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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New rules upped air attack

Michael Salfino Syndicated columnist

The NFL wanted to boost the passing game last year when it decided to strictly enforce contact rules. Mission accomplished. Amazingly, 12 starting QBs averaged over 7.5 yards per attempt, a figure that’s normally met or exceeded by a mere handful of passers.

So, with more QBs performing at such high levels, savvy owners may choose to wait longer than usual before drafting their starting signal caller. There are more than a dozen QBs who you can reasonably project for 25 TD passes. Not a dozen will do so, of course, but expect about as many as last year, when nine met or bettered that mark.

The statistics that key our QB rankings are (in order of importance) yards per passing attempt (YPA), red zone usage (how often the QB threw or ran inside the opponents’ 20-yard line), attempts per TD and attempts per game. YPA is our top consideration because there is a high degree of correlation from year to year and QBs who finish top 10 in YPA typically have a 70 to 80 percent chance of finishing top 10 in TD passes.

The following are QBs who are currently under and overvalued based on their average placement (AP) in thousands of ESPN fantasy football leagues that have already drafted.

Undervalued

Joey Harrington (Lions, AP: 128th overall pick): The weapons are dynamic, with three very high first-round picks at WR, led by emerging superstar Roy Williams. Steve Mariucci likes to call the QB’s number near paydirt; Harrington was the third-most frequently used QB in the red zone last year.

Brian Griese (Bucs, AP: 114.9): No. 1 in the NFL in on-the-money accuracy percentage and fifth in fewest attempts per TD. While you can win with Griese, he doesn’t get enough chances to make plays in the red zone. The Bucs were 22nd in QB usage there, handing off 62 percent of the time.

Carson Palmer (Bengals, AP: 76.5): Palmer led the NFL in YPA on deep throws, yet the Bengals were just 22nd in percentage of deep passes thrown. In the red zone, the Bengals put the ball in Palmer’s hands just 41 percent of the time last year, 19th in the NFL. Palmer improved dramatically last year and his receivers make him a potential difference maker.

Kerry Collins (Raiders, AP: 52.5): Since Randy Moss came into the league, his QBs have averaged a TD every 17 attempts, which typically translates to about 30 TD passes. Collins is better than the likes of Jeff George, Randall Cunningham and Gus Frerotte and also has big, fast WRs Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry.

Overvalued

Daunte Culpepper (Vikings, AP: 9.6): With Moss, Culpepper averaged 330 yards passing with 32 TDs. Without him for seven games, Culpepper averaged 242 yards with 12 TDs. With less shootouts due to an improved Vikings D, subtract about 1,000 yards and 10 TDs from those ‘04 stats.

Trent Green (Chiefs, AP: 30.2): Green should finish higher than 12th in attempts per TD pass. But the Chiefs take the ball out of his hands in the red zone more than other teams do with top QBs. Last year, Green was 15th in red zone use. We like Green, but don’t run into his arms with the 30th pick.

Michael Vick (Falcons, AP: 49.6): Vick, aka Ron Mexico, should worry less about aliases and more about improving his league-worst accuracy. His poor decisions weren’t limited to off-field indiscretions, as he had the league’s highest percentage of bad plays: throwing into coverage, staring down WRs, blind throws while being sacked, etc.

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