Other Positions: Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End
Five rookie quarterbacks started at least one game in 2011; two (Andy Dalton and T.J. Yates) directed their teams into the playoffs but only Cam Newton had a fantasy impact—though it was quite an impact, indeed. Newton ranked among the top four fantasy quarterbacks, not shabby considering three players broke Dan Marino’s single-season yardage record. The remainder of the class, however, failed to reach fantasy starter status; Andy Dalton led the second tier, ranking 16th in total fantasy points and 21st in fantasy points per game.
On the bright side, the 61 cumulative starts by rookie QBs last season—combined with the talent at the top of the class of 2012—suggests the days of waiting for rookie quarterbacks to make a fantasy splash are waning. Here’s a rundown of what fantasy owners can expect from this year’s crop of rookie signal callers.
THE ONE-TWO PUNCH
What’s not to like about Andrew Luck? Everything you could ask for in an NFL quarterback, Luck has it: prototypical size, arm strength, athleticism, intelligence, intangibles, even pedigree (his dad was an NFL quarterback, too). Luck played in a pro-style offense at Stanford, took most of his snaps under center, read defenses and called his own plays, elevated the Cardinal program to national championship contenders… there’s a reason he’s considered the best QB prospect since John Elway. While the most common comparison is Peyton Manning, Luck’s display of athleticism at the Combine shows he offers much more than his Indianapolis predecessor in that area. And now that Peyton’s officially an ex-Colt, Luck will be starting from Day One. What his supporting cast will consist of will go a long way towards determining if he can be a Cam Newton-like factor as a rookie.
Don’t write off 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III as just another fantastic athlete who happens to play quarterback; there’s significantly more to his game. Check out the completion percentages, passer ratings, and TD-to-INT ratios that accompany his world-class speed and you think, “an accurate Michael Vick.” He still has some work to do with regards to reading defenses and making it through his progressions, and he didn’t do much of his own play-calling in college. However, his intangibles, leadership and work ethic are off the charts and he proved to be a clutch playmaker. Young quarterbacks tend to run when pressured as they develop their pocket presence, which could prove to be a boon for his rushing numbers. He’s not as big as Cam Newton, so there could be injury concerns a la Vick, but Griffin is also ahead of the Vick/Newton curve when it comes to the passing portion of his game. Ultimately, how quickly he makes a fantasy impact will depend on his supporting cast.
THE NEXT TIER
Not many NFL quarterback prospects come out of college with 112 receptions for 1,587 yards and 10 touchdowns, but Ryan Tannehill opened his A&M career as a wide receiver—actually leading the Aggies in receiving his freshman and sophomore seasons. That’s good for his athleticism, but bad for his development as a quarterback as Tannehill has just 19 starts at the position. And yet it may be that moldability that makes Tannehill so attractive, with teams as high up the board as the Redskins at six potentially interested. There’s the obvious athleticism, of course, plus a very good arm and all the necessary QB intangibles. Teams will have questions, however: about the foot injury that kept Tannehill out of the Combine, and about the Aggies’ four second-half collapses on his watch. The best situation for Tannehill would be to sit for a year or two behind an established starter, so don’t look to him for immediate fantasy help—even if he does get overdrafted this April.
Brandon Weeden has NFL size, an NFL arm, plenty of poise, a track record of productivity… and all anyone wants to talk about is his age. As a pitcher in the Yankees’ farm system Weeden delayed his college football career and as such will enter the professional ranks at age 28; by comparison Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will both be 22 when the NFL season starts. That has invited some comparisons to former Panther Chris Weinke, who followed a similar baseball/football path and was a fourth-round pick coming out of Florida State—though Weeden is expected to go a round or two earlier. Weeden’s baseball career ended prematurely due to a torn labrum and tendinitis in his rotator cuff; he opted to not have surgery and instead returned to the football field. While teams will definitely check him out medically, there’s no reason to question his toughness: he played almost the entire 2010 season with a ruptured tendon in his throwing thumb and still put up some very nice numbers. A pair of picks in the Senior Bowl dampened a strong practice week and also highlights one of the non-age critiques of his game: he occasionally tries to fit throws into windows that just aren’t practical or even possible. Weeden also worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun in college, so despite his age there will be a learning curve. However, at least some scouts view Weeden as an immediate NFL starter; one comparison credited him with Andy Dalton’s decision-making skills and a stronger arm. And as the NFLN coverage pointed out during the Combine, Kurt Warner didn’t make an NFL roster until he was 27.
The draft stock of Kirk Cousins has been on the rise since interviewing well at the Combine. Hey, what coach isn’t going to like a three-year captain with 39 starts and a career completion percentage in the mid-60s? Cousins has decent size and showed up in Indy a few pounds heavier than his playing weight, plus he has experience in a pro-style offense at Michigan State. An average-at-best arm likely has him ticketed for a West Coast system, and while he isn’t likely to be drafted as a starter his intangibles should earn him a spot as a clipboard-holder with developmental upside.
BE VERY AFRAID
Brock Osweiler was a bit of a surprise early entrant into the 2012 draft with just one year of starts under his belt, but his size and cannon arm will intrigue coaches who believe they can mold him into an NFL QB. He was athletic enough to initially commit to Gonzaga for hoops before switching to Arizona State, where he intended to play both sports but stuck with football after getting one start as a freshman. Osweiler’s big numbers came in a spread offense, so he’ll have plenty of developing to do, but all indications are he has the work ethic to do so. The most prevalent NFL comparison is Matt Schaub, another tall quarterback who took a while to make his NFL mark. Don’t expect much from Osweiler in redraft leagues, but if you’re in a large dynasty league he could be worth a stash.
TAKE A CHANCE ON...
There’s plenty to like about NCAA passing efficiency leader Russell Wilson; unfortunately, there’s only five feet, ten inches of him, and that’s a sticking point for many NFL teams. Almost every scouting report on Wilson includes a line to the effect that if only he were six-foot-two he’d be a potential first-round pick. Unfortunately for Wilson he’s not, and his diminutive stature will push him back to the third day of the draft. Aside from that he has all the necessary ingredients: athleticism, accuracy, vision, decision-making, experience under center. He picked up the Wisconsin offense quickly after transferring from North Carolina State and should be able to do the same in the NFL. The league’s “you must be this tall to play quarterback” policy might keep him from being a team’s first choice, but he’s bound to stick on a roster and could easily take an opportunity and run with it.
WHO NEEDS ONE?
There isn’t as great a need for quarterbacks as there was last season, but the availability of two elite options at the top of the draft will intensify for the bidding for their services. With Peyton Manning now a free agent it would be a major upset if Luck doesn’t begin his NFL career in Indianapolis as the Day One starter. The Rams believe they have their franchise QB already in Sam Bradford and are fielding offers from Cleveland, Miami, and Washington for Griffin at No. 2. That field may be thinned before draft day by free agency; whichever team doesn’t end up with Manning or Matt Flynn will have to meet the Rams’ price. Seattle could also enter into the bidding, though the belief is that Pete Carroll would prefer a reunion with USC’s Matt Barkley in 2013. Arizona, Denver, and San Francisco are more set at the quarterback position but would definitely entertain adding a developmental quarterback with the upside to replace—sooner rather than later—their existing shaky options.