32 for 32: The Case for Keenum
Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.
Case Keenum was a college-football-star-turned-NFL-nobody. He was eventually granted the starting quarterback position, only to be cut twice — by two teams who were eager to re-sign him as quickly as they cut him.
Keenum finally made a name for himself last season — his sixth year in the league — both from a real football and fantasy perspective. Over the course of his six-year NFL career, Keenum has started in 38 games, and is finally entering a season where he is the unquestioned starter. Now that he has signed with the Denver Broncos, with the expectation of him leading the team, fans and analysts ask themselves, have we seen the best of Case Keenum? Or is this the delayed start of a successful career? And, ultimately, who is Case Keenum?
I took a stab at evaluating the career, and the potential future, for the real Case Keenum.
First Stop: Houston Texans
After going undrafted, then Texans head coach Gary Kubiak signed undrafted Keenum to back up starter Matt Schaub, behind T.J Yates and John Beck. In that first year, Keenum landed on the practice squad with occasional cameos at cornerback and special teams.
But in his second year, after Schaub lost five games in a row and suffered an ankle injury, Keenum jumped Yates on the depth chart to become the starter for the next seven games. Though he threw seven touchdowns before his first interception, each of those seven starts ended in one-possession losses. In that eighth start, Keenum injured his thumb and closed out his first NFL season with an unfortunate 0-8 record.
Keenum ended up in limbo after that 2013 season. In 2014, he would be released, re-signed, and placed on the practice squad in a cyclical fashion between the Texans and the Rams.
Next up: Jeff Fisher and the Rams
In 2015, the Rams traded a seventh-round draft pick to Houston for Keenum, who would back up Nick Foles. By Week 10, the Rams named Keenum their starting quarterback ahead of Foles, while they were in the midst of a losing (4-6) season. Despite a concussion scare in Week 11, Keenum threw for 828 yards, four touchdowns, one interception, and a 60.8 completion percentage in five games.
Prior to the 2016 season, NFL fans were treated with an inside look at Case Keenum through HBO’s Hard Knocks. During the quarterback battle between him and rookie Jared Goff, viewers were shown Keenum in his comfort zone: Both in his own home spouting out random plays with his wife and on the field having a deep understanding of the playbook and his teammates. In practice he looked the part of a starting NFL quarterback, which he did end up winning that season.
In Keenum’s second year with the Rams he started nine games, throwing for over 2,000 yards, nine touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. His 76.4 passer rating was 27th in the NFL — surprisingly more effective than Goff’s. He managed to rack up more than 100 fantasy points for the second time in his career.
Third Stop: Keenum The “Hero” Emerges in Minnesota
Too many people forget Keenum entered last season as Sam Bradford’s backup. Unsurprisingly, Bradford suffered a knee injury in Week 2 and the Vikings turned to the Case Keenum Show.
And it was quite an entertaining show indeed — Keenum threw for over 3,500 yards, 22 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions in the regular season. He ranked eighth in the NFL in passer rating (98.3) and finished as the QB14 in fantasy, accumulating over 230 fantasy points. Vikings fans found life, with dreams of their first Super Bowl a near reality, and analysts found a franchise quarterback hidden in Jeff Fisher’s leftovers.
What Keenum excelled at most was getting his receivers the ball. With Keenum under center, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs finished WR9 and WR19, respectively, in 2017.
Final Stop? - Is Keenum What the Broncos Have Been Looking For?
Finding a replacement for Peyton Manning isn’t easy. It wasn’t Trevor Siemian. It wasn’t Brock Osweiler. It wasn’t Paxton Lynch. But is it Case Keenum?
As the first year in his career as the clear starter, this will be a defining year for the quarterback. And for the Broncos’ and fantasy owners’ sake, you hope it leans towards success. In the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Trevor Siemian had a combined 26 starts (the most of the three in rotation) but averaged no more than 12 fantasy points per game across the two seasons. Siemian also led the trio in weekly finishes, landing in the top 12 a whopping six of 26 starts, according to FFStatistics.com (chart below). Lynch, the anticipated golden child, has not thrown more than 254 yards in a game and has a 4:4 TD:INT ratio during his career.
