So who are the quarterbacks worth stashing away for the next few years? Not counting rookies who have yet to be drafted, there are five young QBs who have caught my eye.
Dennis Dixon, Steelers
Late in his second year, Dixon made Charlie Batch unnecessary and established himself as Ben Roethlisberger's primary backup. That in itself is remarkable, because Batch is a fairly reliable backup.
In the one game Dixon started in relief, week 12 at division rival Baltimore, he put up a passing line of 12-of-26 for 145 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also showed some remarkable scrambling ability, rushing three times for 27 yards, 24 of them for another touchdown. He also had another brilliant 40-yard run called back due to a holding penalty.
Dixon only got the start because Batch was also injured. His coach Mike Tomlin gave his performance a positive review, saying, "I like his demeanor throughout it all. He made some plays. I thought he represented himself relatively well." Relative is the right term. While most of the time Dixon showed poise and a willingness to make tough throws, it was his interception to Paul Kruger in overtime that led to the Ravens' victory.
Dixon slid to the fifth round in the 2008 NFL draft because at the time he was still recovering from a torn ACL suffered when Oregon played Arizona State, an injury further aggravated because he continued to play in the next game against Arizona. I'm not holding his injury history against him. Just the opposite--his continuing to play shows both Dixon's toughness as well as the inadequacy of Oregon's medical staff.
Dixon will sit behind Roethlisberger for one more year. After that his rookie contract will expire, the Steelers will have a decision to make. Do they pay big money to keep him as a backup or let him walk? The price will be steep because there just aren't 32 starting quality QBs in the NFL right now. Stash Dixon away now and enjoy the show during the 2011 offseason.
Stephen McGee, Cowboys
Praised for his poise and accuracy in Dallas' minicamp, this Texas A&M product currently sits third on the Cowboys' depth chart. His preseason showing was more exciting then because at the time many did not have complete faith in Tony Romo. However, Romo quieted most doubts with his sterling performance to close out the season, breaking the recent pattern of the Cowboys' late season swoon.
Romo turns 30 this year and still needs to follow through on his development from this season. Meanwhile, McGee will easily surpass Jon Kitna to become Romo's regular backup. Romo played every snap this season, so odds are good we won't get much of a chance to see McGee in NFL action any time soon.
Of this bunch, McGee is probably the deepest of the sleepers. Unless you have a very deep roster or generous practice squad rules, I wouldn't advise going out and getting him just yet. However, it is worth keeping an eye on him. Three or four years from now, we could very well be comparing his career path to that of Rodgers.
Colt Brennan, Redskins
Brennan was the darling of the Redskins' preseason games, causing many of their fans to call for him to get the starting job over Jason Campbell. With yet another coaching change and yet another scheme to learn, we just don't know yet if Washington will roll with Campbell for one more year.
Many mock drafts have the Redskins taking a QB with their fourth pick. How quickly people forget. The truth is Brennan was a surprise because he came from Hawaii and was tagged as a "system quarterback" who put up gaudy numbers in an offense that in no way resembles what he would see in the NFL. Then he tore his hamstring and spent the regular season on injured reserve, causing many of us to forget all about him.
Washington has much greater needs on their offensive line and will have some nice options that high in the first round. If they follow my advice and stand pat at QB, that means Campbell has at most one more season to establish himself as a long-term starter. If he fails, Brennan could very well get the call to replace him.
Brennan is ready to add to a deep roster. The combination of talent and opportunity could make him the first on this list to gain fantasy relevance.
Josh Johnson, Bucs
OK, so Johnson stank it up when given his shot this year before giving way to rookie Josh Freeman. However, Johnson was only in his second year himself and simply isn't ready yet to lead an NFL team.
The Bucs will need to keep Johnson as an insurance policy, giving him time to learn. Hailing from the University of San Diego, Johnson needs this experience to develop. Even so, in his game action this year, while he did little to excite us, Johnson showed great poise as well as chemistry with WR Antonio Bryant.
Johnson has two more years on his rookie contract, and he will most likely spend them backing up Freeman. I can't say with any certainty that Johnson will progress to the point where an NFL team will pay him to start in 2012. On the other hand, there are few if any potential free agent QBs in that year who have the kind of opportunity he will. He's another one to wait on but keep on your watch list.
Nate Davis, 49ers
Davis is also at least two years away. His learning disability is well documented, and those who have studied him have learned patience. We know it will take him at least two more years to realize his potential, but that is good timing for Davis.
San Francisco will go with Alex Smith for one more year as their starter. The pressure is on the former No. 1 pick to justify his existence. That could break either way. I like Smith, but honestly that is more of a gut feeling than a rational decision. He will have to make some significant strides in order to solidify his hold on that job.
By the time the decision point arrives for Smith, Davis will be close to ready. At Ball State, Davis showed us both the best and worst qualities in a QB, a fearlessness that could result in an eight-TD game or in crippling interceptions in a big game. His personality could not contrast more with Smith's. Davis is a fiery leader, while Smith is more of a taciturn technician. Knowing coach Mike Singletary, which do you think he will prefer leading his offense two years from now?
My money is on Davis entering the 2011 as a starter who gets the unique pleasure of throwing all day long to Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan.
By Sean Haugh, Fantasy analyst at Fantasy Football Maniaxs