Word to the Winners: Fantasy Football Advice from the Experts

2006 Rookie Quarterbacks -- By Russ Bliss

Looking for immediate fantasy football help? Don’t count on any of the rookie QB’s taken in the 2006 NFL Draft to step in and catapult you to fantasy football success right away. Rookie QB’s usually need time to get adjusted to the comprehensive defensive schemes at the NFL level. However, there are some excellent names here, a couple of whom will likely get some field action in 2006 and possibly be their team’s starter by seasons end. In terms of dynasty style fantasy football leagues, I see as many as 7 QB’s from this draft class who could turn out to be future starters for their NFL team, and a few of those may even become excellent fantasy football starters. There are two QB’s listed who will either be moved, or should be moved, to a different position if they are to ever be on any present or future fantasy football rosters.

2006 Impact Ranking: Dynasty Values:
1) Vince Young 1) Vince Young
2) Matt Leinart 2) Matt Leinart
3) Jay Cutler 3) Jay Cutler
4) Kellen Clemens 4) Brodie Croyle
5) Charlie Whitehurst 5) Tarvaris Jackson
6) Reggie McNeal (but not as a QB; see his write-up) 6) Kellen Clemens
7) D.J. Shockley (like with McNeal, not as a QB; see his write-up) 7) Reggie McNeal ( not as a QB)
8) Brodie Croyle 8) Charlie Whitehurst
9) Tarvaris Jackson 9) Omar Jacobs
10) Omar Jacobs 10) D.J. Shockley (not as a QB)
11) Bruce Gradkowski 11) Bruce Gradkowski
12) Ingle Martin 12) Ingle Martin

Rookie Rundown (in order drafted)

Vince Young, Round 1, Tennessee Titans: Young is an exceptional athlete who has the combination of great size, tremendous speed, a strong arm, and a fearless attitude. The only knocks on Young are his side-armed throwing motion, his ability to adjust to lining up under center (he played in a mostly shotgun style of offense), and his patience to allow plays to develop instead of tucking the ball and running.
2006 outlook: The Titans are expected to either trade or release Steve McNair. Assuming that happens, Young steps in as the backup to Billy Volek, and depending on Volek’s ability to win games, Young will either get a chance to sit and learn for a year, or get thrown into the fire mid-season. His athletic ability should allow him to have some good games if that’s the case, but he’ll also make a slew of rookie mistakes as well. If McNair doesn’t get traded or released, the likelihood Young sees very little playing time in 2006 increase dramatically.
Beyond 2006: Young is the QB of the future for Tennessee and has all the tools to be a great fantasy football starting QB in another year or two. He gets compared to Michael Vick a lot, but I see him more like Donovan McNabb: a big QB who can make something happen with his legs when he has to, but can whip the football around the field with good accuracy. By 2008, he probably will be amongst the top 10 QB’s in almost every fantasy football cheat sheet.

Matt Leinart, Round 1, Arizona Cardinals: Leinart is the most NFL ready of all the rookie QB’s as he’s played, and been very successful, in a pro style offense in college. His charisma and leadership qualities are better than any other QB in this draft class. Leinart works hard, has good size, and is very accurate. The only knocks on him are that he doesn’t possess elite arm strength and while good at sensing pressure in the pocket, he is no threat to run with the football.
2006 outlook: Leinart will compete with John Navarre to back up Kurt Warner and should win that battle. Leinart is a lot like Warner in terms of QB style, and since Warner has had problems staying healthy the past few years, could end up seeing action. The Cardinals have an abundance of offensive weapons, so if Leinart gets the chance, he could put up some decent fantasy football numbers. But as is the caveat with all rookie QB’s, he’ll also have his mistakes. Beyond 2006: Unless Warner has a rebirth of his late 90’s/early 2000’s numbers, Leinart could be the Cardinals starting QB in 2007. Whether he ends up as a QB who ranks high in fantasy football projections is debatable though. He could end up being like a Tom Brady (a great NFL QB who until 2005 was a good, but not great starting fantasy QB), or he could end up like a Troy Aikman (a great NFL QB but never more than a consistent fantasy football backup). Some QB’s turn out that way: better NFL QB’s than fantasy football QB’s, and that could be the case with Leinart.

