Britt, Titans – Britt caught the game-winning touchdown for Tennessee against Arizona, and he also had his best game of his rookie season with seven catches for 128 yards. Britt has now scored two straight weeks, and he seems to have a pretty good rapport with Vince Young. Don’t get carried away, but if Britt is on your league’s waiver wire he’s now worth a claim. He seems to be emerging late in the season. Verdict: Applaud

Donald Driver, Packers – Driver is almost 35 years old, but he continues to post monster numbers year after year. His 142-yard performance against Detroit, which included a touchdown, goes to show that he’s still a top-15 fantasy wideout after all these years. He should be in your starting lineup in ink. Verdict: Applaud

Percy Harvin, Vikings – The star rookie had his first 100-yard game of the season against the Bears, notching 101 yards and a score on six catches. As Harvin becomes more a part of the offense, he becomes a starting-quality fantasy receiver. He’s moved within the top 30 of fantasy receivers, and his uphill climb might still have heights to attain. Verdict: Applaud

Calvin Johnson, Lions – Considering that most leagues saw Johnson drafted as a top-10 receiver (if not higher), it seems crazy to consider benching him. But with Matthew Stafford banged up and Johnson not at full strength either, right  now it’s foolish to consider Johnson as a legit top-10 fantasy wideout. His two-catch, 10-yard day against Green Bay was redeemed a bit by a touchdown grab, but it’s still a sign of trouble. Megatron is still in the top 20 of fantasy wideouts, but you have to at least look at your other options before starting him. So we can’t rate Johnson as a top-10 guy anymore. Verdict: A fraud

James Jones, Packers – Jones had four catches for 35 yards and a touchdown on Thanksgiving Day. It was his fourth touchdown of the year, all of which have come after Green Bay’s Week 5 bye. In large leagues (16 teams or more), Jones is not a bad fifth receiver, but he still doesn’t have much relevance for fantasy owners other than that. Verdict: A fraud

Terrell Owens, Bills – Don’t look now, but T.O. is on a roll in Buffalo. He has scored in two straight weeks and has at least 78 yards from scrimmage in his last four games. He’s finally back to being an every-week starter in just about every fantasy league. If you kept him, your patience is being rewarded, and if you claimed him or traded for him, your gamble is paying off. Verdict: Applaud

Tight Ends

Fred Davis, Redskins – With Chris Cooley’s significant injury now looking to be a season-ender, Davis is worth a second look. He had four catches and a touchdown against the Eagles, and he’s had at least four catches in three of the past five games. If you’re scrambling for a tight end, Davis is a decent option at this point in the season. Verdict: Applaud

Zach Miller, Raiders – The only redeemable thing about the Raiders’ offense from a fantasy perspective right now is Miller, who had five catches for 73 yards against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Miller has had at least 50 yards receiving in five of his last seven games, which makes him a startable option in leagues of 12 teams or more. He doesn’t score enough to be an elite fantasy tight end, but he’s raised himself up to option status. Verdict: Applaud

Jason Witten, Cowboys – Witten has seen his production lag this year, but he busted out with a 107-yard game against Oakland on Thanksgiving despite being a game-time decision to play. That’s a positive sign for owners who were wavering about whether to keep starting the former fantasy stalwart. The answer is that yes, you should leave Witten in your weekly lineup. Verdict: Applaud

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Jersey Numbers: Quarterbacks

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post. Now we move to quarterbacks, who wear numbers between 1 and 19.

1 – None – Sorry Warren Moon and Jeff George, but no significant quarterback in the NFL is currently wearing No. 1.

