Can Fantasy Owners Trust Matt Leinart?
Fantasy football owners are no different than NFL general managers and head coaches in many respects. It's difficult, if not impossible, to place a healthy amount of trust in someone who has failed us countless times before. We all want the security of knowing the players we start are going to deliver the type of production we need with a minimum amount of risk attached.
Of course, that isn't always the case. There are times our backs are against the wall and we are asked to place our trust in players we don't entirely trust.
Enter Matt Leinart.
With Matt Schaub likely done for the year with a foot injury, the Houston Texans have turned the reigns of their potent offense over to Leinart. You remember Leinart, don't you? He was the 10th pick in the 2006 draft but gained more notoriety in Arizona for posing in hot tubs with college babes then he for anything he did as a quarterback on the football field.
After being banished from Arizona before last season, Leinart found a home as the backup to Schaub in Houston. He did not play last season and has not attempted a pass this year. But now the job is his and the Texans need him to deliver since they are the front-runners to win the AFC South and are hoping to secure home field advantage in the playoffs as well.
The Texans have no choice but to hope Leinart can step up and deliver. But can fantasy owners trust him? That's the question.
Schaub was a proven Top 10 fantasy quarterback. He was ninth in quarterback scoring in the National Fantasy Football Championship last season and ranked eighth this year. Given Leinart's previous failures, it would be unwise to expect him to match the level of production Schaub previously provided. He lacks Schaub's veteran savvy and physical skills, especially in terms of effectively running play-action passes, a staple of the Houston offense given its standout rushing attack.
However, there are many highly-respected NFL people who believe Leinart is going to do better than many anticipate. Steve Young has been impressed with the work Leinart has put in since coming to Houston and believes he will rise to the challenge. Peter King also believes Leinart has turned a corner and will benefit from working with Houston head coach Gary Kubiak, respected around the league for his quarterback development.
Leinart certainly isn't lacking for talent to work with on offense. The Texans boast the NFL's third-best running game behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate. They also will be getting Andre Johnson back after their Week 11 bye and when healthy, Johnson is arguably the premier wide receiver in the game. Owen Daniels is also one of the league's top tight ends. Their offense has balance and the ability to run the ball effectively means Leinart will not be asked to carry the team on his back.
It's clear Leinart is being put in a great situation. But he was in a great situation in Arizona too where he had both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to throw to and still failed miserably.
And that is one of the key reasons why Leinart is so hard to trust now.
But if you're looking for some reasons to believe in Leinart there are a few you can hang your hat on. First is the talent around him. Second, the Texans will lessen the load on him by relying even more heavily on their standout ground game. Third, they run a West Coast Offensive system which appears to fit his skill set. Lastly, the Houston coaching staff has been impressed with how hard Leinart has worked and how effective he played in the preseason.
If you're looking for a reasonable comparison from a fantasy perspective, Alex Smith immediately comes to mind. Smith is a game manager for the 49ers and has done a good job in that role, leading San Francisco to an 8-1 record. From a fantasy perspective, it hasn't equated to huge numbers, though, as Smith ranks just 19th in the NFFC in quarterback scoring.
It's best for fantasy owners if they don't expect much more than that from Leinart, who also will be asked to be more of a game manager than a prolific passer. What upside he possesses can be directly traced to Johnson. A healthy Andre Johnson will make plays all over the field if Leinart can get him the ball consistently. Should that occur, it's possible Leinart's fantasy value could creep closer to the Top 15 among quarterbacks as opposed to nesting closer to the back end of the Top 20.
I pulled the trigger on Leinart this week in my top league, adding him as my Schaub replacement. I added him over Sam Bradford, who I love but hasn't gotten untracked so far this season, and Andy Dalton, who has been very consistent but lacks a high fantasy ceiling. I'm not entirely sold on Leinart by any means but I like his situation and I'm willing to gamble the combination of the talent around him and the coaching he will be given will enable him to be no worse than a solid QB2.
There's plenty of risk involved but at this point of the season it's unlikely you're going to find many safe quarterback options on the Waiver Wire. Matt Leinart has plenty of fantasy warts, but there's no denying he's being put in a strong position to succeed.
I don't completely trust him but I'm willing to roll the dice, especially if the matchup is favorable (and Houston has some good matchups the rest of the way). If you do the same, the reward may end up surprising you.
TK's HOT PICKS
Here are five sleeper picks for Week 11:
QB: Matt Moore (Mia.) - He's playing well of late and Buffalo's defense has struggled, especially in terms of rushing the quarterback. Moore's not a bad reach if you need some bye-week help.
RB: Dexter McCluster (KC) - McCluster was very active last week, especially when Tyler Palko took over. If the Chiefs are playing from behind again Monday night, he could be on the field plenty, making him a viable RB3 reach in PPR leagues.
WR: Vincent Brown (SD) - He's expected to start again for the injured Malcom Floyd and he's been very impressive the past two games. The Chargers will throw it plenty as usual and he's already gained Philip Rivers' trust. He's a high-upside WR3.
TE: Dennis Pitta (Bal.) - Pitta is the No. 2 TE in Baltimore behind Ed Dickson but he's caught 15 passes the past three games. If you need to dig deep in larger PPR leagues he's a worthy choice.
D: New England - The Patriots finally showed up defensively last week and get to face first-time starter Tyler Palko on Monday night. Kansas City is having offensive line issues and the Patriots should feast in this one.
Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at nffc.stats.com or email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.