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Is Kyle Orton The Second Coming Of Rex Grossman?

Many fantasy owners have been excited about the unexpectedly rock-solid play of new Chicago Bears starting quarterback Kyle Orton. Heading into the regular season, Orton did not have “sleeper” written all over him, and his performance to this point has defied the expectations of just about everyone. For owners who found themselves stuck with Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger, Derek Anderson or other quarterback busts, grabbing Orton off the waiver wire turned out to be a great move to help keep their teams competitive.

 

When was the last time a Chicago quarterback was fantasy-relevant? I’m sure the name of now-backup quarterback Rex Grossman rings a bell. During what turned out to be a Super Bowl season for the Bears in 2006, the injury-prone Grossman finally managed to stay healthy and burst onto the fantasy scene, throwing for 3,193 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Grossman, however, drove fantasy owners nuts with what had become his trademark turnover-prone inconsistent play. As you probably remember, when pundits made weekly predictions for Grossman, they used the terms “Good Rex” and “Bad Rex.” Some owners who were either burned by Grossman or recall some of his classic on-the-field meltdowns are wondering whether Orton will emerge as a legitimate fantasy quarterback or end up being just another name on a long list of fantasy-tease signal-callers who flopped in Chicago.

 

Orton’s Football Fortunes

 

Born and raised in Iowa, Orton played his college football at Purdue University (2001 – 2004) where he was a three-year starter. He wrapped up his college career third on the school’s all-time record list with 9,337 passing yards, 63 touchdown passes and a completion percentage of 58.8 (786-for-1,336). Orton also ranked second in total offense with 9,653 yards, second only to Drew Brees (12,692). By the way, Orton is an avid Nebraska Cornhuskers fan. He has worn No. 18 in college and in the National Football League to honor quarterback Brook Berringer, who led Nebraska to a national championship in 1994 and was killed in a plane crash in 1996.

 

The Bears selected Orton with a fourth-round pick (No. 106 overall) in the 2005 draft. Because of an injury to then-designated franchise quarterback Grossman and the poor play of former No. 2 quarterback Chad Hutchinson, the then-rookie Orton was forced to start the club’s first 14 games of the regular season and 15 of Chicago’s 16 regular-season contests, notching a 10-5 record as a starter. Incidentally, Orton’s 15 starts and 10 victories are both franchise rookie records. As you probably suspected, Chicago watered down its offensive game plans for Orton, using him as a game-manager while relying on their defense and rushing attack to win games. Despite his impressive record as a starter, Orton finished with the lowest quarterback rating in the league (59.7) that season while completing 190 of his 368 pass attempts (51.9 completion percentage) for 1,869 yards, nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

 

The 2006 season was a different story for Orton. Although Chicago coaches had insisted they were happy with his first-year performance, they handed the starting job back to a healthy Grossman, signed veteran quarterback Brian Griese to backup Grossman and demoted Orton to third string. Orton did not take a regular-season snap.

 

The Chicago quarterback carousel continued in 2007. The wildly inconsistent Grossman was benched after three 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 club 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 and 0.67 interceptions per outing.

 

Orton inked a one-year deal to return for the 2008 season and battle Grossman in training camp for the starting job. Following two solid preseason outings in which he outplayed Grossman in convincing fashion, Orton was named Chicago’s No. 1 quarterback by head coach Lovie Smith.

 

KYLE ORTON – 2008 REGULAR SEASON STATISTICS

WEEK#

OPP

RESULT

CMP

ATT

COM%

YDS

TD

INT

Week 1

Indianapolis

W, 29 – 13

13

21

61.9

150

0

0

Week 2

Carolina

L, 17 – 20

19

32

59.4

149

0

0

Week 3

Tampa Bay

L, 24 – 27

22

34

64.7

268

2

2

Week 4

Philadelphia

W, 24 – 20

18

34

52.9

199

3

2

Week 5

Detroit

W, 34 – 07

24

34

70.6

334

2

0

Week 6

Atlanta

L, 20 – 22

26

43

60.5

286

1

0

 

AVERAGE: Week 1 – Week 6

20

33

61.7

231

1.33

0.67

AVERAGE: Week 3 – Week 6

23

36

62.2

272

2.00

1.00

Orton’s numbers were unremarkable during the first two weeks of the season, because the Bears were using him as a game-manager. Starting in Week 3, they finally opened up the offense and let him thrown down the field more frequently, as evidenced by the uptick in his weekly numbers during the last month.

                                                                    

Why Has Orton Succeeded?

 

First, I should explain why Orton never received a chance to prove himself until this season:

 

1.

   

Grossman was drafted to be the team’s designated franchise quarterback, while Orton was drafted for depth purposes.

