Does it even matter who wins the Browns' No. 1 quarterback job?
As the preseason games got under way last week, new coach Eric Mangini had yet to make a decision on which of the two candidates for the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback job -- Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn -- would end up under center for Week 1 of the preseason and beyond. He even took his unwillingness to commit so far as to list both men side-by-side on the team's depth chart as "co-starters." Of course, it's hard to fault Mangini because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter one bit which quarterback ends up winning the job. Neither one has any business on your fantasy team in 2009.
The local media has been all over the Anderson-Quinn soap opera, with mock rumors of "sabotage" spinning out of control after the radio transmitter in Derek Anderson's helmet wasn't working during a scrimmage. Still, it all seems to be much ado about nothing. Regardless of whether it's Quinn or Anderson throwing the ball, there aren't many solid, fantasy-worthy options around to catch it. The Browns' offense is a shadow of its former self after the release of Joe Jurevicius, the trade of Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay and the season-long suspension of Donte' Stallworth. That's more than 35 percent of the Browns' receptions over the past two seasons.
Braylon Edwards is still around, but coming off a season in which he led the league in dropped passes. Former Lions wideout Mike Furrey seems to have developed some sort of chemistry with both candidates for the job, but he's more suited for a No. 3 receiver role. Winslow's average over the past three seasons was 71 catches, and that would have been even higher if not for his injury problems in 2008. Meanwhile Robert Royal, the new Browns tight end, has had 81 receptions total over the past three seasons. That's a significant dropoff in talent. Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi are both rookies with potential, but how much they'll be able to contribute out of the gate remains to be seen.
The first preseason game against the Packers did little to quell fears of a long season ahead for the Browns. Brady Quinn got the "start," for what that was worth. He did complete a few short passes to Furrey and Royal over the middle but essentially spent his first series handing the ball off to Jamal Lewis before the drive stalled. After that, Anderson came on for an incomplete pass and two handoffs before a Dave Zastudil punt. In the second quarter, Anderson was picked off after only three plays and was done for the night. Quinn came on for the team's final series of the half and threw several short passes in the two-minute drill, leading a fairly successful drive that should have ended in a score, but Edwards dropped a ball in the end zone. Surprise, surprise! On the next play, Quinn went looking for Edwards again and was picked off. Yes, it was only a preseason game, but that initial impression sure seems to us to be a microcosm of what to expect going forward.
After all, Cleveland's defense did little to stand in the way of Aaron Rodgers & Co., as the Packers ran 78 plays to the Browns' 45 in a 17-0 victory. And therein lies the biggest hurdle of all for the Browns' offense this season: the poor defense. This team was outscored by 98 points over its past six games last season, and it lost linebackers Andra Davis and Willie McGinest. So the odds are that this team will be playing from behind an awful lot, and if that's the case, expect opposing defenses, including tough division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, to have a field day sending wave after wave of blitzes into the backfield.
Not every Browns player is doomed for failure. Even though Lewis failed to reach 100 yards rushing in any game last season, he could well have a solid game or two in 2009. After all, with Eric Mangini calling the plays, expect a more conservative, run-the-ball, throw-it-short approach to moving the ball downfield. The approach can shorten the game and give the defense an extended recovery time, when it works, and heck, maybe this strategy will even get this team to .500 in '09. However, from a fantasy standpoint, it severely lowers the ceiling on fantasy output for receivers such as Edwards, as well as whomever winds up under center.
We're definitely leaning toward Quinn to end up as the winner of this quarterback competition. But whether we end up being right or wrong, drafting either Quinn or Anderson -- or both, and waiting for this whole thing to play out -- is a waste of your time and precious draft picks.