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Rookie Impact

Note: This series contains excerpts and sample profiles from my 2007 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, an publication available for purchase here. The RSP provides play-by-play examples that back up the author’s observations of each prospect’s performance.

The message of this year’s QB impact article is the same as previous years: When it comes to fantasy football, the words rookie and quarterback rarely equal success. The top 10 single season performances for a rookie quarterback doesn’t provide a lot of excitement for fantasy owners:

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
Young Vince 233.3 2006 1 6 12th
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
  Average 242.29       13th

* - 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 posted numbers worthy of a fantasy back up. That’s worth a late-round bargain in some re-draft leagues, but no experienced fantasy owner is going to build a re-draft team around a rookie.

Even Vince Young wasn’t worth having until mid-season. Of course, if you had the opportunity to acquire the Titans one-man wrecking crew, you likely had a brilliant stretch run. But Vince Young—despite being the 4th QB to produce at this high a level since 2001—is still the exception to the rule. And he wasn’t a player anyone would have valued in a re-draft as anything but a late-round selection.

For dynasty leagues it’s a completely different story. Top quarterback prospects are always in high demand. The reason is high-production over a relatively long period for a position player. A great fantasy quarterback can have a career that spans twice as long as most running backs or receivers.

So there you have it. While four the best rookie performances in recent memory have come in the past five years—including Vince Young’s second-half spectacular, it’s still not likely anyone in 2007 is going to make the list. This year’s group is a deceptive bunch. JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, and to a lesser extent, Drew Stanton are the media-hyped darlings of many draft analysts at the position.

But I believe these three players have a much higher bust potential than the trio of Leinart, Young, and Cutler. In fact, JaMarcus Russell is the only player I believe approaches the worth of his pre-draft hype. Despite this fact, the 2007 Rookie QB Class has no less than five intriguing candidates that will become productive starters for a long time. In fact, I’d compare this situation with the classic children’s story of the Tortoise and the Hare—some will get an opportunity to start sooner than others, but not all will finish with a sustained level of productivity that fantasy owners seek.

The chart below is from the 2007 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, and it summarizes the top quarterbacks in position-specific categories graded on film prior to the NFL draft.

Best By Checklist Category

The Best Quarterbacks By Category
Category Player Comment
Arm Strength JaMarcus Russell
Drew Stanton
Troy Smith
Russell by far as the best arm strength of this class, but Stanton and Smith are no slouches. They are capable of making every throw and some throws many quarterbacks can’t.
Accuracy Trent Edwards
Kevin Kolb
Matt Moore
Luke Getsy
All four of these quarterbacks will be in demand on draft day and get a few chances to succeed at the NFL level because they can deliver the ball with accuracy on a consistent basis. Edwards and Moore are the best athletes, but don’t discount Kolb and Getsy.
Delivery Luke Getsy
Trent Edwards
Both of these top prospects are mechanically sound with their set up and delivery, but they can also throw and accurate ball from different release points when under pressure.
Decisions John Beck
Trent Edwards
Beck was the best decision maker behind center that I watched on film. He went through his progressions consistently and also made good decisions under pressure. Edwards wasn’t too far behind even in more challenging circumstances.
Ball Handling Jared Zabransky
Kevin Kolb
These two QBs are the best at selling fakes in the play action game as well as executing pump fakes and protecting the football.
Pocket Presence John Beck
Luke Getsy
Beck and Getsy move around very well in the pocket while keeping their eyes downfield. They also do a good job protecting the football while maneuvering for an open lane or open receiver despite tremendous pressure.
Scrambling JaMarcus Russell
Trent Edwards
Both are capable of beating the angle of an LB downfield. Russell is more physical, but Edwards makes good decisions. Zabransky, Rowe, and Tate also deserve mentioning. Stanton needs to be more conservative.

