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Top Jags can still produce without Garrard

9/7/2011

The Jacksonville Jaguars made the somewhat surprising decision to change starting quarterbacks Tuesday afternoon, after the preseason and before Week 1, but let's face it, not many fantasy owners were relying on David Garrard anyway. He's being selected 24th among quarterbacks in ESPN average live drafts. I had him ranked 22nd. The fact that he is currently looking for work, while a shame for him, really isn't that big a deal all things considered in fantasy.

Of course, some probably think it's a major story for first-round running back Maurice Jones-Drew and very good tight end Marcedes Lewis, but I keep coming back to the same point when thinking about the perceived drop from Garrard to Luke McCown: How do we know it's a drop at all, and even if it is, will it really affect the team's core fantasy options? What if McCown, as the Jaguars clearly seem to believe, can play? We don't need to own him in fantasy but merely trust he can keep Jones-Drew and Lewis, and to some degree wide receiver Mike Thomas, relevant. I think McCown can do this.

Garrard was fantasy's No. 14 quarterback a season ago, and he's always seemed to be a bit underrated from a statistical standpoint. Of course, it wasn't always so pretty; there was the four-interception game in Week 2 last year, and he was knocked out of the Week 6 Monday night game. Garrard rebounded with a nice second half of the season, thanks mostly to his legs and occasionally his arm. Garrard's five rushing touchdowns ranked third among quarterbacks, after Michael Vick and Tim Tebow. McCown is more of a pocket passer, which frankly could help stretch the field and keep his receiving options productive. I'm willing to give it a try.

However, the point on why Garrard wasn't close to as in demand as his final 2010 statistics suggest is twofold; one, he was not playing well in training camp and preseason games. And two, it was pretty clear that he wasn't the long-term answer at quarterback when the team drafted Blaine Gabbert. That wasn't scaring fantasy owners from Jones-Drew, Lewis or Thomas in the first place. At some point this season, Garrard was likely to be removed from the starting role for the hotshot rookie anyway, probably -- as ESPN.com colleague John Clayton noted on "SportsCenter" Tuesday -- following the team's Week 9 bye. In other words, Garrard could've played great and still suffered the same fate of Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton circa 2010: He'd get Tebowed. Or Gabberted, in this instance.

So while it might seem unpopular, pardon me for understanding why the Jaguars made the move (the timing does seem odd, though): To save the franchise Garrard's salary of $9 million. I get it. No, I'm not saying McCown is going to be stupendous, though he might surprise. I didn't expect Garrard to be great, either, and I still trusted the team's core fantasy options. I still will. Jones-Drew is my No. 7 running back, down that far only because I'm worried about his balky knee. I'm leaving him there. Lewis is my No. 7 tight end. I'm leaving him there as well. Thomas stays as an uninspiring No. 32 wide receiver.

I suppose my main gripe about fantasy owners simply presuming McCown can't play, and that he'll torpedo the value of others with him, is that nobody really knows for sure, so why presume it's so? Perhaps he can play. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio raved about his new starting quarterback in a Tuesday night news conference, and he really didn't have to. He could of spoken longingly for the start of the Gabbert era. Certainly I can't call the younger McCown brother -- Josh McCown is 12-19 as a starting quarterback, while Luke is 1-6! -- fantasy-relevant today, any more than I'm interested in Gabbert. He's a rookie, after all! But when it comes to the other Jaguars, I'm not willing to crush their value, either. This might actually work out just fine.