Mar 25, 2010
Note: Ages are accurate as of midseason 2010.
I’m a little behind breaking these out, but I did want to wait until the bulk of the free agent action took place. I’ll be busting my ass to offer similar overviews for RB, WR, and TE in the next 4-5 days. My goal’s to have them all up by next Wednesday, so we can move on to the NFL Draft and our pre-draft rookie stuff.
Here’s my take on the QB landscape for those in keeper leagues:
The QB position in the NFL isn’t exactly bursting with young talent, so if you have a stud like Drew Brees (31), Peyton Manning (34), Aaron Rodgers (26), or Philip Rivers (28), then you’re doing really well at this position in your keeper or dynasty league. If you’re in a dynasty league or don’t have any restrictions in terms of the number of years you can keep a player, Rodgers (who will be 27 in December) and Rivers (who will be 29 in December) may be a little more attractive, simply because they’re younger. Rodgers, especially, is very young for a guy who’s considered elite – at least he is considered elite by me. Both Rodgers and Rivers also have a fine supporting cast around them, but I’d give the edge to Rodgers due to the presence of not only the youthful Greg Jennings (who is very, very good) but also TE Jermichael Finley, who could be a star. But I do also like those three sizable and physical targets Rivers has, and it appears he will have them all again at least for 2010 (although we’ll have to see if Vincent Jackson is facing a suspension due to his off-the-field issues). Unfortunately, it does appear that Jackson’s a bit of jerk.
But clearly, Brees and Manning are still playing at an extremely high level and still have excellent talent around them. Both could easily keep the major production up for at least 3-4 more years. In general, in a keeper league, I wouldn’t waste too much time thinking deeper into the future than 3-4 years (unless the player is very young) because things can change so quickly. Manning’s game will likely slip before Brees’, but he shows zero signs of slowing down. In fact, he’s getting better.
If you have one of these four players, they’re very desirable, even in a keeper league that limits the number of players who can be retained to only 1-3 guys. As we’ve stated a lot lately, it’s more of a QB-driven league than ever, and this is a position you can truly rely on week-in and week-out if you have a high-end player due to the nature of offenses in the NFL these days.
I do think there’s a drop-off after these four, and that’s because I’m officially concerned about Tom Brady’s (33) keeper value. Yes, I do think he’ll be more comfortable another year removed from his knee injury here in 2010, but I’m not convinced he’s ever going to be quite as good. The recent track record of QBs coming off a serious knee injury isn’t all that promising. Of course, even Brady at 85% is still very good, which brings us to the real short-term and possible long-term issue with Brady: the injury to Wes Welker. While Julian Edelman looks like as good a replacement as realistically possible in the league, if Welker’s not himself, that’s a huge problem because he’s the key to their whole offense. In addition, Randy Moss is pretty old in my eyes (he’s 33, but he’s had 12 very wearing seasons with a ton of playoff games) and I’m not sure how much longer he can maintain a high level of play. This leaves us with another problem when it comes to Brady: There’s nothing else at receiver on this team right now. Second year man Brandon Tate is a talent, but he’s got some major injury baggage. Other than the fantastic Edelman pick, the Pats have not done a good job putting players around their franchise QB. I do have Brady as the 5th-best keeper option at this position because he’s obviously still young enough and one of the all-time greats, but I’m less optimistic with Brady than I’ve been in quite some time, so I’d be careful not to assume he’s going to be a great long-term option.