Immediate Opportunity, Questionable Future

JaMarcus Russell, Oakland—Physically, Russell is a combination of Daunte Culpepper and Steve McNair with a better arm than any signal caller in the league. Like these two quarterbacks, Russell is a bear to bring down when pressured in the pocket. He is capable of getting off a pass with linemen hanging onto him—even when blindsided. It is certain fans will see Russell demonstrate this prowess—and after maybe one highlight worthy play, Russell will likely be completing these passes to linebackers and corners if not fumbling the ball away.

This guy is the physical talent to end all physical talents as a passer. And to Russell’s credit, he is also a mentally tough leader who is capable of overcoming his mistakes to lead a team to victory. But in the NFL, Russell will need to minimize the errors he routinely overcame in college. Otherwise, in the typical NFL contest the game will be out of his hands by the 3rd QTR.

The reason behind this is Russell’s lack of disciplined quarterback play. His footwork requires extensive coaching. On film, I watched Russell drop, set, and throw differently with every throw in no less than five games in 2006. When a quarterback cannot execute a consistent drop and delivery, his accuracy suffers and this has definitely been the case for Russell. In fact, his most consistently accurate throws come from rollouts, which is typical for a developing passer because that’s the most natural footwork movement for a thrower.

Russell is highly capable of making some excellent throws—I have also seen it on film several times—and his ability to break the pocket and gain extra yardage will give him a chance to make an immediate fantasy impact. But if you think Russell is the 2007 version of Vince Young, then you are mistaken. Although Young doesn’t have the model throwing motion that makes Ron Jaworski salivate, his footwork and pocket presence are good enough to make him accurate and productive. Young is also much faster and more elusive than Russell.

From the standpoint of pure upside, Russell is the best prospect at the position and will likely see the field earlier than any of the rookies on this list. I believe he’ll eventually become a quality NFL starter, but I don’t think he’ll become the superstar many expect without a lot of help around him. Think Terry Bradshaw in a sense. Funny how Bradshaw was the one that went nutso for Russell during the broadcast of the LSU-Notre Dame Sugar Bowl, they both have a lot in common: excellent arm strength, athleticism, toughness, and incredibly raw as rookies. Russell will have his moments this year, but don’t expect what you saw last year from Young or even Leinart.

Rookie Impact: Opening Day starter who no fantasy owner will want to use in a 1 QB starting lineup despite some highlight moments and promise shown on Sundays.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: Quality starter that might not be good enough to take the league by storm, but will have stretches where he’ll have the media and fans wondering “when” rather than “if.”

Brady Quinn, Cleveland—I hate to say it, but Quinn is the most overrated quarterback in this draft. This doesn’t mean he won’t become a starter with the potential for good seasons ahead, but he’s not the savvy Golden Boy Notre Dame’s Charlie Weiss has hyped him to be. College coaches are also recruiters and face it, South Bend’s football program had lost its luster until Weiss took over. Even recently, the Fighting Irish lacked the talent to perform like a BCS contender. Just look at the whipping they got at the hands of an LSU team that didn’t even win the SEC title. Weiss needs top-notch players for his system. Brady Quinn was part of the team he inherited and transformed into a glamorous crew of overachievers. In comparison to Stanford or even BYU, Notre Dame was still more talented, but they haven’t been recruiting on the level of Florida, USC, or Ohio State just yet.

Quinn has the arm, the strength to stand in the pocket, and the smarts to play the position at the highest level. But the film shows a player who isn’t consistently poised to make the accurate throw under pressure and makes questionable decisions in the pocket. Yes, I know I just said Quinn is both smart and makes poor decisions, which is it? The point is Quinn has demonstrated the ability to absorb a pro offense, but against elite talent he struggles when he gets too excited either from pressure he’s facing from the opposition or internal pressure generated from his own performance expectations prior to the game. I know that Quinn has played in some big games, but he’s lost quite a few of them too. If you call the Michigan State game a great comeback, thank Spartan quarterback Drew Stanton and coach John Williams for much of it.

