Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle --
One of the quarterbacks many believe to merit the most
attention is Denver's Jake Plummer, but
that's the very reason I don't consider Plummer a sleeper.
Hasselbeck, on the other hand, may come in under a lot
of people's radar. He started performing quite well down
the stretch last season, and it appears he finally has
a firm grasp of Mike Holmgren's offense. Remember that
Brett Favre took some time to adjust to Holmgren at Green
Bay, but has since had himself a pretty good career.
Hasselbeck isn't the athlete Favre is, but he could do
in this system with two potential star wideouts in Koren
Robinson and Darrell Jackson.
Jeff Blake, Arizona -- This is a guy who hasn't
received the respect I believe he's earned. He's a productive,
QB. Yes, he's changed teams a lot. But he ends up starting
for those teams, doesn't he? By sleeper, I'm talking 20
TDs and 240 yards/game -- solid numbers -- mainly because
the Cardinals figure to be playing catch-up frequently.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle -- Normally taken at the
end of the starters for fantasy QBs. Hasselbeck is poised
his high octane end of 2002. It was not a fluke, not when
he was the most productive passer over the last half of
the season. While Hasselbeck stumbled in his first season
with the Seahawks, he caught fire during the last six games
of 2003, averaging 343 yards and scoring a total of 12
touchdowns during that time. There is good reason to expect
more of the same – the Seahawk offense has a good
rushing game in Shaun Alexander and two young, productive
receivers in Darrell Jackson and Koren Robinson who broke
out last year in only his second season. Couple that with
a schedule facing NO, ARZ (2), STL (2), SF (2), CHI, CIN,
WAS, DET, MIN and CLE and he gets almost an every week
soft defense or faces a high-scoring opponent which will
force him to throw.
Jake Plummer, Denver --
Though Plummer is only picked as a backup, his situation
may make him a very attractive
one for a fantasy team. He has already shined in practice
and training camp and was sharp in his limited preseason
showing. The Broncos are excited at the idea of having
a quarterback that can actually run the ball. He has been
working hard to learn the playbook and Mike Shanahan is
convinced that Plummer can deliver the goods. Remember – this
is the same guy that threw 3737 yards in 1998 and tossed
18 touchdowns the past two seasons. He threw 3653 yards
in 2001. This was as a Cardinal, on a team that was considered
so unattractive that the entire passing offense disbanded
in the off-season when all receivers and Plummer went elsewhere.
Maybe it was the players and maybe it was the system. One
look at what the Arizona response was to the loss gives
a good idea. If you have never been burned by Plummer in
the past, you have not been playing fantasy football for
very long. But this season Plummer has a better scheme,
offensive line, coach, rushing game and receivers in the
veterans Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey with Ashley Lelie poised
to breakout. Considering how deeply he is available, he
is a worthwhile grab that is looking better all the time.
Patrick Ramsey, Washington -- I’ve
heard it over and over again this pre-season... No one
year than Washington Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey.
In his second year, he’s not only expected to grasp
Coach Spurrier’s vast and complicated playbook in
its entirety, but he’s been surrounded by a glutton
of stellar free agents, brought in to enable him to succeed.
Trung Candidate will be his release valve coming out of
the backfield. Speedy Laveranues Coles was brought in to
add to an already talented WR corps. Even the offensive
line was bolstered in the off-season. Ramsey has the arm
and intellect to succeed in the NFL. Now, he’s supported
by one of the most talented offensive squads in the league.
He’s either going to crack under the pressure, or
he could end up finishing as a top 10 QB in the league
this year. Grab him as your #2 QB because my money’s
on the latter.
Jon Kitna, Cincinnati -- Another QB I will keep my eye
on in the later rounds is Cincinnati Bengal Jon Kitna.
got a new coach in Marvin Lewis who’s creating a
new and encouraging atmosphere in the Bengal locker room
(you know that the D will be better, too). He’s got
plenty of talent around him, with stud Corey Dillon at
RB, and the young and talented trio of Chad Johnson, Peter
Warrick and Ron Dugans at WR. He’s in the prime of
his career, and he’s also serving as a mentor to
1st overall draft pick and eventual successor, Carson Palmer.
