Quarterbacks in Focus As Preseason Warms Up


Aug 10, 2009

Quarterbacks in Focus As Preseason Warms Up With only one game to discuss, last night's Hall of Fame contest between the Titans and Bills, we'll use this inaugural 2009 Scouting Notebook to set the preseason table by establishing where we should be focusing our August attention. As is often the case, it's on the quarterbacks.

In Cleveland, Brady Quinn is trying to stay ahead of Derek Anderson, who has the stronger arm and is better able to deliver the downfield strikes that were the foundation of Braylon Edwards' scintillating 2007 campaign (when Anderson tossed 29 TDs). Quinn is more of a game-manager and ball-distributor. At yesterday's scrimmage, neither Quinn nor Anderson mounted much of an attack against the Browns' first-team defense, which is far from stout judging by 2008 results.

The Tarvaris Jackson-Sage Rosenfels battle in Minnesota was sidetracked early in camp when Jackson sprained an MCL. But they are now both back splitting reps with the first team. Expect the Vikings to take the preseason very seriously from an offensive perspective and for this battle to be decided primarily on the quality of play under the August lights.

Jackson really came on at the end of 2008. But the fantasy upside lies with Rosenfels, with whom the Vikings will play more aggressively even though he's very mistake prone. Jackson will be looked to simply manage games and be a caretaker, letting the defense and running game carry the day. That's better news for Adrian Peterson owners but discouraging for those investing much later in Vikings receivers.

In San Francisco, Alex Smith's pedigree as a former No. 1 overall pick gets him into the running for the starting job. While Shaun Hill can be viewed as an incumbent off his impressive 2008 season, there are reasonable questions as to whether he was a product of Mike Martz's offense. Hill's reputation is as a poor practice player who turns it on under the lights of the regular season. Maybe that applies to preseason games, too. Thus far in camp, Smith has shown the stronger arm, but Hill has played well enough to remain the nominal starter. Given what we've seen from Smith, those investing in Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree (assuming he ever ends his holdout) should pull very hard for Hill.

Technically, there is a battle in Denver between Kyle Orton and Chris Simms (who seek to replace the departed Jay Cutler). But it will be a shock if Orton isn't starting Week 1. Orton has already received catcalls from the Broncos fans at scrimmages. Cutler has an all-time arm capable of defying the geometry of NFL coverage schemes, so it's a big step down for those owners investing in Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall.

The remaining battles feature rookies. It's clear that the Lions and Jets want to start Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, respectively.

The key situation from a fantasy perspective is in Detroit, where Megatron — Calvin Johnson — has all the looks of a fantasy monster. Can he overcome the decidedly mediocre Culpepper, whose game was build on raw athleticism that's never recovered after catastrophic knee surgery, or a rookie in Stafford — viewed as a work in progress in April by most NFL scouts.

Stafford has the Cutler-like arm, and Johnson has praised the rookie effusively early in camp. Stafford also has mastered the playbook and was lauded by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan yesterday for carrying himself like a starting QB.

Sanchez has outplayed Kellen Clemens thus far in camp despite the four-year head start Clemens has in the system. However, the Jets are built around a solid defense and running game. But if Sanchez is the starter, I'd invest in Jerricho Cotchery and hope for some Matt Ryan-Roddy White type of magic. Cotchery, though, lacks White's elite athleticism. His current ADP of 88th overall (according to MockDraftCentral.com) represents an attractive value, though, for a certain No. 1 receiver.

In Tampa, rookie Josh Freeman is only technically in the running for the starting job. Right now, the first-teamer is Byron Leftwich who always looks good wearing the yellow practice jersey. In regular action, Leftwich's slow delivery and lead feet get him in big trouble. Also in the running is Luke McCown, a plus athlete whose game has been hamstrung this summer by an overemphasis on limiting mistakes, which has limited the big plays, too.

The cautionary tale for all rookie QBs is shaping up to be Vince Young, who again looked terrible in the Hall of Fame game that the Titans won 21-18. Young still couldn't make second reads, floated passes and looked indecisive even with the ball in his hands when running. The battle now between him and Matt Leinart (taken No. 3 and No. 10, respectively, in the 2006 NFL Draft) is to see which one will be cut first.

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