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Is Derek Anderson For Real?

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No one seemed to think so 8 weeks ago. Back then he was embroiled in a ceremonial quarterback controversy. Anderson and Charlie Frye were battling for that coveted placeholder position until the recently drafted Brady Quinn could take over. If not for Quinn's holdout, it's entirely possible that Anderson never would have seen a starting snap, instead shuffled to backup duties, his career subject to Quinn's health, Romeo Crennel's whims and the dreaded "career backup" title. Now the former sixth rounder is the biggest surprise in the NFL, helming the 12th best offense in the NFL and stoking an improbable quarterback controversy in Cleveland.

Coaching instability and the resulting dearth of NFL talent may have held down Anderson's stock. In 2001, the Beavers lost premier receiving tandem Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to the pros. The next year OSU head coach Dennis Erickson returned to the NFL to coach the San Francisco 49ers. In 2002, under new coach Mike Riley, Anderson got his first collegiate start. In the three years Anderson started the Beavers produced one NFL talent on offense, Steven Jackson, drafted in 2003, and two practice squad players: guard Doug Nienhuis and receiver Mike Hass. Despite this poor cast of surrounding players, Anderson became only the 6th player in Pac-10 history to pass for more than 10,000 yards. That was on 1515 attempts, for a hair over 50% completion percentage.

Anderson was drafted in the sixth round of the 2005 draft by the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens cut Anderson September 20th of 2005, but former Raven and current Browns GM, Phil Savage, signed him the next day. He's big, toolsy, with a great deep ball, some impressive raw figures for an underwhelming Oregon State team in transition and a reputation as a hard worker and quick study. OSU coach Riley had this to say about Anderson, "Since we've known him, he has constantly gotten better. It's been really fun working with him, because he's like a sponge. He just loves to learn and get better. I wish we had another year."

Constant improvement might be a theory for Anderson's out of the blue breakout this season. A good collection of talent and an offensive line capable of giving him time should also be factored in. Another very real possibility is that a lot of air exists in Anderson's numbers. Among the top 20 quarterbacks in DPAR, Anderson is the only one with a completion percentage lower than 60% (56%). His game is built around deep completions, a mercurial quality that can make an offense, like last year's Saints, look unstoppable one game and downright awful another. Like those 2006 Saints, three players on the Browns squad are averaging more than 16 yards per reception. I removed any player with less than 10 receptions from the Saints. In fact, Anderson completes a pass of 20 or more yards every 7.4 attempts, a full attempt better than even Tom Brady and neck and neck with 2004 Peyton Manning (7.3). That doesn't mean that Anderson is a bad player getting lucky, just that he's playing well over his head.

The question "Is Derek Anderson for real?" is a loaded one, better for its titular vivacity than its meaningfulness. What we can say with some certainty is that Anderson is likely much better than scouts predicted, but also not nearly as good as he now looks. He's not lead footed like Drew Bledsoe, but in many ways their games are comparable. Both have cannons, both need time in the pocket to cram the barrel full of powder and both can rain artillery fire on teams that fail to bring heat. Bledsoe, throughout his career, was infamous for mixing stretches of great play with bouts of disastrous failure. The Seahawks game plan for Sunday in many ways is same as it ever was, disrupt the passing attack with pressure and attempt to force turnovers. If Cleveland's MOR pass blocking can tame Seattle's 3rd ranked pass rush, the Hawks will be forced into a shootout. If Seattle can pressure the gunner, the plume may come off Anderson's cannon in a flash.