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Rookie Impact

When it comes to fantasy football, the words rookie and quarterback rarely equal success when paired together in re-draft leagues. Here are the top 10 single season performances for a rookie quarterback and their subsequent year-end fantasy ranking within the context of their position:

Rookie QBs At Their Best
Last First FF Pts Rookie Year Round # Season Ranking
Manning Peyton 297.15 1998 1 1 6th
Kelly Jim 287.55  1986* 1 14 5th
Moon Warren 242.00  1984* U U 12th
Mirer Rick 241.95 1993 1 2 9th
Weinke Chris 239.35 2001 4 11 19th
Zorn Jim 225.15  1976* U U 6th
Leftwich Byron 219.75 2003 1 7 18th
Roethlisberger Ben 219.45 2004 1 11 21st
Collins Kerry 217.25 1995 1 5 22nd
Couch Tim 216.15 1999 1 1 17th
  Average 240.58       14th

* - Denotes player’s first year in NFL, not necessarily first year in pro football. Jim Kelly was drafted in 1983 but played in the USFL until ’86. Warren Moon originally signed with he CFL.

U - The player was not drafted by an NFL team.

Of the five rookies to crack the top 12 fantasy QBs in their rookie season—Moon and Kelly already had a at least a few years of professional football experience. Jim Zorn played in a different era of offensive football. Overall, the highest performing rookies generally put up numbers worthy of a fantasy back up. That’s a late-round bargain for a backup in some re-draft leagues. But no experienced fantasy owner is going to build a re-draft team around a rookie.

For dynasty leagues it’s a completely different story. Top quarterback prospects are always in high demand. The reasons are longevity of high-production. A great fantasy quarterback can have a career that spans twice as long as most running backs or receivers.

The quarterback draft class of 2005 may turn out to be an underrated group. In terms of hype, there is no John Elway or Peyton Manning, but there are potentially a lot of Trent Green-Matt Hasselbeck-Aaron Brooks-Tom Brady types—players that may sit for a while, but have the skills to develop into productive fantasy quarterbacks.

Potential Starters

Alex Smith, 49ers: The Utah grad is regarded as one of the most intelligent draft choices in the history of the NFL. This is a kid that began working on his graduate degree before his last season of college football. His uncle is Michigan State coach John L. Smith. A former high school teammate of USC tailback prospect, Reggie Bush, Smith is known for his poise, accuracy and athleticism. His college career stats boasted a 66% completion percentage, 47 touchdowns, and only 8 interceptions. It’s worth noting the offense has been criticized as a gimmick scheme that may have made Smith look better than his talent suggests. The offense may be unusual, but Smith made the talent around him look good—and considering the draft status of Steve Savoy and Paris Warren—maybe better than their actual talent. So the perspective can go both ways.

At 6-3, 212 lbs, Smith has the youth and frame to add some muscle. Of all the rookie quarterbacks, Alex Smith has the best chance of seeing time on the field in 2005. This doesn’t mean he’s the most talented, but he’s the most NFL-ready QB in a situation where a rookie could emerge as the starter. It is highly likely Smith will start some games for the 49ers before the season is over. He’s the kind of player that will have a decent grasp of the playbook sooner than the average rookie.

Nonetheless, don’t expect Smith to perform among the best rookie fantasy quarterbacks. The San Francisco offense is in rebuilding mode. In 2004 defenses were able to harass Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey at will—the 49ers were second in the NFL with 52 sacks allowed. Smith’s ability to run and buy extra time will be an asset, but it generally takes more time for a quarterback to gain rapport with his receivers, even if they are now under talented wide out coach Jerry Sullivan. Brandon Lloyd and TE Eric Johnson will likely be the most productive targets, but they might be the most serviceable fantasy starters available on this offense for the entire year.

If Smith wins the job from the beginning, he’ll likely have success as the season progresses—most first year quarterbacks have a higher split differential in fantasy points during the second half of season. Yet, this is probably a situation to avoid in 2005 unless you’re only looking for a bye week starter off the waiver wire.

The dynasty prospects are more promising. Mike Nolan is a highly focused, head coach with a strong idea of how he wants to build this team. The skill position players are young and talented, but need experience. Look for Smith to develop into a quality starter that isn’t relied upon to carry the offense, but will be capable of coming up big when needed. In fantasy terms, at worst think of a slightly more prolific version of Troy Aikman and at best, a Jeff Garcia in pro bowl form. There are many NFL coordinators and scouts that feel Smith has the best chance of all the quarterbacks in this draft class to be a special player.