The stars seem aligned for Kitna to enjoy a solid year,
where 22-25 touchdowns are attainable. If he can minimize
his mistakes and turnovers, Kitna’s a sleeper #2
QB choice this year.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle -- At the conclusion of the 2002
season, no QB was hotter then Seattle’s Hasselbeck
who now has the tools and the experience to be elevated
into top tier QB status. Hasselbeck has a stud RB in Shaun
Alexander to balance out the offense, and two quality WRs,
Darrell Jackson and Koren Robinson, to spread the field
and make plays. Add on the fact that Seattle has retooled
their defense and added new Defensive Coordinator Ray Rhodes
to run things, and the result is Seattle not having to
dig out of so many early holes, thus allowing Hasselbeck
to excel. Don’t be the owner who passes up on Hasselbeck,
grab him now, just as he gets ready for a huge year.
Jeff Garcia, San Francisco -- After two solid fantasy
seasons, Jeff Garcia had an off year in 2002. His 21 passing
were 11 fewer than the season before, and his rushing scores
were down as well. Right now, he dealing with a bulging
disk in his back, and losing time in the preseason games.
His stock is falling fast. But he remains a talent on a
talented team, and his lowered status means you can get
him for a great value. He is being selected in rounds 5-8
in drafts recently, which allows an owner to go for running
backs and wideouts first. Garcia still has Terrell Owens,
and both Tai Streets and Eric Johnson are rapidly improving.
Kurt Warner, St. Louis -- Don’t shelve Warner entirely.
Everybody knows about Kurt, but like Jeff Garcia he can
appreciate in value. As long as Orlando Pace gets to the
team before the season starts, the offense is going to
produce points. Marshall Faulk has been working out harder
than ever before, and should take pressure off Warner this
year. Kevin Curtis or Shaun McDonald will join Torry Holt
and Isaac Bruce in the team’s three-receiver sets
to help move the chains. Kurt is hungry to prove himself
again after an injury-plagued season. He knows he is surrounded
by the talent to get back to the big game, and could help
your fantasy team to your big game this season when you
take him in the fifth round or beyond.
Kerry Collins, New York Giants --
While the New York Giant offense doesn’t possess
all the vim and vigor of a powerhouse like the St. Louis
Rams, they have a group of talented players who know how
to put points on the board. The team averaged 31 points
in the final six games of 2003, including a 39-point performance
in the first round of the playoffs. In that same span,
Collins racked up 13 touchdowns, including two 4-touchdown
games. In Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard,
Collins has a formidable receiving corps. But it is the
frequent dink and dunk passes to Tiki Barber and the recently
acquired Dorsey Levens that solidify his status as a sleeper.
Tommy Maddox, Pittsburgh --
In Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward, Maddox arguably has
the best tandem of receivers in the league at his disposal.
Because the Steelers did nothing to address their running
game, which features the aging Jerome Bettis, I expect
the team to continue to rely on the passing attack. Look
for Maddox to finish with 25-30 TDs.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle --
Go figure. Hasselbeck struggled for three years to learn
the West Coast offense in Seattle and Green Bay. He loses
his starting job to Trent Dilfer only to get it back
when the veteran blew out his Achilles tendon. And suddenly,
the light went on. Hasselbeck “got” the offense
and the young quarterback knew where he was supposed
to go with the ball. Over the final six games of the
season the now Zen–like Hasselbeck threw for 2,062
yards and 12 touchdowns.
This season, there’s no quarterback controversy
in Seattle, it’s Hasselbeck’s job free and
clear. It’s just a matter of spending August getting
his timing down with the talent around him. Not may quarterbacks
have the luxury of being able to hand the ball off to RB
Shaun Alexander or pitch it to two of the top, young receivers
in the league (Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson). Not
many quarterbacks have Pro Bowl LT Walter Jones as a body
Tom Brady, New England --
Quick trivia question: which Quarterback threw the most
touchdown passes during the 2002 regular season? Was
it Rich Gannon, Michael Vick, Brett Favre or Payton Manning?
