In my last article, I talked about the players who could be drafted very early that you don’t want on your team. This time around, I’ll be talking about some quarterbacks that have been drafted very late or not at all, who could end up starting for you this year. I like to think of these types of players as backup plans. Of course it would be nice to draft Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Everyone knows they’ve got it going on, and nobody in their right mind would deny them a spot on their fantasy roster. Unfortunately, you can’t always get what you want, and if you had listened to the song, things might have been a little easier on you. But you didn’t, and while you were picking up running backs for the first five rounds of your draft, you missed out on all those gifted quarterbacks who seem to be almost as good at dating models as they are at football. You are left with ten rounds remaining in your draft, and staring at a list of passers who are all too young, too old, too hurt, or too likely to go to jail to be worth your while. Ah, but you’ve been in this situation before, and after all, there’s always Brett Favre, right? No, even the old standbys are gone this year. Life outside the top six quarterbacks can be a scary place, and this year might be more confusing than most. Let’s get to work weeding the future Pro Bowlers from the future golfers, and try to turn that confusion into an advantage for you.
To me, the most obvious player that is being overlooked this year is Marc Bulger. The St. Louis Rams quarterback has dropped way off the radar after a terrifying 2007 season. And I meant terrifying for his fantasy owners; I can only imagine what it was like for him. After five very good seasons where he consistently averaged around 1.5 touchdowns and about 250 yards a game, he dropped off considerably as the Rams limped through a year marked by serious injuries to multiple offensive starters. Bulger suffered a concussion himself and missed two games in a row on two separate occasions. In 12 games, he threw only 11 touchdowns and 2,392 yards. If you don’t feel like doing the math, that’s less than a touchdown and 200 yards per game.
Understandably, all of this has really hurt his perceived value going into this season. He’s been considered a very low-end starter or even a backup in most of the publications I’ve seen, and most of the mock drafts have him going around the seventh or eighth round. You won’t have to give up very much to get him, and remember, this guy who was a consensus top five quarterback at this time last year. The age and injury concerns that are keeping him so low are legitimate; he has missed 15 games in the last five years, and he isn’t the youngest guy around. Still, I’m seeing him ranked behind guys like Donovan McNabb, who is probably even more of a risk, and David Garrard, who has never played an entire NFL season. Matt Hasselbeck is consistently ranked higher than Bulger, even though he is older and likely won’t have a single proven receiver to throw to when the season starts.
Last season showed us just how bad things can get for a team when injuries get out of hand. The Rams lost their leader on the offensive line, Orlando Pace, during the season opener last year. Steven Jackson and Marc Bulger each missed four games, crippling the offense for a large part of the season. However, the team did show flashes that they still have the ability to be a powerful offense at times throughout the year. Bulger had a lot of horrible games, but he did play well in a few games, when he wasn’t busy running for his life or being sacked by multiple defenders. He managed to throw for over 300 yards three times, which is still a respectable statistic compared to most quarterbacks. Matt Hasselbeck also had only three 300 yard games, and he played the entire season.
I believe Bulger can and will make his comeback this year. He is only 31, making him younger than Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck, and a handful of other quarterbacks who have been successful later in their careers. Injuries are a concern, but no more so than most of the other quarterbacks who are being ranked above or around him. The offense struggled last year, but still has wide receiver Torry Holt, running back Steven Jackson, and some of the other players that made the Rams an offensive powerhouse not long ago. Orlando Pace is recovering from injury on schedule and should be starting for the team again this fall. A healthy offensive line and running game will go a long way towards taking the pressure off of Bulger and letting him play at a high level once again. Bulger should be your first target in the draft if you miss out on the top quarterbacks. You should be able to fill out the rest of your offense nicely if you wait until the middle rounds to grab him, after most of the other guys in your league have picked up their quarterbacks.
Jay Cutler is the next guy down on my list. He is a young quarterback who is already well respected around the league. Last year, in his first year as a full-time starter, he threw for almost 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns. However, he is currently falling outside of the top 12 at his position in draft lists, and is therefore not considered as a fantasy starter by most people. I believe the reasons that he is being ranked so low are a combination of three things: his lack of experience in the league, his personal struggle with diabetes, and the many issues with his top receiver, Brandon Marshall. However, there is good reason to believe that he can overcome these problems and even lead your fantasy team in a pinch this year.
First off, lets look at Cutler’s experience and production so far in the NFL. During his short career, he has already thrown 29 touchdowns and run for one more in just 21 games. Those are pretty decent numbers, but they are much more impressive when you realize that he played the first five of those games as a rookie, without much time to transition into the NFL game. His quarterback rating has hovered just over 88 during each of his first two years, which is actually better than Peyton Manning was for much of his early career. Manning had a rating of 71.2 in his first year before improving to 90.7 in his second year. Cutler has already shown an obvious physical presence that is rare in quarterbacks, especially at his young age. Perhaps most importantly, most NFL quarterbacks continue to improve until well into their careers, because their learning curve is possibly the slowest of any position in the league. All of this suggests that he has the ability to increase his statistical output in the coming year.
