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2003 Sleepers & Busts From The Huddle Staff - Quarterbacks
August 12, 2003
 
Quarterbacks Running Backs Wide Receivers Tight Ends IDP

SLEEPERS

Bob Cunningham

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 quite well 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, versatile 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.

David Dorey

Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle -- Normally taken at the end of the starters for fantasy QBs. Hasselbeck is poised to resume 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.

Dave Foral

Patrick Ramsey, Washington -- I’ve heard it over and over again this pre-season... No one has more pressure on him this 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. He’s 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.

Todd Kleinheinz

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 himself 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.

Joe Levit

Jeff Garcia, San Francisco -- After two solid fantasy seasons, Jeff Garcia had an off year in 2002. His 21 passing touchdowns 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.

Paul Sandy

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.

Fritz Schottman

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 guard either.

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 boards.

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.

Whitney Walters

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 dismiss 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 make every play, he will find success running the very 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 and you're looking for a solid 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 this season which will help open up the down field passing game as well.

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.

BUSTS

Bob Cunningham

Jake Plummer, Denver -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan's track record with running backs is awesome, but not as impressive 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 longer 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 QB, you're likely to be disappointed.

David Dorey

Drew Bledsoe, Buffalo -- Bledsoe started out last year on a blistering pace and led the league for most of the year 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.

Dave Foral

Mark Brunell, Jacksonville -- The Jaguars' quarterback could be running for his life from the get-go. His offensive line was feasted 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.

Todd Kleinheinz

Rich Gannon, Oakland -- He’s not so much a bust candidate, as he is overvalued. Gannon put together a very impressive 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 QB.

Joe Levit

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.

Paul Sandy

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 passes.

Fritz Schottman

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 isn’t right.

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 evaporates.

Whitney Walters

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 a month 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.

Quarterbacks Running Backs Wide Receivers Tight Ends IDP