Panthers QB Cam Newton, author of the most prolific season by a rookie passer in NFL history, went undrafted in most non-dynasty fantasy leagues a season ago.
More than 4,000 passing yards and 35 total TDs later, Newton has reset the bar for what a rookie QB can be.
It’s safe to say the top pick in 2012, Colts QB Andrew Luck, won’t go undrafted in too many leagues, nor will he rewrite the record books for rookie quarterbacks the way Newton did.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have fantasy value this season.
I see Luck as a very attractive No. 2 fantasy QB with the potential to put up solid starter-caliber numbers. If you’re on this website, you’re familiar with the credentials that made Luck the top pick and perhaps the most NFL-ready QB to enter the league in more than a decade.
The early part of Colts camp has only reinforced the belief that Luck has all of the traits to be elite. By all accounts, the accuracy, anticipation and great athleticism have been on consistent display. He has picked up the playbook quickly, impressing the coaching staff with his preparedness and football IQ. He has connected on several deep balls — believed to be one of his few weaknesses — effortlessly.
Following GM Ryan Grigson’s first draft, which was focused on supplying Luck with as much firepower as possible, I’m not sure the offense will be as limited as one might think. Rookie TEs Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen will have a chance to be fantasy contributors in short order in coordinator Bruce Arians’ TE-centric offense. Speed merchants T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill are starting to flash. The youth could strike a perfect balance with the already-established vets, Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie, as well as free-agent acquisition Donnie Avery, who has looked good throughout the offseason as he tries to resurrect his once-promising career. Don’t be fooled: This offense could have more than enough ammunition to be formidable this season.
Now, the Colts’ offensive line and running game aren't team strengths. I have real concerns about Luck’s protection, but I’ll reserve judgment until we see how a hodgepodge of OL castoffs holds up. The same holds true in the backfield, where Donald Brown is trying to hold off Mewelde Moore, Delone Carter and rookie Vick Ballard. Though Brown has fallen short of expectations, he has shown improvement in each of his first four seasons. It is not out of the question that he is finally poised to break through in ’12.
While I think the offense could surprise folks, I’m not as optimistic on defense, where holes clearly abound and it remains to be seen how veteran players will fit in a new scheme. But, for fantasy purposes, a bad defense could boost Luck’s value, much like it did for Newton, whose Panthers were one of the worst defenses in football a season ago. If the Colts fall behind early, Luck will be forced to throw more — a welcome sight for fantasy owners.
The Colts’ schedule is tough but manageable, and features four games against the Titans and Jaguars, both of whom struggled mightily to generate QB pressure last season and could experience similar troubles this season. Sure, the division-champion Texans know how to turn up the heat defensively, and teams like Chicago, Buffalo, Miami and Detroit, among others, are well equipped to make life difficult on a rookie QB. But peaks and valleys are expected for a young signalcaller, and Luck’s even-keeled approach should serve him well.
Fair or not, Luck’s eventual fantasy production as a rookie is likely to wind up as a disappointment with Newton’s unprecedented accomplishments still fresh in our minds. Just remember: Newton's earth-shaking rookie output was the exception, not the rule, and Luck could fall well short of Newton's production and still be a valuable fantasy asset.