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Chicago’s Castoff Is Now Denver’s Treasure

An unwanted and supposedly mediocre-at-best former Chicago Bears quarterback is compiling some outstanding fantasy numbers for the Denver Broncos. Kyle Orton easily beat out Chris Simms and much-heralded rookie Tim Tebow to land the starting job. Heading into Week 7, Orton currently ranks third in the NFL in completions (155), second in attempts (247), second in passing yards (1,942) and fourth (tie) in touchdowns (nine) with just three interceptions. In addition, Orton is ranked as the fantasy QB3 in most scoring formats. Granted, the regular season is less than two months old, but the play of Orton undoubtedly has been a huge surprise so far. Who is this guy?

THE PERSONAL STUFF

Kyle Raymond Orton was born Nov. 14, 1982 and raised in the small south-central Iowa town of Altoona, which is just five miles away from Des Moines, but he grew up an avid Nebraska Cornhuskers fan. Orton has worn the No. 18 or the No. 8 throughout most of his college and NFL career as a tribute to the late Brook Berringer, a former Cornhuskers quarterback who died in a plane crash in April 1996. Orton started to hone his passing skills at Southeast Polk Community High School in Pleasant Hill, Iowa. During his SEP career, Orton amassed 3,176 passing yards, 24 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions while completing 208 of his 450 attempts (46.2 percent completion percentage). As a senior (1999), Orton was listed as the second-best quarterback in the nation by SuperPrep and listed among
USA
Today’s Super 25 prospects.

The Iowa native had verbally committed to play college ball at Colorado, but a summer stint at Purdue’s Elite Quarterback Camp apparently changed his mind. Some have underestimated Orton’s arm strength to this day. Coming out of high school, Orton could throw the ball a mind-blowing 72 yards. He dazzled the Purdue coaches with his passing prowess, and they offered Orton a full-ride scholarship, which he eagerly accepted.

THE COLLEGE YEARS

Orton was a standout talent and Heisman Trophy hopeful at Purdue University (2001-2004) while playing in then-head coach Joe Tiller’s pass-happy spread offense, which featured multiple wide receiver sets and regular use of the shotgun formation. As a freshman (2001), Orton quickly impressed coaches and teammates with his big arm, poise, leadership and smarts. Orton started the Sun Bowl versus Washington State, completing 38 of his whopping 74 pass attempts for 419 yards and two touchdowns. At the time, the 74 attempts were the most in NCAA bowl history and the second-most in Purdue history behind Drew Brees’ 83 attempts against Wisconsin in 1998. 

KYLE ORTON – PURDUE CAREER

YEAR

G

GS

CMP

ATT

PCT

YDS

TD

INT

2001

07

03

107

216

49.5

1,105

4

7

2002

13

09

192

317

60.6

2,257

13

9

2003

13

13

251

414

60.6

2,885

15

7

2004

13

13

236

389

60.7

3,090

31

5

TOTALS

46

38

786

1336

58.8

9,337

63

28

Although he displayed considerable improvement as a sophomore (2002), Orton shared the starting quarterback duties. He carved out a spot in Purdue football history during a mid-November game against Michigan State in East Lansing. After standing on the sideline for nearly four hours in freezing temperatures, Orton entered the game in a backup role. Facing a 4th-and-8 from the Spartans’ 40-yard line, he tossed a game-winning touchdown pass. Orton also started his second straight bowl game (it was the Sun Bowl again), going 25-of-37 for 283 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Orton took over as Purdue’s full-time starter as a junior (2003). However, there was not a huge increase in his passing statistics from 2002 to 2003, because the Boilermakers utilized a more balanced attack. When Orton did put it up, the game plans frequently called for him to target his tailbacks and receivers in the flat. Orton’s effort in the Capital One Bowl left an unforgettable impression on his teammates and coaches. Playing with a dislocated left thumb, a sprained toe and a cracked rib, Orton completed 20-of-34 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown, and he ran for two touchdowns. Following the season, Orton earned an Honorable All-Big 10 mention from the coaches and the media.

As a Heisman Trophy favorite during his senior season (2004), Orton got off to a great start, leading Purdue to a 5-0 record while throwing 18 touchdown passes and no picks. However, bothered by a nagging hip injury and other ailments, Orton struggled and finally had to sit out for close to a month to heal. He returned to the starting lineup late in the year, throwing for 522 yards and six touchdowns against the Indiana Hoosiers. Orton finished his Purdue career ranked third in school history in passing yards (9,337), touchdown passes (63) and completion percentage (58.8). In addition, Orton amassed 9,653 yards of total offense, which ranked second behind Drew Brees (12,692). Orton also chipped in 112 rushing yards and three rushing scores. He averaged just 1.3 yards per rush during his Purdue career.

THE NFL YEARS

Heading into the 2005 NFL Draft, Orton sparked only moderate interest as a prototypical pocket passer. On the positive side, he had good size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), good arm strength, great accuracy and an excellent touch. Orton also received high marks from scouts for impressive timing, ability to lead receivers and ability to read defenses. Among the concerns about Orton: streakiness as a passer, shaky mechanics, shaky accuracy on his deep passes and poor foot speed (5.06 40-yard dash). The scouts also were very concerned about whether Orton could adjust to taking snaps under center regularly after playing in a spread/shotgun offense. The Chicago Bears selected Orton in the fourth round (106th overall pick).