Jay Cutler, Round 1, Denver Broncos: Cutler is a very good athlete possessing good size and a very strong arm. He is noted for his ability to make big plays happen. Unfortunately, he also makes mistakes as he tends to force passes and try to do too much with his arm strength alone. Is a better scrambler than runner. The supporting cast around him at Vanderbilt wasn’t great so there is a high ceiling for what Cutler could accomplish at the NFL level.
2006 outlook: Cutler will compete with Bradlee Van Pelt for the backup job to Jake Plummer. The Broncos traded up in the first round to get Cutler and obviously see him as their QB of the future. Van Pelt probably gets first crack if Plummer gets injured, but if Van Pelt struggles, Mike Shanahan will likely give Cutler a chance, giving Shanahan a measuring stick of what Cutler needs to work on for the future. But realistically, Shanahan would prefer to avoid thrusting Cutler into game situations until he’s had a chance to work on the rookie’s mechanics for a full season.
Beyond 2006: Cutler is a boom or bust type of QB. He’s been compared to Brett Favre in terms of style and abilities. But Favre had to go through some growing pains before becoming both an elite NFL QB and an elite fantasy football starter. If Shanahan can coach some patience and more proper technique to Cutler he could have a realistic chance to be the Broncos starter in 2007 and well be on his way to becoming a fantasy football star.

Kellen Clemens, Round 2, New York Jets: Clemens broke an ankle in October of 2005 which ended his senior season at Oregon. Elusive enough to avoid the rush but not fast enough to be a true threat running the ball, Clemens has adequate size, is a good leader, and has decent, but not great, arm strength. He needs work on reading defenses and sometimes doesn’t let plays develop as he gets impatient too quickly.
2006 outlook: Will be the third string QB behind Chad Pennington and Patrick Ramsey. A few things need to happen for Clemens to see the field in 2006. If Pennington fails to recover from another shoulder surgery and Ramsey flops, Clemens will get his chance. If Pennington just flat out flops and Ramsey does too, Clemens will get his chance. If the injury bug that decimated the Jets at the QB position in 2005 repeats itself, Clemens will get his chance. Even if any of these happen and Clemens gets his chance, it’s doubtful he will do more than struggle as he isn’t ready for the complex defenses of the NFL.
Beyond 2006: A lot depends on Pennington and Ramsey. In another year or two, Clemens will be ready to challenge for the starting job. If either Pennington or Ramsey has distinguished himself as a capable starter, there will be a good competition in New York. If neither proves capable, Clemens likely gets the job by default. There’s a chance he becomes a good NFL QB, but I doubt if he’ll ever rank highly in fantasy football projections.

Tarvaris Jackson, Round 2, Minnesota Vikings: A bit of a surprise by the Vikings in round 2 as Jackson wasn’t expected to be drafted til day 2. But apparently the Vikings love his upside and potential. Jackson has a very strong arm and enjoyed a great season in 2005 against small school competition. Puts a lot of zip on his passes, but sometimes forgets to use touch on shorter passes. Facing small school competition, it’s questionable of he’s ready for NFL defenses. Jackson is a developmental QB who’s not ready to play in 2006, but with some good coaching, could be a name to remember in a few years.
2006 outlook: Will be the third string QB behind Brad Johnson and Mike McMahon. It would take a lot of bad luck in Minnesota for the Vikings to feel comfortable throwing Jackson into game situations this season.
Beyond 2006: Johnson’s not getting any younger, but ideally the Vikings would like to give Jackson 2 full years of being a backup before turning the reigns over to him. In this “best case” scenario, Jackson would be a name to think about in 2008. But the “best case” rarely happens and it’s likely that Jackson will get some chances to show whether he’s capable in 2007. For fantasy football purposes, Jackson is a guy you could stash deep in dynasty style fantasy football leagues, but don’t expect much from him for at least 2 years.