2 – Matt Ryan, Falcons – Two young quarterbacks wear No. 2, and Ryan, who is the future of the franchise in Atlanta, is an easy choice over JaMarcus Russell, who apparently cannot be the future of the franchise in Oakland. Other notable 2s: Brian St. Pierre, Cardinals; Chris Simms, Broncos, Sage Rosenfels, Vikings

3 – Derek Anderson, Browns – Anderson is no good and is having an even worse year, but he’s the only quarterback who has seen the field this season that wears No. 3, so he wins this by default. But you can go ahead and expect Anderson to lose to a kicker or punter in the final jersey number comparison. Other notable 3: Matt Moore, Panthers

4 – Brett Favre, Vikings – There’s no question that Favre is not only the most significant No. 4 currently playing now; he may be the best No. 4 in the history of the league. Part of that is that 4 was never a popular number before Favre, and part of it is of course Favre’s longevity and production. Other notable 4: Kevin Kolb, Eagles

5 – Donovan McNabb, Eagles – When McNabb first started wearing No. 5, it seemed like a bit of a novelty for a quarterback. But now this is a popular number. Still, McNabb remains the standard-bearer, both for his current play and his long and storied career. But it’ll be interesting to see how long McNabb can hold off up-and-coming Joe Flacco to keep the claim on 5. Other notable 5s: Kerry Collins, Titans; Trent Edwards, Bills, Josh Freeman, Buccaneers; Bruce Gradkowski, Raiders

6 – Jay Cutler, Bears – Cutler narrowly wins this number’s honors over rookie Mark Sanchez, simply because Cutler has a little longer pedigree. At the end of the year or next year, the decision could be different. Other notable 6: Pat White, Dolphins

7 – Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers – Big Ben wears 7 in honor of John Elway, one of the greatest 7s of all time. Now Roethlisberger is writing his legacy at the number with two Super Bowl titles very early in his career. The fact that Big Ben seems to be emerging as a passer is a sign that his career may actually be starting an upswing just now. Other notable 7s: Matt Cassel, Chiefs; Chad Henne, Dolphins; Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers; Matt Leinart, Cardinals; Tarvaris Jackson, Vikings; Michael Vick, Eagles

8 – Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks – This was a tough call. Matt Schaub of the Texans is having by far a better year than Hasselbeck, but Hasselbeck has a much better career at this point. So we’ll side with experience over the present, knowing full well that we might want to flip the tables on this number very soon. Other notable 8s: Kyle Orton, Broncos; David Carr, Giants; Brian Hoyer, Patriots

9 – Drew Brees, Saints – Brees may be for the early 2010s what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were for most of this decade. He’s at the top of his game, piling up numbers with great accuracy and providing great leadership to boot. And if he can get a Super Bowl ring this year, his status will only grow. As good as Dallas’ Tony Romo, Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer, and Jacksonville’s David Garrard are, they aren’t in Brees’ league. Other notable 9: Matthew Stafford, Lions

10 – Eli Manning, Giants – Manning isn’t a perfect quarterback, but he’s good and he’s won his share of games and then some. That’s enough to earn him the 10 spot over declining players like Marc Bulger of St. Louis and Chad Pennington of Miami. Other notable 10s: Matt Flynn, Packers; Brady Quinn, Browns; Vince Young, Titans; Troy Smith, Ravens

11 – Daunte Culpepper, Lions – There are no current star quarterbacks wearing 11, so we’ll give this honor to a former star in Culpepper who has started a couple of games this year. Other notable 11s: Josh Johnson, Buccaneers; Alex Smith, 49ers; Mark Brunell, Saints; Kellen Clemens, Jets

12 – Tom Brady, Patriots – It’s an easy call to give the honors at 12 to Brady, who’s already got the resume of an all-time great. Plus, Brady continues to perform at the highest of levels. He remains the real deal. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is a good quarterback, but he’s outside Brady’s echelon. Other notable 12s: Brodie Croyle, Chiefs; Kyle Boller, Rams; Josh McCown, Panthers; Jim Sorgi, Colts

13 – Kurt Warner, Cardinals – This is another easy call, as Warner is playing at a high level 10 years after he burst on the scene in St. Louis. His career has been a little up and down, but at his best there are few better than Warner. Other notable 13: Shaun Hill, 49ers

14 – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills – Fitzpatrick isn’t great, but he’s the only QB wearing 14 who has even played this year. Dan Fouts must be ashamed.