Just A Matter of Time

Charlie Frye, Browns: Opinions tend to be all over the place with Charlie Frye. Some compare his playmaking skills and leadership to Brett Favre. These are the personnel types that felt he was a first-round talent. Others see him as a Phil Simms type—a solid game manager that makes plays but generally not too prolific. The common denominator with Favre, Simms, and Frye is toughness. This is something he also shares with fellow MAC standouts Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger.

Frye has good throwing mechanics and footwork. His accuracy has improved every year. Only Alex Smith rivals Frye in the area of leadership. What really stood out about Frye during the Senior Bowl was his ability to gain control of the huddle and make plays time after time. This guy could be the perfect fit in Cleveland—a team he followed growing up—he has a blue-collar approach to the game that will appeal to both the organization and fans.

Romeo Crennell already jettisoned Butch Davis’ prospect, Luke McCown to the Bucs, which makes Frye the backup to Trent Dilfer and Josh Harris—the Raven’s late round draft pick and developmental project—the third man on the depth chart. As he did with Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle, Dilfer will provide a supportive veteran presence. Based on the changeover in Cleveland, it’s fairly clear the organization views Frye as their quarterback of the future.

Another important factor for consideration is the Cleveland Browns scouting staff. This is has been a beleaguered unit during the Butch Davis era. It has been reported Davis rarely took the staff’s information into serious consideration on draft day—something that is probably validated when one considers that Ron Wolf was brought in as a personnel consultant and resigned almost as quickly. This was the first draft in a while where the scouting staff had a stronger voice, which indicates the choice of Frye was probably a well-researched decision. Look for Frye to develop into a quality fantasy presence within three years. This is a great value pick in dynasty leagues on a young offense that will develop with him.

As for re-draft leagues, I think Frye could be the surprise rookie quarterback. Trent Dilfer has experienced some durability issues and Frye could see action sooner than the Browns prefer. Although there’s talk the Browns are looking for another veteran quarterback, it’s not likely they will find much out there—unless they want to have Brad Johnson compete for the starting job. If Frye gets the opportunity to play, he has the mental make up to keep his team competitive and make plays. This possibility doesn’t make him a player to draft, but he could be a decent bye week waiver wire acquisition if desperate.

Aaron Rodgers, Packers: The California Bear is a Jeff Tedford pupil. Tedford is famous for developing college wonders Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and David Carr. Since Carr is the only one of the three to take any serious steps towards becoming a solid pro quarterback, the Tedford’s image is somewhat tarnished in NFL circles. One criticism of the college coach is how he teaches quarterbacks to hold the ball when setting up to throw—but this is not a difficult thing to change. The other has to do with these quarterbacks experiencing one great year in college and rocketing up draft boards, which hints the players are more products of a good system than quality NFL prospects. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t fit this profile even though in a matter of weeks he went from serious consideration of being the top overall pick in the draft to almost falling out of round one.

Fortunately for Rodgers, he landed in historically one of the best situations for rookie quarterbacks—on the depth chart under Brett Favre in Green Bay. There’s a pretty reputable list of quarterbacks with the same distinction: Mark Brunell, Kurt Warner, Aaron Brooks, and Matt Hasselbeck. Now Rodgers gets the opportunity, but it’s worth noting the strength of quarterback coaching is not the same as it once was—Holmgren and Mariucci were the coaches behind the slew of future starters.

Rodgers will still have the opportunity to learn a lot from observing a great player and he’s just as heralded a prospect as any of the players mentioned. In terms of ability, Rodgers is a better passer at this point than Alex Smith and other first round pick Jason Campbell. He has one of the strongest arms in the draft—an elite NFL arm. He’s shown a quick release, excellent touch, and he’s known for making great decisions in the pocket. Like Smith, he also has a very low career interception percentage. The media seemed to harp on Rodgers’ attitude as a perceived negative. Rodgers came across a bit cocky to some, but it’s not an issue. The only reason Rodgers fell was due to lack of need at the position after Miami chose a tailback.

Unless Brett Favre’s consecutive game streak ends in 2005, don’t count on seeing Rodgers during the regular season except for a game with a lopsided score, which isn’t likely with their defense. Jeff Tedford aside, Rodgers is not a robotic quarterback with one good season under his belt like other Tedford pupils Harrington, Carr, and Smith. Rodgers had two excellent years at California and he showed the ability to deliver the ball accurately from a variety of release points. This is a quarterback that could look surprisingly good late in the season if he gets an opportunity. He won’t be slinging it with abandon, but would likely put up the best game-to-game stats of any rookie signal caller with an opportunity.