Nope, none of the above. Tom Brady led the league with
28 touchdown passes last season. He was also one of three
quarterbacks with more than 600 attempts last year. If
his squad hadn’t been beaten to a pulp and could
run the ball just a little over the last five games of
the season, Brady would have finished 2002 as the league
leader in passing yards and touchdowns. And yet, he probably
isn’t among the top 12 quarterbacks on most draft
To reach that level, a couple of things need to happen.
1) The Patriots’ offensive line must avoid injuries
(this is not a strong unit and they need every one in the
line-up just to break even); 2) Either WR Deion Branch
or TE Daniel Graham must have a break-out year; 3) New
England’s running game must be better than dismal.
If the team can just do one of these three things, Brady
will be a huge fantasy sleeper this season.
Jake Plummer, Denver --
Jake "The Snake" has played for a perennial loser his entire
NFL career and he's thrown as many or more interceptions
than touchdowns in five of his six seasons. So why not
him as an
afterthought this fantasy season? Well, Plummer has
never played on a team with offensive weapons
at Denver's level and he's never played in an offensive
system as finely tuned and well suited to his game than
Denver's. Ex-Bronco Brian Griese struggled in this offense,
but lets not forget he's about as mobile as his father's
bust in Canton. That won't be a problem for Plummer, as
the Broncos are already raving about his mobility.
If Plummer can break the Arizona created mind
set that he has to
talented Bronco offense against one of the most favorable
quarterback ease of schedules this
season. If you find yourself in the 8th or 9th round
of your draft
backup quarterback that could outshine your average starter,
Plummer is your man.
Brad Johnson, Tampa Bay --
Johnson is entering his second year in the Gruden offensive
system and is already showing signs of improved understanding.
Johnson is knocked for his lack of mobility and arm strength,
but those are two qualities that are not a priority in
the Bucs system. The offense is very horizontal and Johnson's
accuracy and ability to quickly scan the field and go through
his passing progression make it difficult for defenses
to . Look for Gruden to produce a more potent running game
season which will help open up the down field passing game
If Johnson played all 16 games last year he would have
had a 3700 yard, 27 touchdown season. If he can match
or beat those numbers, which I feel he will, he'll be a
steal in the 8th, 9th or even 10th round in your draft.
Jake Plummer, Denver -- Broncos coach Mike
Shanahan's track record with running backs is awesome,
but not as
with QBs. I mean, shouldn't Brian Griese still be
here if the Broncos' system was that conducive to offensive
production? I can't see how Shanahan can teach Plummer
to make better decisions, or wait a split-second
in the pocket. Sure, he might do OK... probably put
up better numbers than he ever did at Arizona. But if
you're expecting Plummer to magically emerge as an elite
you're likely to be disappointed.
Drew Bledsoe, Buffalo -- Bledsoe started out last year
on a blistering pace and led the league for most of the
as Eric Moulds and Peerless Price combined for the hottest
receiving duo in the NFL. It was not to last. In his final
six games, Bledsoe only had 1332 yards and six touchdowns.
After his blistering start, he had only two of his final
ten games with multiple touchdowns. In his final three
weeks he had only one score. As the defenses wised up to
the Mould/Price show, Bledsoe’s numbers dipped markedly.
In his final ten games, he had four games under 200 yards
passing and three of his final six games had no scores.
Bledsoe enters into 2003 without the deep threat of Peerless
Price and while he is not without value, he will likely
be drafted too early by teams looking at his total numbers
from last season.
Mark Brunell, Jacksonville -- The Jaguars' quarterback
could be running for his life from the get-go. His offensive
on during the off-season, losing 3 key linemen (John Wade,
Zach Wiegert, and Todd Fordham), and it’s now young
and inexperienced. Brunell still has Jimmy Smith on one
side of the field, but he must now establish rapport with
new receivers JJ Stokes and Matthew Hatchette, who both
failed to thrive on their prior teams. Brunell is not getting
any younger, so he had better hope that his line develops
and gels faster than it appears it will.
