Projected 2013 stat line: 3,885 yards, 25 touchdowns, 17 interceptions
If there’s one position in fantasy football that’s easier to acquire depth than others, it’s the quarterback position. After all, you only need one in most standard leagues, and with 10-14 teams on average, you have a good shot to land a quality backup guy.
So why not hold out until the wee hours of the later rounds after you’ve packed your roster with quality receivers and running backs before you look for your second quarterback? After all, RB and WR are valued much more because you need more of those guys on your team (typically 2 RB, 3 WR, and 1 flex guy). Not saying having a great QB1 isn’t important, but a QB2 is a position you can afford to wait on.
Last season, guys like Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer (almost a sure-thing for lots of yardage due to a terrible Raider defense), Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (a guy who could knife up bad teams) and even Cincinnatti Bengals QB Andy Dalton (another good play depending on matchups) were plucked from the waiver wire and by many teams and proved to be quality plays QB2s.
This season, we’re looking to find guys like those listed above who can step in and produce either when an injury arises, a bye-week occurs, or your QB1 has a bad matchup, and we have strong reasons to believe 29-year-old Browns’ QB Brandon Weeden can do that in 2013.
As a rookie in a veteran’s body, Weeden averaged 15 fantasy points per game last season (standard-league rules). Not bad considering he played on a Browns team that was one of the youngest in the NFL.
Weeden passed for 3,385 yards in 2012, good for 19th overall among quarterbacks. He played in all but one game, sitting out Week 16 with a shoulder injury, so if you extrapolate his numbers based on the averages he likely would have finished with around 3,600 yards. However, his 14:17 touchdown-to-interception ratio was abysmal and among the worst in the league last season.
While his numbers aren’t eye popping, Weeden possesses a lot of the solid mechanical skills needed for quarterbacks to thrive in the NFL, the bigger obstacle standing in the way of his success is his inexperience, supporting cast, and team culture. But all of those problems are on their way to substantial improvement in 2013. Here’s why.
New offensive scheme
With former head coach Pat Shurman now out of Cleveland, so is dink-and-dunk style of offense, replaced with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s famous vertical attack. While he never panned out as a head coach in San Diego, his offensive genius is unquestionable. Turner’s pass-happy offense emphasizes timing and getting the ball down field, which requires the quarterback to be accurate and knowing how to throw to a spot.
This is the same kind of offense that made household names out of quarterbacks like Troy Aikman (hall of famer with the Dallas Cowboys) and Phillip Rivers (perennial pro bowler with the San Diego Chargers).
Weeden brings all the tools needed to flourish in a similar scheme. Blessed with an above-average arm, he displayed good downfield passing ability as a rookie. He also trusted his receivers to be at the right spot rather than wait for them to get open, an underrated skill that is essential when it comes to getting the ball out quickly to avoid the pass rush. Check out this 66-yard bomb thrown on a dime to receiver Josh Gordon, a guy who’s an emerging star himself.
Not only that, but Weeden also displays the kind of quick decision making skills that allows quarterbacks to improve substantially as they get used to the speed of the NFL game. Weeden was only sacked 28 times last season, which was 22nd in the league and right up there with Tom Brady (sacked 27 times) and Drew Brees (sacked 26 times). When you’re not an incredible athlete who can avoid the rush with your feet, your ability to read defenses and get the ball out of your heads quickly is crucial to your success, something Weeden does very well. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have one of the best offensive tackles in the game in Joe Thomas protecting the pocket either.
Emerging young receivers
The Browns talented group of young wideouts got off to a slow start in 2012, but picked up rapidly as the season went along. Rookie Josh Gordon squashed the perception of character-issues brought on by issues with Marijuana prior to the 2012 NFL draft and put together a fantastic rookie season.
However, those issues resurfaced when he violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy earlier in 2013. Gordon’s latest poor decision will keep him out of the first two games of 2013, which could hurt Weeden’s value early on.
Despite that, Gordon is a dynamic player when on the field. He caught 50 passes for 805 yards and 5 touchdowns last season. More importantly, he showed a knack for getting behind defenders with his explosiveness and his impressive 16.1 yards/per catch average left little doubt that he has potential to be elite in this league.
On the other side, third-year wideout Greg Little brings more size and blocking ability to complement Gordon. Though he struggled hanging on to the ball early in 2012 (in the first five games, Little had 6 drops to just 11 catches) he flourished in the seasons’ second half (In the last 11 games, he had just 3 drops and 42 catches.) That shows promise for this season.
A staple at running back
In his rookie season, Trent Richardson blew the doors off defenders with his uncanny ability to move the pile even with defenders draped all over him. A true throwback, Richardson might be the hardest running back to bring down in the league right now.
Weeden will benefit when teams stack eight-to-nine guys in the box to stop Richardson’s power running up the middle, giving him more room to use the play action (another one of his strengths) Richardson also proved a force out of the backfield as a receiver, catching 53 passes for 647 yards and 4 touchdowns. He only has one year under his belt, but all signs are pointing to Richardson becoming one of the league’s elite backs with Weeden benefiting from that.
Despite subpar numbers in his rookie season, the Browns have put Weeden in the right situation for 2013. He’s a deep sleeper No. 2 quarterback.