From a dynasty standpoint, Rodgers is a good, but not necessarily great pick. He and Charlie Frye have the skills to be quality starters for many years. The fact he’s a Packer is both a blessing and curse. If Favre plays another 3-4 years, Rodgers will have to get traded to see the field any sooner or his development might take a bit longer—as with Matt Hasselbeck. In addition, the Packers could be an offense undergoing a complete transition when Rodgers takes over. In 3-4 years Ahman Green, Javon Walker, and the heralded Packer offensive line could all be gone. If you own a dynasty team with a solid starter, Rodgers isn’t a bad pick, but he appears to be a higher risk at this point for a team in need of a guy to develop quickly.

Jason Campbell, Redskins: Many considered the former Auburn quarterback an underachiever throughout his college career—at least until his impressive senior season with a 69% completion percentage and 20 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. In contrast to Alex Smith, a lot of critics point to the talent around Campbell as the primary reason for his one good season.

Although Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown running behind a highly regarded offensive line could make many a quarterback’s job easier, Campbell didn’t have a top of the line receiving corps. Additionally, Campbell had to learn an entirely new offensive system every year of his college career. It wasn’t like Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown weren’t good for the other years they spent together, so the running back talk isn’t that strong a factor in his play. The fact Campbell performed as well as he did in a pro style offense earned him points among many scouts this year.

Campbell is an athletic quarterback with pretty good, but not elite arm. He shows the potential to throw the ball effectively on the run. Joe Gibbs says Campbell reminds him of Doug Williams. Some scouts compare Campbell to Steve McNair. He reminds me a lot more of Tony Banks—an a pocket passer that NFL personnel types find attractive for his athleticism but needs a lot of development with his footwork, ball handling, and film study of defenses to become a consistent starter.

The greatest question I have about Campbell is his ability to remain poised in the pocket. His athleticism may be above average for a quarterback, but he won’t be mistaken for Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, or even Steve McNair. Campbell’s Auburn teammates afforded him a lot of time to throw last season. This gave Campbell enough to confidence to make the occasional big play when the protection broke down—something he had difficulty doing for most of his career. The NFL will not afford him this luxury to remain up right in most games and Campbell will need to demonstrate he can make good decisions under pressure. This could take some time.

In addition, I’m sure what direction Joe Gibbs is taking with his quarterback rotation. Mark Brunell was a bust in 2004. Ramsey lost confidence with his demotion. And possibly the most promising quarterback on the field was Tim Hasselbeck—a player Gibbs released in the off season and the Giants happily scooped up as insurance for Eli Manning. These events could leave one feeling suspect about the personnel selection at quarterback. Then again, Gibbs has coached some of the more potent offenses in NFL history and his quarterbacks were often journeymen. For fantasy owners in re-draft leagues, this year is a watch and wait situation. Campbell could get his chance next season depending on the direction of the team. A great season, and Ramsay likely solidifies his role. A poor season, and Campbell gets some looks late in 2005. Dynasty owners may find Campbell a bit over valued in rookie drafts. If he falls to the late third round or further, he’s a decent pick—otherwise, be careful.


Adrian McPherson, Saints: In a draft with some well-known, high risk-high reward players, McPherson might be the prospect with the highest boom-bust ratio. After Matt Jones, he might be the best athlete in the draft. The only prep-athlete ever to be named Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball in the state of Florida, McPherson was a star in the making at Florida State University. But his college career ended practically before it began with a highly publicized gambling scandal.

McPherson joined the Arena League in an attempt to reform both his image and career. The standout put up some phenomenal numbers, even for this high-scoring style of football. More importantly he impressed those monitoring his progress with his handle his mistakes with maturity.

As a quarterback prospect, McPherson has a higher ceiling on his talent than any signal caller in this draft. His speed, mobility, and strong arm place him on the spectrum of talent reminiscent of Michael Vick. McPherson reportedly threw a ball seventy yards flat-footed in workouts and runs a 4.5-40 yard dash. McPherson may be a more polished passer than Vick was at the same point in their development, but lacks the elite running back skills of the Falcons quarterback.

