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Russell Wilson's fantasy prospects

8/27/2012

This was already shaping up to be a record-breaking season in terms of rookie quarterbacks getting the opportunity to start right away, so it was no surprise that Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll added to the youngster intrigue by naming Russell Wilson his Week 1 starter Sunday night.

The Seahawks made plenty of news over the weekend, trading former starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to the Buffalo Bills and cutting retread wide receiver Terrell Owens, but those guys didn't matter in fantasy. Wilson might.

He is a rookie, though, and an undersized one at that. Despite the terrific statistics he has produced this preseason -- the top passer rating of 119.4 -- fantasy owners shouldn't go overboard. Wilson has running ability and showed accuracy on deep throws over the weekend, and he has easily outplayed the far-richer expected starter Matt Flynn. But can we really compare Wilson to the other hotshot rookie quarterbacks who are starting, the other four of which were first-round picks? Well, yeah, why can't we? Who cares what round they were drafted?

It's not ticketing Wilson for the Hall of Fame to call him a reasonable backup quarterback for your fantasy team, a sheer upside play, assuming your starter is a rock-solid option such as Tom Brady or Drew Brees. If you have Ben Roethlisberger, I would secure a safer, more reliable backup.

I haven't moved Wilson into my top 20 quarterbacks, but in a 10-team league, where free agency will be littered with the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carson Palmer and perhaps even Joe Flacco and Alex Smith, I can see the reasoning, because the upside play is a wise move. I've been stating for months that while I do not see Robert Griffin III, for example, doing anything like what Cam Newton did last season, there's little downside to finding out, assuming you don't need a reliable backup signal-caller.

It's easy to envision Andrew Luck and Griffin mattering in fantasy right away -- Luck with his arm and the possibility of using it to flirt with 4,000 passing yards and Griffin with his legs. These fellows met Saturday, with each playing well. Have you seen the Indianapolis defense? Luck is good, and he'll be throwing a lot. Griffin is poised to thrive as well, since he is probably his team's top running back. It'd be nice if Luck and Griffin had better weapons and didn't figure to be among the interception leaders, but if you already have a safe starting quarterback, you can always find a Week 9 starter for when Brady sits.

So go ahead and grab Wilson as your backup. I'd still take Luck and Griffin over him, but not Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill, the other first-round rookie quarterbacks slated to start. (Nick Foles could join them if Michael Vick slips on stairs this week and needs MRI No. 34 of the preseason.) I'm skeptical Wilson will perform at a high level in September against defensive starters, but in a keeper format, I'd certainly take a chance with a late pick. Taking Fitzpatrick just doesn't have the same cache, and I can always add him or a Matt Cassel type in October.

Like all the rookies, Wilson will make plenty of mistakes and fantasy owners will feel it, but one difference between him and Luck, Griffin, Tannehill and Weeden is that those rookies don't have someone with Flynn's guaranteed money lurking on the bench. Those four fellows also don't play in the NFC West. The pressure is on Wilson to perform right away, because his team has legitimate playoff aspirations. Fantasy owners shouldn't have been overrating Flynn on the basis of one magical six-touchdown performance in Week 17 to start with, but you better believe if Wilson struggles, Flynn will get his chance. That scenario seems less likely for Luck and backup Drew Stanton, for example.

&#8226 As for the other Seahawks news, I can't make a case that Seattle dumping Owens helps Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards or Doug Baldwin, because those guys were always ahead on the depth chart anyway. Rice finally played this weekend, and we hope for 16 games but shouldn't expect it. Regardless, the Owens situation has little impact.

&#8226 Trading Jackson to Buffalo also means little. For one, he is not very good. He wasn't making the Seahawks roster. He is Fitzpatrick's backup, but there's no need to handcuff that situation (or any at QB). It looks as if Vince Young won't be making the Bills now. Fantasy owners will be devastated.

&#8226 There was one game Sunday night, with a key injury that might shake up the running back rankings, as Carolina Panthers starter Jonathan Stewart was carted away with an ankle injury. Early reports indicate it was precautionary, but we'll certainly follow up if it's serious. If Stewart were to miss games, the stock for DeAngelo Williams would go up. Then again, with Newton taking the rushing touchdowns and Mike Tolbert a factor, even if Stewart went away I wouldn't rank Williams anywhere near the top 10, perhaps not the top 20 either. And Stewart, as of now, isn't going away.

&#8226 It doesn't take much for fantasy owners to bump players up or down their rankings, so expect Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to move up this week. Manning was 10-for-12 with two touchdowns (his first of the preseason) Sunday, shredding the No. 1 San Francisco 49ers defense. This is the preseason and should never be overrated, and I'm not saying I'm doing this, but watch the ADP results in the next week. Manning and wide receiver Eric Decker, who caught those touchdowns, won't be cheap to acquire anymore.

&#8226 Kickers aren't discussed often in this space, for good reason, but if you have already drafted Billy Cundiff, look elsewhere. The Ravens punted their kicker Sunday. Rookie Justin Tucker gets the job, though ... why am I discussing kickers?

&#8226 Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith sprained his ankle Saturday. I blogged about Smith and his lack of early-September competition Friday, but man, he has to stay healthy. While this particular injury seems minor, Smith staying healthy for the long term seems unlikely. A healthy Mikel Leshoure was given five rushing attempts Saturday and finished with one yard. Good, if it foolishly drives down what little price he had. He is going to be a factor before September ends.