The NFL is going under a constant evolution of the game, which was on display last season when Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford each threw for over 5,000 yards, not to mention that Aaron Rodgers would have been part of this club had he played in the final regular season game and Eli Manning was only 67 yards away from reaching the mark as well. This evolution of the passing game has many teams looking to get younger at the quarterback position, and that evolution is quite evident this season with 5 (yes that is right) rookie quarterbacks that will be starting this season on day 1: Andrew Luck, RG III, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson. Then you have to look at the group of rookie quarterbacks that were taken one year earlier and 5 of them will be starters on opening day this season: Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker. That is nearly 1/3 of the leagues teams going with a first or second year quarterback.
This represents a changing of the guard and also reflects how the NFL is changing due to the new money restrictions on rookies. The fact is that the top quarterbacks signed for a lot less money this season under the new rules, which is giving teams more flexibility to find out what they have right away. Teams in the NFL are more likely to let these quarterbacks hit the field earlier since the investment is not as high as it used to be. There is less caution from NFL teams to make sure they keep the player healthy, instead the new emphasis is to see what you have as soon as possible and if the player does not work out, you can cut ties and move on since the financial burden is not what it used to be. This ends up being great news for these 10 players as they getting their chance to make their mark on the NFL and Fantasy Football right away.
This is the first season in the history of the NFL (Super Bowl era) that 5 rookie quarterbacks will start the season. Even the vaunted 1983 draft did not have all 5 of their rookies as starters on opening day. Andrew Luck and RG III were going to be starters from the get go, but the other 3 rookies had harder hills to climb. Brandon Weeden had to beat out Colt McCoy and most figured he would, especially since Weeden is 28 years old and was such a high pick for the Browns who were not enamored with McCoy. Ryan Tannehill was not expected to be the starter for Miami, but injuries gave him an opportunity and he outshined the 2 veterans on his team and earned the starting roll. Russell Wilson was the least likely rookie quarterback to gain a starting role this season. He entered training camp as the third quarterback behind newly signed free agent Matt Flynn and last season’s starter Tarvaris Jackson. Matt Flynn did nothing to give confidence to Pete Carroll and his coaching staff and Wilson, like Tannehill, outperformed Flynn and earned the job. So what does this mean for Fantasy?
In terms of Fantasy Football, rookie quarterbacks are usually a formula that does not get you very far. Traditionally rookie quarterbacks struggle with defenses early on and are very inconsistent. They typically throw a lot of interceptions and their coaching staff’s tries to have them manage the game more and don’t open the full playbook. That was how it used to be traditionally. Last season Cam Newton and Andy Dalton showed that a rookie quarterback can come in and be a difference maker.
The Cam Newton effect is that these teams that invested high in a rookie quarterback realize they can develop them from day 1 and they are more willing to go with the rookie quarterback over the journeyman, backup or spot starter. Thus, teams like Miami and Seattle have made the move to go with Tannehill and Wilson, but are they viable fantasy starters. Let’s take a look at all of their Fantasy projections this season.
Andrew Luck – Luck has been called the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning, and interestingly enough he will be replacing Manning in Indianapolis this season. The normal pressure that would come replacing Manning has been diminished a bit since they suffered through horrible quarterback play last season. Luck knew he was going to be the starter as soon as he signed his contract. Luck is going to be plagued by inconsistent play in his first season. He does not have a lot of help at the running back position with Donald Brown and will need to throw the ball a lot this season as the Colts figure to be behind in most of their games, especially against NFC North who they match up with this season. Luck will have veteran help in the form of Reggie Wayne, but other than that he has 2 rookie tight ends and a concussed Austin Collie. Luck is going to have some bright moments this season, but it will be a learning process. Expect Luck to be more of the traditional rookie quarterback who will throw about the same amount of interceptions as touchdowns. In keeper formats he is a must have at the quarterback position.
RG III – RG III is the sexy pick this season to be this year’s Cam Newton. He has an amazing arm and has the ability to run as well, which has everyone in fantasy ready to crown him as the next big thing. RG III has the benefit of going to a team that does have more weapons than Luck has in Indy. Garcon was a great addition through free agency and RG III should lean on him as well as Fred Davis. There is a running game for RG III, but no one, not even those on the Redskins, knows who it will be from week to week. RG III can run which is going to be his best asset in fantasy this season. If you are in a league that does not have bonuses for 300 yard games, then RG III and his ability to run for 50 yards and score a TD will increase his fantasy value. I don’t expect him to dominate the league with his arm as a pocket passer, but of all the rookies he has the best chance to make an impact due to his ability to run and should get at least 5 rushing TD this season.
Brandon Weeden – Weeden earned his job by being someone not named Colt McCoy. Weeden was taken in the first round by the Browns and is being given the keys to the car, which appears to be a 1982 Buick LeSabre station wagon. Weeden’s best weapon on the team is fellow rookie Trent Richardson, who is dealing with a knee issue after off-season surgery and a subsequent clean out. The fact is that Weeden is in a tough division and does not have the weapons in the receiving game that give him a lot of hope for fantasy this season. Greg Little is the number 1 one option at receiver and they will be relying on second year tight end Jordan Cameron who had all of 6 catches his rookie season. Weeden is destined to have the typical rookie season and I expect more interceptions than touchdowns and in my mind is a rookie to avoid this season.
