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Athlon Sports looks at the sleepers and busts at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end positions this week. These are the players we think you can wait on and still get solid production from and the players we think have an average draft position (ADP) that is too high for what you will get in return.
Now it's the quarterbacks' turn. There are five QBs you can seemingly set it and forget it — Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning (if he's back in time for Week 1). But what do you do if you pass (or miss) on them? Well, if you keep on waiting, here are some that could serve you well.
See more of Athlon Sports value players, overvalued players and top rookies in our Best Bets story
Guys that give you a reason not reach for the five set it and forget it players...
Matt Ryan, Atlanta
Hype has followed Ryan basically since he entered the league, and it’s not hard to see why. Two of his three seasons have ended in the playoffs, and the fourth-year pro has a career TD-INT ratio of about 2-1. The huge draft-day trade for Julio Jones has the fantasy-hype train chugging along. Ryan, who was fifth in the league in pass attempts last season (571), now has Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas in the slot at his disposal. The Falcons led the NFL in offensive scrimmage plays last season, running at least 49 more plays than in either of Ryan’s previous two campaigns.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
His ceiling remains lower than other passers. Visions of 2007’s 32 touchdown passes dance in some drafters’ heads, but that season remains a bit of an outlier. Roethlisberger’s 7.9 percent TD rate that season stands 1.6 points better than any other he has posted. His next two came in his first two years, each of which included fewer than 300 pass attempts. By comparison, Big Ben notched a 4.4 rate last season, good for 18th in the league, or one spot behind Carson Palmer. Still, it's hard to discount the 3,200 yards and 17 scores in 12 games (extrapolated out it goes to 4,200 yards and 23 scores). Certainly worth racking up other skill positions while the rest of your league grabs QBs and then taking Big Ben in the 5-7-round range.
Matt Schaub, Houston
The thing about Schaub is that you know he’ll throw it a bunch. He led the league in attempts in his breakout 2009 and ranked fifth last year. His two lowest totals opened and closed the season. In between, Schaub tallied fewer than 32 attempts just once — and then it was 29. This season should present a healthy Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. Combine those replenished top two targets with a passer who has lowered his INT rate for three straight years, and there’s little downside.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis
There was a lot to like about Bradford’s numbers as a rookie, including an INT rate better than that of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Most observers believe Bradford has a chance to improve in Year 2, now under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The promise, however, must outweigh the questions at receiver: Will Mark Clayton be OK after his injury? Can Danario Alexander stay healthy? Can Danny Amendola produce like Wes Welker? Will the rookies deliver? If you haven't grabbed a QB yet, this is probably the last who could be counted on as an every-week starter.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit
He produced well in three games last season, but that’s too small of a sample to mean anything in a sport of small sample sizes. We know Stafford has plenty of arm. NFL Films showed us his toughness in that 2009 win over Cleveland. The weapons are obvious — and they don’t matter all that much beyond Calvin Johnson. The big question with Stafford is that shoulder, and it’ll create significant differences in his draft position. If he could only stay healthy is the mantra of many a fantasy player concerning Bradford. He's thrown for 2,800 yards combined in his 13 career games the last two years, and has one of the game's best WRs in Johnson, an emerging TE in Brandon Pettigrew and a pass-catching RB in Jahvid Best.
Jay Cutler, Chicago
A healthy Cutler has to produce more in 2011. The 2010 Bears attempted fewer passes (466) than any other team and tallied their fewest scrimmage plays (936) since 1993. Both numbers will rise. We’ve heard about the complicated Mike Martz pass offense, so it’s fair to assume Cutler and his receivers will have a better grasp this time around. Let’s also assume more weight on their shoulders, as 2010 presented Martz’s first offense that ran as much as 44 percent of the time. Cutler wasn't a complete bum in his first year in Martz's system. He threw for nearly 3,300 yards and 23 TDs while being sacked a league-high 52 times. It's easy to say: If you just add a few extras of this and that he would be ... Since it's easy to say such things, we will. So, give him an extra 50 yards a game and he's a 4,000-yard passer. The offensive line should be somehwat more cohesive and his leading receiver from a year ago, Johnny Knox, is now No. 4 on the depth chart. That tells you the coaches must like what they see from the other three.
Kevin Kolb, Arizona
Kolb remains a fairly hot ticket despite having only seven pro starts and three more career picks than touchdowns. He started the excitement in 2009 with a pair of 300-yard games. One came while playing from behind, though, and the other against a weak K.C. secondary. Injury killed his 2010 starting shot, and Kolb delivered just one noteworthy fantasy outing. An outstanding supporting cast helped him with the big numbers he did tally. After Bradford and Stafford, this has to be the sexy QB sleeper pick of 2011. Groomed by Andy Reid in Philadelphia, the Cardinals coveted Kolb from the get-go. He gets Larry Fitzgerald, one of the game's top five WRs and plays against a relatively easy division and schedule altogether.
Guys that have potential to be more than bye-week replacements...
Ryan Fiztpatrick, Buffalo
Fitzpatrick brings two things to the party: 1) opportunity, and 2) running ability. You don’t want to draft some little Ivy-Leaguer from Buffalo with a cool beard, but he’ll throw the ball plenty. That’s why he delivered 23 touchdowns last season in just 13 games. His pace would have meant 543 attempts over a full season, which would have ranked seventh in the league for a team that ran the sixth-fewest offensive plays. The team went defense with its first three picks to start the NFL Draft. They won’t be impacts immediately, plus the Bills lost LB Paul Posluszny and DB Donte Whitner to free agency. If nothing else, just the opportunity to put the ball in the air a lot makes Fitzpatrick appealing, as do the 269 rushing yards he added in 13 games to make him the fifth-best rushing QB.