15 – Seneca Wallace, Seahawks – This is another slow number, as Wallace and Washington backup Todd Collins are the only quarterbacks wearing 15. We almost gave this to Tim Tebow in advance, but we’ll stick with NFL players for now.

16 – Charlie Batch, Steelers – At least we had a choice at 16 between Batch, the former Lions starter who’s now Big Ben’s backup, and Tyler Thigpen, who had some good games in K.C. last year before going to the Dolphins via trade this year.

17 – Philip Rivers, Chargers – Rivers isn’t on the Brees-Manning-Brady level, but he may be the best of the next batch of quarterbacks. He’s productive and continuing to grow as a leader and late-game threat. Other notable 17s: Jason Campbell, Redskins; Jake Delhomme, Panthers

18 – Peyton Manning, Colts – There’s no question here that Manning is by far the best 18 not only at quarterback but at any position in the league. No player is doing more to elevate his team this season than Manning, who is carrying his team to the top of the pack once again.

19 – NONE – No quarterbacks are wearing 19 this year either. Apparently young QBs need to see more Johnny Unitas highlights.

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Fantasy Football Applaud or a Fraud – Week 3

Each week, we dive into the stat sheets to see which weekly performers fantasy owners should applaud and which fantasy owners should write off as frauds. We’ve also included some key injury replacements in this post. You can read past applaud or a fraud analyses in the category listing. And if we’re changing a past recommendation, we’ll include it here as well. On we go…

Quarterbacks

Derek Anderson, Browns – You might have seen that Anderson replaced Brady Quinn via coach’s decision against the Ravens. We want to make sure you also see Anderson’s numbers – 92 yards passing, no touchdowns, three interceptions. At this point, keep each and every Brown as far away from your lineup as you can. Verdict: A fraud

Kyle Boller, Rams – I’ve always had a soft spot for Boller, who seemed to play well every time I saw him in a Ravens uniform. He stepped in for an injured Marc Bulger vs. the Packers and threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns, which aren’t bad numbers. It’s hard to picture a scenario in which Boller is worth starting in your fantasy league, but if Bulger’s shoulder injury is significant, Boller might merit backup-QB consideration in larger leagues (12 teams minimum). Otherwise, just ignore this new starter. Verdict: A fraud

Jason Campbell, Redskins – Campbell had a prototypical garbage-time line against the Lions, throwing for 340 yards and two touchdowns in a failed effort to bring the Redskins back against the Lions. It would be foolish to buy these numbers as something Campbell can do regularly, and that makes this an easy call. Verdict: A fraud

Chad Henne, Dolphins – Henne took over when Chad Pennington had to leave the game with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Now Pennington is out for the year, and that means that Henne isn’t a terrible backup option. He completed 10-of-19 passes for 92 yards with one pick and one sack. Henne won’t put up Kevin Kolb-ish fill-in numbers, but he’s a safe bet to throw for 175 yards or more, probably with a touchdown. So Henne is one of the better options among the fill-in quarterbacks. This is very mild applause, but still… Verdict: Applaud

Josh Johnson, Buccaneers – Johnson took over for Byron Leftwich during the Bucs’ abysmal offensive performance vs. the Giants, and Monday he was named the starter going forward. While Johnson isn’t as slow moving or throwing the ball as Leftwich is, he’s not a long-term answer because first-rounder Josh Freeman is lurking. So note this change – especially if you bought Leftwich’s OK fantasy numbers in blowouts the first two weeks of the season. Then walk away quietly. Verdict: A fraud

Seneca Wallace, Seahawks – Matt Hasselbeck tried to play against the Bears this week, but in the end he couldn’t go with a broken rib. So Seneca Wallace took his place and threw for 261 yards and a touchdown. Wallace started eight games last year and threw for 11 TDs and 1,500 yards, so he can be productive. If he plays next week against the Colts – which is not a sure thing, given how close Hasselbeck was to playing Sunday – Wallace has fantasy value, if for no other reason than the fact that the Seahawks will likely find themselves behind on the scoreboard. Verdict: Applaud

Running backs

Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants – Bradshaw, the Giants’ change-of-pace to bruiser Brandon Jacobs, had a big game against the Buccaneers with 104 yards on 14 carries. We’ll use his century mark to remind you that Bradshaw is a flex option in most yardage leagues most weeks, unless the Giants are playing a big-time defense. He’s a nice guy to have as an option. Verdict: Applaud

Glen Coffee, 49ers – Coffee, a rookie out of Alabama, really hasn’t gotten untracked yet this season, and he averaged less than 3 yards per carry in his 54-yard day taking over for Frank Gore against the Vikings. But with Gore likely to miss two games or more, Coffee is a legitimate starting running back who’s worth a pickup in your league and maybe even a start against the Rams next week depending on your other options. In fact, both his Week 4 matchup against the Rams and his Week 5 game against the Falcons are favorable. Grab Coffee if he’s available, and don’t rule him out of your lineup without some consideration this week. Verdict: Applaud

Jerome Harrison, Browns – With Jamal Lewis inactive, the Browns turned to Harrison instead of rookie James Davis to carry the load. Harrison did post 52 yards, but it took him 16 carries to do so. Our suggestion that you avoid any and all Browns definitely applies here. Verdict: A fraud

Julius Jones, Seahawks – Jones is one of the most overlooked starting running backs in the league, but he has been productive thus far this season. He had 98 rushing yards plus a 39-yard receiving TD this week against Chicago, which makes him worthy of starting in most fantasy leagues. He’s still more of a flex option than a top-2 running back for most teams, but he’s an OK fantasy option. Don’t overlook him completely. Verdict: Applaud

John Kuhn, Packers – A West Coast offense fullback is always a threat to vulture a touchdown away, and Kuhn did it twice this week against St. Louis. (If you had Kuhn and St. Louis’ Daniel Fells as the two-TD producers in that game, you are much better at fantasy football than I am.) Kuhn actually scored five TDs last year, and he will likely approach that number this year. But if he doesn’t score a TD, he has no fantasy value, so we can’t recommend him as a fantasy option, despite his nose for the end zone. Verdict: A fraud

LeSean McCoy, Eagles – The rookie from Pittsburgh got a clear shot at starting for Philly this week with Brian Westbrook inactive, and McCoy responded with 84 yards and a touchdown. When Westbrook is inactive, McCoy is a starting option in all fantasy leagues. But if Westbrook does what he’s done in the past and plays most weeks despite being listed as questionable, McCoy will be a more difficult guy to turn to. Still, McCoy is a necessary insurance policy for Westbrook owners, and he has some fantasy value on his own given Westbrook’s tendency to get dinged. Verdict: Applaud

Wide receivers

Bryant Johnson, Lions – Johnson is kind of a boom or bust player so far this year. He had four catches in the opener, none in Week 2, and then four catches for 73 yards and a score against the Redskins this week. Johnson is a good but not great receiver who has never had fewer than 39 catches in a season over his seven-year career, so we can expect him to put up some numbers. But with the mass of receivers the Lions have to support Calvin Johnson, Bryant will have to beat out Dennis Northcutt to be the No. 2 target. In the end, we expect that mantle to be passed back and forth, which will make it hard to start Bryant Johnson on any particular week. This is a close call, but there are better bench guys for your team. Verdict: A fraud

Pierre Garcon, Colts – Garcon, more than rookie Austin Collie, has stepped up and produced with Anthony Gonzalez injured. He has scored two weeks in a row now, and this week he was a consistent offensive threat with three catches for 64 yards. While Gonzalez is out – which is for several more weeks – Garcon is definitely ownable and even startable if you’re in a bye week pinch. Verdict: Applaud

Santana Moss, Redskins – After two disappointing games to start the season, Moss broke out with a huge game (10 catches for 178 yards and a score) against the Lions. But this production was due to the Redskins’ attempt at a late-game rally. Moss is ownable in most leagues and is a top-35 receiver, but it’s going to be hard to start him most weeks unless you’re missing other options due to bye weeks or injuries. Verdict: A fraud

