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There should just enough productive quarterbacks to give most fantasy teams a decent No. 1 for the 2010 season. Thanks to the development of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan and the continuing growth of Aaron Rodgers and Matt Schaub, there is significant high-end depth.
But which QB-2 candidates offer the most upside? That group is far more muddled, due in part to all the off-season shuffling.
Consider the case of Josh Freeman, who endured a trial by fire as a rookie in Tampa Bay last season. He won just three of his nine starts. His passer rating of 59.8 ranked 30th in the league. He completed only 54.5 percent of his passes and threw 18 interceptions (against 10 touchdown passes).
Freeman could take a giant step this season, however. The Buccaneers added WRs Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams in the NFL Draft.
And Freeman is enjoying a productive offseason, demonstrating greater eagerness to learn.
“If you ask coaches, they'll tell you that one of the biggest intangibles a quarterback can have is work ethic,” Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson told the St. Petersburg Times. “When guys talk about the ‘it’ factor, part of 'it' is the work ethic. Especially now, when defenses have become so complicated.
“Josh's work ethic is very good. We couldn't ask for more.”
Last season he was a bottom-tier fantasy reserve. This year fantasy GMs will be watching the Tampa Bay passing game a lot more closely.
Here is a look at some other potential breakout QB-2s:
Alex Smith, 49ers: He is the clear No. 1 in San Francisco after throwing 18 TD passes in 11 games last season. His passer rating was solid, 81.5, and he completed 60.5 percent of his passes. With a full year of WR Michael Crabtree, it’s fair to expect big numbers.
Smith vows not to take his position for granted, especially with David Carr pushing him. “‘I’m the guy, I’m the guy, I’m the guy’ doesn’t mean anything,’ Smith told The Sporting News. “I’m going to have to go out there in Game 1 and prove that I’m the guy. And then I’m going to have to go out in Game 2 and prove it again.”
Chad Henne, Dolphins: The addition of WR Brandon Marshall changes everything in Miami. Suddenly the “wildcat” formation run by RB Ronnie Brown or QB Pat White isn’t the big thing opponents must game plan against.
The Dolphins ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards last season, but they could throw a lot more this season. “I don't think there's any reason why we can't throw 40, 50 times a game,” Dolphins WR Brian Hartline told the Miami Herald. “It's going to be pretty hard to game-plan against the Dolphins.”
If Henne emerges as the No. 1 QB, as expected, he should boost his TD totals with Marshall creating match-up problems down the field. Last season Henne threw just 12 touchdown passes (against 14 interceptions) in 14 games. He passed for 2,878 yards on 60.8 percent accuracy. He can do better.
Matt Leinart, Cardinals: Kurt Warner is gone and the former USC star finally has the keys to the Arizona offense. After four years of intermittent play, he seems ready to mature into a real leader.
“There’s a little bit different feel with Matt,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “He knows now he’s the guy. He’s the one everybody’s looking at. It’s different when you’ve got Kurt Warner here with everything he brings.”
Back in 2006, remember Leinart threw for 405 yards in a game against the Vikings, setting a rookie record at the time. He had three games with a passer rating of at least 100. But he was alternately terrible, which is why Arizona originally brought in Warner.
Now his big competition will come from former Brown Derek Anderson. In Leinart’s make-or-break season, expect good things.
Matthew Stafford, Lions: He managed to start 10 games as a rookie, which was impressive given the physical beating he took. He completed just 53.3 percent of his passes, however and threw 20 interceptions (against 13 TDs).
The addition of RB Jahvid Best will help balance up the offense and create more room for elite WR Calvin Johnson. The arrival of WR Nate Burleson will enhance the passing game, too.
Jake Delhomme, Browns: Cleveland ushered out Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Team president Mike Holmgren prefers veteran QBs, so Jake Delhomme figures to run the show with Seneca Wallace backing him.
Top Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi is excited about the team’s newfound offensive potential.
“We all know how the passing game went last year,” Massaquoi told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It can only get better. You plug in a guy like Jake Delhomme . . . he's a Super Bowl quarterback. I was a huge fan of his growing up in Charlotte. He's very capable. He brings in a lot of knowledge . . . He's going to tell us what he expects out of us. We're going to be able to learn from him and grow more.”
Vince Young, Titans: He reestablished himself last season by leading Tennessee to an 8-2 mark down the stretch. He passed for 1,879 yards in that span, with 10 TDs and seven INTs. This spring he is trying to polish his mechanics.
“The ball is coming out more accurate,” he told the Tennesseean. “I feel a lot more comfortable doing it. But I have to keep working on my craft.'”
Jason Campbell, Raiders: As we noted earlier, his long arm is a good fit for the Al Davis passing scheme, Oakland better find some better targets for him. If the Raiders don’t upgrade, Campbell’s upward statistical climb (2,700, 3,245 and 3,618 yards the last three seasons, with 12, 13 and 20 TDs) will come to a screeching halt.