That Just Happened: Quarterbacks, Part II February 15, 2017  |  Scott Cedar


 

In Part I, I took a look at the quarterback position from a macro level. Now it’s time to dig into the details. To say Aaron Rodgers was the QB1 in 2016, or that Dak Prescott was QB6, isn’t very informative. Rodgers’s ranking might undersell how insanely valuable he was, while Prescott’s ranking oversells his weekly value. And of course, past performance is not indicative of future results. Matt Ryan was incredible en route to finishing as the QB2, but was that an age-31 breakout, or a career year bound for regression in 2017?

First, a few ground rules:

  1. The goal is to contextualize 2016 performance. Briefly. What I highlight below is meant to be interesting, informative, and by no means comprehensive.
  2. I’m using a 12 team, 1 QB league as the default setting. That’s why you see references to top 12 weekly finishes (in theory, a starter in a 12 team) and top 6 finishes (in theory, an advantage in your matchup).

The Elite

Name PPG (Rank) Fantasy Points (Rank) Games Top 6 Finishes Top 12 Finishes Avg. Weekly Rank
Aaron Rodgers 23.8 (1) 380.02 (1) 16 10 12 7.00
Matt Ryan 21.7 (2) 347.46 (2) 16 8 11 8.75
Tom Brady 21.5 (3) 258.56 (15) 12 6 8 9.75
Drew Brees 20.8 (4) 332.32 (3) 16 7 10 10.69
Andrew Luck 20.5 (5) 307.70 (4) 15 4 11 10.47

 

Aaron Rodgers was a STUD, with an incredible 10 top-6 finishes. Elite production like that is bound for some regression, but only his volume seems out of line with past seasons. Rodgers had 610 attempts (a career high) as Green Bay largely abandoned the run once Eddie Lacy went on IR and James Starks floundered. Their 374 rushing attempts was 4th fewest in the league, and their RBs scored only 7 rushing touchdowns. But as noted in Part I, volume isn’t overly important, and Rodgers has finished as the QB1 three times since 2011. I don’t advocate early QB, but he’s as safe as it gets.

Matt Ryan wasn’t too far off from Rodgers, showing similarly impressive consistency in both startability and elite production. In the positive column, besides Ryan playing really well all year, his supporting cast was much improved. However, his 7.1% TD Rate, 69.9 completion percentage, and 10.1 adjusted yards/attempt are all well above career averages and scream regression. His success on deep balls will also be hard to repeat.

Tom Brady should also see some downward regression after posting a 6.5% TD rate and 9.3 AY/A, both highs since 2011. Age would also be a concern—there aren’t any examples of QB success at age 40—but then again Brady’s age 39 season was a major outlier, and he hasn’t actually shown any signs of dropping off. Considering basically every one of his weapons was injured in 2016, Brady could actually improve in 2017.

Drew Brees hasn’t finished outside the top 6 since I was in college. I now have a wife, 2 kids, a mortgage, and very little hair, so…yeah.   There were home/road splits again (29.87 ppg at home vs. 23.8 ppg on the road in 2016), but Brees was still much better on the road in 2016 than in 2015, and even managed 4 20-point games away from the Superdome. Brees killed owners with season-ending performances in Week 13 and 14 (7.04 and 4.48 fantasy points, respectively), but those blips aside, showed no visible signs of slippage at age 37. Michael Thomas’s emergence was also a very, very favorable development for Brees, whose brilliance had masked a talent deficient receiving corps the past few years.

Andrew Luck looked a lot more like the guy in 2014 than 2015. My only concerns heading into 2017 are price (he didn’t show enough ceiling for an early round pick) and offensive line (Luck took the 4th most sacks in the league).

 

EVERY WEEK STARTERS

Name PPG (Rank) Fantasy Points (Rank) Games Top 6 Finishes Top 12 Finishes Avg. Weekly Rank
Kirk Cousins 18.8 (6) 300.28 (5) 16 4 9 12.63
Tyrod Taylor 18.1 (7) 270.92 (8) 15 4 8 12.93
Ben Roethlisberger 18.0 (8) 252.16 (18) 14 3 8 13.86
Dak Prescott

 

17.9 (9) 286.88 (6) 16 3 10 13.19
Derek Carr 17.9 (10) 268.22 (10) 15 4 8 14.07
Matthew Stafford 17.5 (11) 279.78 (7) 16 4 8 14.25
Marcus Mariota 17.3 (12) 259.95 (13) 15 5 8 14.93
Colin Kaepernick 16.7 (16) 200.44 (25) 11 3 6 12.36

 

Kirk Cousins was remarkably consistent most of the year—after scoring 9.96 points in Week 1, he fell below 15 points only once the remainder of the fantasy regular season. Unfortunately, his playoff run started and ended with duds, with a 29.8 gem sandwiched in between. I think he’s an iffy talent bolstered by one of the best receiving corps in the league, and it’s the latter part that worries me for 2017. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are both free agents, Josh Doctson is still battling an Achilles something, and Jordan Reed didn’t exactly shake his injury prone label.

Ben Roethlisberger is a great example of what to avoid. For an early 5th round pick, you got a player who performed no better than the other 6 QBs in this tier, all of whom went much later in the draft. Roethlisberger’s already troubling home/road splits exploded this year, as he averaged nearly 15 more ppg at home than on the road. He also saw minor drops in yards per attempt and completion percentage, small enough to chalk up to randomness and a diminished receiving corps, but possibly a sign of aging for a 34 year old quarterback who’s taken so many big hits. This offense is always tantalizing, but at some point we have to stop hoping Roethlisberger into an elite fantasy quarterback—he’s now finished as QB18, 20, 5, 12, and 19 in the past 5 years.