Clearly, the Broncos have struggled to find the next leader of their franchise. And after trading up for Paxton Lynch with their first overall pick in 2017 only to be sorely disappointed, the two-year deal for Keenum creates some needed flexibility for general manager John Elway.
Keenum might not have the strongest arm, be the most accurate passer, or have the greatest pocket presence. But a place where he excelled without needing to is in his leadership. Yes, you need more than a leader to win football games. But what the Broncos have been desperately missing on offense is leadership. With Von Miller running the defense like a finely tuned machine, to have that counterpart on offense could lead to a cohesive locker room, and some winning football.
Keenum’s Supporting Cast
With ex-Texans coach and current Broncos senior personnel advisor Gary Kubiak in his corner, Case Keenum has the backing from his new team, even from Lynch.
From Minnesota to Denver, the talent surrounding Keenum has decreased slightly, with the biggest decline in his offensive line.
The Broncos’ offensive line saw three new starters last season who struggled to find consistency in their rookie years. The line gave up the second-most sacks in the league (32) and ranked 29th in Adjusted Sack Rate. Fortunately, Keenum had the seventh-best passer rating when under pressure (78.5), according to Pro Football Focus.
Outside of an O-Line still trying to find its way, there’s an offense stuck in the middle of old and new faces. With Demaryius Thomas, whose post-catch abilities have eroded over the last few years, and Emmanuel Sanders, who can’t seem to stay healthy, the Broncos have a slight downgrade at receiver and a Kyle Rudolph-sized-hole at tight end. Carlos Henderson, Jordan Taylor, Courtland Sutton, and Isaiah McKenzie will be fighting for playing time, with the hopes that a young rookie can supplement some of the weight from Thomas and Sanders.
The Broncos have not had a quarterback finish in the fantasy top 25 since 2014. All the same, Keenum has only supported ONE top-12 wide receiver in his career. Should Thomas or Sanders remain healthy, Keenum may be able to reignite some fire in his veteran playmakers.
Since 2013, Thomas has finished as the WR1, WR2, WR11, WR16, and WR16. Even with Osweiler and Lynch under center, Thomas has been able to mantain WR2 value. If Thomas can get somewhere near the AYA level that Keenum has produced with his previous starting receivers, Thomas should return to the top tier receiver rankings.
Former first-round pick Paxton Lynch will now compete with Chad Kelly for the team’s backup role. Lynch is entering his third season in the NFL, and his third season trying to validate his first-round draft pick. At this stage, the Broncos have a good sense of what Lynch can bring to the starting quarterback position. Even without his financial situation, Keenum’s job is as secure as one can get in the NFL.
Is 2018 Keenum’s Year?
In his most recent (and most successful) season, Keenum finished with just the 20th-most fantasy points per game. Before that, he had thrown fewer than 800 passes total in the NFL with under a 60 percent completion rate. I don’t anticipate we’ll find too many surprises from Keenum with the Broncos. He can be a game manager and the leader the team needs. He’s proven to have the confidence and risk-taking abilities to win close and important games. And with Denver rated the seventh-softest-pass-defense schedule, there is added-optimism that Keenum can turn the team back into contenders.
As the leader of the Broncos, Keenum should serve as a nice band aid until the organization can find its true franchise quarterback. As for fantasy potential, Keenum should produce consistent Q2 numbers. He provides some upside, but is a relatively low risk option given his current 2QB ADP of 170 of 128.5 overall (QB25).
The addition of Case Keenum should position the Broncos for a Super Bowl run — almost a carbon copy of the Vikings from last year with less competition — and provide your fantasy team with steady presence in the second quarterback slot. With the right pieces around the quarterback position and a strong defense, this addition might be the last Denver needed. It’s now up to Keenum whether he can steer the ship in the right direction. And if he can’t deliver, he can always fall back on book writing.
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