KYLE ORTON – NFL CAREER

YEAR

TM

G

GS

CMP

ATT

PCT

YDS

TD

INT

2005

CHI

15

15

190

368

52

1,869

9

13

2006

CHI

0

0

2007

CHI

3

3

43

80

54

478

3

2

2008

CHI

15

15

272

465

58

2,972

18

12

2009

DEN

16

15

336

541

62

3,802

21

12

2010

DEN

6

6

155

247

63

1,942

9

3

TOTALS

55

54

996

1,701

59

11,063

60

42

*Orton also has rushed 90 times for 214 yards (2.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns during his NFL career.

Because designated-franchise-quarterback-of-the-future Rex Grossman suffered a major ankle injury and because backup Chad Hutchinson’s play was dreadful, the then-rookie Orton was forced to start 15 of Chicago’s 16 regular-season contests in 2005, and he won 10 of them. By the way, Orton had become the first rookie quarterback to notch 10 victories since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. As you probably suspected, the Bears watered down their offensive game plans for Orton, using him as a game-manager while relying on their defense and rushing attack to win games. Despite Orton’s impressive record as a starter, he finished with the lowest quarterback rating in the league (59.7).

Orton’s 2005 showing did not lead to more playing time in 2006. Although Chicago coaches had insisted they were happy with his first-year performance, they handed the starting job back to a now-healthy Grossman, signed veteran quarterback Brian Griese to serve as Grossman’s backup and demoted Orton to third string. He did not take a regular-season snap.

The Chicago quarterback carousel continued in 2007. The wildly inconsistent and struggling Grossman was benched after three season-opening games and replaced by Griese. He played well early, but Griese struggled later in the season and was benched after six starts. The Bears then gave the starting job back to Grossman, who actually played solidly in his next four starts, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury. With the team officially out of playoff contention, Chicago let Orton start the last three games of the season. Although he won two contests, Orton, however, did little to distinguish himself statistically, averaging 159 passing yards, one touchdown pass and 0.67 interceptions per outing.

Orton outplayed Grossman during the Bears’ preseason quarterback derby to win the starting job for 2008. Orton had played well during the first half of the season, averaging 272 passing yards and two touchdown passes per game during the month of October before suffering a high ankle sprain. Orton rushed himself back into the lineup after just one week off, but the injury lingered, causing him to struggle. Unfortunately for Orton, his numbers had fallen off noticeably during the second half of the year, which apparently had sealed his fate in Chicago.

During the afternoon of April 2, 2009, the Bears traded Orton, along with two first-round draft picks (2009 and 2010) to the Denver Broncos in exchange for the disgruntled Jay Cutler. As you probably remember, then-new head coach Josh McDaniels unsuccessfully had tried to trade Cutler during the 2009 NFL Draft, which is mainly why Cutler wanted out of Denver. Playing in a new, more passer-friendly Broncos offense, Orton struggled early, but his play improved later in the season. The chemistry that he had developed with Brandon Marshall (now with Miami) had obviously helped boost his passing numbers nicely.

ORTON’S FANTASY FORECAST

Despite Orton’s rock-solid overall showing in 2009 (3,802 passing yards, 21 touchdown passes and just 12 interceptions), he didn’t come off most fantasy draft boards until the late rounds, and for a couple of good reasons: The Broncos had traded Orton’s security blanket, Brandon Marshall (Dolphins), and they were expected to utilize a far more run-oriented offensive attack with Knowshon Moreno. Thanks to the unexpectedly strong play of Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal, and the solid contributions of Jabar Gaffney and rookie Demaryius Thomas, Marshall has rarely been missed. In the meantime, Moreno has been in and out of the lineup due to hamstring injuries, and his backups – Correll Buckhalter and Laurence Maroney – have struggled, which is obviously why Orton has been throwing a lot. He is obviously comfortable in the Broncos offense – it’s similar to the system that Orton ran in college – which uses spread formations along with three- and four-wide receiver sets.

Orton is the real deal, and there is little reason to think otherwise. While I think Orton will remain a solid No. 1 fantasy quarterback through the rest of the season, I suspect his passing numbers will dip a bit. When Moreno finally gets back on track, the Broncos probably will want to establish a better run/pass balance in their offense. In terms of matchups, Orton will face three favorable ones, three neutral ones and three tough ones from now through Week 16, but he seems virtually matchup proof. By the way, don’t read too much into Orton’s bland showing during the Broncos’ ugly Week 7 loss to the Oakland Raiders. The entire Denver team had a letdown following an emotional loss to the New York Jets in Week 6.

What about Tim Tebow? Aside from Tebow’s token appearances in the Wildcat, I don’t see him dramatically cutting into Orton’s playing time this year. If Tebow’s current amount of playing time is an indication, he is not ready to quarterback the Broncos this season – even if or when they fall out of playoff contention. However – this is pure speculation – next season could be a different story for Orton’s fantasy value if the “Tebow Era” kicks off at some point. If head coach Josh McDaniels is convinced that Tebow is still his quarterback of the future and the former Florida star displays some improvement, Orton, who is under contract through 2011, may find himself standing on the sideline holding a clipboard – even if he is still the best passer on the Broncos.

 

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