David Dorey's Quarterback Sleepers
Byron Leftwich, JAC – After ending 2004 with only 2941 yards and 15 touchdowns, it’s easy enough to forget all about the third-year player that was drafted with the 1.07 pick in 2003. His production alone gives a misleading picture of his sophomore season thanks to a sting of injuries that included a partial tear to his MCL, a sprained ankle and even a concussion. While he missed only two full games he played much of the second half of the season at less than 100% (which led to further injuries). Leftwich was just hitting his stride with the MCL injury occurred – he was coming off a four game stretch that had him throw for 298+ yards in each and score eight touchdowns. He’ll be healthy this year and ready to prove why he was so highly chosen in 2003. The Jaguars are installing a new offense which will be going downfield much more often this year as well.
Carson Palmer, CIN – Palmer is a definite sleeper quarterback that more astute fantasy players are noticing as the summer progresses. In his first season as a starter in the NFL, he threw for 2897 yards and 18 scores but missed the last three weeks of the season. In the final four games prior to his injury, Palmer threw for 11 touchdowns and topped out with 382 yards in a game against the Ravens. While Leftwich was selected 1.07 in 2003, Palmer was the 1.01 pick. He’s got a cannon arm and great accuracy. 2005 will be his true “coming out” party into the NFL.
Kurt Warner, ARI – After the McCown experiment failed last year, the Cardinals went out and acquired Warner to run the Denny Green offense in Arizona. There’s always been questions about Warner since he injured his thumb and lost the starting job in St. Louis and his play in New York did little to mitigate the perception that he’s past his prime and will not recapture his old magic. But he’ll be in a pass-first scheme this year with solid wideouts of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald with a nod from the head coach to air the ball out. His stay in New York was never more than a seat warmer in a new offensive scheme that could only run the ball.
David Dorey's Quarterback Bust
Michael Vick, ATL – He won’t be an outright bust because he will turn in some very nice games (via rushing yards more than anything). Vick will have an even younger set of wideouts this season with the rookie Roddy White and Michael “he’s there somewhere” Jenkins as starters and Peerless Price as a backup. Vick has almost all his success throwing to TE Alge Crumpler last season but later in the year defenses learned to take Crumpler away and beg Vick to throw to a wideout. His fantasy value remains well below the constant hype and he will balance every big game with rush yards with a relative stinker.
Philip Gentles' Quarterback Sleepers
David Carr, HOU – Carr is coming off a career year in which he passed for 3,539 yards and 16 TD’s. And while he wasn’t consistent enough to be an every week fantasy starter he did have a couple of big games (313 yards and 2 TDs in Week 2 and 372 yards and 3 TDs in Week 5) and if he continues to develop he could become one of the best QBs in the league. The Texans have done everything this off-season to protect Carr by introducing new blocking schemes and they have added more quick passes and timing routes to the playbook. He’s surrounded by weapons that include Andre Johnson and Domanick Davis and if he can stay healthy 2005 could be Carr’s breakout year.
Joey Harrington, DET – The Lions brought in veteran QB Jeff Garcia this off-season to battle Joey Harrington for the starting job, and while head coach Steve Mariucci appeared frustrated with Harrington’s performance last year he’s already said that the job is Harrington’s to lose. His career numbers won’t jump out at you, but Harrington has improved his passing yardage, touchown production and accuracy in each of his first three seasons and if he improves on his 2004 numbers (3047 yards passing and 19 TDs) he will definitely be worthy of a spot on your roster. Lets not forget that he has a lot to work with this season as well. WR Roy Williams and RB Kevin Jones are studs, but he also has Mike Williams, Charles Rogers and TE Marcus Pollars to throw the ball to. Sounds good but with one of the best supporting casts in place the Lions will put a lot of pressure on him to produce right away. So if Harrington is ever going to have his coming-out party it is going to be this year.
