Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
For a guy who made as many starts in college as I did, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel has put together a pretty decent NFL career for himself.
He's been to the playoffs, he's thrown for 400 yards in a game. He's even been invited to a Pro Bowl.
That's not bad for a guy who spent most of the last decade holding a clipboard for Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady.
I guess you could say Cassel, who didn't a start a game (and probably wouldn't have) until Bernard Pollard shredded Brady's knee in the 2008 season opener, has exceeded expectations during his time in the NFL.
That should provide broadcasters with plenty of narrative to tap into when they're covering Chiefs games this season, but it remains to be seen if Cassel can be a force to be reckoned with in fantasy.
That depends on which Matt Cassel shows up this year. Will we see the Cassel of 2011 who finished a distant 21st in the league in completion percentage, or will we be treated to the 2010 version who wowed us with 27 touchdown passes and a sparkling 93.0 quarterback rating?
Call me crazy, but I think there's still a little bit of "2010 Cassel" left in that right arm.
Last season didn't go Cassel's way but that's not all his fault. Kansas City's offense was thrown a monkey wrench right off the bat when franchise running back Jamaal Charles tore his ACL in Week 1. Not too long after that, the struggling Chiefs lost Cassel to a broken throwing hand in Week 10 which cost him the remainder of the season.
When he was on the field, Cassel managed 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions with his best performance coming in a Week 5 victory over the Indianapolis Colts (21-for-29, four TD, zero INT).
Cassel's hand is fully healed now and so is Charles' ACL, so things are looking up in Kansas City.
Pro-Bowl wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (2,321 receiving yards, 20 TD the last two seasons) is back after a brief holdout and many scouts are predicting a breakout season for second-year wideout Jonathan Baldwin. Steve Breaston is a bit of a wild-card but he too has a 1000-yard receiving season on his resume, so the potential is there.
The Chiefs also bolstered their offensive line by adding seven-year veteran Eric Winston in the offseason. Kansas City's intimidating assortment of linemen, ranked by Rotoworld beat writer Evan Silva as the league's fourth- best, should make it pretty tough for pass-rushers to get a hand on Cassel this season. That should assuage any concerns that owners may have about Cassel's ability to stay upright following his injury-riddled 2011 campaign.
When Cassel is in his element, he's a composed, accurate passer with big-play capability. He thrived in his final season as a Patriot in 2008 (21 TD, 11 INT, career-high 3,693 passing yards), he dominated NFL defenses in 2010 and assuming that pattern continues, Cassel should have a great deal of success in 2012 also.
What's scaring most fantasy owners away from Cassel however is the presence of newly-signed running back Peyton Hillis. The combination of Hillis, a former 1,000-yard rusher with the Cleveland Browns, and Charles in the backfield makes it seem unlikely that the Chiefs will be looking to air it out with a whole lot of frequency in 2012.
There's definitely some logic in that but I also believe the lack of a strong running game may have been why Cassel struggled last season. With Charles out for almost the whole season, the Chiefs threw the ball slightly more than they ran it in 2011 (50.7 passing plays, 49.3 percent running). That ratio was skewed dramatically in the other direction (53.9 percent run, 46.1 percent pass) the previous year when KC led all of pro football with 2,627 yards rushing.
The Chiefs' rushing frenzy in 2010 also coincided with Cassel's best season as a professional, so perhaps returning to a run-first offense is just what the doctor ordered for Cassel.
With the threat of Hillis and Charles looming in the backfield, Cassel can catch opponents off-guard by utilizing the play-action. Or he can simply dump it off short, which will allow Cassel to cut down on his incompletions and eliminate the risk of throwing an interception. Hillis (61 catches, 477 yards receiving in 2010) and Charles (45 receptions, 468 yards in 2010) have both proven to be reliable downfield targets throughout their careers.
Completing lots of short passes will build up Cassel's confidence, allowing the 30-year-old to revive his game in all areas. Plus, having his receivers run shorter routes will allow Cassel to stay on his feet and avoid costly sacks. The implementation of a run-heavy, West Coast-style offense should greatly reduce Cassel's risk of injury this season, and often times in fantasy, staying healthy is half the battle.
While Cassel won't provide the type of lift that a Tom Brady or a Matthew Stafford might give you, he definitely has some sleeper potential and wouldn't be a bad option for owners who weren't able to snag a big name QB in the draft.
The year is 2012 but I think Cassel is going to play like it's 2010.
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