In our next tier of players, we have some very solid options who could be really good for the long-term, but none are exactly locks, so those considering them in smaller keeper leagues that keep like only 2-3 players need to think long and hard about keeping them around and consider if they’re truly worth keeping. But in a larger keeper league (keep 4+ players) or a dynasty league, players like Tony Romo (30), Matt Schaub (29), Joe Flacco (25), Ben Roethlisberger (28), Jay Cutler (27), Matt Ryan (25), and Eli Manning (29) are certainly desirable. Romo and Schaub are a little older (already), but both have excellent receivers to throw to and can definitely put up big numbers. Schaub, of course, also does still have durability issues, since he still absorbs too many hits. Flacco does stand out now due to the addition of Anquan Boldin, his youth and talent, and the presence of OC Cam Cameron, who is definitely a friend of fantasy. There’s some concern given how he took a step back last year, but I view that as a one-step-back-and-two-steps-forward process for Flacco, especially with Boldin finally giving him some help at receiver and with Derrick Mason back for at least 1-2 more years. Roethlisberger would be more of a slam-dunk given his freakish talent and fantastic supporting cast at the skill positions, but his future is cloudy now given his (extremely disturbing) off-the-field issues. But while Big Ben’s playground mentality and lack of precision at times is troublesome, the guy’s got a lot working in his favor on the football field, and he’s in his prime right now. As for Cutler, I obviously love his talent, but his 2009 season speaks for itself – and it doesn’t speak well about him. You have to be concerned with downside, knowing what we now know, because there’s potential for another meltdown if he loses his game and his gunslinger mentality brings him down. But at least there’s still a lot of juicy upside – especially with Mike Martz on board. Cutler did account for a very respectable 28 TDs in a train wreck of a season (granted, 8 TDs came in the final two games). Ryan may not have the enticing upside, and he’s also coming off a second-year slump like Flacco, but he’s clearly a quality player, and he does have a legit #1 in Roddy White, so I’d feel okay about him as a lower-end starter in a 12-team league. It would be nice to see them add a solid wideout in this year’s draft. But I have faith him in. And finally, Manning’s usually not in the conversation when you’re talking about attractive keeper prospects at the QB position, but things have quickly changed after the 2009 season. For one, it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to count on Brandon Jacobs and their power running game, and, in fact, in ’09 we saw the team transition into being more of a passing team. It certainly helped that they had THREE young receivers step up basically all at once, giving Manning – who is right now hitting his prime – a pretty nice receiving corps. I really like Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks, and I think Manning’s ready to lead this offense like he’s never led them before, so his fantasy appeal is higher than ever. While he still has lapses, Manning clearly took his game to another level in 2009.
Things certainly get dicey after this, so my needs and expectations would factor into my keeper decisions. For example, if I were building for the future, Matthew Stafford (22) would clearly be the ideal keeper. Opinions are mixed on Stafford, and he still clearly has a lot to prove. But here’s what I know: He has the tools to be an elite player, and he has a superstar talent in Calvin Johnson to throw to. I’ll take my chances with Stafford, since my goal in a keeper league is to always acquire as many elite (or potentially elite) players as possible. The other player I’d look at in terms of building for the future is Chad Henne (25), who acquitted himself extremely well in his time as the starter in Miami this past season. Henne needs a lot more help at receiver, and he’s not yet someone anyone can truly rely on. But he also has the tools to enjoy a lot of success, and his sampling this past year was, again, pretty impressive. When I see a QB with the size and arm strength to be very good and show a great deal of poise, as I did with Henne this past year, I’m naturally optimistic. If we’re looking for long-term help, then Mark Sanchez (24) certainly also needs to be considered. I’m not a big Sanchez guy because of his limitations as a thrower and the run-heavy nature of their offense – as well as their overall identity being defined on the defensive side of the ball – but the guy can clearly do good things in the NFL. I don’t see a lot of consistently good fantasy production in his future, and I am also concerned about how he at times last year looked like he was in way over his head, but the guy’s hardly a stiff. A player I’d personally rather take a chance on for the long-term over Sanchez is Philly’s Kevin Kolb (26). Kolb’s still very unproven, but he certainly stood out in his two starts in 2009 (718 yards passing and 4 TDs). They are high on him and it’s clear he’s going to be a starter very soon. The expectation is that he is (a starter) for the Eagles, which certainly helps his fantasy potential due to their personnel and scheme. The only issue with Kolb for right now is that he might still have to wait yet another season before he’s truly the guy, so you may have to be patient. But the accurate Kolb looks like a player who can handle Andy Reid’s pass-happy offense, if not flourish in it. As of today (3/25), starter Donovan McNabb hasn’t been traded, but a deal could still be stuck, so Kolb’s keep value could soar. If McNabb was moved, I’d move Kolb well into my top-20 for the long-term, possibly around 15th overall.