Greg Lewis, Vikings – You’ll see Lewis all over the TV this week after his game-winning catch against the Vikings. But don’t get carried away and claim him. That 32-yard touchdown was Lewis’ only TD of the game, and he was only in the game because (according to Peter King) Percy Harvin had run seven straight go patterns and needed a breather. Harvin, Sidney Rice, and Bernard Berrian are still above Lewis on the Vikings’ receiver depth chart. Great catch, but Lewis has no fantasy value right now. Verdict: A fraud

Mike Wallace, Steelers – There isn’t a rookie receiver who’s having a better year than Wallace, a third-round pick who has emerged ahead of Limas Sweed as Pittsburgh’s No. 3 receiver. Wallace had a big game against the Bengals with seven catches for 102 yards, and he seems to be stepping into the role Nate Washington had with the team last year. Washington averaged 34 catches for 535 yards and four TDs the past three years with Pittsburgh, and those are reasonable targets for Wallace this year. That makes Wallace a top-50 fantasy receiver who’s worth having on your bench, especially as bye weeks force you to look deeper for roster help. Verdict: Applaud

Kevin Walter, Texans – Walter missed the first two games of the season with a hamstring injury, which may have causd some owners to forget about him or even to waive him. But in his first game back, Walter reminded everyone of his important role in a potent Texans’ offense with seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. He’s a starting-caliber receiver in all fantasy leagues now that he’s back on the field. Verdict: Applaud

Kelley Washington, Ravens – Washington, who showed some potential as a receiver with the Bengals five years ago, had become a special-teams specialist in recent years, but he’s getting the chance to catch the ball with Baltimore this year and making the most of it. He has at least three catches for at least 43 yards in each game this season, including a five-catch, 66-yard performance this week against Cleveland. He also has one touchdown. As Joe Flacco grows as a passer, he’s going to need to find depth at wide receiver, and Washington is providing it. Washington is still way under the radar, but he’s worth a pickup in deep leagues (12 teams or more) and worth watching in other leagues right now. Verdict: Applaud

Tight ends

Vernon Davis, 49ers – Davis, who was once a top-10 pick in the NFL draft, finally seems to be getting it under new 49ers head coach Mike Singletary. He also has a good connection with QB Shaun Hill. The results Sunday were a huge game – seven catches for 96 yards with two TDs. This might be the year that Davis finally emerges as a big-time receiving threat at tight end. At the least, he’s a top-12 fantasy tight end going forward. If he’s on the waiver wire in your league, he shouldn’t be after this week. Grab him as a bye-week fill-in or even as a starter if your TE option isn’t great. Verdict: Applaud

Daniel Fells, Rams – Honesty time: I had never heard of Fells before his name popped up in the box score this week. Turns out, he’s an H-back who has been in the league for three years and has 10 career catches. Both of his TDs this week against Green Bay came on the same play call, and you have to believe that won’t happen again. Good for Fells for scoring twice, but it ain’t gonna happen again. Verdict: A fraud

Kickers

Olindo Mare, Seahawks – We don’t normally list kickers here, but we wanted to note that Mare missed 43- and 34-yard tries against the Bears this week and was called out publicly by coach Jim Mora. It would not be a shock if Mare were cut this week and replaced by Brandon Coutu, who has been with Seattle the last two preseasons, or another free agent. Verdict: A fraud

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FR: Quarterback battles

Training camp is still two months away, but some quarterback battles are starting to crystalize across the NFL. We expected some of these battles to take place; others are surprise appearances. But there are enough of them that we thought it would be interesting to compare these battles using football relativity. Here’s how it will work: 10 is the battle most likely to impact a team’s fate, and 1 is a battle least likely to matter. This rating includes the quality of the players in the battle as well as how long the battle will go on.

For more on these (and other) quarterbacks as individuals, check out this post on the top signal callers for 2009 and beyond. And this site of NFL depth charts has become a resource that I’ve gone back to several times now, and so I thought it was worth a link.

10 – Vikings (combatants: Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels and potentially Brett Favre) – Jackson and Rosenfels both have talent, and they both have moments in which they look like they should be NFL starters. Rosenfels is a long-time backup who has 12 career starts in eight years and a career passer rating of 81.5, which is slightly above average. But Rosenfels also seems to make the killer mistake at the killer time way too often. Jackson was demoted at the beginning of last season, only to reclaim the starting job when Gus Frerotte was hurt, and at the end of the season Jackson played really well. His passer rating for the season was 95.4, which is a standout mark. But Jackson’s tendency to make a killer mistake showed up in the playoffs, when his pick-6 ultimately cost the Vikings the wild-card game against Philly. If either Rosenfels or Jackson put it together and played consistently, the Vikings’ championship chances would rise, because the rest of the team is contender-caliber. But the question is whether either guy can be consistent, and whether Brad Childress and company will stick with the guy they pick. Plus, the specter of Brett Favre looms over the situation, but would that even be an improvement?

9 – none

8 – Jets (combatants: Kellen Clemens and Mark Sanchez) – Clemens, a former second-round pick, has only gotten one extended chance to start (half a season in ’07), but he’s the veteran hand who has the reins to begin. That means that Sanchez, who didn’t have that many starts at USC, has a real shot to be the opening day starter. I believed in Sanchez over Matthew Stafford at draft time, but even a Sanchez-phile like me isn’t sure about the wisdom of starting him from Day One. I like Sanchez’s attitude and confidence, but that could be shaken if he performs poorly, especially in the media jungle of New York. The Jets could have used a Byron Leftwich type of guy as a bridge, but they didn’t get one in the offseason. So while there’s a ton of upside potential here, there’s lots of downside potential as well. It’ll be interesting to see whether Sanchez can show enough to demonstrate that he’s ready to go when the season opens, especially with a team that looks to repeat on last year’s winning record.

7 – Browns (combatants: Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and Brett Ratliff) – Everyone will have an eye on this battle through training camp because of Quinn’s golden boy status and Anderson’s one shining year in ’07. Anderson isn’t consistent, but he has a big arm and can get hot enough to throw with the best of them. Quinn doesn’t throw as powerfully, but he’s more consistent and more suited to a timing offense. It seems like the new Browns coaching regime under Eric Mangini would favor Quinn, who would be a bit easier to build a run-first offense around, but that’s merely a guess. A small part of me is afraid that Mangini is silly enough to give Brett Ratliff, the former Jets’ No. 3 QB who came over in the Mark Sanchez draft day trade, a shot. Ratliff played well in the preseason last year, but preseason QB phenoms who can’t play when the real games start are far too common to count on Ratliff. But Mangini appears to have a man crush on Ratliff, and that’s worrisome when figuring out whether Anderson or Quinn has the edge.

6 – Broncos (combatants: Kyle Orton and Chris Simms) – It’s quite a fall for Denver from Jay Cutler, a Pro Bowl level talent, and two workmanlike journeymen like Orton and Simms. Simms, like Leftwich, gets a lot of attention as a prospect, but he hasn’t played significant snaps since 2006, and he didn’t get a lot of attention in free agency. He’s probably good enough to be OK, but he’s not a winning quarterback unless there’s a really good team around him. (And there’s not in Denver, at least not at this point.) Orton has a similarly strange career path – he started 15 games as a rookie in ’06, then sat behind Rex Grossman for two years before becoming a starter again last year. He played OK in Chicago, and he has actually shown more upside than Simms, but Orton isn’t going to scare anyone. He’s good enough to be an average NFL starter, and he’ll have a few moments where he looks better than that, but Orton isn’t a guy you can build a team around – no matter what Josh McDaniels thinks.

5 – Buccaneers (combatants: Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown, Josh Freeman) – At one point this offseason, McCown was resigned and told he would have a chance to win the starting job in Tampa Bay, and even after Leftwich came on board and Freeman was selected, McCown still asserted the job was his to lose. We still figure that McCown will lose it, most likely to Leftwich, who looked impressive as a Steelers backup last year. But remember that Leftwich looked pretty rotten the two previous years in Jacksonville and Atlanta. He’s good enough to challenge McCown, and probably best him in ’09, but he’s not a long-term solution, no matter how personable he is. Freeman doesn’t really figure into the competition this year, but he is the QB of the future. The question is how soon that future will come – late in 2009, 2010, or even later. The Bucs look like they’ll take a step back before taking a step forward, and it’s possible that Leftwich is good enough to keep them competitive and around .500. But it’s also easy to see Tampa slipping to 6-10 or even worse.

