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Fashionably Late Quarterbacks
Paul Sandy
August 26, 2005

Lately, it seems more and more fantasy football owners are comfortable playing the waiting game when it comes to selecting their starting quarterback. The theory is that after Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper, the pool of remaining quarterbacks becomes somewhat diluted. There’s not a huge gap between the third-ranked quarterback and the twelfth.

Looking at the statistics from recent years, the strategy certainly has validity. You can always find passers in the middle rounds that will approach 30 touchdowns per year, which most owners consider to be the benchmark for a great fantasy season. Last year, mid- and late-round selections like Jake Plummer and Drew Brees fell just shy of 30 touchdowns.

While you can stumble upon a decent QB with dumb luck, I’ve found the key to winning with a mid- or late-round quarterback as my starter is to have a strategy entering the draft. If you get to the third round of your draft and decide, “Yes, I’m going to pass on Marc Bulger in favor of Javon Walker” then it’s critical to already have three questions answered: 1) what QBs you can live with, 2) when you can get one of those QBs, and 3) what is your backup plan.

The following list includes three reliable starting quarterbacks who I would fully trust to lead my team into battle entering the 2005 season. In the drafts where I do decide to delay my QB selection, these are the players who I have my eye on. Generally, I like to target three or four players who are projected to be drafted as early as Round 6 and as late as Round 8 (assuming a 12 team draft). This gives me flexibility to maneuver based on what other owners are doing, and it doesn’t lock me into one player or round.

I also keep my sleeper list handy, which I’ve included below. These are players who have huge upside and who will fall to Round 9 or later. My goal is to choose one of these sleepers as a backup QB. If they live up to their potential, they could eventually supplant my starter.

RELIABLE STARTERS

Tom Brady, Patriots
Average Draft Position: 59th (Round 5-6)
Having led his team to victory in three of the last four Super Bowls, Tom Brady is obviously a known commodity. To get him, you’ll likely have to act a bit earlier than with some of the other quarterbacks on this list. However, the reward is a quarterback who is a model for consistency. Brady started 19 games last year including the playoffs. He threw at least one touchdown in all but one game and posted multi-touchdown performances in 13 games. While he won’t get you the yardage of Trent Green or Marc Bulger, Brady can be counted on for steady points every week.

Jake Plummer, Broncos
Average Draft Position: 79th (Round 6-7)
An important lesson in fantasy football: Just because a quarterback is mediocre by NFL standards doesn’t mean he’s mediocre by fantasy standards. Jake Plummer is a living breathing example of this anomaly. He takes a lot of flack for making bonehead plays, and yet he’s an above average fantasy quarterback. Last season, Plummer was one of only five quarterbacks to throw for over 4,000 yards. He also tossed a more than sufficient 27 touchdowns. While his tendency to make mistakes (20 interceptions last year) is a thorn in the side of owners in leagues that deduct points for turnovers, Plummer is a worthy starter in any league. Another key reason to like “the Snake” is that he plays in arguably the weakest defensive division in football. Games against Oakland, Kansas City, and San Diego are frequently shootouts—giving Plummer owners six excellent chances for big games.

Jake Delhomme, Panthers
Average Draft Position: 93rd (Round 7-8)
Is Delhomme the most underappreciated quarterback in fantasy football? Without question. He threw 29 touchdown passes last season despite playing in one of the tougher defensive conferences in football. Yet he is being drafted several rounds after guys like Michael Vick and Matt Hasselbeck. Some will argue that the Carolina offense shifted to a more pass-oriented scheme only out of necessity last year when all of their running backs got hurt. Perhaps, but Delhomme has now proven that he has the talent and confidence to throw the ball 35-40 times per game and still lead his team to a victory. With Steve Smith back in the fold, Kerry Colbert ready to step up, and the RB corps as fragile as ever, Delhomme’s capable right arm will continue to be the focal point of the Panthers offense. Getting him anytime after the seventh round is grand larceny.

BACKUPS WITH BIG UPSIDE

Chad Pennington, Jets
Average Draft Position: 106th (Round 8-9)
Pennington put questions about his offseason shoulder surgery to rest in the Jets second preaseason game. The sixth-year QB reared back and threw a 45-yard pass that sailed over the head of WR Justin McCareins. But perhaps what’s more telling is that pass was Pennington’s only incompletion. He went 9 for 10 and threw a picture-perfect touchdown strike to Laveranues Coles. The velocity is there. The accuracy is there. The question for fantasy owners is will the touchdowns be there. Pennington has several things working in his favor this year. He gets his favorite receiver back this year in Coles. The Jets are shifting to an offense that isn’t afraid to throw the ball downfield this season. And the team has one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, which should help keep Pennington healthy. This could be the year he lives up to his lofty potential.

Kurt Warner, Cardinals
Average Draft Position: 128th (Round 10-11)
Dennis Green has a well-documented history of turning past-their-prime, has-been QBs into fantasy point machines. Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham, and Jeff George each resurrected their careers under the tutelage of Green during his tenure with the Vikings. Heck, even Jim McMahon had some good games with the Purple. Can Warner pull off a comeback of his own? It’s worth a late round draft pick to find out. The two-time NFL MVP will be at the helm of an offense that’s on the rise. The Cardinals have three promising young receivers in Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Bryant Johnson. Plus, they drafted cat-quick running back J.J. Arrington to carry the ball. If their offensive line can give him time, a 25-touchdown season is not out of the question for Warner.

Brian Griese, Buccaneers
Average Draft Position: 129th (Round 10-11)
Fantasy owners who only remember Griese for his blasé career with Denver will be making a costly mistake come draft day. After earning the starting gig in Week 6 of last season, all Griese did was toss 19 touchdowns in 10 games. That’s a better touchdown-per-game ratio than Trent Green and Marc Bulger. What’s more impressive about Griese was that he threw for more than 280 yards in five games, including a monster 392-yard effort against San Diego in Week 14. If you need more convincing, consider that Griese has one of the most exciting young receivers in the NFL, Michael Clayton, at his disposal. So what’s the ceiling on Griese’s potential? It wouldn’t be absurd to predict that he could elevate his game to the level that Rich Gannon did while he played under Jon Gruden. Gannon notched three straight years with 25 or more touchdowns. Getting that production from an 11th round pick would be huge.

Average draft positions were pulled from Myfantasyleague.com’s Draft Tracker and are current as of 8/25/05.