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Quarterback Watch - 2004
Scott Boyter
August 23, 2004
Top Ten Fantasy QB’s to own Comment
1 IND Peyton Manning A lock for 4,000 yards, and doesn’t get hurt. Plus, this could be his last season with James and Harrison.
2 MIN Daunte Culpepper Takes a lot of chances with his body, and that’s the only reason he’s No. 2. Has averaged 472, six TDs on ground since 2001.
3 SEA Matt Hasselbeck Has solid weapons and a fairly easy schedule. He’ll be a steal in the fifth round.
4 KC Trent Green Comes off a spectacular 2003 season even though RB Priest Holmes had a season for the ages. Holmes is only getting older, so Green’s numbers should rise.
5 TEN Steve McNair Keeps getting beat up, but still keeps producing.
6 GB Brett Favre He’s thrown for 32 TDs two out of the last three seasons.
7 NO Aaron Brooks Groin injury a concern, so watch closely. If healthy, Brooks is on the verge of a breakout season.
8 PHI Donovan McNabb Maybe this is the year McNabb finally has a fantasy season worthy of being ranked in the top three quarterbacks.
9 ATL Michael Vick Ability to learn the West Coast offense a concern, but simply too talented not to be on this list.
10 NYJ Chad Pennington Sneaks in with great schedule the first six games

(Note – this listing considers the rankings of QB’s if a draft was held today)

Climbing Up The Ladder

Byron Leftwich (JAX ) – He can go one of two ways – either continue the momentum of a good rookie season or regress in Year 2 like Jake Plummer and Tim Couch. We’ll bank on the former, and recommend Leftwich as an excellent choice for, at the very least, a solid No. 2 fantasy quarterback.

Leftwich’s numbers weren’t spectacular (2,819 yards, 14 TDs, 16 INTs), but they were very good for an NFL neophyte. And this season he’ll have Jimmy Smith for an entire season. The veteran only had 805 yards receiving and scored four touchdowns, but he also missed all of training camp and the first four games of 2003 because of a drug suspension. He’s been money in the past, and will be so again – especially with the league’s crackdown on illegal contact.

Rookie Reggie Williams will be Smith’s counterpart at receiver, and looks to have the tools to be more than serviceable this season. Finally, Fred Taylor shockingly stayed healthy all season in 2003, racking up 1,572 yards and six scores on the ground. If he somehow manages to stay healthy in 2004, he’ll keep defenses honest and help open passing lanes for Leftwich to exploit.

Leftwich should be available deep into your fantasy draft. Once you’ve filled all of your starting needs, grab him as soon as you can. You’ll be glad you did.

Tom Brady (NE) – We know all about it already – Brady has been the bane of fantasy players everywhere. His team wins, but he puts up pedestrian fantasy numbers. That changes this season.

Brady now has a running game defenses have to actually respect in Corey Dillon. That should lead to a lot more of the 250-yard, two-touchdown games that fantasy teams feast on. He’ll be available in the depth portion of your draft, and chances are he’ll crack your starting lineup quite a few times this season.

Brad Johnson (TB) – Every year, Johnson silently slips through round after round after round until somebody finally wakes up and says, “Wow, he’s still there?” He’s never received his just due from either NFL media members or fantasy owners.

All Johnson has done is throw for 48 TDs the last two seasons in one of the least heralded offenses in football. Now, with a second year of familiarity in the Jon Gruden system, Johnson could explode. Yes he’s 36, and yes he’s had more than his share of injuries. But Johnson will put up numbers worthy of a fantasy starter – bank on it. Charlie Garner and Mike Alstott should prove to be a serviceable rushing tandem. Keenan McCardell will sign, and Joey Galloway will provide the speedy deep threat he’s never had. Even if McCardell remains a holdout, rookie Michael Clayton and the newly signed Tim Brown will make good replacements. Add to that group the emerging Charles Lee and Johnson will have an ample number of targets.

Keep an eye on the Oakland situation, because if Rich Gannon is cut he’ll immediately become a threat to take Johnson’s job. But the odds of that are long. Stock up on running backs and receivers, then wait for Johnson to fall into your lap in Round 6 or 7.

Sliding Back

Drew Bledsoe (BUF) – He’s a statue, he’s old, he doesn’t have a reliable target other than the aging Eric Moulds, and he’s on a team with two excellent running backs. Can you say caretaker?

Bledsoe only threw for 11 TDs in 2003 to go with 2,860 yards. No Bills receiver had more than 780 yards, while Bobby Shaw led in TDs with a measly four. Rookie Lee Evans should be an immediate starter, but he won’t be enough to increase Bledsoe’s numbers dramatically. Plus, Bledsoe will have to look over his shoulder at rookie QB J.P. Losman, a first round pick who has looked strong so far in camp.

The Bills will have to win with a strong defense and a double-barreled running attack of Travis Henry and Willis McGahee. That adds up to a lot of 13-10 games, and that means Bledsoe’s numbers will be basically non-existent. Don’t even think about drafting him.

Jake Plummer (DEN) – We normally don’t put a whole lot of stock in preseason games but you have to be at least a little concerned about Plummer’s performance so far. He’s been simply putrid, and that’s putting it nicely. In two games he’s 8-of-19 for 74 yards, three picks and no TDs. His embarrassingly pathetic passer rating of 13.8 places him 96 th of 97 quarterbacks who have thrown a pass this preseason – ahead of only the Cowboys’ Tony Romo. Keep a close, close eye on this guy. If he stays on this pace you’ll have to bypass him in your draft.

Tim Rattay (SF) – Not that you were seriously considering him anyway, but the mind can wander when it comes time to pick a third quarterback. When you get to that point in your draft, stay far, far away from Rattay. He was supposed to have recovered from his torn groin muscle (it was painful just writing that phrase), and he has. But now he’s developed arm trouble. He was scheduled to finally return to practice on Aug. 17 but his arm is still too sore and has been listed as out for this weekend’s exhibition game at Chicago. Rattay is running out of time, and it would not be a surprise to see Ken Dorsey soon named the official starter in San Francisco.