4 –  Raiders (combatants: JaMarcus Russell and Jeff Garcia) – Russell, a former No. 1 overall pick, started a full season last year, and while his touchdown-to-interception ratio was OK at 13 to 8, his completion percentage of 53.8 didn’t cut the mustard. He’s still the future in Oakland, but the Raiders added Jeff Garcia as a backup. That’s where the dysfunction begins. Garcia is still a solid performer who can lead a team and move it downfield, and performance-wise he’s a really good backup quarterback. But he doesn’t have the personality of a backup. It’s not that he will try to undercut Russell, but Garcia won’t be the supportive caddy. Instead, he’s going to try to beat Russell out, whether that’s the best thing for the future of the organization or not. And it’s not the best thing for Garcia to beat out Russell. The Raiders need Russell to be the answer if they are to build a foundation, but the 39-year-old Garcia doesn’t care. He just wants to start as many games as he can before his career is over. And that mindset could lead to a lot of tension in Oakland going into Game One – especially if Russell struggles in the preseason.

3 – 49ers (combatants: Shaun Hill and Alex Smith) – The expectations on Hill, a former undrafted free agent, and Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick, couldn’t be more divergent. But it’s Hill who has the leg up on the job in San Fran going into the season. Hill spent five full seasons in the league before he threw his first pass, but he played well at the end of the ’07 season, and when he became the starter in ’08 he continued to perform. In the 12 games he’s played over the last two seasons, Hill has completed 64 percent of his passes and has 18 touchdowns versus just 9 interceptions. His career passer rating of 90.5 makes you take notice. Smith, on the other hand, has just one halfway decent season out of the three that he played, and he missed all of last season due to injury. He would have been cut by the 49ers in the offseason had he not taken a big pay cut. Hill is more consistent in the short passing game, and he can run an offense effectively. But he’s not the kind of quarterback who can shoulder the burden of carrying a team to the win. Smith has the talent but hasn’t put it together in the four different systems the Niners have used since he was drafted. So while Hill has a clear leg up in this competition, Smith should still be more than an afterthought. He still has enough talent that he could take advantage of a chance to play. That’s no certainty, but it should be a consideration.

2 – Lions (combatants: Daunte Culpepper, Matthew Stafford and Drew Stanton) – This isn’t a battle as much as it is a test of Stafford’s readiness. Stafford will be the guy in Detroit when he’s ready, but even though he was a 2 1/2-year starter in the SEC, most draft analysts didn’t think Stafford would be ready right away. Until the Lions want to throw him in there, it appears that Culpepper will be the caretaker. It’s a strange role for a guy who was briefly one of the top 5 QBs in the game (circa 2004), but injuries have robbed Culpepper of most of his elite skills. Although Culpepper is in better shape than he was after signing midseason in Detroit, it would be foolish to expect great play out of him. The Lions can only hope that Culpepper doesn’t kill them until Stafford gets in there. And don’t expect a Joe Flacco type of situation here; Drew Stanton, a former second-round pick, might get the nod instead of Stafford were Culpepper to get hurt before opening day.

1 – Rams (combatants: Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller) – This isn’t a battle most people are expecting, but I’m forecasting that at some point the heat is on Bulger big time. That point could even come in the preseason. Bulger has a good reputation, but the last 2 years his passer ratings have been 70.4 and 71.3. Those numbers aren’t good, and with a new coaching staff who has no loyalty to Bulger (despite his bloated contract), a change is possible. I’ve always had a predisposition to like Boller – maybe because I saw both of his really good games – but he has talent, and if he puts it together he could well be a better option than Bulger. So keep an eye on St. Louis to see if a battle develops under the arch under center.

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