Re-draft owners need not consider McPherson unless the Saints quarterback depth chart is decimated with injuries. There is speculation the Saints are sending a message to Aaron Brooks with this pick, but it is clear they are in no rush with McPherson. Coach Jim Haslett told ESPN that McPherson was the most heavily researched draft-pick they ever made in New Orleans. Keep in mind the Saints coach is not describing a first round pick, but a fifth round prospect! Haslett further elaborated that he has no intention of playing McPherson this year, and went so far to admit that he even told McPherson to stay out of the city of New Orleans.

There is much to glean from this interview. One, the Saints organization believes McPherson could develop into an elite talent and they did enough research to pull the trigger. Skeptics may argue that Aaron Brooks’ under achievement as a leader of the offense is a reflection of New Orleans’ poor knowledge and development of the quarterback position. But to the Saints credit, they knew enough about quarterback talent to acquire Brooks from the Packers, and draft both Jake Delhomme and Marc Bulger. This is a positive reflection of the scouting department and an indication McPherson is indeed a talent.

In addition, the fact the Saints aren’t intent on rushing McPherson demonstrates good judgment. It also indicates they are taking the risks of drafting McPherson very seriously. They want to see the Arena Leaguer prove he’s capable of being a professional. The Saints acknowledging the fact their home city is as dangerous a temptation to pro athletes as any in the NFL speaks volumes to their caution with the situation. Personally, I think McPherson could be pushed into a significant role from a football standpoint but the Saints don’t want to make the same mistake they did with Aaron Brooks. Remember, Brooks was a young quarterback taking over for an injured, but highly effective Jeff Blake and the team got too excited about his play down the stretch. As a result Blake got a chance to compete for his starting position the following year in appearance only, the staff was too enamored with what Brooks could do. It appears the Saints have learned that patience may have paid greater dividends.

For dynasty owners, McPherson is the rookie quarterback selection in this draft. He has the kind of talent that could make him a superstar at the cost of a 3rd-4th round pick. Former NFL journeyman Steve DeBerg, a solid, starting quarterback and backup to some of the better signal callers in the 80’s and early 90’s, coached McPherson in the Arena League and was highly impressed with his leadership and arm. DeBerg stated McPherson had a “$10 million arm,” and described his ability to throw advanced pro passes such as the skinny post with ease. The Arena League requires quick decisions and accuracy in tight spaces. McPherson has excelled for two years in this environment and should make a good transition. A lot of dynasty owners are polarized in their views of McPherson. In my opinion, the Saints new quarterback is a gamble on greatness that’s well worth the investment.

Stefan LeFors, Panthers: Carolina’s pick from Louisville may be my favorite quarterback in this draft. LeFors doesn’t have the height or elite arm strength of most of the prospects mentioned before him, but he’s a smart competitor with excellent speed and knowledge of defenses. Many college fans are familiar with LeFors after ESPN’s profile of the Louisville quarterback growing up in a hearing impaired family where sign language was the only form of communication among them.

LeFors’ talents remind me of a cross between Jake Plummer and Drew Brees with better skills as runner. This is a prospect that doesn’t back down from competition and plays well under pressure. He was one of the better performers at the East-West Shrine Game, displaying some nice throws on intermediate and deep routes for three scores.

I watched Lefors in three games in 2004 and if he were 6-3 instead 6-0 and weighed 10-15 lbs more, he would have been a high-second round pick. He has poise, a quick release, and works very well in the pocket. Plus he throws well on the move. This is an underrated athlete with the makeup to develop into an effective starter in a few years.

Jake Delhomme is entrenched as the man in Carolina. It would be a surprise if Lefors becomes anything more than the third quarterback on the depth chart in 2005, but he should work his way up before the 2006 season gets underway. This is the kind of player that could get a temporary opportunity and turn it into a full-time role with his play. He’s a late-round value in dynasty leagues with practice squads.

Andrew Walter, Raiders: As a sophomore and junior, Walter looked poised to be a top-flight NFL prospect, but a less than stellar senior year ended with a separated right shoulder and a plummeting draft stock. The former Arizona State Sun Devil is a drop back passer in the mold of Kerry Collins or Drew Bledsoe. He has the classic height/weight ratio (6-5, 235) for a quarterback that makes scouts drool. When Walter has time in the pocket, he’s capable of huge games because he’ll go through his progressions and make good decisions.