Otherwise, for more of a short-term fix, we’re looking at veterans like Carson Palmer (30) and Donovan McNabb (34). Palmer does get some help with the addition of WR Antonio Bryant, and that helps. But his game has fallen off due (presumably) to his various injury issues the last few years. It’s gotten to the point at which I’m officially questioning whether he’ll ever be an elite thrower again, but he does have the tools still to be a stud, and he’s performed like a stud in the past. As for McNabb, his value for even 2010 is still up in the air, since he may be traded. But he’ll clearly be starting in this league for the next 2-3 years at least if he wants to. His durability is an issue, his game is declining, and his limitations and problems certainly aren’t going away at this point, so he doesn’t have much upside. But there’s also something to be said for his experience and long history of production, so he’s still viable. If he’s back in Philly as the starter in 2010, he’s potentially a top-12 guy if healthy. If he’s in St. Louis or San Francisco, those are actually two decent spots, especially SF, but he’d be a fantasy backup in both places.
Next up, for any keeper league, you have to give some priority to some of the younger players in the league, even if they have some issues. Vince Young (27)
Matt Leinart (27), Matt Cassel (28), and Josh Freeman (22) are some guys to look at. I don’t have a ton of confidence in any of them, but Young did show improvement in 2009 and has some nice weapons, plus he can help you on the ground. Freeman’s got a long way to go, but he did show surprising poise at times last year. He has the physical tools to be a very good player, but the problem with him is his supporting cast at the skill positions is pretty bad, so it’s going to be a struggle for him. Leinart and Cassel are probably a little safer, given their appealing supporting casts. Leinart will be helped by stud WR Larry Fitzgerald, while Cassel has a chance to show more game going forward in what should eventually be a fantasy-friendly offense and with some decent receivers and overall weapons. All things considered, I’d rank them just how I have here for those in keeper leagues.
I should also include a few guys in Jason Campbell (28), Alex Smith (26), and Matt Moore (26) who have a chance. Campbell looks like the guy for 2010, but it seems inevitable he will be replaced, and then who knows? He’s far from perfect and, at this point, his slow tempo appears to be a problem that will never go away. Smith probably isn’t the answer, but if the team doesn’t find a way to upgrade the position by a trade (McNabb?) or in the draft, he’ll have to be the guy by default, and he did look improved in 2009 and has a pretty solid receiving corps. Moore is the guy, but he’s probably more of a game-manager than anything else, and his receiving corps looks terrible other than Steve Smith.
There are some remaining players who I think might have value (or even a lot of value), but for only 2010. Of course, Brett Favre (41) tops the list. If he’s back in 2010, he’s a top-12 guy based on his supporting cast and shockingly strong play in ’09. David Garrard (32) may be replaced soon in Jacksonville, but if their alternatives turn out to be limited, he may be the guy for 2-3 more years. He is what he is at this point, and his receiving corps is nothing special. But due to his experience, mobility, and durability, he finds a way to put up respectable numbers.
Kyle Orton (28) will be the guy most likely in 2010, but we’ve seen over and over what Orton is: a player who needs to be limited and managed. He may be a better NFL option than new teammate Brady Quinn, but his fantasy value is limited, especially if the team loses Brandon Marshall. Barring an amazing turnaround, I’m not that confident in Orton, and the addition of Quinn makes me even less enthusiastic.
