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Thursday, August 5, 2010
Steve Smith a safe pick

By Ken Daube
Special to ESPN.com

How scared of Jimmy Clausen should Steve Smith owners be?

32 Questions
The current average draft position (ADP) has Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers being selected at 35.3 overall and 11th among wide receivers. While the arm he broke playing flag football contributes to those rankings, the presence of former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen is also impacting Smith's draft-day slot. Those fantasy footballers who are making that latter adjustment need to stop immediately, as there are two main reasons Clausen's presence should be wholeheartedly ignored.

From 2000-09, 11 quarterbacks were selected in the second round of the NFL draft. With the exception of Drew Brees, the list is far from distinguished.

2001: Drew Brees, Quincy Carter and Marques Tuiasosopo
2006: Kellen Clemens and Tarvaris Jackson
2007: Kevin Kolb, John Beck and Drew Stanton
2008: Brian Brohm and Chad Henne
2009: Pat White

What almost all of these quarterbacks have in common is the complete lack of opportunity that was afforded to them during their rookie seasons.

While Quincy Carter and John Beck were ultimately named their team's starting quarterbacks during their rookie seasons, it's important to realize how both of those situations arose. In Carter's case, his opportunity was driven by Troy Aikman's concussion problems. Aikman was released suddenly by the Cowboys before the 2001 NFL draft, which left the Cowboys with Tony Banks and Ryan Leaf to lead their team. Jerry Jones ultimately reached for Carter in the second round based on that need, and subsequently handed Carter the starting gig. In John Beck's case, concussions also played a role. Going into the 2007 season, the Dolphins traded for Trent Green to be their starting quarterback and Cleo Lemon was entrenched as the backup. When Green took yet another massive hit that resulted in a concussion, the Dolphins turned to Lemon before coming to the conclusion that he was not the answer. With Beck as their third option, they had virtually no other choice but to make him their starter.

With those two anomalies behind us, the rest of the second-rounders' rookie production simply lacks any reasonable level of impressiveness.

While Clausen enters the NFL being described by Mel Kiper Jr. as the fourth-best player in this past draft, fantasy footballers should be extremely cognizant of the fact that NFL teams don't have the external pressures of forcing a second-rounder into the starting lineup like they do for first-round picks. Further adding to likelihood of Clausen not seeing any significant playing time is the contract status of head coach John Fox, who is in the final year of his current deal.

With their financial and job security on the line, veteran coaches like Fox who have a proven track record of success, are significantly more likely to trust veteran options, even if those veteran options aren't projected to be their team's quarterback of the future. While Matt Moore isn't your prototypical veteran quarterback, the Panthers did go 4-1 in their final five games last season with him as the starter, and Fox will be more than comfortable enough to hand the reins to Moore to start the season. Looking at Moore's production in those games, it's easy to see why.

In those final five weeks, Moore completed 63 percent of his passes and threw eight touchdowns to just one interception. While maintaining that ratio is unrealistic for even Hall of Fame quarterbacks, the 63 percent completion rate speaks volumes about Moore's ability to make good decisions and make the throws that are being asked of him. Considering that the Panthers are extremely likely to remain a run-first offense, the Panthers will look more for smart decision-making from their quarterback position than the ability to throw the ball downfield. That being said, Moore does have a strong enough arm to utilize Smith as the deep-ball weapon that he is.

In order to believe that Smith's value will be affected by Clausen, you ultimately have to believe that some combination of the following will occur:

1. Clausen will be given a chance to be the starting quarterback for a significant period of time, despite the fact that during the previous 10 years, none of the other quarterbacks drafted in a similar position have gotten that opportunity without a significant injury occurring to the team's presumptive starter.

2. Fox will ignore the fact that his job security and contract extension negotiations will be impacted by "developing" a rookie quarterback during NFL games.

3. Moore will regress significantly or get severely injured.

If these don't seem likely to you (and Notre Dame isn't your alma mater), then you really don't have a viable excuse for downgrading Smith because of Clausen's presence. Personally, I agree with those who believe that Clausen will be a very good NFL quarterback. He is extremely accurate, especially on the underneath and short crossing routes, and if he is fortunate enough to ever find himself in a West Coast offense, he could potentially develop into a Pro Bowl quarterback. That said, future prospects shouldn't impact your valuing of Clausen or Smith for this season. So, to answer the original question, the presence of Clausen should not scare Smith's owners at all.

Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available here.