Philip Gentles' Quarterback Bust
Drew Brees, SD – Things couldn’t have gone any better for Drew Brees last season throwing for 27 touchdowns (including 19 TDs inside the redzone) and making his first Pro Bowl. But do you really expect him to be as productive this year? LaDainian Tomlinson was injured for much of the season and it forced the Chargers to pass the ball a lot more. It worked out nicely for them, but a healthy Tomlinson will get more touches inside the redzone which means fewer opportunities for Brees to throw touchdowns. Now I’m not saying that Brees will be bad. In fact I believe that Brees is efficienct enough to help lead to team to another successful season. But he’s being drafted as a fantasy starter and I really don’t expect him to produce any better than a fantasy backup.
Mike Courter's Quarterback Sleepers
Byron Lefwhich, JAC – Clearly ex-offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s ball-control, short to medium passing attack did not synch with Leftwhich’s skill sets resulting in a hard-on-the-eyes 21 st ranked offense that labored for points all season. Enter Carl Smith into the 2005 equation along with his vertical passing emphasis and the seeming improvement of second year wideout Reggie Williams and newcomer Matt Jones complementing longtime deep threat Jimmy Smith and it’s not a leap to project a healthy statistical bounce for Leftwhich from 2004’s total of 15 touchdowns and 2,941 yards.
Carson Palmer, CIN – Yeah… technically he’s a “sleeper” after finishing his first full season as a starter in 2004 with 2,897 yards and 18 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, but based on his late season surge in weeks 12-14 (he was rested due to injury in weeks 15-17) Palmer’s probably the worst kept secret in fantasy football. Palmer’s last three games in 2004 yielded 835 passing yards and nine scores with five picks, including impressive performances against the Super Bowl champion Patriots (a 28-35 road loss) and Baltimore (a thrilling 27-26 road triumph). With a year as a starter under his belt and an impressive collection of receivers in his tool bag to match his undeniable physical talent, Palmer could approach the 30 touchdowns / 4,000 yards neighborhood.
Steve McNair, TEN – Last year, McNair didn’t just fall from grace, he plummeted like a pregnant pole vaulter. His years of out-dueling an assortment of ailments finally caught up with him in 2004 when a sternum injury knocked him out of the last half of the season and had him pondering retirement. The extra time off truly helped Air’s recovery process and McNair has shown up to camp this year 25 pounds lighter and in great shape to take over a Norm Chow offense that will also boast a strong running attack with both Travis Henry and Chris Brown. The switch from Mike Heimerdinger to Chow should, at the very least, help preserve McNair’s battered body as Heimerdinger’s game plan forced him to hold onto the ball a lot longer resulting in many more hits from the defense. McNair should be available in drafts much later than he would traditionally get drafted allowing fantasy owners to maximize value at other positions and get a functional quarterback later in the draft.
Mike Courter's Quarterback Bust
Jake Delhomme, CAR – The bottom won’t fall out on Delhomme’s production in 2005, as he is a scrapper, but expect more 2003 totals of 20 touchdowns and low 3,000 yards rather than last season’s inflated 30 scores and close to 4,000 yards. The Panthers defense crumbled in 2004 thanks to a rash of injuries to their defensive front seven and their offensive backfield and it forced Carolina into catch-up mode through the air frequently, artificially pumping up Delhomme’s stats. This offseason the Panthers focused on strengthening their defense by drafting LB/S Thomas Davis and adding free agents CB Ken Lucas and S Idrees Bashir and bolstered their running game with the return of DeShaun Foster and the selection of power back Eric Shelton in the second round. All signs that John Fox is hell-bent on returning to his roots of winning with defense and running the ball, a negative philosophy shift for Delhomme owners.
Paul Sandy's Quarterback Sleepers
Brian Griese, TB – I love the direction the Tampa offense is heading. They drafted Cadillac Williams and promptly inked him to a deal. They have a real-deal receiver in Michael Clayton. Speedster Joey Galloway will return from injury this year. Plus, they have one of the best pass-catching running backs in Michael Pittman. With this versatile offense, Griese should pick up right where he left off last year. He finished 2004 with TDs in 11 straight games, including 16 scores in his last eight games. That consistency makes him a worthy starter.
