Faceoff: Matt Leinart
Maurile Tremblay: Leinart is far from a sure thing, but his upside potential is greater than many are giving him credit for. His ADP makes him worth the risk for the following reasons:
1. High-powered passing offense. Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin are gone, but Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston are excellent targets, and RBs Hightower and Wells are effective receivers out of the backfield. Early Doucet and rookie Andre Roberts also appear to have bright futures at WR.
A lot of people think that the Cardinals will become a heavily run-oriented team this season, but the transition from Warner to Leinart won't affect the playcalling as drastically as many people seem to think. Leinart will have every chance to lead the high-powered passing offense we've grown accustomed to in Arizona over the past few years; and if he succeeds, his upside potential is considerable.
2. Getting first-team reps in practice will make a difference. Over the past few seasons, Leinart's playing time has been limited mostly to mop-up duty. This year he will get the first-team reps in training camp and each week during the season. While Leinart has been erratic in recent seasons, regular practice time with the first unit should help him be more consistent. (In a good way.)
3. Skills. Leinart doesn't have a big arm, but he was a first-round pick for a reason. He is very accurate on short and intermediate throws, he is calm under pressure, and he has the intelligence to make accurate reads and good decisions (although his decision-making has been inconsistent so far in the NFL). Moreover, his time on the bench as Kurt Warner's backup has provided him with terrific learning opportunities. It remains to be seen whether he'll taken advantage of them. But other QBs who have sat and learned early in their careers have shined when it was their turn to take over. (Think Phillip Rivers backing up Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers backing up Brett Favre.)
Leinart may or may not shine this season. He may fall on his face. But given his pedigree, the quality of his receivers, and the proven success of Ken Whisenhunt's offense, Leinart has the potential for a breakout season. As a general rule, I want to draft solid, reliable players (if not studs) as my fantasy starters; and I want players with breakout potential as my fantasy backups. Matt Leinart is exactly the kind of fantasy backup I want: the kind with a shot to become a legitimate starter.
Andrew Garda: Matt Leinart is finally back in the drivers seat in the desert and it's a situation which will have a far reaching impact for fantasy owners of more than just the young quarterback. Owners of Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet, Chris Wells and Tim Hightower all need to examine this closely - because how Leinart does may sink or swim some of these players.
I'm not optimistic.
On paper, Leinart should have had the tools to succeed before now. Selected in the first round at the tenth pick in 2006, Leinart was thought to be a smart and confident quarterback who - while lacking a rocket launcher for an arm - could make solid reads and good passes. He should have been able to utilize Fitzgerald and since departed Anquan Boldin to great effect.
However, injuries and a general inability to focus and work hard have derailed him every time he has been handed either a chance for the starting job or just the job itself outright. We're hearing he's working hard, but we've heard that multiple times and every time he has stumbled when handed the reins.
Another concern is the fact that every time he has had an opportunity to play, Leinart has turned the ball over more than he has thrown TDs. He was supposed to be a very accurate but that hasn't been the case.
Leinart came out of USC touted as a very smart, very smooth operator, but he hasn't been smooth at the Pro level, hasn't been accurate enough at the pro level and hasn't shown that the hard work we keep hearing about has helped.
Undoubtedly the first team reps he'll get is a plus. However like the 'hard work', it's happened before and hasn't made an impact. I think the Cards know all this and that's why the word is that they will be running Wells and Hightower a lot over the course of this season. They'll minimize the dependence on Leinart which will hopefully keep the pressure off him and minimize any mistakes and setbacks.
All these things make me less than optimistic for Leinart's 2010 fantasy impact. I'm not saying he'll never be a good NFL quarterback - after all, plenty of players have sat for several years and become great starters. What I am saying is that this is a player who has - to this point - given us precious few reasons to take a big chance on him in fantasy football. He has a good situation - great receivers, good run game, decent protection. All those assets won't help him on the bench - which is where he could end up if he can't produce better results than his other opportunities. As that is the case, it's too great a risk to have him on your team as anything more than a bye week filler with some upside.