The 2013 draft class of quarterbacks not only pales in comparison to last season’s studs, it also looks to be devoid of an immediate impact starter. That left the spate of QB-needy teams to comb through each other’s leftovers this offseason in hopes of finding a solution at the most important position in sports. Is there a potential Matt Schaub in the bunch, or is it just another crop of Scott Mitchells?
Alex Smith, Chiefs
The Chiefs kick-started the offseason quarterback carousel when they determined Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, and no one else in this year’s crop of quarterbacks warranted their first overall pick. So new coach Andy Reid sent KC’s second-round selection to the 49ers for Smith, a former first overall selection who had been usurped by Colin Kaepernick on the depth chart.
Reid has tracked Smith’s career since his Utah days, when Reid’s college teammate Kyle Whittingham was coaching for the Utes. Reid also saw Smith a half-dozen times in the NFL and was impressed enough to tell the National Football Post, “If given the chance, I wanted him on my team.”
Reid now has that chance, but it may be a bit of an adjustment for Smith. While Reid’s teams have thrown the ball at least 542 times each of the past nine seasons, Smith has never thrown more than 445 passes in a season. Smith also has just one career season of more than 3,000 passing yards; Reid’s teams have topped 4,000 yards each of the past seven seasons.
How will Smith hold up to the newfound volume? His completion percentage was trending up each of his last two years in San Francisco, including an impressive 70.2% last year before injury and Colin Kaepernick relegated him to clipboard duty. He also has some mobility—not Michael Vick mobility, but 765 career rushing yards suggest Smith can handle himself on a rollout.
Bottom line, Andy Reid’s quarterbacks have produced an average of 20 fantasy points per game for each of the past nine seasons. So the move to KC presents a volume opportunity for Smith, with proven weapons like Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe at his disposal. The upside isn’t necessarily an elite fantasy producer, but past numbers suggest Smith can be a steady contributor in most fantasy leagues.
Carson Palmer, Cardinals
Carson Palmer is one of only six quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards with two different teams—and he’s the only player who subsequently pouted his way out of both situations. Palmer was unwilling to rework his $13 million contract for an opportunity to fend off Terrelle Pryor for the starting job, so the Raiders traded Palmer to the Cardinals for a pair of draft picks.
Palmer comes off a 22-touchdown, 4,018-yard season in 2012, numbers that made him a fringe starter in typical fantasy leagues. More importantly, he posted yards-per-attempt numbers (a career-best 8.4 ypa in 2011, 7.1 ypa in 2012) in Oakland that suggest concerns about his arm strength (or lack thereof) are unfounded. And now he’ll be playing for new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, a highly-regarded play caller who freely admits to including at least a half-dozen big plays in each week’s game plan.
Running Arian’s offense in Indianapolis last season, Andrew Luck averaged 7.0 yards per attempt and 12.9 yards per completion—fourth among NFL regulars. Now Arians transplants that offense to the desert, where like in Indy he has a reliable veteran receiver (Larry Fitzgerald) and developing young targets (Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts). For Palmer those targets represent a step up; last year the Raiders ranked fifth in dropped passes (6.04%), compared to the more sure-handed Cardinals letting just 4.27% of catchable balls slip through their fingers.
Even if his best years are behind him, Palmer projects to be a significant upgrade over the quarterbacking Arizona has cobbled together since Kurt Warner retired. With an uninhibited offensive coach and his most dynamic receiver tandem since the glory days of Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens, Palmer could become the first NFL quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards with three different teams—and become a fantasy factor once again in the process.
Matt Flynn, Raiders
Remember when the Packers were thinking about franchising Matt Flynn in hopes of reaping a Matt Cassel-like bounty in a trade? The luster wore off quickly, as Flynn ultimately signed a low-end free agent deal with Seattle and wound up warming the bench behind rookie Russell Wilson. Suddenly flush with quarterbacks, the Seahawks moved Flynn down the coast to Oakland for a pair of future late-round draft picks.
Flynn takes over a Raiders team still searching for itself offensively. Oakland returns to a power running attack after a failed attempt at zone blocking under Gregg Knapp last year, while the passing game remains true to Al Davis’ vertical principles. That’s not necessarily a good fit for Flynn, whose success in Green Bay came in a West Coast system. He’ll also be throwing to an unproven receiving corps, one that dropped more passes than all but four other teams a year ago.
Flynn’s ultimate free agency value in 2011 and trade value this offseason suggest the rest of the league took notice that his two gaudy starts—251 yards, 3 TDs against the Patriots in 2010, 480 and 6 against Detroit in 2011—came against pass defenses that ranked comfortably within the bottom 10 in the league. Fantasy owners should take similar note, as nothing in Flynn’s new team, scheme, or game to suggest he can be banked on for favorable fantasy numbers.
Kevin Kolb, Bills
The Ryan Fitzpatrick era ended unceremoniously in Buffalo, and for the moment Kevin Kolb appears set to be his replacement. While the Bills have indicated Kolb will be given the opportunity to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job, the incentive-laden contract he signed suggests Buffalo is hedging its bets and will draft a quarterback within the first three rounds of the upcoming draft.
The Bills have weapons in Stevie Johnson and C.J. Spiller as well as a new coach in Doug Marrone who demonstrated at the college level the ability to adapt his scheme to fit existing personnel. But it’s still a rookie coach and play-caller, coupled with a quarterback who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in two previous NFL stops. Fitzpatrick was a spot fantasy starter in Buffalo; assuming he can hold off Jackson and a rookie challenger, that appears to be Kolb’s upside in his new digs as well.
Backups of note
Jason Campbell will push Brandon Weeden in Cleveland, where Rob Chudzinski hopes to lean on Josh Gordon and Trent Richardson to kick-start the Browns’ offense... David Garrard stands behind Mark Sanchez on the Jets’ depth chart; if healthy he’s proven to be a capable fantasy spot starter when given the chance, and Sanchez’s hold on the starting job has been anything but secure in New York… Dennis Dixon will train Michael Vick in the nuances of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia and could be an intriguing fantasy play if—when—Vick goes down with an injury… Speaking of injuries, Bruce Gradkowski is now oft-injured Steeler Ben Roethlisberger’s backup, a role that has lent itself to the occasional fantasy play, and Ryan Fitzpatrick would step in if Jake Locker find himself unable to stay healthy once again… Matt Cassel and Chase Daniel provide insurance for not-quite-proven starters Christian Ponder in Minnesota and Alex Smith in Kansas City, respectively… In a similar vein, Drew Stanton (Arizona), Josh Johnson (Cincinnati), and Brady Quinn (Seattle) are backup plans only… Finally, if Matt Hasselbeck (Indianapolis), Luke McCown (New Orleans), and Colt McCoy(San Francisco) are pressed into action, both their NFL teams and those fantasy clubs relying on Colts, Saints, and 49ers are in deep trouble.