Commentary

Don't forget about Kyle Orton

Updated: September 1, 2010, 1:09 AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

32 Questions

Does anyone still remember Kyle Orton?

Kyle Orton had his best statistical season in 2009. His 62.1 completion percentage was a testament to his improved accuracy and how well he fit into the new Denver Broncos system. He threw for 3,802 yards while reaching a career high in touchdown passes with 21 and a low in interceptions with only a dozen.

BREAKING NEWS: The Broncos selected quarterback Tim Tebow in the first round of the 2010 draft, trading away three draft picks in order to have a chance to select him. Immediately, "Tebow-Mania" spirals out of control and jerseys bearing his name become the best selling item on the NFL's website.

In the first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Kyle Orton played just the first quarter, but went 8-for-13, leading the team to a 14-0 lead and throwing two touchdowns before getting the expected call to the sidelines with a job well done.

BREAKING NEWS: Tim Tebow runs into the end zone on the final play of the game against the Bengals, colliding with two defenders at the goal line. The replay of the meaningless score is run ad infinitum on most sports highlight shows.

The Broncos are so happy with Kyle Orton's development as a team leader that they sign him to a one-year contract extension for 2011 worth close to $9 million.

BREAKING NEWS: Tim Tebow gets a funny haircut from his teammates.

What does Orton need to do to get out of the shadow of Tebow, who may I remind you, has yet to play a down in an official NFL game? Even this past week, when Orton got shaken up making a tackle against James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the rhetorical question being asked by the media was not, "Is Orton OK?" but rather it was "Is Tim Tebow ready to start?" For goodness sake, Tebow isn't even the backup on this team; that's Brady Quinn's job.

Certainly, Tebow will be utilized in the occasional "Wild Horse" package, but his value as a fantasy quarterback right now is nearly nonexistent, and yet, the rookie is still being selected in 5.9 percent of ESPN leagues. To put that into perspective, Matt Moore, who has a starting job in Carolina and Steve Smith as his No. 1 wide receiver, has been drafted in only 2.8 percent of leagues. That's lunacy! But it's an example of the power of Tebow Mania, which has made Orton a completely forgotten man.

Kyle Orton
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesKyle Orton had 12 double-digit fantasy games last season, although he never scored more than 19 points in any outing.

Orton has been selected in only 17.4 percent of ESPN leagues, and while I'm not suggesting he should be anyone's fantasy starter, it's still hard to understand why so few people are willing to take a chance on him as their No. 2 fantasy quarterback. In 2009, Orton played much of the season on a bad pair of ankles, and yet still finished with only four fewer fantasy points than Kurt Warner. He had only three bad games from a fantasy perspective last season, and they all came in a four-week stretch when he played at Baltimore (7 points), Pittsburgh (2 points) and San Diego (4 points, the second time he faced the Chargers; in the first meeting he had 18 points).

Certainly, with Brandon Marshall off to Miami, the loss of Orton's favorite receiver may prove difficult to replace. You don't suddenly find 101 catches, 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns underneath the cushions of your couch. But keep in mind that Marshall has 32 of those catches in just two games -- both Denver losses, by the way -- and the team was far more successful with multiple receivers catching balls on short routes. With a stable of receivers to choose from -- Eddie Royal, Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Stokley, their other No. 1 draft pick, Demaryius Thomas -- there are plenty of targets to keep Orton's completion percentage well over 60 percent. Not only that, but the Broncos' schedule is fairly soft this season, with seven games against teams that finished in the bottom third of the league in passing defense last year.

Of course, the concern over the injuries to both Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter is very real, and if the team is unable to provide a legitimate rushing attack (sorry, LenDale White) to go along with the short, quick passing game, this offense simply won't work. But you're not drafting Orton to lead your team out of the gate. You can afford to give him a few weeks to settle into a rhythm and for this offense to start clicking on all cylinders and then pick and choose your spots to insert him into your lineup.

In a keeper league, if you want to spend your last pick on Tebow, go right ahead. He's still several years away from a starting NFL job -- if he ever gets there at all -- but at least he'll provide some excitement in the same way Kordell Stewart was fun to root for in the late 1990s. But when you're starting just one quarterback and your opponent has Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, there's no way you can start Tebow and expect to compete. At least Orton, who had more fantasy points in the final four weeks of the 2009 season than Tony Romo, Brett Favre, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, gives you a fighting chance.

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.