17. Joe FlaccoBest Case:
The self-proclaimed “Best Quarterback in Football” takes subtle steps forward for the fourth consecutive season, earning a lucrative long-term contract while winning at least one playoff game for the fifth straight year. Worst Case:
Baltimore’s young receivers don’t develop and OC Cam Cameron becomes so conservative he makes Pat Shurmur look like Dennis Kucinich, conspiring to cast Flacco’s Baltimore future into full-blown doubt.
18. Josh Freeman Best Case:
The real Freeman stands up and takes full advantage of new No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson
, throwing for 25 touchdowns and just shy of 4,000 yards despite the Bucs’ renewed commitment to the ground game. Worst Case:
Freeman posts better numbers under bright new OC Mike Sullivan, but only because his 2011 was so bad. His 85.0 quarterback rating and 20:15 TD:INT ratio leave the Bucs pondering his long-term future in Tampa.
19. Matt Schaub Best Case:
Schaub’s foot checks out as he appears in all 16 games for the third time in four seasons, throwing for 4,200 yards and 24 touchdowns in the process. Worst Case:
Another injury-plagued campaign forces Schaub to the sideline and the Texans to rely on Arian Foster
more than ever. With visions of T.J. Yates
’ playoff victory still dancing in GM Rick Smith’s head, Schaub is allowed to walk in the offseason.
20. Andrew LuckBest Case:
Luck makes the most of his surprisingly well-stocked cupboard, surpassing both the 3,500 yards and 18 touchdowns Sam Bradford
threw for as a rookie. Worst Case:
Luck threatens Peyton Manning
’s rookie interceptions record, proving even sure things need time to find sure footing.
21. Jake Locker Best Case:
Locker blows Matt Hasselbeck
out of the water in the preseason before lighting things up on the reg in the regular season. Along with Chris Johnson
, Kenny Britt
, Kendall Wright
and Jared Cook
, he forms one of the league’s most impressive cores of young offensive talent. Worst Case:
Locker still starts games after losing his camp battle with Hasselbeck, but looks nothing like the energizing spark plug he was in 2011. The questions about his accuracy and decision-making that dogged him coming out of Washington resurface.
22. Christian Ponder Best Case:
Ponder’s added bulk translates to much improved durability, and the No. 12 pick of the 2011 draft looks every bit a future franchise signal caller as he throws for over 3,500 yards despite possessing one of the league's weaker receiver corps. Worst Case: Adrian Peterson
begins the year on the PUP list, Percy Harvin
continues to pout about his contract and Matt Kalil
doesn’t look NFL ready, leaving Ponder cold and alone in one of the NFL’s least-talented offenses.
23. Andy DaltonBest Case:
What arm strength issues? Thanks in large part to the beautiful music he makes with A.J. Green
, Dalton eclipses 4,000 yards and assuages doubts that his rough play down the stretch last season was anything other than typical first-year growing pains. Worst Case:
Dalton underthrows Green on a host of early deep balls, forcing OC Jay Gruden to scale back his conservative scheme even further. Things are so bad by Week 11 that angry Bengals fans are wondering just how Cedric Benson
could have been allowed to walk.
24. Sam Bradford Best Case:
Less is more for St. Louis’ third-year signal caller, who averages the fewest attempts of his career, but regains his confidence in a simplified scheme. He comes closer to 4,000 yards than 3,000. Worst Case:
The Rams’ offensive line again folds up like a dollar store tent, leaving Bradford running for his life, and the Rams searching for answers about the former No. 1 pick’s future.
25. Alex Smith Best Case:
Smith’s work with “quarterback whisperer” Tom House pays greater dividends than anyone thought possible, and along with San Francisco’s greatly improved receiver corps, accomplishes the previously unthinkable: make Smith a borderline QB1 in 12-14 team fantasy leagues. Worst Case:
Smith earns a promotion from game “manager” to “supervisor,” but again proves what’s been obvious for years: his arm is too weak to rest the fate of a franchise on.
26. Matt FlynnBest Case:
Flynn sews up his “competition” with Tarvaris Jackson
and Russell Wilson
by the second preseason game, and game-manages the Seahawks to a winning record in a division that’s much tougher than it was a year ago. Worst Case:
Pete Carroll goes full auteur/mad genius, naming third-round pick Wilson his Week 1 starter. Called on in Week 17 mop-up duty, Flynn throws for as third as many yards as he did in his star-making turn in Green Bay last season.
27. Matt CasselBest Case:
Cassel proves to be the league’s premier game-manager, minimizing his mistakes while approaching the career-best 3,693 yards he threw for in 2008. Worst Case:
Cassel barely holds off Brady Quinn
in the preseason before finally succumbing to him in Week 5. He’s unceremoniously released in March.
28. Mark Sanchez Best Case:
Sanchez finally puts his considerable physical talents to full use, improving his brutal 2011 6.4 YPA by nearly a full yard, while completing 60 percent of his passes for the first time. His 3,800 passing yards are the most by a Jet since Vinny Testaverde
in 2000. Worst Case:
Sanchez is on the phone with Marion Barber
when Santonio Holmes
informs him he’s been benched in favor of Tim Tebow
. The “Sanchize” mixes his Pepsi Max with bourbon at the club that evening.
29. Brandon WeedenBest Case:
Recalling a smash hit from his adolescence (and RGIII and Luck’s youth), Weeden proves age isn’t anything but a number, and provides reason for legitimate long-term optimism in Cleveland for the first time in the Randy Lerner era. Worst Case:
Like he was in baseball, Weeden quickly turns into a “nonspect,” displaying average everything as football “czar” Mike Holmgren feels the walls close in on his cravenly desperate decision to draft a 28-year-old quarterback.
30. Kevin Kolb Best Case:
With a full offseason under his belt, Kolb finally grasps the Cardinals offense, easing by John Skelton
in training camp before earning himself some long-term stability in the fall. Worst Case:
Concussed in Arizona’s second preseason game, Kolb’s only regular season snaps come in mop-up duty for Skelton.
31. Matt MooreBest Case:
The winner of Miami’s three-headed camp competition, Moore picks up where he left off in 2011, completing well over 60 percent of his passes while averaging nearly 7.5 yards per attempt. He turns himself into a legitimate trade chip for the 2013 offseason. Worst Case:
Moore fails to convince new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin his strong finish to 2011 was anything other than an illusion, and is one of the league’s more surprising final cuts.
32. Blaine Gabbert Best Case:
Gabbert laughs at your clichés as he proves old dogs can
learn new tricks by suddenly standing tall in the pocket en route to respectability and a modicum of long-term job security. Worst Case:
Gabbert is so bad even Jimmy Clausen
is reduced to tweeting “Keep your head up, Blaine” after Chad Henne
is given charge of an 0-5 team in Week 6. Gabbert’s last career pass is picked off by Brian Urlacher
in Week 5.