Talk about slim pickings. That sums up this year’s rookie crop of quarterbacks in terms of making any sort of fantasy impact this season.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Rarely does a first-year quarterback crack an NFL starting lineup, much less drive a fantasy team to a title. Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler made some noise last season, but it’s doubtful they made enough to bring championship hardware to many fantasy squads.
And this year the impact should be at an absolute minimum, with maybe two rookies even starting for their teams. Here’s a breakdown of some of the higher-profile young guns and their prospects for fantasy relevance.
JaMarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders (1.01)
A guy who can flick a ball 40 yards while sitting on his ass at a Sugar Bowl practice looks like the perfect fit for the vertical passing tradition of the Raiders. And Russell definitely has a cannon – probably the strongest arm of anyone, at any level. With only Andrew Walter, Josh McCown and Josh Booty to contend with (barring some sort of free agent signing before training camp), Russell looks like he’ll be in the saddle come Week 1.
The problem is he’ll probably be throwing from that sitting position more often than not this season. The Oakland offensive line is still a joke, the running game is questionable at best, and the No. 1 receiver in the Raider “arsenal” will most likely be malcontent Jerry Porter. And the No. 2 will probably be colossal underachiever Mike Williams.
Russell has the potential to ultimately surpass the amazing production Daunte Culpepper displayed before his knee injury. But that potential won’t be realized this season – and this season is the focus of this article. The most we can recommend is that you take a late round flyer on the big guy and hope he proves the naysayers wrong.
Brady Quinn, Cleveland Browns (1.22)
The Browns got their man, albeit 19 picks later than most observers thought they would. Quinn could be this season’s version of Leinart; the guy who embarrassingly had to sit in the green room long after all the other high-profile draft picks were taken, and used that embarrassment as fuel for a strong rookie campaign. Quinn has the poise and confidence to quickly assimilate an NFL game plan, a strong arm that can deliver a ball with touch, and he displays enough movement to be able to buy time in the pocket.
A couple of negatives to Quinn are that he had a tendency to leave the ball exposed when running out of the pocket at Notre Dame and tends to take too many sacks when not running. But that’s all nit-picking, really. Quinn has the physical tools to be a productive quarterback for a long time.
The problem is there’s no guarantee he’ll even be the No. 1 in Cleveland this season. Charlie Frye won’t give up the position without a fight, and there are already rumblings that Quinn is thinking of holding out of training camp. He reportedly feels he should be compensated like the top-tier draft choice he thinks he should have been, rather than the approaching-the-bottom-of-the-first-round pick he really was.
Contract talks aside, Quinn wasn’t exactly tearing it up during minicamps. He showed an alarming lack of accuracy that may have led to his first round plummet in the first place. Add to those concerns a questionable offensive line, shaky running game (even with the addition of Jamal Lewis) and pedestrian receiving corps, and Quinn carries too much risk. He might be worth a look at the absolute bottom of your draft when the beer buzz starts kicking in, but that’s it.
Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia Eagles (2.04)
Here’s where the fantasy prospects really head down the toilet. The Eagles raised more than a few eyebrows when they picked Kolb with the fourth pick of the second round, and definitely bothered incumbent Donovan McNabb. But the bottom line with Kolb is he’ll be doing well to even take the No. 2 spot this season from either A.J. Feely or Kelly Holcomb.
Kolb is smart, loves pressure situations, and is mobile. He was sacked 33 times in his last season at Houston and only fumbled once, so he places a premium on protecting the ball. And his arm strength and accuracy should prove more than satisfactory at the NFL level. The downside is he tends to hold on to the ball too long and he’s not exactly a physical specimen. He took a load of vicious hits at the collegiate level and might not be strong enough – at least at this point – to withstand the Mack trucks that prowl NFL defenses.
He has zip, zero fantasy value. If he’s seeing action when the bullets fly for real, that means hardcore Eagle fans will have lost their will to live by October.
John Beck, Miami Dolphins (2.08)
Beck may actually have a decent chance to see some playing time, with the durability questions surrounding Trent Green after his vicious concussion. The Brigham Young product is smart and accurate, and has no problem executing a complicated game plan. He reduced his interception total from 13 in 2005 to eight in 2006 while increasing his yardage total from 3,709 to 3,885 – all while attempting 96 fewer passes.
His main downside is his lack of size. At 6-2 and only 216 pounds, durability will be a huge question mark until he adds some bulk. He also lacks the arm strength to be consistent on deep throws.
If Beck can hold off veteran Cleo Lemon for the No. 2 spot he’ll more than likely see some significant action this season, unless Green surprises everyone by staying upright for 16 games. Should Green fall, however, Beck would have a pretty good running attack to lean on with Ronnie Brown and a solid set of receivers in Chris Chambers, Marty Booker, Derek Hagan and potential stud Ted Ginn, Jr.
Still, though, he’s probably nothing more than late draft filler at best.
Drew Stanton, Detroit Lions (2.11)
Stanton arguably has the second-most upside of this rookie crop to Russell. He doesn’t have the cannon of JaMarcus (Who does?), but he’s tough, mobile and extremely smart, having earned academic honors five times while at Michigan State. He’s especially adept at throwing on the run.
He needs to work on preserving his body a little better, though, as he tends to take defenders head-on. If anything will guarantee an incredibly short NFL career, it would be the inclination to go mano-a-mano with 280-pound behemoths who can bench press a Volvo and run like a deer.
There’s probably not much potential for Stanton to see very much time on the field this regular season, as Dan Orlovsky is probably going to get the No. 2 slot behind Jon Kitna. And Kitna’s proven durable. Taking away the time he spent in Cincinnati playing behind some guy named Carson Palmer, Kitna has missed only four games total in the last six seasons he’s been a starter.
Trent Edwards, Buffalo (3.29)
Isaiah Stanback, Dallas (4.04)
Jeff Rowe, Cincinnati (5.14)
Troy Smith, Baltimore (5.37)
Jordan Palmer, Washington (6.31)
Tyler Thigpen, Minnesota (7.07)
Edwards missed most of his senior season with a foot injury and will probably be No. 3 in Buffalo behind J.P. Losman and five-year vet Craig Nall. If Stanback is on the Cowboys’ Week 1 roster it’ll be as a wide receiver. Rowe will hold a clipboard in Cincinnati. Smith may have a shot at the No. 2 slot in Baltimore, but Kyle Boller will probably remain the backup to Steve McNair. Palmer’s got the name but he’ll be lucky to get the No. 3 spot in Washington. Thigpen’s in the unenviable position of backing up the Viking’s supposed “quarterback of the future,” Tarvaris Jackson.