The quarterback carousel spun nearly as wildly as that of head coaches during the off-season, with high-profile catches landing in Miami and New Orleans and second-tier players finding new homes throughout the league. But, barring a slew of injuries, only Daunte Culpepper and Drew Brees seem to have a chance at making a huge fantasy impact in their new digs.
We’ll break down these relocated signal callers in terms of how much fantasy production you can expect this season.
Immediate Impact: Look for Big Numbers
Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
Brees won the lottery with his final two seasons in San Diego, proving to critics he’s not just a serviceable NFL quarterback, he’s an excellent one. While he won’t have All-World options like LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates sharing the field with him, Brees should still have a strong supporting cast highlighted by Joe Horn, Deuce McAllister, and, of course, No. 1 draft pick Reggie Bush.
The No. 1 X factor with Brees, of course, is his frayed throwing shoulder, which he injured in the Chargers’ last game of the 2005 season. He underwent surgery for a torn labrum, but all indications pointed to a full recovery in plenty of time for training camp.
Close behind on the list of uncertainties, however, is the status of Deuce McAllister. He blew out a knee in the first game last season and never saw the field again. Odds are he won’t immediately round back into top form even after the lengthy time off he’s had, but he should still perform well enough so that opposing defenses can’t completely ignore the run. Besides, the addition of Bush provides instant explosiveness out of the backfield when McAllister isn’t in the game, and also gives Brees a potentially deadly passing target on third down – a la Tomlinson in San Diego.
The receiving corps is all about Joe Horn, and last season that corps was crippled. Horn missed four games entirely, and could only manage 652 yards and a single TD for the entire season. Donte Stallworth was the leading pass catcher with 945 yards and seven scores. Chris Horn, acquired from Kansas City, was little more than an afterthought with the Chiefs. Regardless, it’s pretty safe to say that Joe Horn’s 2005 campaign was an anomaly, and that Stallworth will continue to improve, so Brees should have some pretty strong receivers to throw to.
And new head coach Sean Payton didn’t get a whole lot of chances to show off his play calling acumen while under the stranglehold of Bill Parcells in Dallas, but he still has a reputation for knowing how to efficiently run an offense.
A solid receiving duo, an explosive rookie in Bush, and even a halfway healthy McAllister should combine to give Brees a very salty offensive cast. His 2006 production should approach his 2005 numbers (3,576 yards, 24 TDs), making Brees worthy of fantasy consideration as a No. 1 quarterback.
Daunte Culpepper – Miami Dolphins
There will be no hungrier player in the NFL this season than Culpepper, who will be hell bent for leather to prove his disastrous 2005 season was a fluke.
That is, if he can get on the field.
No matter how many times Culpepper insists he’ll be OK, the first inclination is to think there’s no way someone with a knee that turned into shredded cheese has any business starting the season. But you still have to wonder what sort of potential the Dolphin attack could have with Culpepper at the helm.
He already has a bonafide fantasy stud to throw to in Chris Chambers, who shed his dud status by accruing 281 yards and five touchdowns the last four games of the 2005 season (Chambers finished with 1,118 yards and 11 scores). Former Viking Kelly Campbell should have enough familiarity with Culpepper to be an effective No. 2 option, while underrated draft choice Derek Hagan from Arizona State should make solid contributions. The loss of Ricky Williams from the backfield will hurt, but Ronnie Brown is expected to step up significantly in his second season to take some pressure off of the passing game.
Mike Mularkey is the new Dolphin offensive coordinator, and he brings with him an affection for physical football, which may not bode well for Culpepper’s numbers. But he’s also never been around a quarterback with Culpepper’s talent. It’s a good bet he’ll loosen up his hammer-time philosophy and let Pep air it out to Chambers, Campbell and Hagans. Mularkey will also throw in more trick plays than normal, if his stint in Pittsburgh is any indication.
The bottom line with Culpepper is he’s a huge risk due to his injury. But do you really think the Dolphins would have invested their near future in him if they didn’t think he’d immediately contribute? With the aforementioned hunger burning within his belly, Culpepper should reap huge dividends for fantasy owners with the foresight, and cojones, to take a shot.
Medium impact: Don’t bet the farm
Aaron Brooks – Oakland Raiders
It would seem that the vertical passing philosophy of the Raiders, plus the opportunity to heave the ball downfield to Randy Moss, would make Brooks a fantasy no-brainer.
Not so fast, there, Junior.
Brooks has flashed signs of brilliance that have been quickly overshadowed by incompetence throughout his career. It’s doubtful a change in uniform will do much to change that, but … mediocre quarterbacks have flourished in new homes before, and maybe that will be the case with Brooks. But the evidence definitely doesn’t suggest a turnaround. Other than Moss, the Raider offense is chock full of unrealized potential in the form of guys like Jerry Porter and Lamont Jordan.