Charlie Whitehurst, Round 3, San Diego Chargers: A prototypical pocket passer, Whitehurst has the physical tools to succeed at the NFL level. A big QB with a big arm, Whitehurst also shows good touch on his passes. However, he lacks pocket presence and because of a lack of shiftiness doesn’t evade the rush well. Decision making is in question as he tends to throw the ball up for grabs too often. Two interesting things to note are that while very accurate in 2005 (67.4 completion percentage) he only threw 11 TD passes in 11 games, and his yards per completion average as a senior was the lowest of his college career. Whitehurst’s best season came in 2003 when he had his best supporting cast in college. It could be that he is the type of QB who doesn’t make his teammates better, but only is as good as those around him.
2006 outlook: Will compete with A.J. Feeley to be Phillip Rivers backup, but likely starts as the #3 QB at the start of the season. Given Feeley’s track record though, it’s a good bet that if Rivers fails to rise to the challenge of replacing Drew Brees in San Diego, Whitehurst could get a shot.
Beyond 2006: It all depends on Rivers. Rivers was drafted to be the Chargers QB of the future and he’s finally getting his chance. If he succeeds, Whitehurst probably toils as a backup. If Rivers fails, Whitehurst will compete for the starting job in 2007.

Brodie Croyle, Round 3, Kansas City Chiefs: Croyle possesses as strong an arm as any QB in this draft class and has great leadership skills. An intelligent QB, Croyle doesn’t get careless with the football and shows good ability to read defenses. Not very elusive and is no threat running the ball. While a very tough competitor, Croyle has a slender build, and has suffered injuries throughout his career, including a torn ACL in 2004.
2006 outlook: Trent Green hasn’t missed a game in 5 years, and they trust backup Damon Huard to run the offense in case Green does get injured. Croyle was not drafted to play in 2006 and likely will be the Chiefs 3rd string QB all season.
Beyond 2006: What Croyle was drafted for is the future. Green will be 36 by the end of the season and Huard will be 33. The Chiefs are hopeful to get another year or two out of Green and then turn things over to Croyle in 2008. When that happens, Croyle becomes an intriguing prospect for fantasy football drafts. I think there’s a lot to like about Croyle in dynasty style fantasy football leagues.

Ingle Martin, Round 5, Green Bay Packers: A very good athlete, Martin was both an efficient QB and Punter for Furman in 2005. After transferring from a big time college program at Florida in 2003, Martin must take the big step up in competition to the NFL level. Martin possesses good size, adequate arm strength, and has good speed. Despite that speed though he isn’t an elite runner and has to work on better avoiding the rush. The proverbial “diamond in the rough”, Martin will need a couple of years before he is ready to compete as Brett Favre’s eventual replacement.
2006 outlook: Unless the Packers are hopeful Martin can be both their starting punter and 3rd string QB, it’s unlikely Martin is activated for any games in 2006. Favre doesn’t miss games and Aaron Rodgers is well ahead of Martin in terms of development.
Beyond 2006: This is where it gets interesting with Martin. The Packers aren’t completely sold on Rodgers being their guy when Favre eventually retires and could be looking at Martin as a guy who could compete for the starting job with Rodgers. Personally, I don’t think Martin amounts to anything as a QB in the NFL and don’t consider him worth drafting in even the deepest of dynasty style fantasy football leagues in 2006.

