Friends and Family Matters

There have been 44 transactions made so far in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League. Leave it to Scott Pianowski to score the best move of them all.

No, he didn’t add James Davis or Chris Henry or Glen Coffee(notes). All those preseason risers were claimed on draft day back in mid-August.

Instead, he took a flier on a player who has top-10 potential at his position once his opportunity arrives. Even more impressive, this player is available in 93 percent of Yahoo! plus leagues and 98 percent of public leagues.

Pianowski’s last move that you should consider making your next:

Before we go any further, let’s first make something clear: Leinart is unanimously ranked outside the top 25 at the quarterback position by the experts for a reason. You’re never starting a quarterback who isn’t playing over a quarterback who is.

The same can’t be said about the quarterback you’re benching. Sometimes, in the rarest of circumstances, you’re better off stashing the quarterback with the clipboard than the one with the ball.

Right now, that’s Leinart. There is a three-prong test that can be used to help evaluate an emerging fantasy quarterback: Does he have the opportunity to start; does he have the supporting cast; and is he physically and mentally ready to take advantage of his situation?

Let’s see how Leinart grades out.

Opportunity: Shaky for now, but not for long. You can count on Kurt Warner(notes) starting in Week 1, but you can’t count on him after that. Warner has never played a full 16-game season in back-to-back years. We’re at the twilight of StubHub’s career, and if such a basic mark of endurance hasn’t happened yet for him, odds are it’s not about to as a 38-year-old coming off of hip surgery. It would be an upset if Leinart doesn’t finish what Warner starts in ’09.

“If you believe Warner is going to have a full season at age 38,” Pianowski adds, “I’d like to show you some swampland in Florida.”

Supporting cast: We really ought to just skip this one, because even a quarterback wearing a straight jacket could find a way to take advantage of the Cardinals’ downfield weapons. Larry Fitzgerald(notes), Anquan Boldin(notes), Steve Breaston(notes) – somewhere in New York, Eli Manning(notes) just passed out. The offensive line ranks at above-average in pass blocking, and that’s good enough in this pass-heavy offense. As long as Boldin gets healthy, the situation here is elite.

Physical and mental readiness: Pianowski likes what he sees. “Leinart’s pocket awareness and understanding of the pro game looked significantly improved this summer,” he said.

The summer strides were followed by production. In one half (repeat: one half), Leinart threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, it was a preseason showing against the Packers’ Z-Team, but don’t dismiss the flash as fluke. Whenever a maturing, talented player is putting up video game numbers, it might just be a sign that he’s ready for the big time.

The test is over, and Leinart sets the curve, makes the grade and gets the girl. But while there are so many reasons to invest in Leinart as we approach the first NFL Sunday, the ownership numbers still aren’t there. That has to change.

“It underscores how we’re wired as a fantasy football public,” Pianowski said of Leinart’s vast availability. “Every running back with a pulse gets selected. People aren’t afraid to speculate on young receivers that need a break. But at the QB position, we like to bet on sure things and aren’t as willing to speculate or play the waiting game.”

If there was ever a time to play the game, it’s now.

Pianowski safely projects Leinart to produce top-10 quarterback numbers once his number is called, but he also notes that the Heisman Trophy winner has a ton of potential. After Matt Cassel(notes) finished seventh among all fantasy quarterbacks last year, it shouldn’t surprise anybody if Leinart outshines Cassel. It’s not like it’d be the first time.

“Any deep league with 12 owners or more, I want Leinart as my stash-and-hope guy,” Pianowski said. “Any two-quarterback league, I want a share as well. And sometimes it’s fun to grab him just to ghoul the Warner owner in your pool.”

Roster Leinart, bench him and wait. We’ve got some swampland in Florida that says you won’t regret it.

Michael Gehlken is a sports writer based in San Diego. At age 11, he received a Ryan Leaf rookie card for Christmas, proof that Santa Claus has a sense of humor. He spends more time working and studying his profession than he probably should and is convinced there is no better movie setting than South Boston. Send Michael a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Sep 11, 2009