NFL fantasy 2012 QB health report (cont.)
Don't forget that Carson Palmer was this close to having his elbow reconstructed just a few seasons back. He's shown that he can still play, and stay healthy, but with that injury, his age, and the Raiders offense, Palmer's about as risky as they come. The upside is in the deep ball and long TDs that the Raiders could put up with their speed. Color me curious to see how Terrelle Pryor develops. If the Jets use of Tim Tebow has early success, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Raiders try something with Pryor.
Philip Rivers is many things, but lead among them is durable. He's not terribly mobile, but he has ideal size and has five years running of starting all 16 games.
Tony Romo is getting a bad rap. He's not as injury-prone as most think, having played 16 games four of the last six years. He missed time with a broken collarbone after getting slammed to the turf, but that's something that could happen to any QB. He takes a lot of hits, so there's some risk, just not as much as most think in the fantasy world. There's still some upside here.
A lot of Eli Manning's success has to be traced back to his DNA. The Mannings know how to stay healthy, have a solid work ethic and are smart enough to adjust. Amazingly, Eli might be healthier than Peyton. He already has more rings, but is he actually the better QB?
Without getting too moral here, the narrative on Michael Vick for the last two seasons has been that he can change. People seem to think that Vick won't run as much or that he'll at least learn to slide. There's just no evidence of that -- at all. Vick is much slighter than most realize. While Cam Newton and Robert Griffin have 20 and 10 pounds on him, respectively, at the listed weights, few think Vick is really 215. He's maybe 200, especially as the season goes on. I worry that any age-related loss of quickness is going to cost him one or two more hits a game, hits he's shown he can't take.
Robert Griffin III is going to get overdrafted a lot. Part is based on his success and talent. Part is based on people who missed drafting Cam Newton last season. He has the same upside, perhaps better weapons, and an offense that's designed for him. He's not quite as big as Newton and his speed advantage won't be the same that he had in the Big 12. It's hardly an insult to say that Griffin's probably somewhere between Newton and Vick, upside and downside.
The new offense the Bears will run and the weapons he has should help Jay Cutler. The thumb injury that ended his season has healed and has limited recurrence risk, so don't factor that into his draft position. Where I do worry is the pattern of injuries we see from Cutler -- they come late, which indicates that he's being worn down. The sacks could be a big part of that and if those are reduced, Cutler's got a bit more upside.
So you think this is the year that Matthew Stafford stays healthy. He's certainly got the talent to be an elite level QB, but placing a guy with this injury history over someone like Eli Manning or Matt Ryan is a stretch. The argument for Stafford is that physical maturity, experience, or a change in the offensive line or scheme is going to make him a healthier player. There's no evidence that the first two have anything to do with health. Stafford's injuries are those of most QBs -- traumatic, essentially random. It's "one bad hit," not any sort of genetic proclivity. Stafford's risk is simply too high at his ranking.
Aaron Rodgers is about as low risk as a QB can be. So when you think back to him missing time with a concussion, at how much he runs and exposes himself to hits, you have to also wonder how any QB makes it through a season healthy. The Packers upgraded their O-Line, so having Rodgers as low-risk doesn't worry me at all. Just don't confuse low-risk with risk-free.
Christian Ponder's running ability is overlooked, especially considering how bad his O-Line was last season. He ran to survive, not thrive. He's likely to get a bit more opportunity this season, especially as the team is easing Adrian Peterson back in. The schedule helps, with Jacksonville and Indy in the first two weeks. He got knocked around a bit, seemingly being ground down by his first season and all the hits, but that's pretty common for rookies. His health risk might be his biggest positive.
Matt Ryan came into the league touted as a Peyton Manning starter kit and he's matched that. He hasn't had the same upside, but he's hardly a bust. Part of that skill set is health, largely because of a quick release and a good instinct for the rush. No reason to think that will change in '12.
The rule is that running QBs take more hits, and more hits equals more injuries. Cam Newton, and to some extent, Tim Tebow, challenge that. These guys are bigger than most running backs, a far cry from previous running QBs, who tend to be Vick's size. A good past comparison is Randall Cunningham, who at 6-4, 212 pounds is more comparable. At 6-5, 244, with speed and quickness, Newton smartly didn't take a lot of hits last season, but when he did, he was as likely to be giving as good as he got. Newton has the mass to go with the force, a combo we haven't seen before, and that might change the injury equation slightly. I'd actually rank him slightly higher because of the rushing TDs and my belief that his running isn't a significant injury risk.
The only real uncertainty here is the drama of the coaching situation. There's no reason to think Drew Brees won't be the same QB he has been the last few years. The offense is focused around keeping him healthy, and a healthy Brees is a monstrously productive Brees.
Josh Freeman wasn't unhealthy last year, just bad. He's come back to a new staff with a new commitment. He's down 30 pounds in hopes of being more mobile, though mass sometimes helps QBs when running. (It doesn't help taking hits, in case you were wondering, though it does make the tackler hurt a bit more. Physics can be fun.) If you liked Freeman last year but got burned, the same talent is still there, plus some new weapons.
Kevin Kolb may lose the job before the season, and if not, he'll likely lose it in season anyway. There is yardage to be compiled here, with Michael Floyd joining Larry Fitzgerald, so anyone with the requisite skills could put up some decent fantasy numbers. Kolb hasn't stayed healthy as a starter, so there's no reason to think it will be him for very long. John Skelton has the size, but no one's sure about the skill. In other words, injury risk is the least of the problem here.
We still don't know how good Sam Bradford can be. He's spent as much time on his back as in the pocket, with far too much time in the training room. It's not his fault, given the hits he's taken. Maybe Jeff Fisher and his new staff can figure things out, but absent a wholesale improvement in blocking, Bradford now occupies the space once held by Stafford. He's the ultimate "what if" QB.
Jim Harbaugh might be a miracle worker, but Alex Smith always had some talent. He's a better runner than most knew, at least before that big playoff bootleg let the secret out. He's been relatively healthy over his career and could have the best WR corps he's had, going four deep if Randy Moss' return is real.
Matt Flynn hasn't won the job outright, but he has the most upside and is most likely to start the season. That's not to say that Flynn is or isn't good, or is or isn't risky. No QB is going to get hurt holding a clipboard, but he's not going to put many points on the board, either.