The Browns have invested heavily in Quinn, but they also have a viable prospect in Charlie Frye whom they are essentially giving the shaft after two years as a pro—a classic demonstration of impatience inherent with NFL management. Look for Quinn to see the field by week seven regardless if he’s ready. The Browns have receiving talent with Edwards and Winslow, but the offensive line will be the key. If Joe Thomas plays up to his potential, any of the three Cleveland quarterbacks will have a chance to be productive. Over the long haul, I’d rather have quarterbacks that demonstrated a higher rate of consistent play regardless of strong play calling or a modicum of surrounding talent.

Rookie Impact: He’ll start somewhere down the line this year. The Browns think they got a cheaper version of Matt Leinart. The question is did they? I don’t think so.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: Quinn and Stanton could likely be competing for the #2 spot on a team where neither began their career—see Joey Harrington.

Just A Matter of Time

John Beck, Miami—Trent Green is now Miami’s starter. Yet when all-pro DE Jason Taylor is questioning the durability of their new offensive leader before training camp begins, and they already hope to rid themselves of former pro bowl QB Daunte Culpepper, you should begin to understand why the Dolphins spent a second round pick on the signal caller out of BYU. Beck’s skill set probably reminds head coach Cam Cameron of Green—a player Cameron coached at Indiana—a cerebral pocket passer with great accuracy and field vision.

Beck actually reminds me of Marc Bulger, but with greater athleticism. In fact, I like John Beck’s skills entering the NFL more than I did Matt Leinart. What I saw from Beck on film was a quarterback that could make all the throws and possessed the mobility to throw the ball on the move in either direction. But what stood out the most about Beck was his pocket presence and ability to see the field and consistently make the right decision. He had a knack for stepping away from pressure and maneuvering in tight spaces in order to create a good throwing lane.

The NFL is ultimately a mental game for a quarterback, but there is still a huge emphasis on the physical skills. It is true, as with any position, a quarterback must possess a level of athleticism that will allow him to compete. Still that true level is lower than the common perception. Otherwise Joe Montana, Drew Brees, Bernie Kosar, Mark Bulger, Tom Brady, and Trent Green wouldn’t have the success they’ve experienced. Even Peyton Manning is a great example of the ultimate quarterback that thrives because of his mental approach to the game. Physically speaking, Manning is a slow quarterback with average strength who throws some ugly passes. Does that stop you from rating him the best fantasy quarterback in the NFL?

JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn may make a greater fantasy impact as rookies, yet I believe Beck is not only more polished now, but also has the players around him in Miami to remain a better fantasy quarterback in the near future. I think some owners will avoid Beck because of the Dolphins recent addition of Trent Green and the fact that Beck is older than most rookies. But this should not be considered a Chris Weinke type of scenario. Beck is a refined talent who played on a college team with mediocre talent, but Weinke was a mediocre talent on a highly talented FSU squad. This is the one Beck about to hit the popular culture that I’ll actually like.

Rookie Impact: I think he wins the #2 QB spot and if Trent Green gets hurt, will give play-by-play announcers the opportunity to use their melodramatic tone of voice to express shock at his ability to jump in and keep the Dolphins in ballgame. He won’t be Dan Marino, but he’s good enough to have a good game or two.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: Beck will not only start, but he’ll develop into a quality fantasy starter who could produce at a top-5 level in the right offensive system.

Trent Edwards, Buffalo—I’m warning you now, I’m probably going to sound like I’m gushing about Trent Edwards by the time you finish reading this segment. Edwards was one of the highest rated prep quarterbacks entering college, but he chose to play at a slumping Stanford program. This team was so bad, there was actually a play where two offensive linemen were fighting after the snap rather than trying to block the defenders who ran by them to sack Edwards!

Although I didn’t see this particular play, I watched a game where Edwards took more punishment than I had seen a quarterback—college or pro—take in quite a long time. It was the 2006 USC game and Edwards not only took several hits in the pocket, but he also withstood no less than five blatant cheap shots that would have rattled most signal callers. Edwards continued to deliver accurate passes with good timing and follow through. He also stood strong in the pocket despite the constant pressure. In fact, I thought this was one of the best performances under duress that I have seen from a college quarterback. His teammates speak about Edwards with reverence. They say he is a warrior and the most competitive player they have ever seen. Here’s a sample of my analysis of Edwards in the 2007 RSP.

