You're an old-school owner like me. You like to stock up on your backs and receivers early. Sweat is beating off your brow, the beer can't save you. You just missed out on the run of second-tier signal-callers, and you're panicking. Or maybe you play in a 16-team league, or one that allows for two quarterbacks in the starting lineup. In today's column, I'll give you four players to consider that may surprise in 2011, and could help alleviate some of the stress caused by such predicaments.
By no means am I suggesting you should head to the table with this as your strategy. The evolution of the NFL into a spread out, hurry-up, pass-happy game, combined with the rampantly spreading trend of running back committees has vaulted quarterbacks to the top of fantasy leaderboards. That's not to say they're more valuable, necessarily, but it's hard to win a title without a top-tier passer. Sometimes, however, life doesn't go as planned, and you need to adapt. Missed out on Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady? The sun will rise in the morning. Leave the draft with Jay Cutler or Matt Cassel as your QB1? I'm sure the earth will still be here, but rain is in the forecast, and I pray for the safety of your loved ones. Grab one of these guys instead, you'll be glad you did.
(Vast Improvement Projected)
I'm not alone in my recommendation of Stafford. And yes, this could all come crashing down with one awkward 300-pound flattening. Call me an optimist. His injuries were of the flukey variety, and the kid's got talent. If you extrapolate the numbers from his two healthy games last year to a 16 game season, you get totals of 3,616 yards, 48 touchdowns and eight interceptions. I understand it's a silly exercise, and the touchdown total is ridiculous, padded by a monster outing courtesy of the league's second-worst pass defense in Washington, but the other game was against the highly respected Jets. Even cutting the touchdowns in half represents a nice season. His preseason success, plethora of talented weapons, and certain opportunity to produce (Detroit was third in pass attempts in 2010) make me a believer.
Bradford burst onto the scene in 2010 with the best rookie year since Peyton Manning joined the league in 1998. Much like Stafford, Bradford plays for a team with a penchant for throwing the ball. Last season he finished behind only Manning and Drew Brees in attempts. And that was before Josh McDaniels came to town. It'll be hard to increase on his opportunities, but McDaniels should help Bradford become more efficient. Despite the volume of passing activity, the Rams finished 25th in the league in touchdowns, and 24th in quarterback rating. In his three years calling plays for Brady, McDaniels orchestrated the Patriots to an average finish of fourth in both categories. The averages in his three years doing the same for Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton, were 15th and 12th. I'd place Bradford's skill level somewhere between the sets of quarterbacks, and I'd expect his 2011 ranks to finish in a similar locale.
Sanchez is better known for his questionable magazine spreads (GQ.com) than his spread offense, but that could change this year. Rex Ryan likes to employ a "ground and pound" offense, but I'm not sure his roster is composed to reach its potential in that manner. With the additions of Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason to holdovers Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller, Sanchez has four high caliber targets to exploit. Six, if you add LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield and the shifty Jeremy Kerley. The run game has been less than impressive in the preseason, to be kind, and Ryan would be stupid not to take advantage of all his weapons. The brazen coach is many things, I would not count unintelligent among them. If Sanchez can reproduce his rates of improvement from year one to year two in his third go-round, his totals would be 4,157 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. To top things off, he's punched in three scores on the ground in his each of his first two seasons. While probably not a likely scenario, there's evidence to support it.
There's a lot to like about this guy. First off, he was pretty darned good last year. If you merely calculate out his per game averages from 2010 to a full season, he'd finish with 3.692 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 330 rushing yards, which would place him fourth behind only Michael Vick, Josh Freeman and Rodgers on the ground. If you assume a 20|PERCENT| improvement in picks, which I'm sure the Harvard grad can manage in his second year starting under head coach Chan Gailey, he'd end up with 14. Pretty good numbers from a 14th round pick in a 12-team league.
The inclusion of Newton here comes with a large caveat. I'm only suggesting you draft him if you end up with Sanchez or Fitzpatrick. While I like both guys, there's an element of their situation that's out of their control, the elements. They both play in New York. I don't care how good you are, you aren't going to be winging it around through the air in the cold, wind, and snow in December. You have to plan for the drop-off. I'm not sure about Newton's passing abilities, but there's one thing I've noticed from his preseason action; even NFL-sized players want nothing to do with tackling him when he has his shoulders square. Carolina's December matchups are all in warm weather; Tampa Bay (home and away), home versus Atlanta, and at Houston. Hardly the '85 Bears defenses.
Happy Labor Day! Happy drafting! Be safe, and be smart.