While rookie quarterbacks come with growing pains, they can also provide Fantasy owners with value, particularly those in two-QB, keeper or dynasty leagues. It is possible that no rookie quarterbacks start Week 1, but that doesn’t mean they wont have an impact this season.
Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns)
The former Heisman trophy winner and 22nd overall pick was beat out of the starting job by Brian Hoyer, despite the two putting up similar numbers this preseason. Manziel finished the important third preseason game going 10-of-15 for 84 yards and a seven-yard rushing touchdown, coming in after Hoyer started and went 10-of-16 for 84 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a fumble. The old belief, when rookies and veterans are battling it out, is if the play is close, go with the youngster. However, maybe Manzielmania, or fingergate, is too much for first year head coach Mike Pettine to start his tenure with, or perhaps he is saving Manziel from a difficult start. The Browns open up with three games against the Steelers, Saints and Ravens, and a 0-3 start is very possible. The city of Cleveland will be clamoring for Manziel to start after the Week 4 bye, against the Titans, which present a much easier defense than the first three matchups.
Expect to see Money Manziel rubbing his fingers during Week 5. His legs will make him a solid QB 2, but the hype surrounding his name will likely lead to him being plucked off the waiver wire once he is named the starter. Those of you in 10 or 12-team redraft leagues, try to hold off and see him perform first before scooping him up. Plus, wouldn’t it be great to see him and Josh Gordon team up together?
Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings)
Bridgewater was beat out by Matt Cassel, who killed it this preseason, going 26-of-39 for 367 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 103.3 QB rating. However, the Vikings O-line is suspect at best, and will make it hard for a one-dimensional QB like Cassel to succeed, as the pocket will quickly close. A QB that can run and avoid the pressure may be what’s best for the Vikings, which is what Bridgewater can offer. He may be in the best situation to succeed among the rookie quarterbacks, as his offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, works wonders. The offensive weapons in Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Greg Jennings will all make life easier on Bridgewater. Patterson and AP have the ability to take short passes the distance, and Rudolph and Jennings will provide two big-bodied safety blankets.
The easy prediction for when Bridgewater will start is after the Week 10 bye, but it may come much sooner than that. I’m going out on a limb and saying the Vikings Week 4 starter will be Bridgewater. After a stretch against some tough defenses in the Rams, Patriots and Saints to start the season, the Vikings play games against the Falcons, Packers, and Lions, three teams that finished in the Top-12 for most passing yards against. This would be a great stretch for Bridgewater to get his feet wet (no pun intended). In fact, the three toughest defenses that the Vikings see this year may be the first three weeks of the season. However, the Vikings face a lot of high-powered offenses this year, (six division games against the Bears, Packers and Lions), and will have to pile up points to have a shot at winning. This is good for Bridgewater, as his stats will likely be padded, but that doesn’t matter in Fantasy. If Bridewater is named the starter, he should be viewed as a QB 2 that can be played given the right matchup, an especially useful tool for those preaching the zero QB strategy.
Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Jaguars continue to insist that they will sit the number three overall pick this season so he can learn behind Chad Henne. However, Bortles has killed it in the preseason, completing 28-of-44 passes, for 435 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 103.9. The argument can be made that it was against backups, but Bortles has looked poised every time he’s stepped on the field. He went 10-of-16 for 158 yards with the first team in the important third preseason game. The fans in Jacksonville want to see a step in the right direction and Bortles will offer that.
While it is likely that we do not see Bortles until late in the year at best (Jags bye is Week 11), I am going to call their bluff and say Bortles starts before the season is half over. He has simply looked too good to justify benching, plus he could start his NFL career off right against the Eagles, the team that allowed the most passing yards in 2013. He then would the Redskins and Colts, two defenses that struggled last season. Perhaps the Jags wait until Week 3, so Bortles can start their home opener, but there is no real reason to sit him any longer than that. If given the job, Bortles can compete to be in the Jake Locker/Alex Smith tier of QB’s (20-25), but he won’t be a QB that you would feel confident plugging in your lineup weekly. However, those in dynasty leagues should be quick to snag Bortles, as his ceiling is the highest among the rookie quarterbacks on this list.
Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders)
Is anyone excited to see Matt Schaub try to resurrect his career in Oakland? The fans in Oakland are likely sick of riding the QB carousel, with players like Terrelle Pyror, Matt McGloin, Matt Flynn, Carson Palmer, Jason Campbell, and JaMarcus Russell that have started in previous years. Palmer might be the lone exception, but those are not names you want leading your team. Schaub joins a list of busts and/or retreads that the Raiders have trotted out in front of mediocre (at best) squads. Schaub is missing time currently due to elbow tendonitis (similar to Flynn in 2013), allowing the big-bodied and strong-armed Carr to get first team reps. His biggest test will be this upcoming week’s game against the Seahawks.
The Raiders staff believes Carr is ready to start if Schaub can’t suit up for Week 1. However, it may be a while until we see Carr’s debut. The Raiders schedule will do them no favors this season, but perhaps the toughest stretch of opposing defenses is Weeks 7 through 9, when they get the Cardinals, Browns and Seahawks in Seattle. The Raiders return home Week 10 against the Broncos, in what could be a good first test for Carr. While the Broncos defense is stronger than last year it still presents an opportunity for Carr to air out the ball and put up big numbers. If the Raiders elect not to start him in Week 10, then we may not see him until Week 16 against the Bills, as the Raiders get a difficult stretch against the Chiefs, Rams, Niners and Chiefs again before ending the season against the Bills and Broncos.
This may not be the year for owners to invest much if anything, in Carr, but he does have the ability to surprise. He has a strong arm and a crew of speedy receivers, such as Andre Holmes, Rod Streator and Denarius Moore who can make the most of it. He will be worth scouting once given the starting job, but owners in anything but the deepest of leagues should hold off on adding him until he shows what he can do.
This year will not be the year of the rookie quarterback, but it is important to know just when they may get their chance to start, and scout them going forward. Remember, everyone thought Cam Newton wouldn’t succeed as a rookie quarterback and owners that scouted him caught lightning in a bottle.
Feel free to ask Michael any Fantasy Football questions on Twitter @MichaelFFlorio.