- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
In a really deep league, the loss of any quarterback is a big deal. In 10- and 12-team formats, NFL starting quarterbacks are readily available, and fantasy owners can wait to sign a backup for the bye week, but that's simply not the case in leagues deeper than 14 teams. I've got former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Josh Freeman as my Andrew Luck backup in one league, and let's just say when Luck's bye week occurs, I'm likely out of luck in more ways than one. Everyone who has thrown a pass is already owned in that 20-team format, and then some.
For the first month of the season in this weekly (every Friday) Sneaky Pickups blog entry, we've discussed long-shot running backs and wide receivers with the potential to matter, but now we turn to those who throw the football for a living. In a deep league, yes, even these guys could matter. After all, Brian Hoyer did until Thursday night, right? (Brandon Weeden, by the way, is awful.)
Let's start with teams that feature running quarterbacks. There's a reason we keep noting that Michael Vick has played all 16 games in a season only one time. The Eagles are going nowhere this season, and Nick Foles has a good chance to see playing time. Running quarterbacks -- like Vick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, etc. -- are always at more risk for injury than pocket passers -- like Luck and Peyton and Eli Manning -- so if you're desperate, it's generally wiser to look at the latter first. The Washington Redskins' backup is Kirk Cousins, by the way, not Rex Grossman. Seattle's backup is Tavaris Jackson. Don't let the fact that Jackson is currently 7-for-8 with a passing and rushing touchdown in relief fool you, though! And finally, the news that Matt Flynn is held in such disregard by the Oakland Raiders that he was demoted to third string might mean nothing today, with Terrelle Pryor ready to go this weekend, but Pryor is a runner and recently had a concussion, and Matt McGloin is next in line. That's interesting to me.
The next place I tend to look is at teams that throw the ball more than others and score plenty of points, just in case. Hoyer is done for the season and Weeden excites nobody. If Aaron Rodgers gets hurt, well, that's how the legend of Flynn was originally born in one magical Week 17 performance with six touchdown passes. It turns out Flynn isn't particularly special -- the Seattle Seahawks figured this out before the Raiders -- but if Rodgers misses a game, Seneca Wallace is next, and he's got weapons. Veterans with prior success of varying degree can be more attractive, however. In Detroit, everything's good with Matthew Stafford, but Shaun Hill has filled in ably in the past, specifically 2010, and he's got Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush at his considerable disposal. Kyle Orton is the backup for Tony Romo in Dallas, and the same deal applies. Orton has several 20-touchdown seasons to his credit, and anyone throwing to Dez Bryant is interesting. Before several teams needed to turn to backups -- Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel -- I was ranking Hill and Orton among my top 40 quarterbacks, but that time is likely ending.
How would I rank these very available quarterbacks today? Well, I count 13 universally owned passers, another 12 owned in at least 10 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and beyond that several starters nobody seems to want, but they aren't available in deep formats. For those in between, Foles makes the most sense, though I suspect he wouldn't be anywhere near as valuable as Vick is. After that, look at McGloin. I'm rooting for Pryor, one of my August sleepers, to do well, but with the style he plays and one concussion already, be wary. And I'd be remiss if I didn't note that I am keeping Freeman owned in my 20-teamer. After all, both starting quarterbacks in Thursday night's game limped off the field, and he should find work soon. Adding Freeman today would be a sneaky, wise move.
Running back: Indianapolis Colts afterthought Donald Brown is absolutely back in play for fantasy now that Ahmad Bradshaw could need season-ending surgery. Nothing against Trent Richardson, but Brown can catch passes, too. ... It's clear the St. Louis Rams haven't figured out their running back situation. I blogged about Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson earlier this week, and now rookie Zac Stacy is being discussed as a possibility. Sure, why not? It could be any of them for the Rams at this point. ... There's little need to own Eagles third-stringer Chris Polk, even though he had more fantasy points than LeSean McCoy last week. Just be aware Bryce Brown is averaging 2.8 yards per rush this season, so if McCoy were to get hurt, Polk should see snaps, too.
Wide receiver: San Francisco 49ers newcomer Jon Baldwin, a former first-rounder, still intrigues me, for whatever that's worth. The team says he'll get more opportunity this week, since there's a clear need for a second relevant wide receiver beside Anquan Boldin. We'll see. ... Kevin Ogletree was dumped by the reeling, dysfunctional Buccaneers, and wound up in Detroit. Well, that worked out well for him! This is probably an indication that Ryan Broyles isn't the sleeper many of us thought, but since Broyles was looking overrated, Ogletree isn't likely to matter much. ... Keep an eye on the New York Jets, as Santonio Holmes is out again and Stephen Hill seems unlikely to play. Clyde Gates and Ryan Spadola could matter for deep formats. ... I don't think Austin Collie, who signed with the New England Patriots Thursday, is going to play a large role, since he's not exactly the most durable fellow around, but in a 20-teamer, I'd add him just in case. Collie should have won a job in San Francisco in August. He's surely more relevant today than Pats tight end Zach Sudfeld. That guy never even caught a pass in the regular season before being released. Amazing.
Have a great weekend and best of luck the rest of Week 5 and beyond!
In a really deep league, the loss of any quarterback is a big deal. In 10- and 12-team formats, NFL starting quarterbacks are readily available, and fantasy owners can wait to sign a backup for the bye week, but that's simply not the case in leagues deeper than 14 teams.