Now that it turns out Jay Cutler has an MCL sprain in his left knee, you have to wonder about several NFL players calling him out for not being able to finish the NFC Championship Game.
Here's a sampling of some of the Twitter comments Sunday after Cutler left in the third quarter of the 21-14 loss against Green Bay:
From Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew: All I'm saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee … I played the whole season on one.
From Jaguars linebacker Kirk Morrison: If my knee was hurt or ACL/MCL/PCL sprain, I would not be standing up on the sideline.
From Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski: Is Cutler still your starter next year? Did the players give up on him?
Cutler is definitely still the Bears starter in 2011 and he should be ready for Week 1 with his knee, but Fantasy owners will only consider him as a No. 2 quarterback. And that's how he should be drafted with a mid- to late-round pick in the majority of standard leagues.
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He was great in the divisional round of the playoffs against Seattle with 274 passing yards and two touchdowns and 43 rushing yards and two scores, but he remains too inconsistent to trust. Just look at his regular season.
Cutler had seven games with at least 22 Fantasy points during the year and eight with 15 or less (he missed one game with injured ribs). He also had one 300-yard passing game in the regular season, which was Week 1 against Detroit.
When he's on, he's easily a Top 10 Fantasy passer. But the Bears still lack an elite receiver (Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester are just complementary options and Greg Olsen is too hit or miss) and even with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, they remain a run-first team with Matt Forte, who is still their best player.
Say what you want about him not finishing the biggest game of his career, but Cutler isn't soft as some of his peers have suggested. As the Chicago Sun-Times points out, he has missed only two games since he became a starter for the Broncos five years ago, was sacked 57 times this season and has played with Type 1 diabetes for years.
But none of that matters when it comes to his Fantasy value. He's just a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback. Even when his knee doesn't hurt.
Throughout the playoffs we will monitor players whose Fantasy value is rising or falling as a result of their postseason performance. What happens in the playoffs could determine where a player is drafted in Fantasy leagues in 2011.
THREE ON THE RISE …
Matt Forte, Chicago
NFC Championship Game stats: Had 17 carries for 70 yards and 10 catches for 90 yards against Green Bay.
Analysis: Forte's performance against the Packers should solidify his value heading into 2011 as a premier Fantasy running back. He might not be a first-round pick any more, but he's great value in Round 2 as a starting option in all leagues. During the season, Forte had nine games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league, including six games with more than 15 points. His final stats were 237 carries for 1,069 yards and six touchdowns and 51 catches for 547 yards and three touchdowns. He now has at least 1,500 total yards and nine touchdowns in two of his three years in the NFL.
Mark Sanchez, N.Y. Jets
AFC Championship Game stats: Completed 20 of 33 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns with a lost fumble at Pittsburgh.
Analysis: Sanchez is still a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback, but he is worth drafting with a late-round pick in 2011. The key for Sanchez will be what the Jets do at wide receiver with Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards both free agents. If they are able to keep both then Sanchez should continue to improve as he enters his third year. But if he loses one, especially Holmes, then his value could decline. He made tremendous strides in 2010 from his rookie year, including six games with at least 18 Fantasy points. And you have to hope his performance against the Steelers can carry over to next year when the Jets will again be a favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
James Starks, Green Bay
NFC Championship Game stats: Had 22 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown and one catch for 6 yards at Chicago.
Analysis: Starks has been impressive in the playoffs with 263 rushing yards and a touchdown against Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago. If he can run well against the Steelers in the Super Bowl that will only enhance his value for 2011. Ryan Grant should return as the starter for the Packers next season after he was placed on injured reserve following an ankle injury in Week 1, but you have to prepare for a tandem situation after Starks has led Green Bay throughout the playoffs. We would advise selecting Starks with a late-round pick if your Fantasy draft was today, but his value could rise if the Packers remain more committed to Starks than Grant heading into the start of 2011.
THREE ON THE DECLINE …
Braylon Edwards, N.Y. Jets
AFC Championship Game stats: Had three catches for 50 yards at Pittsburgh.
Analysis: Edwards had a solid season in 2010 with 53 catches for 904 yards and seven touchdowns. He had eight games with double digits in Fantasy points, and this was easily his best year since 2007 when he had 80 catches for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns in Cleveland. But the Jets now have a decision to make with Edwards and Holmes, who are both free agents, and keeping Holmes makes more sense. While Edwards could end up in a better situation in a more pass-happy offense, we don't see him as anything more than a No. 4 Fantasy option. Keep an eye on what happens with him this offseason, but Edwards should only be drafted with a late-round pick in the majority of leagues.
LaDainian Tomlinson, N.Y. Jets
AFC Championship Game stats: Had nine carries for 16 yards at Pittsburgh.
Analysis: Tomlinson will be 32 next season, and he plans to return for his 11th year in the NFL. But in what role will the Jets use him since it's clear Shonn Greene needs to start and get the majority of carries? The best option for Tomlinson is to be the third-down back and change-of-pace option, and that would mean he should only be drafted with a late-round pick. He played well in 2010 with six games with double digits in Fantasy points, but he faltered down the stretch. The Jets also could decide to give more carries to Joe McKnight in 2011, which would hurt Tomlinson and even Greene, but Tomlinson's best days are clearly behind him. Greene has more value as a potential No. 2 Fantasy running back in what should be a rebound year.
Hines Ward, Pittsburgh
AFC Championship Game stats: Had two catches for 14 yards against the Jets.
Analysis: Ward still garners plenty of respect around the NFL, which is why Darrelle Revis planned to cover him for most of the AFC Championship Game. But Ward is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career with 59 catches for 755 yards and five touchdowns. Mike Wallace has become the best Fantasy wide receiver for the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger's go-to target, and Pittsburgh has developed other playmakers with Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown – not to mention tight end Heath Miller. Ward is still worth drafting as a No. 4 Fantasy wide receiver with a late-round pick, but the days of him being an elite option are in the past.
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