Colt McCoy, Cleveland
Say this for Jake Delhomme: He’s a good guy to follow as your team’s starting QB. The former Panther was so bad that McCoy looked good while posting a QB rating that would have ranked 28th in the league had he qualified. Actually, McCoy did play well considering his situation. His 60.8 completion rate and 7.1 yards per attempt, over 222 passes in eight games, ranked in the middle of the league despite a weak set of wideouts. The West Coast offense might suit him well and the addition of rookie WR Greg Little certainly helps. He also has a friendly schedule until the fantasy playoffs begin in Week 14.
Jason Campbell, Oakland
Campbell has never had it easy, from the coordinator turnstile in Washington to having Bruce Gradkowski sitting over his shoulder in Oakland last season. He’s better than that, though, and Hue Jackson seems to agree. The new head coach was the offensive coordinator in 2010, when Campbell posted his best TD rate in a season in which he started more than seven games. Campbell has also averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his career and topped 220 yards rushing in three straight seasons. He has two solid RBs behind him, a bevy of quick receivers and a TE in Kevin Boss that may have been under utilized in New York. The schedule is somewhat favorable until the fantasy playoffs and the Raiders' defense, or lack thereof, may allow for more opportunities.
Two rookies worth a late flier on...
Cam Newton, Carolina
The best thing for fantasy owners to do in advance of Newton’s rookie season might be to look back at Vince Young’s debut. Young took over in Week 4, started 13 games, rushed for 300 more yards than any QB not named Michael Vick and finished as a top-12 fantasy passer. The Titans had a solid running back (Travis Henry) and no special pass-catchers. Newton comes with a better arm, two better running backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), two solid TEs in Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey and a true No. 1 wideout in Steve Smith. Young scored 225 fantasy points as a rookie, and if you told us we could get a potential 225-point QB in the final three rounds, we would jump at it.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville
Newton is the rookie to go for considering he is the most likely to start all season, but Gabbert is the next most likely rookie starting QB candidate. He does have an average offensive line, RB (Jones-Drew), TE (Lewis) and WR (Thomas) to help him along. He was a 63 percent passer, averaging just under 250 yards per game in Missouri's spread offense last season, and can also use his legs to be productive. Let's say he starts after the Week 9 bye, the teams Gabbert will face include: the Colts, Browns, Texans, Chargers, Buccaneers, Falcons and Titans.
Two guys that have already proven they can be dependable fantasy QBs and are playing behind injury-prone QBs...
Shaun Hill, Detroit
Considering he entered 2010 as an off-the-radar backup, Hill was terrific. He put forth fantasy-starter value in his first start and generated plenty of other points thanks to a ton of pass attempts. That success helps to build momentum for Matthew Stafford’s fantasy stock now that the starter is back healthy. Hill has tossed 39 TDs versus 23 INTs in his career. If Stafford gets hurt, Hill put up three 300-yard games, 244 yards per game and nearly 1.5 TDs a game in his 11 outings last season.
Jon Kitna, Dallas
Had the Cowboys not opened so poorly, Tony Romo’s injury would have looked like a season-killer. It revived Kitna’s career, though. Two shaky initial starts gave way to four multi-score outings over the final seven weeks. Kitna topped 300 yards four times and helped Jason Witten to a career-high nine touchdowns. He posted the best TD rate of his career. Romo’s return pushes Kitna back behind the curtain, but at least we know what he can do in the event of another injury to the starter. Kitna put up 237 yards per game and 1.6 TDs a game in 10 outings.
Michael Vick, Philadelphia
Even Vick’s coaches couldn’t have foreseen his 2010 season. Being the unchallenged starter can only help, even without minicamps and OTAs. First-round pick Danny Watkins, a guard, strengthens an offensive line that ranked fifth-worst in adjusted sack rate, according to FootballOutsiders.com. Speed and talent surround Vick, making it easier for him to create big plays with his arm than his legs. Vick’s career-high of nine rushing TDs figures to regress, but we know he’ll continue to produce there. Of course, he also lost four games to a running-related rib injury.
Matt Cassel, Kansas City
Seven players threw more TD passes than Cassel last season. All attempted at least 25 more throws and threw for at least 589 more yards. No QB has thrown for less yardage than Cassel did last year while ranking among the league’s top 12 in touchdown passes since 2006. That would seem to indicate a TD level that’s tough to sustain. Cassel will need to attempt significantly more passes to have a shot at repeating his numbers. Plus, who knows how efficient the offense will be with Charlie Weis back in college?
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay
Freeman’s reputation might start to outgrow his actual value. His TD-to-INT ration of 25-to-6 last year was obviously tremendous. Five of those scores, however, came in a single home game against Seattle. It was the only time all year that Freeman threw for more than two TDs in a game. A guy known for above-average running ability also failed to rush for a single touchdown. Luck seems likely to change that, but Freeman’s next NFL ground score will be his first. His team also won’t sneak up on anyone this year.
Full disclosure, we have him ranked at 81 in our Athlon 280, and we thought that might be low. But he has an ADP of 100 in MockDraftCentral.com drafts and an ADP of 66 in MyFantasyLeague.com drafts. So he's a bust somewhere and a great value somewhere.
More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams