Commentary

32 Questions: Is Tarvaris Jackson worth drafting in fantasy?

Updated: August 25, 2008, 5:50 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

What can we expect from the Vikings' passing game?

Vikings fans everywhere surely want to know the answer to this question; the answer will have everything to do with the team's playoff chances.

Take a look at that Minnesota roster. Deep, versatile running game? Check. Stingy run defense? Check. The pass rush was a problem in 2007, sure, and presents another challenge in 2008, but with newly acquired defensive end Jared Allen on board, that area should be vastly improved. Allen, in case you missed it, led the league in sacks (15.5) last season, and that's despite having been suspended for two games.

So that puts the microscope squarely on Tarvaris Jackson, the third-year quarterback with the 69.0 career passer rating, worse than all the 30 active, qualified quarterbacks. Seriously, through 16 NFL games, 14 of them starts, Jackson has been that bad, worse than such luminaries as Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller and David Carr.

[+] EnlargeTarvaris Jackson
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PRESSWIREIt's not easy being green or QB of an extreme run-oriented offense.

What separates Jackson from those three: He's 25 years old, younger than any of those three and with plenty of career ahead of him, and he's on a team with enough faith to install him as a starter and let him further develop.

What Jackson has in common with those three: He's on a team that had enough faith in him at a young age to install him as a starter and let him further develop. And I think we all know how the other three quarterbacks' stories played out.

Maybe Jackson has what it takes to elevate himself from fantasy afterthought to capable NFL quarterback. After all, he did complete 63.6 percent of his pass attempts in his final six games of 2007, averaging 190.0 passing yards per contest and totaling seven touchdowns to six interceptions. Those aren't great numbers, but they're not awful, either.

Of course, "capable NFL quarterback" does not always equal "reliable fantasy quarterback." Take a look at those 2000 Baltimore Ravens, among past Super Bowl champions, or more recently, the 2006 Chicago Bears, among teams that got to the big game. They were led by game-manager types, and you can be sure the Vikings, knowing their strengths lie elsewhere, will be more than happy if Jackson develops into the likes of Trent Dilfer or Rex Grossman in their winning seasons.

Another point in Jackson's favor: He might not need to develop into much more than a Dilfer/Grossman type. Between their running game and defense, the Vikings might find themselves with a fair share of leads, looking to ice the clock often.

What might work against Jackson: I look at his receiving weapons and see an odd package of talents, somewhat mismatched to the quarterback's skill set. The Vikings brought in Bernard Berrian on a six-year, $43.4 million contract (only $16 million guaranteed) during the offseason and retain second-year receiver Sidney Rice. Not that their 2007 numbers reflected it -- Berrian averaged 13.4 yards per catch and Rice 12.8 -- but those are two "home run threat" types.

That's the kind of starting receiving duo that flies in the face of what the Vikings seemed to be trying to do with Jackson in 2007. His role seemed -- and, again, seems in 2008 -- more game manager than free-flinging quarterback, but the Berrian addition in particular seems to indicate the Vikings will be more comfortable letting Jackson loft the ball downfield and hoping good things result.

Be aware that in 2007, the Vikings as a team finished dead last in the NFL in pass attempts (432) and second-worst in passes of 20 or more yards (25). Jackson alone attempted 93 passes of greater than 10 yards, completed 39.8 percent of them, averaged 8.42 yards per attempt and had twice as many interceptions (6) as touchdowns (3). Does that not look like a conservative passing team?

I'm not saying neither Berrian nor Rice can enjoy a somewhat useful campaign. Both have great upside, Berrian is more talented than any receiver on the roster a year ago and a year's NFL experience should do Rice some real good. The problem is, it's a significant leap from Berrian's career highs of 71 receptions, 951 receiving yards and six touchdowns or Rice's modest 31-396-4 numbers to the level of the fantasy elite, especially when the quarterback is coming off a season in which he passed for nine touchdowns -- nine -- in his 12 starts.

So, effectively, it's a boom-or-bust outlook for these Vikings. And when I break those boom/bust prospects down, there might be nearly twice as many of the latter as the former, with it tough to forecast whether Berrian or Rice will go "boom" any given week. They are No. 3/4 capable fantasy options, but be prepared for disappointing weeks.

Further down the depth chart, don't count on lesser receivers like Bobby Wade, the likely slot receiver, Robert Ferguson or Aundrae Allison. Simple mathematics tells us that when there aren't many throws to go around, none of the three is likely to help you much. Wade's best shot at usefulness is if a starter gets hurt. Even then, the Vikings probably wouldn't throw to him enough to make him worthwhile on a weekly basis.

As for Jackson himself? In a deeper league, he could be worth a bench spot, in the event his final-month performance from 2007 portends good things to come. Again, like his receivers, Jackson should be a bust more often than he goes boom, and make no mistake, it'll be his receivers helping him to great numbers, probably not the other way around.

That's not really a great thing to count on in fantasy.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.