Early this year, Cutler was diagnosed with diabetes. He has already said that he thinks the disease weakened him last year and caused him to tire and slow down as last season wore on. Unfortunately, this is something that he will now have to deal with constantly, and although I am not familiar with the diabetes firsthand, there is a chance that even with proper care and treatment, it could still affect him in game situations. Understandably, this is causing some people to balk at adding him to their fantasy teams. However, there is good reason to believe that with the disease diagnosed, it will become much more manageable for him. If Cutler was playing at a high level that most young quarterbacks don’t achieve and doing it with diabetes, the diagnosis should only help him. At any rate, it certainly can’t hurt. I look for much of the improvement that should have happened last year to take place this year, now that Cutler will be equipped to deal with his disease.
The final problem that Cutler faces is another significant one, and that is the off-field problems of his best receiver, Brandon Marshall. Earlier this year, Marshall had an accident at home that involved him badly cutting his arm. The wound has required some extensive rehab and involved nerve damage. He has since resumed practicing and has reportedly been able to use his injured arm normally in recent practices. In addition to his injury concerns, however, Marshall has also been involved in an amazing amount of legal trouble, even for an NFL player. This year, he has been charged in two domestic disputes and has one DUI. It’s unclear how much trouble he is really in, but it seems naïve to assume that he will make it through the coming year without being suspended for a couple games at some point. Let’s assume for now, though, that Marshall will miss a few games due to suspension and that his arm is really recovered. Without Marshall, Cutler will still be throwing to some decent targets. Darrell Jackson and Brandon Stokley have been productive in the past, and Keary Colbert is a favorite prospect of coach Mike Shanahan. Cutler is good enough to be successful throwing to these guys, and if Brandon Marshall is available for most of the year, I’m thinking that Cutler will be starting for a lot of fantasy teams.
To wrap things up, I’m going to talk about two pairs of promising quarterbacks who could each benefit from improved offenses this year. Last year, Houston Texans quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Sage Rosenfels teamed up for 24 total touchdowns and almost 4,000 yards. Rosenfels scored the lion’s share of those touchdowns with 15, but Schaub is younger, and is currently the projected starter and the better fantasy pick. A shoulder injury kept him completely out of five games last year and caused him to miss parts of others, but he still posted a quarterback rating of 87.2 in his first year as a starter. Although injuries and inexperience limited him last year, it appears that his rehab is on schedule, and he looks like a good bet to lead the Texans’ offense and post those numbers on his own this year. Schaub is currently being ranked outside the top 15 quarterbacks, so you’ll be able to grab him as late as the 10th or 12th round, depending on the size of your league and how highly it values quarterbacks. Adding Rosenfels as a backup is not a bad idea, since he has proven that he can lead the offense in the event of a Matt Schaub injury. Rosenfels isn’t currently being drafted in most leagues, so you can wait until the last round or just keep him in mind as a free agent pickup.
In San Francisco, 49ers quarterbacks Alex Smith and Shaun Hill have to be drooling at the prospect of working with newly hired offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Although both quarterbacks have struggled so far in their careers, they have yet to work under an offensive mind quite like Martz’s. Under his coaching, both the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions have been transformed into high-scoring offenses, and he believes that the 49ers have the talent to work in his system as well. Martz has been successful with less than stellar quarterbacks before, as he helped turn Kurt Warner and Jon Kitna into very productive players during his time with them, despite their struggles elsewhere. It’s entirely possible that he could develop either of his quarterbacks into a top-notch passer, but the problem has been trying to figure out which of the two will start.
Alex Smith was the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, so he would be a huge disappointment if he is unable to win the starting job. However, Shaun Hill stepped in toward the end of last year and won the vote of many of his teammates with some stellar play. In three games, he threw five touchdowns with only one interception and had a quarterback rating of 101.3. The two games that he actually started were 49ers victories. Alex Smith enters the year with a career rating of 63.5 and has never thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a season, although, to be fair, he played through a shoulder injury last year that limited his effectiveness.
My suggestion would be to go ahead and draft both players while everyone else is busy arguing over who will start. Most people are giving the advantage to Alex Smith, but even so, he isn’t considered a top-20 quarterback and probably won’t even be drafted in some leagues. If your league allows roster space for three quarterbacks, I would draft another starter, and then wait until the last few rounds of your draft to pick up both Smith and Hill. You’ll only have to give up picks that you would have spent on a couple of fliers anyway, and if Mike Martz has his way, one of these guys will be throwing for around 22 touchdowns and 3,800 yards as a conservative estimate.
Hopefully these few pages have given you a few names to keep in mind when you are at your draft this year and you find yourself missing out on quarterback after quarterback. By stashing a guy like Marc Bulger in the back of your mind, you can give yourself a lot more flexibility in the early rounds of your draft. Go ahead and grab some depth at running back or wide receiver, or spend an early pick on a top tight end like Antonio Gates. If you end up with someone like Bulger, just try to remember that just because he had a down year, he hasn’t forgotten how to throw to a wide open Tory Holt. And if Jay Cutler does a good John Elway impersonation when he’s dizzy and tired, I’d love to see what he can do on a good day. Then, wait a couple rounds and try to grab Matt Schaub or Alex Smith as your backup. If you lose, it probably won’t be because of your quarterbacks, but because you didn’t use your earlier picks to build superiority at other positions. To help with that, keep an eye out for more of my articles on bargain players at other positions, which will be coming soon, and thanks for reading.