Rich Gannon, Oakland -- He’s not so much a bust
candidate, as he is overvalued. Gannon put together a very
2002 season, but the Raiders have been skating on thin
ice for a number of season with the relative age of their
skill position players. Jerry Rice is in his 40’s
and Tim Brown is nipping at his heals, and if either of
these players goes down, so will Gannon’s productivity.
He will quickly go from an upper echelon QB to a middle
of the pack field general. You may look to pass on him
early and let someone else take a chance on this aging
Drew Bledsoe, Buffalo -- Drew destroyed opposing offenses
during the first half of 2002. During the second eight
games he was average, throwing for half as many touchdowns
and more than 600 fewer yards. He no longer has Peerless
Price to take some heat off Eric Moulds, but he also does
not have Josh Reed in the wings to grab some defensive
attention. Reed is a good player in his own right, but
will not be as productive as Price was last season. He
has been promoted to the second receiver slot. Bledsoe
also will be without safety valves Larry Centers and Jay
Riemersma. Add to that emerging top back Travis Henry,
who will require a larger percentage of running plays,
and it’s likely we will see Bledsoe drop back into
the fantasy quarterback pack.
Kurt Warner, St. Louis --
Although Kurt Warner’s thumb appears to be a non-issue,
I don’t see him ever returning to his pre-injury
form. Since the former grocery store bagger took the NFL
by storm several years ago, it seems like NFL defenses
have finally figured out how to slow the Rams down. The
team did improve their offensive line to help protect the
fragile Warner, but with so many other capable quarterbacks
available, he simply doesn’t warrant a high draft
pick. Don’t expect anything more than 25 touchdown
Kurt Warner, St. Louis --
Going into the first full weekend of the preseason, I was
debating between Kordell Stewart, Jake Plummer, and Jeff
Garcia at this spot. I don’t think much of any
of them, but after watching the game between the Raiders
and the Rams, Warner moved to the top of the bust list.
I know that preseason is more or less worthless, but I
watched the game to see which Kurt Warner would show up.
Would the old, swaggering Super Bowl MVP who stood in the
pocket and took hits lead the Rams or would the uncomfortable
in his own skin 2002 version take the field? Again, I acknowledge
that the defenses are ahead of the offenses during the
preseason, but what I saw was not reassuring. It’s
not the broken hand, it’s Warner’s head that
Frankly it was even worse than 2001. With LT Orlando Pace
holding out and John St. Clair protecting Warner’s
backside you just knew the Raiders were going to come after
him, and they did. On the second play of the Rams first
series, Warner was sacked and on the third play he was
crushed by Raider DT John Parrella. Warner played just
two series and looked like a shell-shocked rookie in the
pocket. He never looked confident, he fidgeted, and threw
a terrible interception. Right now, he’s afraid of
getting hit and he’s afraid of making mistakes. Warner
has zero confidence either with his offensive line or with
his own decisions. I have my doubts he will make it to
September as the starter and if he does; he may not be
the starter by the end of the month. I don’t care
what it costs to sign Pace; the Rams need to get him into
camp before what little remains of Warner’s confidence
Jeff Garcia, San Francisco --
To date Garcia is going as the 6th to 8th quarterback taken
in most drafts. To me that's too high and Garcia has bust
written all over him this season. His passing numbers have
declined each season since his big year in 2000 (only 21
passing TDs last year) and outside of Terrell Owens he
has little receiving talent to throw to at the wide receiver
and tight end positions. He will also be adjusting to a
new offensive system this season. But the biggest concern
for those willing to take him as a second tier QB has to
be durability. He is one of the smallest signal callers
in the NFL and when you hear the term "bulging disc" used
to describe a back injury, you better pay attention. That
is not a minor injury and he has already received multiple
epidural treatments in an attempt to calm the injury.
This "minor" (49ers' words) back problem has already lasted
with limited practice time and no contact. It's best to
steer clear of Mr. Garcia this season and take one of the
other quarterbacks in his tier. Let someone else in your
league deal with losing their starting QB to a nagging
back injury this season.