In drafting, be sure to show some patience in the pocket

The Baltimore Sun

Quarterbacks create more cognitive dissonance for fantasy footballers than any other players.

The reason is simple. We've been told for years that quarterback is the most important position on the field and that Tom Brady or Peyton Manning can lift franchises to excellence. In fantasy football, however, there's a shocking lack of difference between the sixth quarterback on the board and the 16th.

Given that, basic logic tells us we can wait to pick one.

But that older pigskin truism tugs at us, whispering that if we draft Carson Palmer in the second round, he'll do a 1984 Dan Marino and carry a team to a championship.

As thoroughly as fantasy football players have agreed that quarterback isn't the most valuable position in the game, many of us still want it to be on some level.

That brings us to the 2007 quarterback pool. Manning, because of his consistent production, is the obvious first choice and a reasonable first-round pick. Palmer, because he seems the only one with a good shot to match Manning, is a reasonable second-round pick, though I'd rather pick a second running back or top receiver.

The rest of the upper tier includes Brady, Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb and quiet but highly effective Marc Bulger. I'm debating whether it's important to get one of those six, which would mean spending one of my top five picks on a quarterback. If I don't, I'll try to pick up two guys from the great middle and rotate them throughout the season based on matchups. Either is a fine strategy. But remember, if you wait for a quarterback, pick two who you like instead of just hoping your top guy comes through.

So whom do I like among those indecipherable second-tier passers?

Let's start with Tony Romo, who received way too much credit while riding high and dating starlets last year and then suffered way too much backlash when he stunk in the playoffs. There's a lot to like with Romo. He was very accurate in 2006, and he's throwing to excellent receivers in Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn. I have reservations about the Dallas offense under head coach Wade Phillips, but Romo doesn't have to be as good as he was during the regular season last year to be a solid fantasy quarterback. I like him as a seventh rounder.

It will be interesting to see where Vince Young goes in relation to Romo. On one hand, Romo was clearly the sharper passer last year and has more receiving weapons. On the other, Young brings running ability that will bolster team owners through his poor throwing weeks. I have mixed feelings about Young. I love watching him and understand the buzz, but NFL defenses penalize poor passing decisions and Young makes a lot of them. I don't think I could take him in the seventh or eighth round, when his talent as a passer remains so unclear. But I wouldn't criticize anyone who does.

Scouts and fans alike overreact to big arms and undervalue accurate passers. That's why Philip Rivers may always be a tad overlooked. But he's the perfect quarterback to have a long, effective NFL career - accurate, smart, poised, etc. The only factors keeping him from the top tier are his lack of elite receivers and LaDainian Tomlinson's tendency to score all the touchdowns in San Diego. I was very happy rotating Rivers in a two-quarterback system for a fantasy division winner last season.

Among other young quarterbacks, I like Jay Cutler. He was actually consistent after taking over in Denver last season, shows excellent physical tools and, unlike many young stars, is surrounded by a productive offense. I'm not sure I'd want to start Cutler every week, but he'd be a perfect guy to pair with Rivers, Jon Kitna or Matt Hasselbeck.

If I'm planning to platoon at quarterback, I like to pick a young guy who hasn't made it yet and a veteran with a strong track record who performed below expectations the previous season. The young guy might bust out and become a true fantasy starter while the veteran is likely to provide a solid option should the up-and-comer tank.

In the veteran category, Hasselbeck and Carolina's Jake Delhomme fit the profile. Both were solid to excellent between 2003 and 2005. Both disappointed owners last season. Neither is too old to bounce back, though Delhomme faces a job threat from David Carr.

I also love Byron Leftwich as a platoon quarterback. He's played a lot, but he's still young. He's never put up huge numbers, but he's reasonably accurate and can make any throw. He's healthy and playing for a contract.

Quarterbacks I'd avoid include Steve McNair because of the injury risk and the Ravens' aversion to high-risk passing, Matt Schaub because he's in a terrible offense and Tarvaris Jackson because he's inexperienced and his receivers stink.

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