Quarterbacks, they’re still pretty important. They’re often the difference between fake football glory, and being greeted with a wide jerk smile from that co-worker who still calls his team “#winning” because he’s the coolest. Right now as the fantasy playoffs loom, it’s a position with great uncertainty due to both injuries and under performing.
The latter applies to Eli Manning, the Giants quarterback who’s thrown far more passes to the other team lately than he has to receivers who are standing in the end zone. While that’s hurtful, there’s a more pressing question on the minds, hearts, and souls of those who not only consider winning fun, but also enjoy common sense in their football roster decisions.
I’ll scream it, because everyone else is: WILL COLIN KAEPERNICK START?
Men everywhere have asked this question more this week than queries regarding the state and contents of their dinner plate, a true first for mankind. Right now, the answer is still maybe, probably, hopefully. After he dominated the Bears Monday while needing only the first eight minutes of the game to register 114 passing yards and leading the longest scoring drive against the Chicago defense this year (96 yards), 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh left the door ajar when asked about his quarterback situation, and the possibility that Kaepernick will continue to start regardless of Alex Smith’s health. After the game Harbaugh spoke of staying with the hot hand, and now three days later we still don’t have a definitive answer. Today we received only Harbaugh-speak, as he said that discussion of Smith vs. Kaepernick is the “opposite of a controversy,” and that Smith is expected to be cleared for contact soon.
But let’s play make believe, and for fantasy purposes assume that Kaepernick not only starts this weekend against the Saints, but after doing that he also finishes the season under center for the Niners. Will he be our savior, and even more savior-y than that Tebow kid?
That was my first question to C.D. Carter in this week’s Five Questions. Carter is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer’s Association, and a writer for The Fake Football and NFL Jerks, and we also talked about Manning and Chad Henne before taking a look ahead to next August, and who will be the first overall pick in 2013.
1. Do you have faith in Colin Kaepernick’s ability to sustain his production going forward? As impressive as he was Monday night, the sample size he’s given us is clearly small, and a lack of certainty is scary as the fantasy playoffs near.
I’m among those who can’t conceive of a scenario in which the Harbaugh regime pulls the plug on their electric signal caller and hands the reigns back to Alex Smith. I think, fairly or not, fantasy owners should expect Kaepernick to start for the stretch run.
Kaepernick, like any quarterback in his professional infancy, will disappoint – from a real and fake football perspective — sometime in the next few weeks. There’s no reason to think that’ll happen this week. Harbaugh did a masterful job of avoiding the Bears’ defensive strengths Monday night, instead targeting their subpar safeties. It didn’t hurt that Kaepernick was so brutally efficient, completing three-of-four pass attempts of more than 20 yards in the air for 111 yards, per Pro Football Focus.
When defenses get a week or three of game film on Kaepernick and counter the Niners’ masterful Monday Night strategy, I think he can burn people with his feet – a boon to fantasy owners, as Robert Griffin III owners know. So even when Kaepernick has a lackluster game and completes 10 passes for 130 yards or so, I think it’s safe to bank on his running ability to make up the difference (he ran for more than 4,000 yards during his career at the University of Nevada, Reno). In his first game, against the Rams, he ran for 66 yards on eight rushing attempts.
This week against the Saints – who allow a league-high 21 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks – I have Kaepernick pegged as a top-15 quarterback with giant upside. I think he could be a fantasy savior for owners scraping by with the Flaccos and Rivers and Weedens of the world.
2. Chad Henne posted 30 fantasy points this past Sunday. That’s about 30 more than we expected from him, and he has decent matchups remaining on the Jaguars’ schedule (Miami, Tennessee, and New England). What are your expectations for him?
Let’s remember how high fantasy owners got on Chad Henne laughing gas after Opening Day 2011, when he tortured the New England secondary for 416 yards and two touchdowns. Henne is the kind of quarterback, I think, who can put up gaudy numbers with a glut of pass attempts. The guy has a canon of an arm, and as he showed in Week 11 against the Texans, he’s unafraid to squeeze the ball into the tightest of windows.
The consistency just won’t be there though. He has a 36-to-38 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his career, and Henne has shown that he can’t be trusted as an every-week high-end QB2. He does, however, give giant value boosts to Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, both of whom were peppered with targets in last week’s back-and-forth offensive show. Blaine Gabbert has hampered the upside of Shorts and Blackmon because he’s simply unwilling to force throws into coverage. Henne takes the opposite approach, and while that’ll lead to the inevitable interception, Jacksonville’s two talented pass catchers will at least have a shot to put up decent fantasy numbers for their beleaguered owners.
I think desperate fantasy owners would do well to give Henne a spot start against the Patriots, Bills, and Titans in November and December, especially in leagues that don’t penalize too harshly for interceptions.
3. Let’s talk more quarterback faith, or maybe a lack thereof. Eli Manning has struggled heavily, with no touchdown passes since Week 7. Will his owners see a turnaround after the Giants’ bye?
Manning said in an interview Monday that his tired throwing arm had “a little bit more fire” after resting during the Giants’ bye week. Fantasy owners who write off the whole “tired arm” situation as an excuse for lackluster play this fall haven’t watched Manning play. He’s been short on many deep balls, forcing receivers to come back to his fluttering passes. Even his intermediate throws lack his normal zip. If Eli is right, and his arm just needed a week of rest, I think owners will reap the benefits, as the Giants play the Redskins, Saints, and Ravens – three teams with highly burnable secondaries. I don’t think Manning will magically catapult into the QB1 discussion, but his cushy schedule should be welcomed news for owners who have seen their quarterback throw for less than 220 yards in four of his past five.
Oh, and Hakeem Nicks is reportedly running fluidly in practice. That’s not a bad thing for Eli.
4. Which emerging wide receiver closes out the season with better production: Justin Blackmon, or Danario Alexander?
Alexander has long been a sort of muse for fantasy footballers looking for the next big thing, so these past couple weeks have been utter jubilation for those waiting for DX’s old-man knees to hold up in the NFL.
I wrote what amounts to a love letter to Alexander for NFL Jerks last week, and I’m even more confident in his potential as a top-20 wide receiver after seeing the unfailing trust Philip Rivers has in his newest pass catcher. They’ve played together for less than a month, and Rivers has consistently audibled when the defense deploys single coverage on DX. Rivers did that at least four times last week, twice resulting in touchdowns.
Blackmon showed in Week 11 that he’s not the first-round bust many (me included) pegged him for, but he doesn’t get the kind of separation Alexander gets at the line of scrimmage, and he lacks Alexander’s long speed, or even that of a tight end. I’d much rather roll with DX.
5. Lastly, those in re-draft leagues who are out of playoff contention are already looking towards next year. During the height of draft season next August, who’s the first overall pick? Is that title Robert Griffin III’s to lose at this point?
Griffin, at worst, is a top three 2013 pick for those in the Early Round Quarterback school. His unholy accuracy and ability to save fantasy performances with rushing yards and touchdowns makes him as valuable as Michael Vick during his heyday in 2010 – you know, back when he was OK at football. Better than Nick Foles, anyway.
Among fantasy owners who stock up on running backs in the first couple rounds, I think Doug Martin could be the first pick. Martin has set the world aflame after the Bucs made some key offensive changes during their bye week and committed to feeding the rookie early and often. Martin would have to continue his hot play throughout the rest of the regular season and into the fantasy playoffs, but there’s no reason to dismiss him as next year’s top pick.
The safest pick, though, would be Adrian Peterson and his miraculous knees. He’s simpy the best football player in the world. Anyone who took a chance on AP in the second or third round this year has benefited from perhaps the greatest value pick in recent fantasy history.