GO TO: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | IDP
Brad Johnson, TB - He’s 35 years old but he’s been money the past two years, throwing for 48 touchdowns in 29 starts. The Bucs tried to get rid of him this off-season to no avail – now he’ll light it up just for spite. Add Joey Galloway, Tim Brown and rookie Michael Clayton to an already solid receiving corps of Keenan McCardell (yes, he will sign) and Charles Lee, and Johnson will be a steal in Rounds 6 or 7.
Byron Leftwich, JAC - The second year starter put up respectable numbers in 2003 (2,819 yards and 14 TDs), but he didn’t have Jimmy Smith for a month and his second option was the extremely ordinary Troy Edwards. Smith still managed 805 yards and four TDs even though he missed the first four games of 2003 while serving a drug suspension. Rookie Reggie Williams will be an excellent second option for Leftwich.
Joey Harrington, DET - Harrington knows it’s put up or shut up time in Motown. For the first time in his career he has true weapons surrounding him in receivers Charles Rogers and Roy Williams, as well as running back Kevin Jones. My bet is that Harrington will prove to be worthy of a No. 2 QB spot on your squad.
Carson Palmer, CIN - Last Saturday nights performance is just the tip of the iceberg of what this former Heisman Trophy winner can accomplish at this level. Palmer will struggle early on as teams will throw multiple defensive looks at him, but he should be on his way to stardom by seasons end. 2005, is a more reasonable scenario for Palmer to be a top 10 QB, but the weapons around him make him a potential sleeper for the 04 season. Palmer reminds me of a younger Chad Pennington.
Joey Harrington, DET - If he can't do it with these weapons around him now, he will never be a fantasy force in this league at the QB position. Detroit has some of the best young talent on offense of any team in the league, and Harrington is the engine to what I believe will be a well oiled machine. Also helping Harrington, is the fact the Detroit defense should give up a lot of points making passing a premium the second half of almost every game.
Chad Pennington, NYJ - Pennington’s nightmarish start to the 2003 season, breaking his wrist in the preseason and not getting on the field until week eight, skewed his numbers (13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 10 games) which bumped his breakout fantasy season to this year. With the exchange of old, declining Curtis Conway for the young 6’3” speedster Justin McCareins and uber-playmaker Santana Moss on the other side behind an improved offensive line now featuring ex-Cardinal Pete Kendall, Pennington has all the elements to see his fantasy stock soar. He should zoom past his first year starter numbers of 3,128 yards and 24 touchdowns (22 passing, 2 running).
David Carr, HOU - After his first two seasons of slow and steady growth, Carr appears ready to shift into a higher gear this Fall. The Texans as have grown up around him, now sporting a feature back in Domanick Davis and a prototypical go-to receiver in Andre Johnson. The offensive line has improved each season, dramatically reducing sacks from 76 in year one to 36 last season, and looks even stronger with the addition of free agent right tackle Todd Wade from Miami. The Texans early season schedule is filled with very accommodating pass defenses allowing Carr owners to get off to the critical fast start to their prospective fantasy campaigns and should make the Fresno State product a serious contender for 20 plus touchdowns and over 3,000 yards, a statistical leap from his first two seasons.
Jake Delhomme, CAR - Carolina started last year with a run-first philosophy and it took Delhomme a few weeks to establish himself as the starter and consequently the Panthers became a more balanced team down the stretch and some would say started to tilt toward the passing game more, especially in the playoffs. In the Panthers four playoff games, Delhomme posted a 106.1 QB rating throwing for 987 yards, six touchdowns and one interception, including a 16 for 33 -323 yard (3 TDs, zero INTs) performance in the Super Bowl against the vaunted New England defense. With an aging Stephen Davis and brittle Deshaun Foster comprising the running attack and a defensive secondary that lost three starters from last year’s Super Bowl team, the Ragin’ Cajun will be looked upon to play an even bigger role in the offense which should equate to 24 scores and upwards of 3500 yards in ’04.
