Impact Analysis: J.T. O'Sullivan, San Francisco 49ers

by Ryan R. Bonini on August 28, 2008 @ 11:17:11 PDT

 


One could refer to the promotion of quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan as a starting NFL quarterback as a somewhat ludicrous move. One could refer to the promotion of O'Sullivan as a decent fantasy football option as absolutely insane.

Go ahead and call in me insane ... I've been called worse. I promise. However, as much as I hate to say it, I am forcing myself to call O'Sullivan's name late in fantasy football drafts right now.

O'Sullivan is the current starter of the San Francisco 49ers. He is now in charge of offensive coordinator Mike Martz's pass-happy offensive system. Martz was given the heave-ho from the Detroit Lions after last season, but no one can diminish what he brings to an offense.

Martz's pass-first mentality will be interesting to see in San Francisco. The 49ers, at least in recent years, have not seemed to be able to buy a passing yard if their collective lives depended on it. Martz is in town and his high-flying offense follows. Will it matter? Can it work in San Francisco? Does he have the weapons to pull it off?

Conventional wisdom says no, but statistics say otherwise.

The 49ers are benching a former first-overall draft pick in Alex D. Smith. The 49ers are going with O'Sullivan, who has never started a game in the NFL, as their top gun. Their wide receivers, outside of former St. Louis Rams receiver Isaac Bruce, are a hodge-podge of non-household names.

O'Sullivan is a sixth-year vet but has little to show for it. Since 2002, he has thrown for a forgettable 148 yards. He has one touchdown to his name and two interceptions. Why should you, during your very important fantasy football draft, consider taking O'Sullivan as a fantasy football pick for your team?

The answer is simple: Martz.

Martz is an offensive genius. It's that simple. He did not have O'Sullivan follow him from Detroit to San Francisco for no reason. He saw something he liked. He saw some level of potential in O'Sullivan to handle his offense. O'Sullivan is now given the keys to the kingdom. It may be a short leash, but he has the keys to the kingdom.

Quarterbacks in Martz's system during their first year have done more than succeed in fantasy football terms. His last three full-time starters have averaged 4,135 yards passing, 28 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions. I don't know about you, but to have that kind of production out of my No. 3 fantasy quarterback is kind of exciting. To be able to snag that kind of potential in the 15th or 16th round of a fantasy football draft is unheard of value.

Table: Quarterbacks in their first year under Martz

Player
Year
Team
Pct
Yds
TD
Int
Rate
Att
Yds
TD
FUM
Lost
Jon Kitna
2006
DET
62.4
4,208
21
22
79.9
34
156
2
11
9
Marc Bulger
2003
STL
63.2
3,845
22
22
81.4
29
75
4
8
6
Kurt Warner
1999
STL
65.1
4,353
41
13
109.2
23
92
1
9
5
Average
--
--
63.6
4135.3
28.0
19.0
90.2
28.7
107.7
2.3
9.3
6.7

Warner and Bulger were virtual unknowns before they took over a system run by Martz. Kitna had some spotty success previous to his time in the system but was all of solid for fantasy owners in his two years within it. What is even more beautiful about a Martz system is he doesn't give a darn about turnovers, because he is looking to put up points and will sacrifice the occasional interception if a big-play was close to materializing. That will buy O'Sullivan some margin of error because it is expected Martz quarterbacks will throw interceptions.

That is where O'Sullivan enters the picture. At 29 years of age, he has no starting experience but knows this team's system. Opponents have very little game tape of him, so they, too, don't know what to expect. Kitna (33 years old), Warner (28) and, to a lesser extent, Bulger (26) were also elder statesmen when they took over as full-time starters in Martz's system. He seems to have trust in quarterbacks who have been around the block a bit or have at least shown the maturity to handle his offense.

During the preseason, O'Sullivan clearly outplayed Smith and Shaun Hill for the starting job. He showed strong command of the offense, hitting 60.6 percent of his passes, and has not been afraid to put the ball downfield.

