Fantasy folks and those of us who fancy ourselves as fantasy experts spend endless summer hours poring over statistics, depth charts, player competitions, contracts, player pedigrees, on- and off-field player histories, players' personalities, their likes, dislikes, favorite movies, and any other thing that might factor into projecting how each player will perform during the upcoming season.
After a while you can actually get pretty good at predicting and projecting. I'm typically pretty confident that most of my sleepers, breakouts, bust, etc. will live up or down to my expectations.
But sometimes there are players who simply defy all logic and all of the predictor angles we look at -- and somehow they manage to produce stats at a rate that makes no sense to us.
Enter Bears QB Kyle Orton.
Taking a look at him over the summer months, there was little to get hyped about. To begin with, he didn't even have a starting job, as he was in a one-on-one competition with Rex Grossman.
But even granting that he might win said comp, Orton didn't exactly have "sleeper" written all over him.
He was a fairly untouted fourth-round draft pick out of Purdue, though he was actually an early Heisman candidate before injuries derailed his final collegiate season. As a rookie, he stepped in to start 15 games. Predictably, as a rook, Orton left behind little statistical evidence that he could have a bright future in the NFL -- specifically, a 51.6 completion percentage, a 59.7 QB rating, a 5.1 YPA average, and a 9/13 TD/INT ratio.
Orton spent the next season holding a clipboard as the third-stringer behind Brian Griese and Grossman. Last year, for whatever reasons, Orton failed to impress the coaching staff enough to beat out an awful Grossman and take over the starting job until the end of the campaign.
We got only a brief look at him when he started the final three games for the Bears. And in that small statistical sampling, Orton's averages looked eerily similar to his rookie run. To his credit, though, he battled some rough weather and managed to toss more touchdowns (3) than interceptions (2).
With his sketchy background and a rag-tag bunch of receivers like old-timers Marty Booker and Desmond Clark, and players like Greg Olsen, Brandon Lloyd and Rashied Davis, who had yet to prove themselves -- oh, and returner-turned-receiver Devin Hester -- there wasn't much hope that anyone would even catch the balls thrown by Orton.
Nonetheless, here we are five games into the season, and Orton is averaging 220 yards per game and has tossed seven touchdowns and only four interceptions. In fact, all of those scores and INTs have come in the past three games, and he cracked the 300-yard passing mark on Sunday*.
As a lifelong resident of southeast Michigan, I feel a responsibility to put a huge asterisk next to "Sunday" because the Bears faced the pathetic Lions, which in turn gives anyone a substantial boost in offensive production.
But the upcoming Bears schedule remains quite friendly. They face the Falcons (22nd-ranked pass defense), the Vikings (24th), then have a bye. After that, they get the Lions again. After a couple of tough games (Titans, Packers), the Bears face the Rams, Vikes, Jags and Saints, all of which currently are ranked 24th or lower.
Perhaps the biggest key to Orton's recent success is rookie RB Matt Forte's performance on the ground (76.6 rushing yards per game, 2 TDs) and as a receiver out of the backfield (22 catches for 172 yards and 2 TDs).
That's opening up passing lanes for Orton, who has showed an improved ability to get through each of his progressions to find the most-open receiver. As a result, he's making sound decisions and spreading the ball around -- at this point, the top four Bears receivers have between 10 and 15 catches, while Forte leads all Bears with his 22.
I'm not about to lead the bandwagon for Orton, but as we creep up on the second half of the season, he makes for an excellent waiver pick-up. If he falls on his face over the next two weeks, you can dump him during the bye. But if things continue to go well, you could have a solid QB2 or QB1 filler with the right matchups.