Kurt Warner, ARI – Warner proved on occasion last year that he can still zing the ball around the field when he’s given enough time. The Cardinals are projected to have a solid, up-and-coming offensive line this year, so the two-time MVP should breathe a little easier. With the weapons he has, that could mean a return to the form that made him a fantasy superstar.
Gus Frerotte, MIA – Frerotte came to the Dolphins as a free agent from Minnesota. With offensive coordinator Scott Linehan—another product of the Vikings system—running the offense, Frerotte is the frontrunner for the starting role. Miami has a serious veteran presence in the passing game, arguably more than any team in the league this side of Indianapolis. Chris Chambers, Marty Booker, David Boston, and Randy McMichael each have All-Pro potential. I expect Frerotte will be this year’s Brian Griese. Not spectacular, but certainly worthy of a roster spot and occasional start.
Paul Sandy's Quarterback Bust
Kyle Boller, BAL – No quarterback in the NFL is on a hotter hot seat than Boller. The Ravens have Super Bowl aspirations this season. If Boller can’t move the offense, look for him to get a quick hook. He hasn’t shown any sign of being a capable, consistent passer, so I’m not expecting him to last longer than four weeks. There are better QBs to spend a late round pick on.
Joe Levit's Quarterback Sleepers
Kurt Warner, ARI – Warner clearly is never going to duplicate the degree of success he had for a couple of magical seasons with the Rams. That said, he is being drafted well below players like Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, who are not exactly proven fantasy performers. The one thing that separated Warner from the pack was his ability to put the ball in the perfect place for the wideout to continue running with it after the catch. He hasn’t lost that ability to lead a receiver, and he has a couple of great young guys in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
Joey Harrington, DET – I may puke if I read one more paragraph about how Joey is “on a short leash.” While it is true that Harrington must have a big start to the season to remain the starter with Garcia behind him, if you look at his career you will see a slowly evolving quarterback who has had terrible runners and receivers around him for most of his career, and injuries to them too. That changes this year. Harrington will get it done with defenses forced to account for Kevin Jones, and four good receivers plus a top-notch receiving tight end.
Steve McNair, TEN – True, McNair has a tight end and wide receiver on the mend, and he has been far from impervious to pain himself of late. It will also take at least a couple of the team’s three talented rookie wide receivers to make an impact if he is to be a fantasy factor, but right now he is simply rated too low by fantasy owners. Norm Chow comes over from USC and is looking to make his mark on defenses in the NFL. With new talented RB Travis Henry on the team, McNair should easily beat his ADP.
Joe Levit's Quarterback Bust
Matt Hasselbeck – What am I missing here? Darrell Jackson has topped out, Engram has never been a fantasy player to write home about, the tight ends aren’t special, and now the only guy who had top-end potential (Koren Robinson, on the field) is off the team. I wouldn’t have Hasselbeck in my top 15.
Brent Clement's Quarterback Sleepers
Kurt Warner, ARI – Kurt will not match his 41 TD of 1999, but he finally has a set of wide outs with similar talent to the greatest show on turf. Warner will need solid protection and a complimentary running game to be successful, but both seem to be in place in the desert. Playing in the NFC West is an added bonus for any fantasy quarterback.
Steve McNair, TEN – McNair is known as a tough guy, but his injuries have sidelined him over his career, unlike Brett Favre. For McNair to be successful he will obviously have to stay on the field. The Titans should also be playing from behind on a weekly basis, plus with the addition of new OC Norm Chow, McNair should have a career season statistically.
Byron Leftwich, JAC – Leftwich has the talent to be a top 10 fantasy QB, and with a gimpy Fred Taylor the Jags look to open up the offense in 2005. Leftwich has reliable WR Jimmy Smith to move the chains and several young speedsters to stretch the field. Leftwich has also proved on the college level he can chunk it with the best of them and his accuracy is on the rise. Look for Byron to have his best season to date, and make a push to crack the top 10 fantasy QB’s in 2005.
