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Second and Third Year Player Development: Week Two

In this weekly column, I will explore some young players who haven’t made much of an impact to date. Some players may be available on your waiver wire, some may be available via a cheap or moderate trade. Acquiring these players could decide how well your dynasty or keeper team does for the next few years. I focused on two quarterbacks this week who have not lived up to their lofty first round NFL grades.

Sam Bradford, QB STL

If this Sunday is any indication, fantasy owners may once again be blessed with a young, confident signal caller instead of a shell-shocked, injury-prone player. The first thing I noticed watching the game against the Redskins was that he was calm and poised in the pocket. His happy feet had quieted and he made quick decisions. No, his throws were not long completions down the field; instead Bradford looked for quick developing small openings in the defense less than ten yards from the line of scrimmage. He was quite effective using that style as he completed 74% of his attempts and threw for his fourth career 300+ yard game (his first win while throwing for 300+).

The king of the short pass was Danny Amendola, who used his quickness and decisive route running to get open underneath against all the slot corners, safeties and linebackers the Redskins threw at him. Bradford identified that matchup right away and targeted Amendola 16 times! The 15 receptions, 160 yards, and touchdown that resulted was a big factor as to why the Rams won the game. It wasn’t won on that connection alone though. Bradford brought out the skills of many others…

Steven Jackson ran well, until he suffered a lower leg injury which timed up mysteriously right when Jackson spiked the ball after being kept out of the end zone. This injury prevented Jackson from re-entering the game. Normally without the key leadership of one of their most seasoned veterans, most teams suffer from a lack of focus. This did not happen to the Rams. Bradford took over the leadership mantle, remained poised, coached up rookie running back Daryl Richardson and made several plays with his feet to extend the play to put St. Louis in position to win the game.

Brandon Gibson caught his second touchdown (a 34 yarder) in as many games and veteran Steve Smith (the other one) looked sharp on his three catches for 39 yards. By targeting these receivers, Bradford could take a few shots down the field to keep the defense honest. The quarterback was attempting to get everyone involved as he used both his tight ends, highly touted second year Lance Kendricks, and little known back-up Matthew Mulligan who had six career catches before the game. I’m not sure if Mulligan will ever be fantasy relevant ever again, but he did enough along with the other rookie running back named Richardson to seal the win.

After this performance, I’m not convinced that Bradford should be an every week starter, but he is much more than your bye week fill-in. If you are looking for a high upside guy, he is worth trading for in your dynasty league. I acquired him in the offseason for Jared Cook and Arrelious Benn. It is doubtful you could get him that cheap right now, but if you have an older inconsistent quarterback like Tony Romo or Ben Roethlisberger, you might try to see what you can trade for him. Bradford should excel with head coach Jeff Fisher guiding him.

Christian Ponder, QB MIN

The first thought that comes into my mind after watching Ponder’s game against the Colts this past Sunday was “wow, he really likes Percy Harvin!” He targeted Harvin 13 times and connected on 12 of those for 104 yards. That is fantastic if you are a Harvin owner, but what does that mean for the rest of the Vikings and better yet, his fantasy owners?

Hopefully in a week or so, it will mean he has another target to concentrate on when Jerome Simpson comes off his three game suspension. Simpson demonstrated some big play ability in Cincinnati and the Vikings are desperate for more play makers in the passing game.

Ponder needs to step up his game as his first and seemingly only read was Harvin for the first two quarters Sunday. He forced the ball to Harvin with little regard to the rest of his options. I know the likes of Devin Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins, and Stephen Burton do not strike terror in the hearts of opposing defenses.

Kyle Rudolph has been a strong second target as he contributed eight receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown in two games. He is usually covered by the strong side linebacker or safety and Ponder could take more advantage of this coverage as it favors the Vikings. The young quarterback needs to target him earlier, instead of waiting until the third quarter. Rudolph was the target of both of his touchdown passes, even though one bounced off his out-stretched hands and got snagged by Burton.

There are several things to like about Ponder’s game. He stands tough in the pocket and is willing to get knocked around to complete the ball. The game situation does not seem to affect him at all. Even when the Vikings were trailing with the game on the line, Ponder kept a very calm demeanor, almost too calm. He has a strong enough arm to make all the throws and should let it loose every once in a while. On the year, he has thrown for a 72% completion rate, 515 yards with two touchdowns. This is a dramatic improvement from the 54% completion rate from his rookie year.

It is concerning with his lack of an internal clock as pressure sometimes sneaks up on him. He is very athletic and can run well with the ball. It seems that the coaching staff has instructed him to stay in the pocket longer than he should. Ponder needs to find his receiving options and decide whether to pass or throw quickly. Hopefully, he can improve on that skill.

It is encouraging that Ponder has thrown for more yards in each of games this year than he did all of last year save for a slugfest with Denver last year in which he heaved the ball for 381 yards. I think this is the year you are happy to have Ponder as a QB2 in your dynasty league. If you need a sneaky backup, he is a good dynasty stash. Ponder may never be a true QB1, but he should gain an owner’s trust to be used more often when faced with juicy matchups. Chances are in 10 and 12 team leagues, you could get him as a throw-in when making a trade.

Check back next week as we cover more second and third year players in this ongoing series, exclusive for our premium content members.

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