The Bills portray Edwards as a back up with potential, but the coaching staff has made it clear J.P. Losman is the unquestioned starter. While Losman has had moments, he has left an opening for a player with greater promise—remember this time last year he was competing with journeyman Kelly Holcomb for the right to lead the offense. Now in his fourth year, Losman has to show significant (and sustained) improvement not to become a journeyman himself. I think Edwards was drafted as the heir apparent if Losman fails. If the Tulane alum succeeds, the Bills can get compensation from Edwards via trade or restricted free agency if the rookie develops—ala Matt Schaub.

Personally, I believe Edwards will wind up as the best quarterback in this draft class because of his mental toughness, physical skills (he is athletic and mobile), and pocket presence despite Stanford’s woes. In other words, he is my 2007 version of Jay Cutler—an athletic QB who won’t be as fazed by the speed of the NFL as the more highly-regarded QBs from excellent programs.

Rookie Impact: He could become the #2 QB by season’s end. If JP Losman loses the team, Edwards could see time in the second half of the year.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: The Bills starter. Let’s not kid ourselves, Edwards is the future. He, Lynch, and Evans have the potential to be a great offensive trio if the first two develop quickly. I think they will.


Troy Smith, Baltimore—At least since the days of Vinny Testaverde, there seems to be no better kiss of death for an NFL prospect than being awarded the Heisman Trophy. The latest signal caller to receive this unofficially, mixed blessing is Ravens rookie Troy Smith. The Ohio State Buckeye dropped to the fifth round after having the worst game of his collegiate career on the biggest stage and appearing a bit lackluster in pre-draft, scouting games and workouts.

But allow me to remind you that Troy Smith had MVP-caliber performances in big games versus Michigan (twice), Texas (twice), and Notre Dame. Smith also has one of the strongest arms in this draft class and does a decent job of reading the field and anticipating his receivers. Some analysts compared Smith to Drew Brees. I personally believe he lacks the intangibles that Brees possesses, but he’s actually a more physically talented player.

Does this even out for Smith and make him a prospect that will become as successful as the Saints starter? Hardly. But I think Smith has the skills to develop into a starter. I’d say he has potential to be a better talent than another player he resembles in certain respects—former Bengal and Saint, Jeff Blake. If Smith takes a mature approach to his development and also takes advantage of his opportunity to gain something from playing with Steve McNair, he could develop into a starter. I think by 2008, he’ll get a true shot to take over the #2 job from Kyle Boller if McNair is still playing.

Rookie Impact: Although the odds are higher than most that McNair will miss a game or two, it’s not as likely Smith will be the replacement. But he may get mop up duty if Baltimore hits on all cylinders in 2007.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: A strong #2 QB—ala David Garrard—with potential to be a solid, if not spectacular starter for at least a few seasons.

Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia—A second round pick underrated? Well, in the sense that Kolb isn’t expected to take over for Donovan McNabb any time soon. But I do believe the QB out of Houston has some Brett Favre-like skills and could very well give the Eagles the opportunity to consider its future options without McNabb. When I first saw Kolb play, he was a junior who wasn’t very mobile and played against a lower level of competition in a gimmicky offense. But a year later, Kolb had lost weight and gained enough mobility to give the University of Miami’s vaunted defense fits in-and outside the pocket.

The biggest question about Kolb is the fact he’s played in the same spread offense since high school. He never ran a different system and this may require more adjustment than anticipated. Still, I think Kolb has what it takes to become a good starter in a few years. This may give Philadelphia the opportunity to part ways with McNabb if the oft-injured QB can’t stay on the field for the next year or two. Kolb is significantly more valuable in dynasty leagues because it’s unlikely he’ll overtake Kelly Holcomb for the #2 spot this fall. Still, I think Kolb has a better chance to become an impact QB than Troy Smith.