Brent Clement's Quarterback Bust
Donovan McNabb, PHI – McNabb had a career year last year, and finally got the Eagles to the Super Bowl, but don’t look for a repeat of those numbers in 2005. First off, Owens is not happy with his contract and that alone is enough of a distraction to cause even Andy Reid to get flustered on game day. Second, the loss of Todd Pinkston to injury and the holdout of Brian Westbrook is not exactly the key ingredients to a successful fantasy season for Donovan.
Todd Gray's Quarterback Sleepers
Carson Palmer, CIN – Palmer enters his third NFL season and second as a starter surrounded by a bevy of talented skill position players and a solid offensive line. Despite the Bengals’ overall success this season – or lack thereof – the team should produce a fantasy offense that goes at least five deep. In 2004, Cincinnati averaged a respectable 23.4 points per game – good for 10 th in the NFL – but more notably the Bengals scored their five highest point totals of the year in their last nine games as Palmer became more comfortable with the offense.
Kurt Warner, ARI – A healthy Warner could have a big season playing for Dennis Green, a coach who has resuscitated the careers of more than a couple scrap heap QBs. Warner didn’t have many tools to work with in New York last year, yet he played reasonably well in his half-season as starting QB albeit without the fireworks fantasy owners remember from his days with the Rams. In Arizona, Warner will work with a hugely talented receiving corps, an improved OL and a respectable running game. One wild card is his thumb injury – if it continues to linger, all bets are off.
Jeff Garcia, DET – If the Lions stumble out of the gates and fourth-year QB Joey Harrington looks anything like the Harrington of hold, you can bet that head coach Steve Mariucci will become Captain Hook in a hurry. Mariucci coached Garcia during his outstanding three-year stretch of play from 2000-2002 and may waste little time trying to work the same old magic. With this offense, any QB who plays even halfway decent will become a valuable fantasy commodity.
Todd Gray's Quarterback Bust
Steve McNair, TEN – There are a lot of big names from which to choose, including Michael Vick, Drew Bledsoe, Ben Roethlisberger and (gasp) even Brett Favre, but McNair stands out. He’s hurt more than he’s healthy these days, when he is healthy he’s hurting somewhere or the other, and he heads an offense that may be getting worse before it gets better. If the Titans need a spark, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see head coach Jeff Fisher turn to backup QB Billy Volek. A couple of years ago, it would be impossible to give up on such a tough guy, but McNair has simply taken too much of a beating and – no pun intended – that has become painfully obvious at this stage of his career.
Dennis Leonard's Quarterback Sleeper
Kurt Warner, ARI – Warner had a quietly successful half-season in the conservative Giants’ passing game last year (23 rd in pass attempts and 31st in passing touchdowns) in spite of a Giants’ offensive line that surrendered the league’s second most sacks: 52. Warner displayed surprising overall accuracy throwing just 4 interceptions in 277 passes, or 1.4%: the lowest interception-to-pass ratio of any regular quarterback in 2004. Warner also managed last year’s 11th best completion ratio connecting on 62.8% of his passes.
The move to Arizona should provide Warner with every opportunity for success. First, the Cardinals’ passing schedule is much softer this year than the Giants’ passing schedule was last year. Second, Arizona’s offensive line provided somewhat better protection last year than the Giants, allowing only 39 sacks: 13 th most in the NFL. Third, last year the Cardinals passed the ball quite a bit more than the Giants; 533 times, which means more passing from Warner. Fourth, there is no serious competition for the starting QB position in Arizona. Fifth, the Cardinals simply have an electric array of receiving targets.
In addition to Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Bryant Johnson (all of whom were targeted 100 times or more last year), Arizona acquired a promising pass-catching running back in J.J. Arrington, who should start in Week 1. In addition, starting fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo and back up tailback Josh Scobey both demonstrated sure hands last season, flashing reception ratios of 73.10% and 78.30%, respectively. If the offensive line can keep Warner upright he shouldn’t have any problem finding an open target. Considering Warner is typically the 20 th or so QB off the board, he offers a wonderful combination of accuracy, upside, and opportunity relative to other back ups available in the same general vicinity.
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