Ryan Tannehill – Tannehill seems destined to the same fate as Weeden. He does not have any help at the wide receiver position as all of his receivers are going undrafted in 10 team and in most 12 team drafts. That is very bad sign. His running game is not proven with Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush. Thomas dealt with injuries last season and has not looked good this preseason. Bush is still a risk for injury himself, but seems like he will be the biggest benefactor to Tannehill starting, with his ability to make catches out of the backfield. This is a real tough situation for Tannehill to step into and he was not supposed to be in this position as he was supposed to back up David Garrard until he suffered an injury in the preseason. Tannehill needs some help at the skill positions and will not be viable until he gets some.
Russell Wilson – Wilson is the least likely rookie quarterback to be starting this season. Wilson was a third round draft pick and seemed to be well behind Matt Flynn who was brought in as a free agent. Then training camp and the preseason started and Seattle realized that Flynn was smoke and mirrors, while Wilson was proving himself. Wilson was a winner in college and looks to bring that confidence to the NFL. He is another quarterback who runs the ball if necessary and likely will get many opportunities this season. Wilson has a chance to be the third best option of the rookie quarterbacks this season and could push Andrew Luck for second if he runs the ball as much as I think he will. Wilson does not have very good receivers, but he is an accurate passer and will stick with the shorter passing game this season. In my opinion, Wilson will not have a 300 yard passing game this season, but the running potential makes him a nice deep flyer this year.
That brings us to the second year quarterbacks this season. Like the rookies we have 5 of them starting this year. This sophomore class has one of the biggest names that being drafted very high in Cam Newton and also contains one of the biggest sleepers for us here at Pyromaniac.com, Jake Locker. There is a lot of potential with this group, but that potential could go up or down. Let’s take a look.
Cam Newton – Cam Newton is an extraordinary athlete—which is putting it lightly—but can the 6’5”, 244-pound freak of nature put together a better fantasy campaign than he had during his rookie season? I highly doubt it. With the Panthers addition of RB/FB Mike Tolbert, it’s obvious they want Newton to cut down on the carries inside the five-yard-line, so his rushing TDs will certainly go down from the 14 he had in 2011. His 21 passing TDs, however, may go up a bit, but considering he didn’t have a single 300-yard passing game after throwing for three 374-yard-plus games in the first four weeks, you can argue that defenses finally figured the rookie out a bit. Newton will still be a fantasy starter in 2012, but don’t expect him to land in the top-3 like he did last year.
Jake Locker – In just 31 total minutes on the field last season (basically one full game), Locker threw for 542 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions while adding another 56 yards and touchdown on the ground. THAT’S JUST RIDICULOUS!!! Now that the Titans have handed him the keys to the car (as they should), his fantasy potential is off the charts. With an offensive corps made up of super-stud Kenny Britt (when actually on the field), Chris Johnson, Nate Washington, rookie WR Kendall Wright, Damian Williams and Jared Cook, Locker has a chance to be one of the sleepers of the year.
Andy Dalton – Dalton has one of the best weapons at receiver in AJ Green, which will help his development as a quarterback. Dalton had a stellar rookie campaign and led his team to the playoffs. He was mostly a game manager last season as he adjusted to the speed of the defenses in the NFL. Dalton should have the opportunity to improve on his rookie campaign and I don’t see there being a sophomore slump for Dalton. The playbook will be opened up for him this season and AJ Green is only going to get better. Then you add help to the passing game in the drafting of Mohammad Sanu and Jermaine Gresham at the tight end position. Dalton is not a starting quarterback in Fantasy, but he is a decent backup option.
Christian Ponder – Ponder came in last season after the Vikings gave up on the failed experiment that was Donovan McNabb. Ponder has one of the best running backs in Adrian Peterson, who will be back and playing by week 2 at the worst, and an outstanding wide receiver in Percy Harvin. Ponder was able to have some good success as he threw for 2 or more TD passes in 5 of his 11 games last season. This off-season he has been working with tight end Kyle Rudolph and he is expected to make an impact on the offense this season. The problem for Ponder is that this team still revolves around the running game and with Adrian Peterson back that limits how much throwing Ponder will do. Ponder has the potential to take the next step, but by the looks he is still one year away from being an effective fantasy player.
Blaine Gabbert – Gabbert had a very forgettable rookie season. Gabbert only had 2 games with multiple TD passes and threw for less than 200 yards 12 times (4 of which he threw for under 100 yards). Gabbert also had a terrible completion percentage of 50.8%. With that being said, it is obvious that I am not high on Gabbert, but there is potential for him to bounce back (hard to imagine being worse) and become viable by mid-season. The addition of Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson gives Gabbert much better weapons than he had last season. Gabbert will have MJD to help take the load off of him, but this is not an offense built for the pass and that makes it one to avoid this season.
It is great to see the new crop of quarterbacks take the league by storm this season, and I am interested to see which one will be the first to make me eat my words. These players represent what could be the best starters in the league in 5 years, so I am doing my homework now to see how these players develop. The second year quarterbacks will be battling the formidable sophomore slump, while the rookies look to deal with the game speed of the NFL. In terms of Fantasy Football there are 5 of 10 that have a chance to do damage this season: Newton, Dalton, Locker, Luck and RG III. These young guns are starting and looking to take the Fantasy world by storm this season.