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Rookie Quarterbacks
Scott Boyter
July 1, 2008
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Usually, rookie quarterbacks in fantasy football are afterthoughts; guys who spend the season wearing a ballcap and holding a clipboard and have absolutely no value whatsoever. This season will largely be no exception, but there are a few fairly intriguing players who may be thrown to the wolves fairly early. As of now, at least, they look like nothing more than bye week filler at best, but one or two of them could actually be significant contributors to a fantasy squad by season’s end.

Here’s a look at this season’s crop of new signal callers separated into three categories: those who may be thrown to the wolves immediately, those who will be waiting in the wings, and those who will be holding the aforementioned clipboard – if they’re even lucky enough to make the team out of training camp.

Thrown to the wolves?

Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons
The franchise that lived with the stench of the Michael Vick dogfighting fiasco last season is desperate to win back its fan base, so there will be heavy pressure on new coach Mike Smith to get the new face of the Falcons on the field ASAP.

Whether you agree or disagree with the philosophy of immediately throwing a rookie quarterback into the fray is immaterial. The fact is, all quarterbacks put into this position are almost always doomed to fail their first season because their supporting cast sucks; that’s the reason the team was able to get the quarterback so high to start with, obviously. And that appears the case with Atlanta.

Roddy White is the only halfway decent receiving option for Ryan after the team released steady tight end Alge Crumpler. Fellow receiver Joe Horn wants out of town – badly – and could be dealt at any time. Laurent Robinson, Michael Jenkins and Adam Jennings are the only other receivers listed on the Atlanta depth chart, and while they may have promise, they don’t exactly promote a feeling of confidence in the minds of fantasy football players. The addition of Michael Turner to go with Jerious Norwood should create a potent 1-2 rushing tandem, so the Falcons will probably be a ground-heavy offensive attack that will limit what already promised to be minimal numbers for Ryan.

Ryan is an intelligent, poised quarterback who threw for 56 touchdowns in 45 games at Boston College. And every indication is he will be starting very early in the season for Atlanta. Even though Chris Redman performed admirably for the Falcons late last season, he’s not the guy who’s going to put butts in Georgia Dome seats. That being said, however, Ryan is not worth anything more than a late round fantasy pick at best – well after you’ve shored up your depth at every other position.

Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens
If you saw ESPNs College All-Star Skills Challenge before the Super Bowl you know why there was such a buzz surrounding Flacco before the draft. Heaving a ball 74 yards in the air will tend to open some eyes.

But Flacco’s more than a cannon-armed freak. He’s smart, can make all the throws, is mobile enough in the pocket to elude oncoming rushers, and is extremely accurate. He also has the “luxury,” if you will, of some talent surrounding him in the form of running back Willis McGahee, receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, and tight end Todd Heap. And unlike Ryan, the Ravens probably aren’t as desperate to immediately name him the starter for Week 1. He’ll more than likely get to sit a few games before being named The Man. It shouldn’t take too long, however, as all he has in front of him is the underachieving Kyle Boller and yet another potential Heisman bust, Troy Smith.

Flacco’s definitely worth a late-round flyer. He threw for more than 4,200 yards and 23 touchdowns against only five interceptions his senior year at Delaware. No matter what the level of competition he was facing, those are impressive numbers. He may be able to put up a couple of good games late in the season to help a lot of fantasy teams.

Chad Henne – Miami Dolphins
Henne could actually have the best chance of any rookie quarterback – even Ryan – to immediately start, even if new Dolphin Grand Poobah Bill Parcells hates starting rooks at any position, especially the most important one on the field. But Henne has a history of being quick out of the gate, having started as a freshman both in high school and at Michigan.

It’s not like the cupboard is completely bare in Miami, even though the team went 1-15. Running back Ronnie Brown is reportedly “thrilled” with the progress he’s made in rehabbing the knee injury that robbed him of most of 2007, and Ricky Williams has impressed Parcells and the Dolphin coaching staff as he continues to try and rehab his playing career. Receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Derek Hagan are young and potentially explosive, and Miami picked up Ernest Wilford, who last played for Jacksonville, in the off-season.

