THE CASE FOR . . .MATT LEINART
This is an article from the Sept. 3, 2007 issue
With Leinart, thereal question is his offensive line. When his blockers protected him last year,Leinart did well. In October, his first month on the job, Leinart was sacked 13times in five games and had a dismal 66.9 passer rating. But over the final sixgames Leinart was sacked just seven times and his passer rating jumped almost20 points. (In one of those games, against the Vikings, he threw for an NFLrookie-record 405 yards.) The encouraging news for Leinart is that in 2007 hisline should be stronger. Arizona added veteran free agents Al Johnson (center)and Mike Gandy (left tackle) and used the No.¬†5 pick on Penn State's LeviBrown (right tackle). More important, the Cards hired Pittsburgh offensive lineguru Russ Grimm. Those moves should solidify Leinart as a viable starting QBthis season. --A.D.
. . . ALEXSMITH
He's come a longway from his one-TD, 11-interception rookie season, but the No.¬†1 pick inthe 2005 draft, who threw 16 touchdowns and 16 picks last year, is still a workin progress--more David Carr than Peyton Manning. Smith shows signs of beingready to break out, however. Like Philip Rivers in '06, Smith has a workhorserunning back who can catch passes (Frank Gore had 61 receptions last year) anda tough-to-cover tight end (Vernon Davis). If Darrell Jackson can stay healthy,Smith will have a more reliable first receiver than Rivers did last year in SanDiego. The real plus for Smith is that the Niners' schedule includes the fiveworst pass defenses of '06. The conditions are ripe for him to make that greatleap forward. --J.Q.
. . . JAYCUTLER
Called on to startthe last five games of Denver's playoff drive in '06, Cutler, in his eagernessto make plays, relied too much on his rocket arm and his athleticism. Theresult: He threw five interceptions and fumbled eight times, losing two ofthem. In '07 a more prepared and experienced Cutler should cut down on hismistakes. But what will really help him is the addition of tight end DanielGraham from the Pats, wideout Brandon Stokley from the Colts and running backTravis Henry from the Titans. With those players and Denver's always-solidoffensive line, the Broncos will field one of the league's most balancedattacks. The supporting cast is the best reason to believe Cutler's first fullseason as a starter will be a good one.--David Epstein
. . . JASONCAMPBELL
O.K., so theRedskins' Campbell was just passable in the seven games he started at the endof '06, but give him a chance. Though he completed only 53.1% of his passes, hestill threw 10 TDs against six picks, and those numbers figure to improve nowthat he has had another summer to immerse himself in Al Saunders's offense andentered camp as the unquestioned starter. You have to like his weapons: He'sgot two 1,000-yard runners in Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, a 1,000-yardreceiver in Santana Moss, and one of the league's most productive tight ends inChris Cooley. And Campbell can move the sticks with his legs--he ran for eightfirst downs last year. At worst he'll be a solid backup. --AndrewLawrence