Fantasy: Free Agent Moves Boost Matt Cassel

| March 16, 2012

The Chiefs promised to provide competition for Matt Cassel this offseason, but apparently only if it came in the form of Peyton Manning. A week ago, it seemed likely the Chiefs would sign a sturdy veteran from the Campbell, Orton, Henne trio. In a surprise twist, those passers sprinted to backup jobs with the Bears, Cowboys, and Jaguars. Meanwhile the Chiefs came out of the box looking to address their offensive depth, immediately hosting RBs, TEs, and OLs.

Matt Cassel can be a better fantasy player than you might think. In 2010 he posted nearly identical per game numbers to Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub. He bested players like Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler. Way back in 2008 he finished as QB8, crushing players like Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. And here’s the exciting thing if you’re a QBBC enthusiast – or a Chiefs fan – Kansas City is quietly surrounding Cassel with the kind of talent he had back in his Patriot dream season.

The Chiefs ran the ball a ton during Cassel’s only successful season with the Chiefs, but 245 of those carries went to Thomas Jones who averaged 3.7 yards and almost single-handedly kept K.C. in difficult down-and-distance situations. Peyton Hillis, on the other hand, averaged 4.4 yards, scored 13 combined TDs, and ranked as the #2 back in all of football (even ahead of breakout star Arian Foster). Just as importantly, he ranked as the #2 back in the passing game, catching 61 passes, an insane number for a power back. He and Charles tallied 107 receptions between them that season.

Adding Kevin Boss at $9 million for 3 years seems like overpaying for a player who just struggled through two injury-plagued campaigns, but if the Chiefs are getting the TE who finished as PFF’s No.3 TE in 2009 (+17.4), they’re getting a real weapon. Boss has hovered in the 1.5 yards per route area over the last two seasons. It’s not an elite number but puts him in the same category as players like Kellen Winslow and Heath Miller.

The Chiefs had nothing at the TE position when Tony Moeaki went down a season ago. They now appear poised to run a lot of 2-TE sets. Adding Boss helps Cassel but probably doesn’t affect the incumbent who flashed star potential as a rookie while rarely leaving the field (929 snaps). In the last 10 years only a handful of TEs have hit 500 receiving yards in their debut seasons. Moeaki was PFF’s No. 6 TE in 2010 and posted strong peripherals across the board. If healthy, he will outperform his ADP by a wide margin.

Cassel could also have an elite group of receivers if Jon Baldwin emerges. Advanced target numbers suggest Dwayne Bowe was one of the NFL’s best receivers last season, while Steve Breaston quietly posted over 700 yards and earned a positive PFF grade. In the five games before Cassel’s injury, Breaston hit double digit fantasy points four times.

The biggest signing could occur on Friday. The Chiefs’ four returning offensive linemen all graded very well as pass blockers. Right tackle Barry Richardson will exit in free agency and take his -39.1 with him. Currently, the Chiefs are wooing Eric Winson, PFF’s No. 11 overall tackle. If he signs, the Chiefs will have an offensive line that is well above average in protecting the passer.

Such a move would shore up Cassel’s biggest weakness. Over the past four seasons Cassel has been among the NFL’s worst starters in accuracy percentage under pressure and in allowing pressures to become sacks. In 2011 he ranked 26th and 31st respectively in those categories.

These developments don’t completely transform Cassel’s fantasy prospects, of course. Brian Daboll’s last two offenses came in near the bottom in QB dropbacks, and the Chiefs are expected to continue their conservative ways. But consider the magic already accomplished by the Chiefs’ new coordinator. With Daboll calling plays, Colt McCoy and Matt Moore were reasonable bye-week fill-ins. Chad Henne somehow recorded a 400-yard, 43-fantasy point game.

Fantasy Spin

Cassel could easily match his 2010 fantasy numbers when he averaged 21.5 points a game despite only attempting 450 passes. He certainly belongs in the same range as Sanchez, Flacco, Palmer, and Fitzpatrick, all players going many rounds ahead of him.

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