Joey Harrington, DET - He's blessed with a lot of personal talent, and now he has some enviable targets to throw to in Charles Rogers and rookie Roy Williams. Plus, a second season under innovative head coach Steve Mariucci. This is the year Harrington steps up into the second tier of fantasy QBs.
Tommy Maddox, PIT - He's looked terrific so far in preseason, and he knows that if he doesn't perform at an extremely high level from the get-go, he becomes the backup to rookie Ben Roethlisberger. And the wideout tandem of Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress is better than most, plus Duce Staley is a decent receiver out of the backfield.
Joey Harrington, DET - The Lions have finally stocked the shelves with some young, exciting receivers in Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Az-Zahir Hakim back in the slot where he belonged in the first place. Tai Streets is ready in four receiver sets and Casey Fitzsimmons mans the tight end spot. With Olandis Gary and Shawn Bryson as pass catching tailbacks to mix with the rookie Kevin Jones, this is a Detroit team that is stronger than in years with a coach that can finally implement a passing offense. This offense should get better each season for many years.
Josh McCown, ARI - While McCown’s stock has tumbled with all the summer injuries, he is not without some upside this season. From mid-season onward, he should have the full complement of Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Bryant Johnson and Freddie Jones to throw to in a new scheme for the Cardinals. This team likely will have to throw a lot anyway and new head coach Dennis Green is only a year back of where Mariucci has the Lions. The attractive quality here is that the offense should be more together and a bit more experienced by mid-season and the Cardinals will be facing San Francisco, St. Louis and Seattle during the traditional fantasy playoff times. McCown will kill you early in the year but could be a savior at the end when you need a QB most.
David Carr, HOU - While his numbers were low from 2003, that should take into account he missed all or part of six games and was banged up from week eight until the end of the year. Through the first six games, Carr was already showing improvement from his rookie season and was already connecting well with 2003 rookie Andre Johnson. The Texans offense is finally set going into their third year with Domanick Davis, Carr and Johnson. Carr is available as a deep backup this year but is almost certain to exceed most expectations as the Texans offense continues to get comfortable and improved.
Joey Harrington, DET - Harrington has shown flashes of being very good and very so-so in his first two NFL seasons, but this is the first year he’s surrounded with the type of talent by which he can truly be measured. The offensive line has been upgraded, WR Charles Rogers is healthy, and rookies Roy Williams and Kevin Jones may be young and inexperienced, but they’re huge upgrades at the WR and RB positions, respectively. Next year’s really going to be the season to watch this young offense, but this season Harrington and Co. will provide enough fantasy production to keep things interesting.
Byron Leftwich, JAC - It may be a bit too early to anoint Leftwich a solid sleeper pick, but by mid-season such may very well be the case. He has access to a stable of standout skill players in RB Fred Taylor, WR Jimmy Smith and rookie wideout Reggie Williams, and the Jags’ defense won’t be shy about giving the offense opportunities to put points on the board. Leftwich’s yardage and TD totals should help fantasy owners throughout much of the season, while his INTs will most likely be high early and then taper down as the season progresses. A 20-TD, 3,000-yard season is perhaps most likely, but 25 TDs and 3,500 yards is within reach.
David Carr, HOU - If Carr had played on a better team last year, he probably wouldn’t be considered a sleeper today. This year, the Texans appear to be that better team. The offensive line has come a long way in two years, and second-year standout WR Andre Johnson gives Carr his first bona fide receiving threat. With one (Domanick Davis) and maybe two (Tony Hollings) tough backs to feed to defenses, the table is set for Carr to have a year-before-a-career-year type of season on an up-and-coming team.
Tommy Maddox, PIT - Fantasy owners can get the gun late this year in drafts, making him a real value pick. Big Ben is not going to be ready until at least very late in the season, and Maddox has a very capable receiving back in Duce Staley now. The Steelers receivers will deliver this year, Ward because he is a professional and will play hard despite his contract irritation and Burress because of his contract year.
