Commentary

Culpepper's impact in Oakland

Updated: August 1, 2007, 2:02 PM ET
By Keith Lipscomb | ESPN.com

The Oakland Raiders had to do it. After all, how confident are you in Josh McCown or Andrew Walter?

By signing Daunte Culpepper on Tuesday, the Raiders provided themselves with a stopgap, since it appears No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell is nowhere close to getting into camp and beginning the intense learning process all rookie quarterbacks most endure. Since the earlier question about Oakland quarterbacks was rhetorical, how about a real question that no one knows the answer to: What does Culpepper have left in the tank?

Don't forget that Culpepper was the best player, not just quarterback, in fantasy three short years ago -- yes, even better than Peyton Manning when he broke Dan Marino's single-season record for touchdown passes with 49. While those were the best of times for Daunte and his fantasy owners, let's also remember that before he wrecked his right knee on that 18-yard scramble against the Panthers in 2005, he was on his way to being the biggest bust in fantasy that year.

In seven games that season, he had twice as many interceptions (12) as touchdown passes (six) and posted a career-low 72.0 passer rating. Was that season going to be the start of a decline for Culpepper anyway? We'll never know for sure, but as he continues his attempt to make it all the way back from that devastating knee injury, we can be pretty sure his great mobility and elusiveness won't ever return to what they were.

Last season, Culpepper attempted to come back too soon with the Dolphins. Not only was he not as sharp with his passes, as evidenced by his career-low 60.4 completion percentage, but he was sacked 21 times in four games before the Dolphins decided it was best to allow him to get back to rehabbing the knee for the remainder of the season.

That brings me to the bad news for those rooting for Culpepper's return to glory: The Raiders allowed the most sacks in the NFL last season by a wide margin. Only two teams in the entire league allowed at least 50 sacks and the Raiders gave up 72 of them! While the Oakland offensive line should be improved this season -- how could it be any worse? -- that statistic is what concerns me the most when I think about whether or not Culpepper can succeed in Oakland this season.

If he is truly healthy and takes to the offense quickly, he will be the Raiders' starter by early in the season, if not by Week 1. McCown and Walter are simply inferior. Culpepper is aware that if and when Russell signs, part of his job description under the one-year deal is to help mentor the youngster out of LSU because, after all, Russell, not Culpepper, is the future of the Raiders under center. The longer Russell takes to get into camp, the more likely it is we won't see him taking snaps until the final month of the regular season when the Raiders are out of playoff contention.

Since coach Lane Kiffin stated on Tuesday that Culpepper still has the power arm, but that the team wanted to make sure he could still move in the pocket, we'll assume that he's healthy since the team signed him. Even if that's the case, Culpepper is still up against it, in terms of making a strong fantasy impact in 2007.

The Raiders were the NFL's worst offense in 2006 and aren't blessed with a great receiving corps. Jerry Porter averaged 970.0 yards receiving and seven touchdowns from 2004 to '05 before taking up permanent residence in Art Shell's doghouse last season. Ronald Curry is steady, but not special, and after that, there are too many question marks to feel good about the Raiders making large gains in the passing game in 2007. That said, I do think Porter will return to fantasy relevance, albeit as a No. 3 wide receiver, if Culpepper can remain healthy.

As the clock continues to tick on Russell's arrival at Raiders camp, Culpepper jumps into a favorable situation in which he will get the chance to show he still has what it takes to be an NFL starting quarterback. Unfortunately, this Raiders team isn't equipped with the personnel to help him maximize that opportunity and put up numbers worthy of being anything more than a bye-week starter at this point in time.

Keith Lipscomb is a senior editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.