Rookie Impact: #3 QB with potential to become the #2 QB late in the year and get some mop up duty. If McNabb goes down, he could surprise because it wouldn’t be surprising for Andy Reid to give him a shot.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: Kolb will start for Philly by 2010 unless McNabb begins compiling Hall of Fame quality stats and Super Bowl victories without health problems.

Matt Moore, Dallas—Mel Kiper was all over Matt Moore as an underrated prospect, but the QB did not get drafted as the ESPN analyst expected. But Kiper is right about Moore. The free agent was signed by the Cowboys and don’t be surprised if this former pro baseball prospect develops into a starter. His athleticism, accuracy, and ability to see the field are similar to that of a young Matt Hasselbeck.

The undrafted free agent simply lacks experience. This manifests in various ways such as tipping off the direction he’s throwing the football and making the correct adjustment at the line of scrimmage. But I like Moore’s chances in Dallas. Tony Romo is still unproven, Brad Johnson is strictly playing out the last days of career, and Isaiah Stanback has been moved to receiver.

Rookie Impact: Matt Moore has a good chance to not only make this team, but also be the #3 QB with a shot at developing into the backup in short order.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: Potential starter for someone.

Upside But Likely A Journeyman Starter or Career Clip-Board Carrier

Drew Stanton, Detroit—Stanton is an undeniable physical talent. He was coveted prior to his senior year due to his arm and mobility. But the Lions new QB lacks the pocket presence one should expect from a future starter. What is more disturbing is Stanton’s penchant for recklessness outside the pocket as a runner. Although Trent Edwards took a lot of punishment in his college career, Stanton had far more opportunities to avoid contact but chose not to do so. If he can’t curb his tendency to take on hitters, he’ll be too busy rehabilitating to improve his game.

I’m quite surprised Mike Martz wanted this guy over Beck, Edwards, or Kolb. The local-Michigan draw seems more like the logic involved with this selection. If Stanton does learn to make better decisions he could have a better career than I anticipate, but this quarterback has a lot of work to do in order to curb his tendency to stare down receivers and throw his body around the field.

Rookie Impact: Stanton might be the #2 QB because of his sheer physical talent and the fact Dan Orlovsky hasn’t made any headlines to indicate he’s a future starter.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: Stanton will get his chance and he’ll be up and down for most of this time until he winds up as a journeyman that some coach hopes to make his reclamation project.

Jeff Rowe, Cincinnati—The UNLV quarterback throws very well on the run and has the size and arm strength to do anything required of him at the pro level. He’s still a bit raw and needs to gain more consistency with his decisions in the pocket. He’ll have a good opportunity to develop behind Carson Palmer and get a chance to compete for a starting job with another team when he becomes a free agent. Although most people perceive Stanton to be a higher rated QB than I do, Rowe is valued quite appropriately here. He is mobile like Stanton, but much wiser with his decisions.

Rookie Impact: #3 QB this year with a chance to become the #2 QB in 2008 after some mop-up duty in late season games if the Bengals have a good year.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: A strong #2 who could draw the interest of several teams when he becomes a free agent.

Luke Getsy, San Francisco—If there is a player that will outperform his lack of draft status, this guy is a good candidate. The former University of Pittsburgh QB, who transferred to Akron after the team changed its offense, has tremendous pocket awareness and enough arm strength to get the ball downfield. Although undrafted, I believe Getsy will make the Niners roster or practice squad and develop into a solid back up who might surprise if given the opportunity.

Rookie Impact: Gets to learn from Trent Dilfer while on the practice squad.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: Getsy becomes a valued #2 QB capable of winning games for decent stretches, ala Damon Huard of the Chiefs.

Tyler Palko, New Orleans—There is something to be said if coach Payton wanted Palko. This is a gutsy quarterback who has a passion for the game. Pairing him with Drew Brees may be the best thing that could happen to his career. Palko has shown improvement as a reader of defenses after former pro quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach Matt Cavannah came to Pittsburgh to coach the Panthers signal callers.