 

2.

   

Orton did not distinguish himself during his rookie season or during the three games that he had started in 2007, failing to produce any statistical evidence that he could succeed in the NFL and apparently failing to impress the coaching staff enough to get a shot at beating out Grossman – at least until 2008.

 

Why has Orton enjoyed success when virtually nobody expected him to be fantasy-relevant? Think back to the preseason: A huge majority of fantasy owners wanted nothing to do with the Chicago offense – with good reasons.

 

1.

   

Orton was battling for the starting job, and I’ve discussed how he was regarded at the time by the coaching staff.

 

2.

   

There wasn’t much hope for the Bears wide receiver corps. Chicago’s starting wide receivers from 2007, Bernard Berrian (Minnesota Vikings) and Muhsin Muhammad (Carolina Panthers) had both left via free agency and were replaced by journeyman wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and aging veteran Marty Booker.

 

3.

   

Former starting running back Cedric Benson was released because of poor on-the-field performance and off-the-field brushes with the law, which left rookie running back Matt Forte as the primary runner.

 

4.

   

The Chicago offensive line was dreadful in 2007, contributing to the team’s league-low 3.1 yards per rush and 43 sacks allowed. The Bears had spent a 2008 first-round pick on left offensive tackle Chris Williams (back surgery). However, Williams was not going to be available to start the season, which left essentially the same starting group of O-linemen from 2007.

 

Bottom line – the entire offensive unit around Orton has played much better than expected. Forte is arguably the biggest key to Orton’s success. The rookie runner currently ranks No. 5 in the NFC in rushing with 459 yards, and his strong play has kept enemy defenses from focusing exclusively on Orton. Forte also leads the Bears in receptions (22), providing Orton with an excellent pass-catching option.

 

Three wide receivers have stepped up big to help Orton. Brandon Lloyd (knee) was building a solid rapport with Orton until he was injured. Rashied Davis, who was Chicago’s slot receiver last season, is playing solidly and leads all Bears receivers with 19 receptions for 230 yards to go along with one touchdown. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the strong play of return-specialist-and-wide-receiver-in-training Devin Hester, who has caught 16 passes for 193 yards and two scores.

                                                 

Although Chicago’s offensive line is still not an elite unit, this group has played a little better than expected. As a team, the Bears are averaging 3.8 yards per rush, and the O-line has surrendered just 12 sacks through Week 6, which projects out to 32 sacks allowed for the entire season.

 

Orton’s Fantasy Forecast

 

Is Orton potentially another Grossman? Speaking as someone who has watched every Bears game during this decade, I can provide you with an informed answer: Orton is not another Grossman – not even close – and Orton has the potential to become a much better quarterback than Grossman. To refresh your memory, Grossman’s weaknesses include inconsistent mechanics, shaky decision-making, lack of pocket presence, believing too much in his arm and locking in on one receiver during a play. Orton has yet to display any of Grossman’s shortcomings.

 

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Orton has displayed a strong arm, a quick release, great accuracy, good decision-making, solid pocket presence, great field vision and a willingness to take a hit, which already puts him ahead of Grossman in terms of skill set. Orton also has an outstanding ability to hit receivers in stride and not lock in on them. In addition, Orton has done a solid job of looking off safeties and linebackers, throwing a nice deep ball and spreading the ball around.

 

Barring some key injuries on offense, I don’t see any reason to think Orton will fall on his face, so he looks like a dependable No. 2 fantasy quarterback/spot-starter from this point forward. Using his per-game statistical averages from Week 3 through Week 6 as a base point for projections – that is when Chicago opened up the offense for Orton – he could amass 2,720 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his remaining 10 games.

 

Here is Chicago’s remaining schedule:

DATE

WEEK #

OPPONENT

PASS DEF RANK

Oct. 19

Week 07

Minnesota

15

Oct. 26

Week 08

BYE

Nov. 02

Week 09

Detroit

30

Nov. 09

Week 10

Tennessee

6

Nov. 16

Week 11

@ Green Bay

8

Nov. 23

Week 12

@ St. Louis

25 (tie)

Nov. 30

Week 13

@ Minnesota

15

Dec. 07

Week 14

Jacksonville

23

Dec. 11

Week 15

New Orleans

21

Dec. 21

Week 16

Green Bay

8

Dec. 28

Week 17

@ Houston

16

Seven matchups look favorable for Orton to varying degrees while the other three look unfavorable. One more thing to keep in mind: winter weather conditions – cold, snow and especially wind – will start to move into the Chicago area in late November and December and could impact Orton’s statistics during the Bears’ last three home games, which is when many leagues have their playoffs.

 

 

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