Walter has little chance of making any impact in 2005. He’ll likely be the developmental prospect on the Raiders depth chart, but could make a move in 2006 to back up to Kerry Collins. Walter is a nice mid-round dynasty selection because he has the skills to develop into a quality starter and he’s a classic example of a player being the best match for the team that drafted him.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Rams: Fitzpatrick is a 7th rounder that fits a similar profile to that of Stefan Lefors—except he is 3 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. So why wasn’t Fitzpatrick a first day pick? He played for Harvard, which hasn’t exactly been the bastion for top-flight football since the early 20th century. Don’t let the 7th round designation fool you, though. Fitzpatrick is a good athlete that has excellent pocket awareness, a quick release, great touch and timing. Sounds a bit like Bulger and Warner, doesn’t it?

Fitzpatrick has already impressed Mike Martz with his quick grasp of the offense. Apparently, Martz is known to be very tough on his quarterbacks and the Harvard grad didn’t even get yelled at once in mini-camp. This doesn’t make the guy the next great quarterback, but it indicates he could play at higher level than his draft status. He’s at best, a late-round flier in dynasty leagues but most likely a player that will be available on most waiver wires until he’s given a real opportunity.

Upside But Likely A Career Clip-Board Carrier

Kyle Orton, Bears: Orton is a tough player with an excellent grasp of the short to intermediate passing game. I read a scouting report that said he’s a better athlete than his fellow Purdue alumnus Drew Brees, but unlike the report, I don’t count height and weight as factors making a guy a better athlete. Doug Flutie is short and light for a quarterback, but he’s ten times the athlete in his 40’s that Jared Lorenzen is in his 20’s. If you’ve seen the nearly 300-pound Lorenzen play, you understand my point.

Orton played in a pass-friendly system but he doesn’t have the quickest release and his arm strength isn’t special. He needs more work reading defenses and on mechanics dealing with his release, drop back, and set up. At the same time Orton’s senior season was a relative disappointment due to his attempt to play hurt, which affected his mechanics and ultimately, his production. One thing that stands out about Orton is his toughness—he’s a player that a coach will have to drag off the field.

Many dynasty owners (and some re-draft owners) feel Orton could challenge Rex Grossman. I’m not so inclined to believe it. Orton could develop into a player that can keep a team afloat for a stretch of games, but not much more. As a result, Orton is fairly overrated in dynasty drafts where he’s sometimes selected before Adrian McPherson and Andrew Walter.

David Greene, Seahawks: There is a contingent of owners that like Greene as a sleeper. They look at his college resume and believe he could one day develop into a starter. I have to disagree with the sentiment. The 3rd-round starter just doesn’t have the arm, athleticism, or the consistent accuracy to be anything more than a positive locker room influence and backup capable of keeping a team together for the short term.

Greene has the size, and displays nice touch on his passes. He is capable of some of the best play fakes you’ll ever see from a quarterback. His poise is what has many people trying to compare him as the next Tom Brady-in-the-making. After all, Greene is the all-time winning quarterback in SEC history—breaking Peyton Manning’s mark in 2004. While he’s been a huge reason for Georgia’s success against top-drawer competition, he’s more a great college quarterback than a great NFL prospect. He could surprise in the right system, and the West Coast Offense Mike Holmgren runs in Seattle isn’t a bad fit. It’s primarily a short to intermediate passing offense. But drafting Greene is re-draft leagues is pointless—if he somehow sees the field, he should be sitting there on the waiver wire—he’ll likely be the #3 QB anyhow. In dynasty leagues, Green could surprise down the line, but he is a wasted pick at this point. Let the Seahawk rookie turn into a forgotten guy on the waiver wire and consider acquiring him if there’s more potential opportunity at a later date.


Dan Orlovsky, Detroit: Physically he fits the part, but demonstrated in post-season competition that his mechanics and accuracy are severely lacking. He also needs a lot of tutoring on the finer points of quarterback play, especially the mental aspect of the game because he lacks experience in a complex offense. Steve Mariucci has the reputation of being a miracle worker with quarterbacks, but he already has his hands full with Joey Harrington. Orlovsky is a waiver wire project for dynasty leagues right now, at best.

Derek Anderson, Ravens: Anderson entered college as a sure-fire prospect and left a late-round pick. Why? Anderson has a great arm, size, and strength, but is poor at reading defenses and remaining calm in the pocket. Pocket presence is fundamental to a quarterback’s success. It’s like hiring a cook without taste buds. It’s rare for a player to develop this type of skill this late in the game. Even if the light goes on for Anderson, he’s likely an NFL Europe prospect in the spring of 2006. Don’t waste your pick this year. If he gets better, he’ll still be available on most waiver wires.