Omar Jacobs, Round 5, Pittsburgh Steelers: A great athlete with a strong arm and all the desired measurables for the QB position, Jacobs comes from a very pass friendly offense. In 21 career starts at Bowling Green, Jacobs threw 67 TD passes with only 11 interceptions. Some think he is a product of their system, but when you have the height, weight, speed, and arm that Jacobs has, you get noticed, especially when you put up those types of numbers. But suffice to say, Jacobs is a raw QB project at the NFL level and will need time to polish his skills, refine his mechanics, and improve his consistency.
2006 outlook: Will be buried behind Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch on the depth chart. It would take a lot of bad luck for Pittsburgh to play Jacobs in any game in 2006 as he isn’t ready.
Beyond 2006: The Steelers are thinking long term backup to Roethlisberger with Jacobs. If he develops into that role, great. If he develops beyond it, he becomes a hot trade commodity. If he never develops, it was a 5th round pick.

Reggie McNeal, Round 6, Cincinnati Bengals: Probably the best overall athlete amongst the QB class, but hardly the best QB. McNeal has blazing speed, but has not shown the ability to quickly read defenses or sustain patience in the pocket and therefore is unlikely to stick as a QB in the NFL. Just like with another former college QB before him, Antwaan Randle El, McNeal is probably going to be a multiple threat type of player passing, rushing, and receiving from a WR position. The question is whether he is willing to make that type of transition. McNeal is taller and faster than Randle El and if used properly, can become a better version of him in the NFL. Really wish he had been drafted specifically as a WR as he is much more likely to have a fantasy impact than probably most of the QB’s listed ahead of him.
2006 outlook: Will the Bengals make the smart move and make him a “slash” style of player from the WR spot? If so, then McNeal has the chance to at least get on the field more often than the other QB’s drafted and that raises his fantasy football value. But it won’t be a big increase as the Bengals have quality depth behind their great starting WR’s. McNeal could also get a chance at QB in certain game situations if Carson Palmer doesn’t recover from his devastating knee injury suffered back in the playoffs in time.
Beyond 2006: McNeal has the chance to live up to all the hype Randle El gets (but never lives up to) every year going into fantasy football drafts if he is willing to make the transition away from QB. McNeal has the size, and definitely the athleticism to eventually be a very good starting WR in the NFL as well. There will need to be some time for the adjustment, but it could be well worth waiting for in dynasty style fantasy football leagues. There’s a lot to like about McNeal, just not at the QB position.

Bruce Gradkowski, Round 6, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A very productive 3 year starter at Toledo, Gradkowski is a smart, tough competitor with good mechanics and leadership skills. He doesn’t have the strongest of arms, but is very accurate with his short to intermediate passes and makes good reads and decisions. Lack of ideal height and questions about his ability to throw the deep pass are what kept him from being drafted higher.
2006 outlook: Tampa is presently crowded at QB with starter Chris Simms, and backups Luke McCown and Tim Rattay, but it’s expected that one of the backups probably won’t be on the roster come the beginning of the season. Gradkowski steps in as the #3 guy if that happens. While 6th round draft pick QB’s don’t usually do more than play on the practice squad, Gradkowski has the potential to be on the active roster in 2006.
Beyond 2006: It’s not likely that Gradkowski ever emerges as anything more than a backup at the NFL level. His value for fantasy football projections long term is limited.

D.J. Shockley, Round 7, Atlanta Falcons: Like with Reggie McNeal, Shockley is a candidate for a position change. An exceptional athlete and good leader, Shockley has only been a starting QB in college for one year. Is very erratic in his passes and really needs more experience to develop his mechanics and improve his ability to read defenses.
2006 outlook: His height (6’ 3/4”) works against him being an NFL QB, but his athleticism could get him on the field as a WR or RB in specific situations. If he stays as a QB he will compete for the third string spot. If they move him to another position he has a chance to be on the field more, but not enough to warrant fantasy football consideration right away.
Beyond 2006: With a lot of patience and time, Shockley could eventually turn out to be a fine backup QB in the NFL, but he will never be a great starter. His best chance at having value in fantasy football leagues is if he moves to another position and becomes another “slash” type weapon in the offense.

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