Remember, it was Payton who picked Brees over Culpepper for the Saints. It was also Payton who spotted Tony Romo in Dallas and began the Cowboys starter’s development. Palko reportedly has an insatiable desire to work and paired with physical skills that are good enough to succeed in the pros, Palko’s progress may just be worth monitoring.

Rookie Impact: Practice squad or #3 QB without much of a shot to play unless the Saints get decimated at the top of the list.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: I think Palko will be a good #2 QB in this league who can make the leap to productive starter due to his work ethic and decent enough skills—think Jon Kitna (low end)—Tom Brady (if everything fell into place and he finds a magic lamp).

Chris Leak, Chicago—Two years ago, Chris Leak looked like a bona fide pro prospect. Then Urban Meyer came to Gainesville and changed Ron Zook’s pro style offense to a spread formation attack. Leak had some rough times transitioning from prolific passer to efficient field general between the 20’s and often giving up the glory to frosh, Tim Tebow in the redzone. Still, the four-year starter made the adjustment and led his team to a BCS Title.

Although his college career ended with a fulfillment of the promise he showed upon entering Florida, he went untouched in the draft. The Bears decided to take a shot at adding a second Gator to their depth chart. Immediately, Leak demonstrated his ability to throw a nice pass with good accuracy. Whether or not he makes the squad is one thing, but Leak will succeed in a pro football league—if not the NFL—down the line.

A source I know on the staff of a major SEC football team told me that he wouldn’t be surprised if Leak exceeded expectations in the pros. He made the assertion that Leak throws one of the prettiest balls in college football and has excellent mechanics, which completely validated the film study I had done on him in years past. The problem with Leak is his tendency to try to force the ball while on the run. He lacks the arm strength to make the off-balance, stick throws one can expect from a Brett Fare, Donovan McNabb, or even a developing player such as Eli Manning.

Leak lacks the top-drawer physical skills or arm strength that an elite prospect can use to beat a good defensive scheme designed to negate the passing game. This means Leak will at best, be a system quarterback in the NFL. Still, he’s generally poised and has enough mobility to perform decently in most offenses. He does throw a pretty deep ball, but has to put a lot of air under it—once again, ala Jeff Blake—but he’s not going to consistently be able to gun the ball in tight coverage.

Rookie Impact: Likely a practice squad player with potential to be the #3 QB if he has a good preseason.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: If he doesn’t become an Arena League Star, look for him to be the #2 QB with Jeff Blake potential, at best.


Drew Tate, Saskatchewan Roughriders—Tate is actually the player that reminds me the most of Drew Brees, but with an equal dose of Jeff Garcia’s game. Tate is a fiery competitor with a high, on-field IQ. He doesn’t have the strongest arm and he’s short and light by NFL personnel management standards, but he’s a smart player with good pocket presence and a demonstrated ability to bring his team back from first half deficits. He had such a game versus Florida’s vaunted defense in a 2006 bowl contest. The Rams signed Tate after the draft, but cut him soon after Now Tate is in the CFL. If he does well, he’ll likely catch on with an NFL team in a few years. I think if there is another player to repeat in the steps of Jeff Garcia, Tate is the one.

Rookie Impact: Unless playing CFL-style fantasy football, none.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: He’ll make some noise in the CFL with a chance to make an NFL roster as a back up with potential in a West Coast offense.

Jordan Palmer, Redskins—You’ll be disappointed if you think Carson Palmer’s younger brother will even turn out to be the Palmer version of Eli Manning to Carson’s Peyton. Palmer comes from the Drew Bledsoe-Dan Fouts school of quarterback mobility, but lacks the pocket presence and acumen of these two quality pros. While Joe Gibbs made took a raw QB like Jay Schroeder and made him effective, this is a different era. If Palmer can manage to become a solid backup, his development will be considered a great success.

Rookie Impact: Barely a remote chance.

Three to Five-Year Outlook: Possibly develops into a backup with potential to hold his own in a few games, but will need a lot of protection up front to perform consistently well.