I will admit that I rarely listen to ESPN radio, but I happened to catch some this morning with Matthew Berry on the air. He made a point that every fantasy owner should understand: a good quarterback is the new mediocre quarterback. With the league becoming so pass-heavy overall, simply owning an adequate signal-caller is not going to get the job done. Berry has four quarterbacks inside his top-ten. While we can quibble with his rankings, he makes a good point. It is one position where you can create some distance from your opponent. How many of us sat down to look at matchups last year, saw we were facing Tom Brady and panicked?
It gets hard for fantasy owners as we drop down in the rankings and even more so as we look for our backup. Even if the quarterback starts just once in the season, you need to feel comfortable enough to play him in case of an injury. There are plenty of guys that can sling the ball around but knowing where to invest the pick is harder.
Here are three names for owners to know and understand some material impact.
How quickly a player can go from darling to dumpster. Palmer was easily one of the more interesting quarterbacks in the league during his time with Cincinnati. There always seemed to be plenty of potential but it was never reached. With Oakland, you have to wonder if a full season and training camp will help him reach playable levels. Going at pick 111 overall right now, he is the 14th quarterback off the board and is going ahead of Andrew Luck and Jay Cutler as well as Matt Schaub in early drafts.
After being acquired by Oakland last season, Palmer had his struggles. Throwing 16 interceptions in 10 games will do that to a guy. That said, six of those were in his first two games and four more were on the road against Green Bay. Yes, we can rationalize down anything but there is some reason for optimism. As he grew more comfortable with the offense, the interceptions came down. Second, many have pointed out that Palmer rarely had a healthy complement of wide receivers. Darius Heyward-Bey missed two games with Palmer but was able to catch at least four passes in seven of eight contests with three touchdowns. Denarius Moore played in only seven of Palmer’s ten games but he had more than 90 yards in three of them with three of his five touchdowns. Then Jacoby Ford missed six of ten Palmer starts.
Ultimately, all three should see positive impacts with Palmer under center. Heyward-Bey and Ford are strong pass catchers with legit downfield speed. Ford is near elite down the sidelines in that regard while Heyward-Bey should be a decent number three option for fantasy owners as the number one option for Palmer. Moore does not have Ford’s speed but is no slouch and is further along in the development. Many feel he has the most upside of all the Oakland receivers. Getting all three on the field will give Palmer some actual weapons to use and allow for some strong work underneath by Darren McFadden.
Cutler has to be one of the more intriguing options, especially as a potential backup. Cutler has some new toys to play with on the outside which makes him exciting. Still, there are some problems that could impact his numbers and the play of those around him for certain. As the 16th quarterback off the board, there is potential value here. We know what Cutler is capable of with his strong arm. His ability to consistently live up to that ability is the question.
Starting with a couple major changes, owners should not discount the fact that Cutler has a new offensive coordinator in Mike Tice. Tice replaces Mike Martz who had, once again, worn out his welcome. The offense likely becomes more conservative in this new regime. Not over-the-top running focused, but certainly not as pass-happy. Second, the addition of Brandon Marshall cannot be talked about enough. Marshall put up 1,200 yards last season with the guys Miami had under center. He even had 1,000 yards in 2010 with an offense that was even worse (if that is possible). The Bears leading receiver last year had only 727 yards and 37 receptions. Marshall had 81 receptions last year. He is legit threat that allows receivers like Johnny Knox, and Devin Hester to take more of a backseat role. It lets Earl Bennett be more of a complement. Truly a case of where a rising tide lifts all ships. Cutler and Marshall should see strong numbers and the other receivers surrounding them will get a boost as a result. All this before we mention talented rookie Alshon Jeffrey who could easily force his way into lineups during four receiver sets.
But there are still a few pieces that have not changed. First and foremost, the offensive line still has not been addressed. Cutler was killed last season and unless the protection gets better he will still rush throws, still be hit, and still frustrate fantasy owners with dumb interceptions. Cutler has not done enough to prove he has improved the decision making process either. That coupled with Tice calling the plays should improve Kellen Davis’ numbers. While still probably not a fantasy impact player, the use of the tight end in the passing game should help Cutler’s numbers out for certain.
Hey, good for Flacco that he thinks he is the best quarterback in football. Just pardon the rest of us if we may not quite buy that assertion. This is not to say that he is a poor quarterback, but simply that he cannot be seen in the same class from a fantasy perspective. In an era of such an open game, the Ravens have continued to play a brand of conservative football that has focused on defense and a strong running game. That just does not leave much opportunity for statistics to be piled up and moved to a high level.
Flacco simply is the dreaded “game-manager.” While 3,500 yards and 20-25 touchdowns may not be bottom numbers, there is a substantial gap here. With many quarterbacks pushing 35 touchdowns over the line, that is a gap of 40-60 points depending on scoring. Every 500 yards is another 20 points. Five points per week is not the easiest to make up. Not impossible, just not easy. Now, Torrey Smith helps. Though Flacco needs to improve his accuracy, Smith’s sideline speed should help open up the game a bit more and give the Ravens an added weapon. Anquan Boldin is not yet dead and he should still find plenty of production over the middle and in the red zone. Adding Jacoby Jones is nice, but Jones never materialized in Houston. His value does not grow in Baltimore.
The impact Flacco has to a fantasy team as a regular is probably more negative than not. In any given week, just based on averages, an owner starting him is chasing at least five points against the league average. He will continue to provide value to Ray Rice given the nature of the passing game heavily involves the running back, but he does not push Smith or Boldin into upper tiers nor will the receivers bring up Flacco.