Speaking of Brady Quinn (26), he certainly needs to be included in any keeper conversation, since he presumably will be given a chance to take over as this team’s QB of the future. But while he knows this offense well and might end up elevating his game in it, it’s far from a lock he’ll be the guy or they he’ll enjoy success if he is the guy. I’m not overly confident, but while it’s a stretch to say he’s a desirable keeper, it’s too early to write him off. He’s worth a roster spot on a dynasty team, for sure. Maybe I’m enamored with the unknown simply because he’s an unknown, but I’d actually be inclined to take a flyer on a guy like Charlie Whitehurst (28) over Quinn. Granted, Quinn’s more of a proven commodity, but at least we have no idea if Whitehurst can play – yet we’re pretty sure Quinn can’t really play at a high level, so the element of the unknown is enticing with a guy like Whitehurst, who does have the tools to excel and whom Seattle clearly acquired with designs on starting him soon.
And speaking of Seattle, I’d put Matt Hasselbeck (35) in the group of viable remaining options, including JaMarcus Russell (25), Michael Vick (30), Jake Delhomme (35), and Trent Edwards (27). Hasselbeck, however, may not finish out the 2010 season as the starter, as the team may look to get Charlie Whitehurst on the field, especially if they’re out of the playoff race. Russell is still very young and talented, but his career is perilously close to being completely in the toilet, so barring a dramatic turnaround, I wouldn’t expect contributions from him – especially on this horrendous team. Vick’s probably never going to regain the burst of speed that made him so dangerous, so even if he gets another chance to start, I’d keep expectations tempered. He’s worth a shot for depth in a dynasty league; that’s about it. Delhomme obviously has some value for 2010, but you’d better be in a deep dynasty league to consider him at this point. I’m not ready to totally bail on Edwards, but his career is completely off track, and if they draft or acquire another QB, he’ll be in trouble. Edwards has the tools to be an effective player, but he’s regressed, and he’s had injury issues, plus this team’s receiving corps is bad.
At this point, we’re really digging deep, and all the remaining players are major reaches. For those in dynasty leagues, Tarvaris Jackson (27) may be worth a roster spot. I’m not bullish on his future, but if Brett Favre does retire this year, Jackson would have a good chance to take control of the job, and this is a very good situation for him. My concern is how the team continues to find other options, and they may even draft a QB if they (somehow) know Favre’s not coming back, or even if they’re not sure he will. You also have Sage Rosenfels in the mix, and I think Rosenfels would be better for this team for the short term than Jackson. But if you’re looking for a little upside potential, Jackson does still have that.
Otherwise, the rest of the fantasy landscape includes some veterans who may or may not have starter’s value in 2010, such as Marc Bulger (33), A.J. Feeley (33), and Bruce Gradkowski (27). Gradkowski may start for the Raiders this year, but while he’s scrappy, the guy doesn’t have the tools to maintain an acceptable level of play – and it is the Raiders. Bulger and Feeley could be out of luck if the team trades for Donovan McNabb or drafts Sam Bradford #1 overall in April’s draft. There are also a couple of guys relatively young who could get an opportunity in the next 1-2 years and could potentially enjoy a modicum of success, such as Sage Rosenfels (32) and Derek Anderson (27).
If you’re in a large dynasty league and are looking for a development prospect, there’s really not much out there, but here’s what’s left: Dennis Dixon (25), Tyler Thigpen (26), Brian Hoyer (25), Brian Brohm (25), Kellen Clemens (27), Brodie Croyle (27), Nate Davis (23), Tom Brandstater (26), Colt Brennan (27), and Stephen McGee (25). Dixon may actually have a chance in Pittsburgh, given the bizarre situation with Ben Roethlisberger, and he did show some potential in one start last year. He’s still very raw, but he’s very athletic as well. I do like Thigpen, but he needs to be in the right system (a shotgun spread approach), and he’s going to need some help if he’s to ever come through. Right now he’s certainly not on the path to a starting lineup in Miami. Brohm has shown absolutely nothing, but he wasn’t terrible in a cameo appearance in 2009 and was highly-touted coming out of college, plus there’s a real need in Buffalo at QB. Hoyer’s a great story and might stick here for a number of years behind Tom Brady, but obviously being behind Brady is prohibitive. Clemens and Croyle have some ability, but they’ve had chances and failed, so they are major reaches. Davis, Brandstater, Brennan, and McGee are still developmental guys who don’t appear to be in line to start in the near future.