Rich Gannon, OAK - So far, it is looking more and more likely that this will remain Gannon’s team for the time being. The loss of Tim Brown is probably a gain for Gannon, who can now concentrate on only one old timer (Rice), along with healthy young stud Jerry Porter who will team with upcoming talent at WR (Curry and Gabriel) and tight end (Jolley and Johnson) to give Rich a chance to be viable in fantasy leagues again.
Joey Harrington, DET - I am in Harrington’s camp. I disagree decidedly with anyone who prints “Harrington has run out of chances to show something”. Harrington hasn’t begun to have a chance to show something. Two years ago he had Bill Schroeder and Az-Zahir Hakim as his starters. Those guys would be the third and fourth receivers on most teams. Last year, in addition to no running game, he had his best receiver, and a rookie to boot, go down after five games. Watch what Harrington does by this December with actual talent around him. It’s going to be fun owning a piece of this offense.
David Carr, HOU - I really like the Carr’s situation for a number of reasons. Looking back at last year’s numbers, Carr had a 60%+ completion percentage in five of his first seven games (before his numerous injuries). That tells me he’s now comfortable with the offense and quickly going through his progression. Compare those numbers with his contemporaries Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller and Byron Leftwich. Harrington played all 16 games and had a 60% completion percentage in four of those contests. Boller had nine starts and had zero games at or above 60%. Leftwich started in 13 games and had a 60% completion percentage in three. Now look at a quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning. Brady played 16 games and threw for 60% completion percentage 10 times and won another Super Bowl ring. Brett Favre played in 16 games and had an amazing 13 of 16 games of 60% completion percentage or more with six games of 70% or more. Peyton Manning did Favre one better. In 16 games Manning threw 60% or more completions in 15 games and went 70% or greater in five. Bottom line, if your quarterback is hitting his receivers, you’re going to win.
The other reason I like Carr is the talent around him. Frankly, this offense is loaded at the skill positions. The Texans now have a running game with Domanick Davis and three up-and-coming receivers in Corey Bradford, Andre Johnson, and Jabar Gafney. This team is going to score some points and surprise a lot of fans and opposing teams alike.
Chad Pennington, NYJ - Same rationale as the David Carr pick. Pennington, when healthy, is deadly accurate. He played in 10 games and threw for 60% completion percentage or more in seven of those contests. The Jets upgraded their receiving corps with the addition of Justin McCareins (replacing Curtis Conway) and that should help Pennington’s yardage numbers. If he stays healthy (and that’s a big if) 3,500 yards and 25 plus touchdowns is money in the bank.
Tom Brady, NE - Anytime you get multiple touchdowns from your quarterback it’s huge. Last season Brady had nine games with multiple touchdowns. That’s better than Peyton Manning, Aaron Brooks and Trent Green. Unfortunately, too many games with zero touchdowns killed his fantasy value. Look for more consistency out of Brady this season. His young wide receivers have another year of experience and Corey Dillon should inject new life into the New England rushing attack. That’ll add up to more yardage and touchdowns for Brady. Don’t be afraid to make him your starter.
Rich Gannon, OAK - The 2004 season is likely Rich Gannon’s curtain call in Oakland, if not on his entire career. Still, he posted incredible numbers just two seasons ago. I can’t help but think he’ll be a decent performer this year. I certainly think he’ll be good for 20+ touchdowns and 3,500 yards. That should make him an adequate back-up in small leagues or a capable starter in larger leagues.
Carson Palmer, CIN - If you’ve watched Palmer at all this preseason, you can see why the Bengals chose him as their starter over Jon Kitna. Palmer throws a beautiful ball and is deadly accurate. Sure he will make his mistakes this season. But with Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick, Palmer is in a fantastic situation. Don’t be surprised when he throws 22-23 touchdowns in 2004.
