There are, perhaps, many reasons not to trust Matt Hasselbeck as even a QB2 in fantasy leagues. He turns 36 years old in September and has been pretty bad statistically in each of the last two seasons. He’s had to learn a new offense in the compacted offseason that resulted from the lockout. He’s the quarterback of a team that will clearly be looking to lean on its start running back. So what is he doing in our Sleeper Watch?
While 36 years old is pretty old for a QB, it’s not ancient. Brett Favre had a famously great season with the Vikings two years ago, and he was a few years older than Hasselbeck is now. Hasselbeck’s stats don’t look good when taken on their own, but when you realize the only consistently solid receiver he’s thrown to over the last three years is John Carlson, you understand that the problem may not be entirely the quarterback’s fault.
The other Mike Williams, Deon Butler, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Nate Burleson, Carlson and Bobby Engram either finished first or second in receptions for the team over the last three years. Engram was coming off a productive 2007 campaign but was 35 years old in 2008 when he finished second in receptions behind Carlson. Housh looked finished in his age-32 season. Carlson is a less-than-dynamic tight end. Burleson and Williams could be solid second options, but neither are good enough to take the burden of making plays off the QB.
Fast-forward to 2011. Hasselbeck left a rapidly deteriorating Seahawks organization for the Titans, who despite growing tired of Vince Young’s drama have had a pretty good passing offense. In fact, take away the trainwreck that is Rusty Smith, and Young combined with Kerry Collins to throw 24 TDs versus just 11 interceptions while topping 3,000 yards passing. Collins, who to me seems like a worst-case scenario for the more-talented Hasselbeck, managed 1,823 yards, 14 TDs and eight INTs on 278 pass attempts. Extrapolate that out to a full season for Hasselbeck, and 3,500 yards, 25 TDs and 15 INTs seems within reach.
The biggest reason I think Hasselbeck could see a renaissance in Tennessee comes from the wealth of weapons surrounding him. You start with Chris Johnson, one of the game best running backs and a guy that give Hasselbeck his best rushing attack since the Shaun Alexander years (which should be a culture shock for someone accustomed to handing off to Julius Jones). Move to Kenny Britt, who possesses far more talent than anyone the Seattle QB has thrown to since at least a young Darrell Jackson. Slide over to tight end, where young Jared Cook is primed to make a big impact on the fantasy rankings at his position. The last remaining Titans starter is Nate Washington, who would be the quintessential No. 1 option in Hasselbeck’s previous Seattle offenses.
The Hasselbeck sleeper train is going into full throttle after this weekend’s game against Jacksonville. Nothing the Jaguars have shown leads me to believe they’ll be ready for the full Titan experience. Even if Hasselbeck isn’t ready to open up the offense just a few short weeks after joining Tennessee, the talent gap between the Titan skill players and the Jaguar defenders should be too large that it won’t matter. I see 200-plus passing yards, multiple TDs and no interceptions for Hasselbeck in Week 1, making him a hot commodity in the first batch of waivers, especially for teams hurting from the Peyton Manning injury.
For the season, I can see Hasselbeck hitting close to 4,000 yards with 24 TDs and 15 INTs, giving you low-end QB1 numbers. He plays Indianapolis and Jacksonville in Weeks 15 and 16, so he could even wind up leading you to a championship. With the veteran QB going to a much more talented offense this season, he’s well worth the low risk he currently provides as a free-agent pickup in most leagues. I’ve already added him in the leagues where I didn’t draft a backup QB, and if you’re not satisfied with your QB situation, I suggest you do the same.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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