Henne would have to leapfrog both John Beck and Josh McCown for the starting position, but new head coach Tony Sparano is adamant that quarterback will be an open competition in training camp. Henne was a strong presence in the huddle by the end of rookie camp, and the importance of that quality cannot be overstated. NFL veterans look for any sliver of weakness in a rookie – especially a rookie quarterback – and Henne’s ability to allay those concerns will serve him well in quickly being accepted as a leader.

Henne is strong, durable and accurate, and left Michigan as the career leader in just about every passing category, including yards and touchdowns. He won’t be intimidated by the surroundings or the scrutiny. Like every other rookie QB, Henne won’t be worthy of even a mid-round fantasy pick, but he’s another one who may be worth stashing in the late rounds.

Waiting in the wings

John David Booty – Minnesota Vikings
Another quarterback deemed “NFL-ready” along the lines of Ryan and Green Bay’s Brian Brohm, Booty played in the most NFL-like college offense at USC. And anyone who saw the painful-to-watch 2007 season of incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson knows Jackson will probably be on a very short leash. The Vikings, even with Jackson’s mediocre season, were very close to making the playoffs thanks to a spectacular rushing attack and excellent defense. Minnesota, more than any other playoff contender, could probably insert another quarterback without worrying about too much of a drop-off. In Booty’s case, it may even be an improvement. Booty does an excellent job with pre-snap reads and an even better job of reading coverages while dropping back. Mobility and durability are concerns, but you can’t argue with his numbers – 62 percent completion percentage, 6,125 yards, 55 touchdowns and only 21 interceptions – while playing under what probably is the most glaring spotlight in college football – starting quarterback at USC.

There’s a fairly good chance Booty will leapfrog an aged Gus Frerotte and be the No. 2 Minnesota quarterback come Week 1. He’s another guy worth a late-round flyer, because barring a significant, significant improvement in the quality of Jackson’s play, odds are Booty will be calling the shots sometime around Weeks 8-10.

Brian Brohm – Green Bay Packers
The Packers are ready for the launch of the Aaron Rogers Era after the retirement of Brett Favre, and probably have no intentions of there even being a training camp competition at the quarterback position. But at the same time, the NFL is obviously notorious for being tough on quarterbacks, and should Rogers succumb to injury Brohm will likely be the team’s No. 2 option.

It’s curious that Brohm was available when the Packers picked at No. 56 in the second round. After all, it was the consensus of most observers that Brohm and Ryan were the most NFL-ready quarterbacks. Even though Louisville had a disastrous 6-6 season his senior season, Brohm still completed 65 percent of his passes and had 30 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. But Rogers has the trust and respect of his coaching staff and teammates, rendering Brohm, at best, a late, late-round fantasy pickup, and only then for teams that draft Rogers.

Wearing a ballcap and holding a clipboard– if they’re lucky

The Patriots must see something in Kevin O’Connel, since they took him in the third round. But even if something happens to Tom Brady, Matt Cassell has shown enough to where he’s the unquestioned No. 2 in New England. Dennis Dixon could conceivably be worked somewhere into the Pittsburgh attack in a Kordell Stewart/Antwaan Randle-El-type “Slash” role, but that’s probably the only way he’ll see the field this season. Andre Woodson flashed some serious skills at Kentucky, but he has to contend with both Jared Lorenzen and David Carr for the No. 2 spot with the Giants. Don’t look for him to be anything other than a No. 3. Erik Ainge with the Jets and Colt Brennan with the Redskins have the look of clipboard holders as well, while Josh Johnson joins a ridiculously long list of Buccaneer quarterbacks. He and the Texans’ Alex Brink will be lucky to even have roster spots once training camp breaks.

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