Table: O'Sullivan 2008 preseason production

PS Wk
Comp
Att
Pct
Yds
TD
Int
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
FUM
Lost
1
5
8
62.5
71
0
1
2
7
3.5
0
1
1
2
8
17
47.1
154
1
1
2
11
5.5
0
--
--
3
7
8
87.5
126
1
0
--
--
--
--
--
--
Total
20
33
61%
351
2
2
4
18
9
0
1
1

He has some weapons at his disposal, despite not having big-name recognition to go along with most of them.

  • WR Isaac Bruce - Bruce, who played for Martz in St. Louis, knows the system like the back of his hand and provides a solid veteran leadership role to the young offense. His fantasy football value may have a low ceiling due to his age, but his intangibles are impossible to dismiss. At age 34, he was still able to contribute 55 receptions, 733 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 14 games on a bad Rams team a year ago. In all likelihood, Bruce is Hall of Fame bound, and that may be extra incentive on his part to go out with a bang should this be his final season.
  • WR Bryant Johnson - At 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, Johnson was a deep threat for the Arizona Cardinals. He has some starting experience, the ability to go deep (he averaged 18.5 yards per catch in 2006) and is playing on a one-year contract (read as incentive!). A hamstring injury could hurt his chances of starting early, but he might be the most dynamic big-play option amongst the receivers at this time.
  • WR Arnaz Battle - Battle is often "Johnny on the Spot." He isn't fancy. He isn't flashy. He is, however, always able to find the open seam in a defense and has steady hands. He has averaged about 55 receptions, 643 receiving yards and four touchdowns the past two years. Look for him to become a checkdown option in multi-receiver sets.
  • WR Josh Morgan - Morgan is an X-factor here. As a rookie, the former Virginia Tech wideout has decent size (6-foot, 219 pounds) and has had a strong preseason (nine receptions, 182 yards and one touchdown). I'm not jumping on the rookie's bandwagon yet, but Martz loves players who can make big plays. Morgan is showing some of that ability by averaging 20.2 yards per reception.
  • TE Vernon Davis - Martz has never used a tight end with any stability in his previous coaching tenures, but he has never had a tight end with the physical talent of Davis. Martz has gushed over him during the offseason, talking about how he can get downfield unlike any tight end he has ever coached. Look for him to be used in a variety of ways for O'Sullivan to work with.
  • RB Frank Gore - Gore may be one of the more gifted receiving backs in the game today. In three years, he has 129 receptions and has caught at least 53 passes in each of the last two seasons. If you are looking for a poor man's Marshall Faulk, you may have just found him.

The bottom line

You can obtain O'Sullivan at a dirt cheap cost. He does not even crack the top-30 quarterbacks in our Average Draft Position charts, and he is someone typically available at the very end of your fantasy football draft. 

This is a player you would rather draft in the final rounds of your fantasy football draft than take the chance of having to add as a waiver wire pickup early in the season.

Sometimes, fantasy football is about going big or going home. O'Sullivan's name called on draft day may have resulted in some snickers, but it is all about who laughs last. I'm now at the firm belief that O'Sullivan owners will be that person. If he can come anywhere near the average of 4,135 yards passing and 28 touchdowns others have done in the same offense have, he will turn out to be the steal of the draft.

In all fairness, I recognize that without Warner's lofty 1999 totals entered into the equation the average comes down significantly (4,026 yards, 21.5 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 7.5 fumbles lost - more turnovers than touchdown passes never endears fantasy owners to the player). Nevertheless, these stats are still very respectable for a late-round gamble. Isn't that worth the risk?

Take a chance on him; at the very worst, he will be an easy drop early in the season if he doesn't pan out. If he does pan out, you'll be the genius laughing your way toward a championship.

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About Ryan R. Bonini

Founding KFFL in 1996, Bonini now serves as VP of Fantasy Sports Solutions for USA TODAY SPORTS, KFFL's parent company. Bonini was named 2009 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year by the FSWA, received honors with the Best Fantasy Football Series in '10 and was named into their Hall of Fame in '13.

His work has been found in USA TODAY Sports, Yahoo! Sports, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, NFL.com, and many others. He has also been featured on numerous radio programs around the country. Bonini is a member of the PFWA, FSWA and FSTA.

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