Shutdown Corner - NFL

T.J. Yates: 2011 Super Bowl champion?If the playoffs started today, the quarterback of the highest-seeded team in the AFC would be T.J. Yates(notes). The road to the Super Bowl would go through T.J. Yates.

He's what's left in Houston after Matt Leinart(notes) and Matt Schaub(notes) went down. The bad news is obvious -- Yates is a rookie, and rookie quarterbacks drafted in the fifth round generally do not enter the league as world-beaters.

But there's good news, too. Yates was a four-year starter in college, and career starts in college is the single-most important statistic in the Football Outsiders college quarterback projection system. That doesn't get the Texans in the end zone on Sunday, but it can't hurt. Not only did he start all four years, but it was in UNC's pro-style offense, too.

As far as a scouting report goes, Yates is a pocket quarterback who throws accurately short and intermediate, but isn't known as someone with tremendous physical skills. No one's going to confuse him with Cam Newton(notes), but he's a leader and regarded as a smart player.

He isn't much of a runner. He's not totally Bledsoe-esque, but in four years of college, where sack yardage is counted as negative rushing yardage, Yates carried the ball 220 times for -333 yards.

In his last year at Carolina, Yates threw 422 of UNC's 424 pass attempts -- the other two were thrown by a lady named Bryn Renner. His go-to receiver in 2009 was Greg Little(notes) (Little was forced to sit out his senior season because of a suspension), who is currently making plays for the Cleveland Browns. In his rookie and sophomore seasons, he got to throw to a fellow named Hakeem Nicks(notes).

Michael Lombardi of the NFL Network says Yates will throw the ball down the field more often and more aggressively than Matt Leinart, and from what I saw of the Texans on Sunday, that was true enough. Leinart's numbers looked good, but I counted exactly one impressive throw. Yates, if they'll let him, will probably test defenses a bit more down the field.

So there it is, Texans fans: T.J. Yates, the most important man in the AFC.

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