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Don't dismiss Jon Kitna-led Boys offense

10/26/2010

After a night of losses for the Dallas Cowboys -- both a critical nationally televised football game and the team's starting quarterback -- wide receiver Roy E. Williams remained positive about his 1-5 team, as Tony Romo and his broken clavicle cede the passing duties to veteran Jon Kitna for six or more weeks.

    "Tony is our starter, but Jon is just as good," Williams said. "We are going to work this week in practice so we can get the timing down with the receivers. But I have complete faith in him. I have played with him for three years, and I know how good he is."

Although it's difficult to share the degree of Williams' unbridled optimism, I do believe that Kitna will be a statistically relevant quarterback while Romo is out. In fact, I see some similarities. For years Kitna was the guy who managed to produce relatively flashy numbers for fantasy folks while his real teams couldn't win games. Well, look at the current Cowboys! They have one win, but entering Week 7, Romo was still a top-five fantasy quarterback. Even now, he's tied for seventh in standard fantasy scoring with Joe Flacco, despite a bye week and an early exit Monday.

A week ago I praised several Cowboys players for their statistical prowess in the face of mounting losses, and now comes the latest surprise: I still believe it. No, Kitna isn't going to produce like Romo, but given the weapons at his disposal and a leaky secondary that should make for occasional (if not common) shootouts, I do think he's ownable, even in ESPN.com standard leagues. This is even more the case in 12-team formats. With six teams on bye and a number of quarterbacks I couldn't even fathom trusting -- David Carr, Jason Campbell, whomever Arizona starts -- Kitna is going to break into my top 15 at the position this week. ESPN Fantasy wisely projects him for 14 fantasy points. Hey, the Cowboys will face the Jacksonville Jaguars.

After that, I don't think Kitna will rank quite as high, but he will be a matchup play, someone I'll continue to consider a top-20 quarterback in normal weeks. For example, the Week 11 game against one of his former teams, the Detroit Lions, is enticing. Kitna hasn't played regularly since 2007, but he did throw for more than 4,000 passing yards that season. Williams, as well as veteran fantasy owners, should know that Kitna can play. He had a 23-touchdown season for the Seattle Seahawks (1999), a 26-touchdown campaign for the Cincinnati Bengals (2003) and a pair of 4,000-yard campaigns for the Lions (2006 and 2007). One of them came in a 3-13 season. Nobody is saying Kitna actually wins football games, so in a way he fits in with the current Cowboys. Put up numbers and lose games 31-28; at least fantasy owners will be happy.

I don't think the change from Romo to Kitna helps Miles Austin maintain top-five wide receiver status, but that notion was becoming unlikely anyway as Williams remained productive, rookie Dez Bryant was breaking out and tight end Jason Witten was playing well. Plus, this team (frustratingly) refuses to run the football consistently. On Monday night, Bryant broke out with three touchdowns, two of them on fourth-quarter passes from Kitna, as a New York Giants nickel defense put up a marginal fight. Maybe Kitna's 187 passing yards and two scores from Monday were a bit tainted, but the Cowboys are capable of falling behind in future games and playing catch-up. Unless the Cowboys plan to give running back Felix Jones a legitimate chance to establish himself, Kitna is going to be plenty busy and occasionally productive.

The Cowboys have three relevant wide receivers in fantasy. I'd downgrade Austin a bit, but like Randy Moss, who now might depend on Tarvaris Jackson and not Brett Favre finding him downfield, he's a borderline top-10 wide receiver no matter the quarterback. I keep saying/writing this about Carolina Panthers veteran Steve Smith as well. Top receivers can overcome shaky quarterbacks. But I don't think Kitna is going to be shaky. He'll get his receivers the football. He'll throw interceptions and cough up fumbles, but that's not your problem if you own Austin. I'm not downgrading Williams, Bryant or Witten just yet. Kitna doesn't have to be Romo to be personally relevant for fantasy or to keep his weapons happy.

As for waiting for Romo to return, it depends on your league and whether you can afford the bench space. His absence will be at least six weeks, but because it's Romo's nonthrowing shoulder, there's no reason to expect a poor performance once he returns. The problem is, for many of you the fantasy playoffs likely will be under way by the time Romo gets back. I wouldn't feel great about relying on Kitna in December, either, so you have time to make a trade. Among the quarterbacks available in more than half of ESPN.com leagues, I like Ryan Fitzpatrick (three consecutive 20-point fantasy games), Josh Freeman (17th in QB scoring) and Matt Cassel (nice schedule from here on out) more than David Garrard, Matt Hasselbeck and whatever quarterbacks Carolina, Cleveland and Arizona send out there.