New offensive coordinator Tom Walsh is a mystery man, absent from the NFL since the Clinton administration. But it really doesn’t matter who wears the moniker of “coach” with the Raiders. As long as the guy with the funky glasses and jogging suit is taking in air, Oakland will air out the ball on a consistent basis. Plain and simple.
The question is whether or not you can weather Brooks’ moments of idiocy while waiting for a fantasy bonanza.
Jon Kitna/Josh McCown – Detroit Lions
Whoever wins the Detroit quarterback derby inherits the same potentially loaded lineup that Joey Harrington thoroughly failed with the last two seasons. Roy Williams has been the only bright spot in what should have been the wide receiver’s version of Murderer’s Row, with Charles Rogers and Mike Williams. Add a more than capable running back in Kevin Jones, and the fantasy possibilities should be endless. And don’t discount the addition of tight end Dan Campbell. When he was hurt, the Cowboy ground game became almost worthless. When he was in, Dallas’ running attack was more than respectable. If he has the same effect in Detroit, Jones will have more running lanes and the passing attack could improve dramatically.
But we’ve been fooled way too long. Until proven otherwise, everyone on the Lion offense, with the exception of Roy Williams and maybe Jones, is untouchable. And that includes the next poor sap that gets to stand under center at Ford Field. Both Kitna and McCown have shown ability – but neither has the pedigree to give any indication they’ll be able to solve the Mess in Motown.
Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers
It’s time for little Philip to grow up. Fast. After holding a clipboard his first two seasons in the league, Rivers gets the keys to the Charger offense. We finally get to see if he can live up to the hype.
Rivers was dominant on the college level at N.C. State, throwing for 95 touchdowns versus only 34 interceptions and averaging more than 3,300 yards per season. His senior year was particularly effective, as Rivers threw for nearly 4,500 yards and 34 TDs.
Coming out of college, Rivers was known for being an intellectual quarterback with excellent field vision, an ability to sidestep oncoming rushers, and a knack for dissecting defenses. But he’s slow, and lacks touch on his deep passes, according to scouting reports.
Add it up and it looks like Rivers should wear a “steer clear” button from a fantasy perspective. Other than LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, Rivers’ surrounding cast is suspect at best. Keenan McCardell is ancient. And if any of these names engender any confidence – Malcom Floyd, Drew Haddad, Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood, Rashaun Woods – then you’re either delusional or one of the most astute Charger observers on the planet. Those names comprise the rest of the San Diego receiver corps, in addition to Eric Parker.
If you’re desperate for a quarterback near the end of the draft, then Rivers may be worth a look. Otherwise, don’t even worry about it. Let somebody else make that reach.
Potentially Strong Impact: One Heartbeat Away
Brian Griese – Chicago Bears
The Bears are resurgent, with a good receiving corps highlighted by the reliable Mushin Muhammad and a solid running game featuring Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. Devin Hester may prove to be an excellent draft choice who can add a new vertical dimension.
Where does Griese come in? Probably in Week 3, if recent history is a guide. Rex Grossman is a quality NFL quarterback – when he plays. Maybe his last two injuries are anomalies. Maybe he’s as fragile as Tom Cruise’s psyche. If the latter proves to be the case, the astute fantasy player who picks Griese in the late rounds will reap huge benefits.
Matt Leinart – Arizona Cardinals
Beware the Cardinal attack, with established studs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald and star addition Edgerrin James. Kurt Warner’s durability, or lack thereof, has been well chronicled. Arizona’s not paying Leinart a ton of dough to just stand on the sidelines with a clipboard in his hands. You can mark it down – Leinart will not only be the No. 2, he’ll see quite a bit of action in 2006. Another late round gamble that could pay off in huge fashion.
The Rest of the Pile: Don’t Bother
Patrick Ramsey (New York Jets), Jay Cutler (Denver Broncos), Mike McMahon (Minnesota Vikings), Gus Frerotte (St. Louis Rams), Todd Collins (Washington Redskins), Jeff Garcia (Philadelphia Eagles), Vince Young (Tennessee Titans) – and several others not worth mentioning.
We’ll make this quick. Even if Ramsey beats out Chad Pennington, or takes the field once Pennington’s arm finally falls off, the Jets will be too putrid to even consider wasting a pick on him. Cutler shows promise, but it’s unlikely Mike Shanahan will turn the keys over to a rookie – even if a growing number of Bronco fans want the head of Jake Plummer. McMahon sucks. Frerotte is a good, solid veteran you’ll have to pick if you nab Marc Bulger. Collins might as well be in a federal witness protection program. Garcia is still a decent quarterback, but only draftable as a contingency plan should Donovan McNabb go down again.
And finally, Young is a project with immense upside, but if he sees the field this year, the Titans are in trouble. And so is your fantasy squad if you take him.