Michael Vick, ATL - Ease up there, Cochese. I’m not saying Vick will suck, I’m just saying he’s not a first, second or even a third-round pick. He’s learning the West Coast offense, and that will place a premium on patience to find third and fourth receiving options. That doesn’t seem to be a trait Vick has in abundance. Plus, his run-first style will have to be tempered in the new system, and that will put a dent in his rushing numbers. Let somebody else in your draft fall prey to the hype.
Tom Brady, NE - Like every good QB will tell you, defense's learn to scheme you better and better each and every year. With the Super Bowl Championship bulls eye, and the addition of RB Corey Dillon, I see Brady falling out of the top 15 completely and possibly out of the top 20 fantasy QBs.
Jake Plummer, DEN - Every year expectations are high for Plummer, and every year he seems to find a way to underachieve. Usually it’s injuries or inconsistency that rear their ugly head and come back to bite him just when he starts to get on a roll. This year add lack of surrounding talent to the list of potential pitfalls. With reliable targets Ed McCaffrey and Shannon Sharpe gone, Plummer’s hopes are pinned to aging Rod Smith, who’s clearly hit the wall, and disappointing Ashley Lelie who just can’t seem to take the next step up. So far this preseason, the best looking receiving option has been rookie Darius Watts, who’s still learning the playbook and making rookie mistakes. Look for another lackluster year of Plummer being mired right around 16 touchdowns and 2330 yards.
Marc Bulger, STL - I really hope I'm wrong about this, because Bulger is the QB of my primary fantasy keeper league team... but the Rams offensive-line is banged up and while Bulger's numbers last year were decent, he hasn't really progressed much from when he was surprisingly good as a rookie two years ago. More is expected of him now, and I'm not convinced he's up to it.
Jake Plummer, DEN - The Broncos focused largely on improving their defense this season which already would depress offensive numbers. But going into this season, Plummer no longer has Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith is now 34 years old and Ashley Lelie still has not delivered on his potential. Darius Watts is providing some excitement but largely because no other receiver has. The loss of Clinton Portis may be negligible in the way Denver seems to plug in 1000 yard RB’s at will, but it all equates to too many changes in the backfield and with receivers to allow Plummer to even meet last season’s levels of production.
Jake Delhomme, CAR - It takes only once glance at the longevity of NFL teams these days to see that all may not be too rosy for the Panthers in 2004. Despite their playoff heroics and 11-5 regular season record in 2003, Carolina kept things close for most of the season, winning four OT games and four other games by three or fewer points. Delhomme and company may slug it out all the way to the Super Bowl again – against a tougher schedule, no less – but if they do so odds are it will again be in a manner that doesn’t put a lot of food on the table from a fantasy perspective.
Mark Brunell, WAS - It seemed awfully hard for me to find a legitimate QB bust candidate this year for some reason. With right tackle Jon Jansen now out for the year, Brunell will be facing more blindside hits as a southpaw. And Laveranues Coles is still toeing the injury list. And Patrick Ramsey is a capable leader.
Steve McNair, TEN - McNair had an MVP season last year and has shot up the fantasy rankings. The thing is, even with MVP statistics, McNair didn’t have all that great of fantasy stats – 24 touchdowns and less than 3,300 yards. His saving grace for fantasy owners is that he was remarkably consistent. But even if he can repeat his best season ever (and that’s a big if), McNair is not worth more than a fifth round pick in most leagues. If you set higher expectations, you’ll be disappointed by mid-season
Kurt Warner, NYG - Is this the same quarterback who won the MVP a few season’s ago? He looks like a deer in headlights every time he drops back for a pass. If Eli Manning isn’t starting by Week 3, I’d be thoroughly shocked. Warner should start digging through his Rolodex for the number of the supermarket he used to bag groceries for. I have serious doubts about whether he will still be in the league in two years. Avoid Warner at all costs.
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