This is the third installment of my 2011 rookie review series. It has been a season filled with great performances in regards to many of the rookie quarterbacks and mostly disappointments from the rookie tight ends. After 15 weeks, this is as good of a time as any to find out what we learned so far. Enjoy!
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
2011 stats through Week 15: 283-475-3,722 yards passing, 17 TDs, 16 interceptions, 114 attempts for 609 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs
Current role: Starter (4th ranked quarterback in leagues that equal passing/rushing TDs the same)
2012 expectations: In my twenty plus years playing fantasy football and forty odd years watching football, I am hard pressed to find many other football players that wanted to win as badly as Cam Newton. Sure guys like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre come to mind, but this is a rookie who everyone, including myself, doubted as a sure-fire quarterback. Now the real question is: how good is he? I am willing to put him in the top six or seven dynasty quarterbacks. Now some may say, hey "dynasty expert", Newton is a top four quarterback this year, so he can only get better.
Newton can get better, but looking at his surrounding teammates I'm not so sure that his team is built for his long-term success. Newton has two dynamic receiving threats in Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, then below average or aging talent in Brandon LaFell, Legedu Naanee, and Jeremy Shockey. Yes, he has good running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Unfortunately, the three of them (Newton, D-Will, and J-Stew) cancel each other's rushing skills out. Newton with one of them in the backfield is enough to cause all three of their values to drop. For Newton to jump into the top 3 dynasty consideration, the team must trade Jonathan Stewart for some strong receiving help. I haven't talked about Newton's strong-arm, powerful running style, and leadership, because that doesn't matter when you are a band-aid for the inequities for the entire organization. Cam Newton is a top 6 dynasty QB now, who could jump into top 3 status with better team management.
Andy "Ginger" Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
2011 stats through Week 15: 260-441-3,012 yards passing, 18 TDs, 13 interceptions, 28 attempts for 87 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD
Current role: Starter (16th ranked quarterback in leagues that equal passing/rushing TDs the same)
2012 expectations: Andy Dalton exceeded expectations in his rookie year and there is little doubt in my mind that he will only get better. Dalton has done a great job not getting sacked while being pressured and has continued to throw all the routes. Many young quarterbacks dink and dunk down the field using their running backs and short route running receivers; however, this isn't the case with Dalton. Of course, he has the best rookie wide receiver in AJ Green who makes it easier for him to make big plays. The most impressive part of Dalton's game to me has been his poise and leadership. I like to compare Andy Dalton with Matthew Hasselbeck as they are both good leaders and decision-makers with enough accuracy and arm-strength to win. With a good offseason, I predict he will be a perennial 3,200 yard, 22 TD quarterback which would make Dalton an adequate #1 dynasty QB or a great #2.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
2011 stats thru Week 15: 146-268-1,757 13 TDs, 12 interceptions and 24 for 199 rushing
Current role: Starter
2012 expectations: Ponder is having your typical rookie quarterback season, some highs and some lows. Donovan McNabb was not inspiring anyone and was benched to give the Vikings organization a chance to see what Ponder could do. With Adrian Peterson out for three games and having only one starting quality wide receiver in Percy Harvin, Ponder has put together an adequate season. Unlike Andy Dalton who has plenty of offensive weapons, Ponder needed to put the entire team on his shoulders and for the majority of the time, he did not look ready for that. I have compared him to a very raw Favre, but I think I was overstating. Simply put, Ponder makes enough throws and can scramble enough that the Vikings will not pursue another starting QB for 2012. This alone doesn't make him a fantasy starter, but it does give you faith in a dynasty league that he will be the quarterback for the next few years.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
2011 stats thru Week 15: 178-352-1,924 passing yards, 11 TDs and 10 interceptions, 44 carries for 97 yards rushing
Current role: Starter by default
2012 expectations: There are many people calling for his head on a pike as he is inconsistent as the day is long. If you went to see the movie "Happy Feet" or "Happy Feet Two" and didn't see Gabbert in action, ask for your money back. Gabbert feels, or better said "imagines", pressure every time he goes back to pass. This alone causes many issues, but he also has issues with arm control. He will over throw a wide open receiver on one play and skip the ball like a stone on a glassy pond on the next pass. If he had a receiver who had great hands like a Brandon Lloyd, Larry Fitzgerald, or AJ Green, the story could change. MJD is the only member of the Jacksonville offense that can shift pressure away from Gabbert. That being said MJD is not enough and Blaine Gabbert might be this year's Jimmy Clausen, a guy that has no business being a starting NFL quarterback. I am not ready to write him off, but I won't blame another fantasy owner if they do. The Jaguars have a choice at the NFL draft, either draft a 1st round wide receiver or a 1st round quarterback. Blaine Gabbert is a #3 dynasty QB with a huge amount of upside/downside. You are swinging for the fences either way.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
2011 stats thru Week 15: 34-66-542 passing yards, 4 TDs with 8 carries for 56 yards and a TD
Current role: Backup for brittle starter
2012 expectations: Jake Locker is an exciting player who has as much aptitude on the ground as he does in the air. Much like Tim Tebow, he uses his mobility to make plays while being far from a finished product. At this time, we have not seen enough of him and he certainly hasn't seen enough of NFL defenses for anyone to be sure about him either. Locker's biggest issue is his mental toughness and decision-making. He has looked good in limited time coming in off the bench, but will that continue in a starter's role? I'm willing to give it a try as I think he will get the team to rally behind him, but he is a year away from helping your fantasy team.
TJ Yates, Houston Texans (great story, but has limited upside as there were reasons that he was considered the worst QB at the combine).
Colin Kaepernik, San Francisco 49ers (hasn't played a down and I have a feeling he will remind us of Josh Johnson, an athletic QB who doesn't have a strong-arm, but good mobility).
The rookie tight ends were a disappointment this year considering the crop that came out last year. I have a small blurb on three of them and at times I felt I was stretching things.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings: Rudolph, in his limited time, was productive with 21 catches for 211 yards and 2 TDs on 33 targets. Out of those 21 catches, at least three of them were spectacular catches as he has amazing body control and can contort his body to make plays. His hands are soft and he can find a soft spot in the zone. The more Rudolph grows as a blocker, the bigger his role will be. He is a solid #2 dynasty TE or an even better #3 TE.
Lance Kendricks, St Louis Rams: The all hype train derailed early for Kendricks. He caught half of his targets for 23 catches for 285 yards. He seemed to find a way to drop the ball at the worst time: in the end zone, for a third down conversion, etc. He must improve his concentration issues and work on his route running. A healthy quarterback and time with the offensive coordinator should help in the offseason. He is a buy very, very, very low dynasty project.
Last but not least, is Robert Housler, Arizona Cardinals. We hardly saw you or knew you. His 9 catches for 95 yards after fighting for playing time with a one-legged Todd Heap and blocker Jeff King does not inspire much faith. I would pass on him if I were you.