Commentary

Carson Palmer deserves more attention

Updated: August 30, 2010, 3:15 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Twenty years ago, America was introduced to "Twin Peaks," a town full of quirky characters that was seeking answers to that one big question: What happened to Laura Palmer? Flash ahead to 2010 and fantasy owners are wondering the same thing about Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals. Does he have any value at all this season, or is he better off left "wrapped in plastic?"

Entering the 2008 season, Palmer was still a top-five quarterback in most fantasy circles. He had recorded two straight 4,000-yard passing seasons and the Bengals finished the 2007 season with the seventh-best passing attack in the league. Unfortunately, an elbow injury cost him the last 12 games of the season, and although surgery was not required, it certainly made Palmer a fantasy football pariah entering 2009.

That may have been understandable given the uncertainty of his elbow, but the mystery is why his value hasn't bounced back for the 2010 season. He made it through the entire 2009 season without a relapse, yet right now Palmer is being selected as the 14th quarterback off the board, on average, in ESPN live drafts. In fact, in almost 10 percent of leagues, he's not even being drafted at all.

If not for the suspension to Ben Roethlisberger and reports that Donovan McNabb might sit out Week 1 for the Washington Redskins due to a sprained ankle, I suspect Palmer would be even lower on this list and I can't quite understand the reasoning for it. Take a closer look at his 2009 season and you may be surprised at how well he actually performed. After an opening-week loss to the Denver Broncos, the Bengals went 6-1 over their next seven games and Palmer did not have a fantasy week with fewer than 12 points over that stretch, which included a five-TD game against the Chicago Bears.

After that, the Bengals kind of took their foot off the gas, relying more on the rushing attack and focusing their efforts on working Cedric Benson, who had missed a few games to a hip injury, back into shape. Yet, though the Bengals ranked ranking 27th in passing attempts for the season, Palmer still ranked 17th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, and had he played more than a few token snaps in a meaningless Week 17 game, he easily could have risen as high as 12th. That's even more impressive when you consider that Palmer essentially had only one receiving option to throw to at all -- with "Mr. 85" catching nearly the same percentage of balls amid intense double-teams as Laveranues Coles did with only a single defender providing only token downfield coverage.

So considering the efforts the team made to give Palmer better targets for the upcoming campaign, why aren't more people looking in the quarterback's direction this season? Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens may hog the headlines and love to see their names climbing up the charts in Twitter's trending topics, but they also seem to get along quite well on the football field. Sure, Owens isn't the downfield threat he used to be, but his addition to the offense will certainly force defenses to cover both sidelines. Jermaine Gresham joining the team at tight end is also going to pay huge dividends, and already this preseason has shown himself to be light years better than the likes of his predecessors, J.P. Foschi and Daniel Coats.

Palmer
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireCarson Palmer may not be an elite fantasy option anymore, but he's still got the ability and two veteran targets at his disposal.

Certainly a big item in "Carson's Con Column" is that the upcoming schedule is full of solid defenses: two games each against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, a trip to Revis Island, road contests against the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons, both top-five passing defenses in 2009. However, the Bengals are not content to spend this season being afraid to throw the ball. They've reinstated the no-huddle offense and may frequently go into a three-wide receiver, single-back formation. That doesn't mean that they're giving up the run completely and they'll certainly try to be as balanced as possible in their play-calling, but you don't utilize that kind of personnel and finish near the bottom of the league in passing attempts.

Perhaps the biggest mystery to me is the fact fantasy owners seem more than willing to buy into the dynamic duo of Batman and Robin as top fantasy wide receivers for 2010. Ochocinco has an average draft position of 43.3 overall, the No. 15 wide receiver off the board, while Owens is being selected around the 87th pick, placing him just inside the top 30 for his position. There are only six quarterbacks with a pair of wide receivers in the top 30. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the fantasy elite, and Ben Roethlisberger's issues are well-documented.

Who are the other two quarterbacks besides Palmer? Eli Manning, who despite throwing for more than 4,000 yards last season still finished only 11th in fantasy scoring, and Kevin Kolb, with only 79 career completions to his name. Yet people are obviously willing to make Manning and Kolb their starter over Palmer. More people are drafting Chad Henne and Vince Young than Palmer? This makes far less sense than anything David Lynch could have scripted.

Carson Palmer is poised to have a season that will return him to the Pro Bowl. While he certainly shouldn't be in the first tier of fantasy starters, if you're looking to grab a late-round bargain, either as your starter in a 12-team league, or simply as your Plan B just in case, Palmer should be as sweet as cherry pie.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.