Tyrod Taylor was again a low volume passer (29.1 attempts per game), and while not quite as efficient as in 2015, what did you expect throwing primarily to Charles Clay, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin? Taylor’s passing is secondary anyway—the real draw is rushing, and in that department he kept up the magic from 2015, averaging 6.1 YPC on 6.3 attempts per game with 6 rushing TDs. After consecutive years as a top 10 QB in ppg, Taylor is flying under the radar.

Should I start writing my “Dak Prescott is being overdrafted” column now, or wait until July? Incredible rookie season, but he threw only 30.1 times per game and benefited from 6 rushing touchdowns on just 57 carries. I’m also concerned about his receivers—Dez Bryant no longer gets separation, and there isn’t much behind him. Overall, Prescott was consistent, but rarely elite, and unfortunately Ezekiel Elliott caps his upside. I don’t see a QB worth a mid-round pick.

Derek Carr continued to progress in year 3, though I found a lot not to like. It’ll be interesting to see if he can sustain his low interception rate, which he cut in half from 2015. He fell off dramatically in the 2nd half (25.15 ppg in his first 8 games, 18.63 ppg in his last 7), though that’s in part due to a drop in volume (averaging nearly 7 fewer passes per game in his last 7 games). He also combined a low yards per completion (11.0, 23rd among qualifiers) with a mediocre completion percentage (63.8, 15th among qualifiers), which was a problem in 2015 as well. Still, with two top-end receivers and a great o-line, a safe option with some upside.

Matthew Stafford was about as nondescript as you can be. His volume is no longer elite (594 attempts, 9th most in the league), and it’s a slow, low-octane, horizontal offense that isn’t friendly to fantasy. Case in point: despite scoring on 41% of their drives (7th best in the league), they finished just 20th in ppg. Frankly, I think we’d all be less excited about Stafford if his offensive coordinator didn’t have a cool name.

There’s plenty to like about Marcus Mariota’s sophomore season: 7.9 adjusted yards/attempt (6th in the league), good offensive line, top-6 production in 1/3 of his games. On the other hand, most of his output came during a mid-season hot streak bolstered by an unsustainable TD rate (8.7% from Weeks 5-12) and a weak schedule. Mariota has a reputation as a runner, and his 2016 numbers (60 attempts, 349 yards) look ok, but 60% of that production came in just 4 games. His receiving corps is also pretty meh. I like him, but if a breakout is coming, it’s not obvious from his 2016 performance.

It wasn’t pretty, but Colin Kaepernick put up QB1 numbers in over half of his starts and was a legitimate fantasy option. Hard to imagine he’s starting for any team in Week 1, but I’ll be interested in him whenever he gets an opportunity.

 

HIGH END STREAMERS

Name PPG (Rank) Fantasy Points (Rank) Games Top 6 Finishes Top 12 Finishes Avg. Weekly Rank
Cam Newton 17.0 (13) 254.26 (17) 15 4 5 14.8
Blake Bortles 16.9 (14) 270.10 (9) 16 2 6 15.75
Russell Wilson 16.8 (15) 268.06 (11) 16 6 7 14.93
Andy Dalton 16.3 (17) 260.64 (12) 16 1 7 15.31
Phillip Rivers 16.2 (18) 258.94 (14) 16 2 3 15.50
Carson Palmer 16.2 (19) 243.12 (19) 15 3 6 14.67
Jameis Winston 16.0 (20) 256.40 (16) 16 3 6 15.75

 

Cam Newton didn’t come close to the 35 TDs or 8.3 AY/A he put up in 2015, but those were so far above his career numbers that major regression was inevitable. His 52.9% completion percentage (worst among qualifiers) isn’t even that concerning, as he’s lived below 60% much of his career, making up for it with big plays. No, the concern with Newton is his rushing. He had the fewest rushing attempts of his career (90), averaged just 4.0 YPC (career average: 5.2), and failed to reach 500 yards for the first time ever. Even more troubling, after Newton missed Week 5 with a concussion and conflicting stories bubbled up that Newton would or wouldn’t run less… he ran less. It may just be noise, but after Week 5 Newton’s carries per game dropped from 7.25 to 5.54, and he had just 6 carries from inside the 5 compared to 16 such attempts for Jonathan Stewart.

Blake Bortles was horrible in 2016, yet finished just a hair below the QB1 tier. That tells you everything you need to know about the QB position in fantasy. He wasn’t really much worse than in 2015 except for deep passing (oh, hey Allen Robinson owners). There’s a narrative that the Jaguars’ improved defense limited the garbage time opportunities that were so key to his 2015 “breakout,” but the truth is Bortles had more attempts than in 2016 and spent plenty of time playing from behind on a 3-13 team. I kind of like Bortles as a late round flyer: he still finished as QB9 this year, and Robinson, Marquise Lee, and Allen Hurns make a nice 1-2-3 punch.

I’m more bullish on Russell Wilson than his fantasy numbers would dictate, but there are two troubling trends. First, over the last 2 years, Wilson averaged 18.22 fantasy points in Week 1-8 and 27.84 in Week 9-17. Hard to draft a quarterback who puts you in an early-season hole. Second, after averaging 102.75 rushing attempts and 5.9 YPC in his first 4 years, Wilson had only 72 rushing attempts for 3.6 YPC in 2016. No doubt Wilson’s rushing input was hampered by an ankle injury, but that’s kind of the point. Nonetheless, his ability to put up elite performances (6 top-6 finishes) despite an overall mediocre year gives me optimism for 2017.

Andy Dalton was actually QB9 if you exclude touchdowns from scoring, and his 3.2% TD rate is well below his career average (4.6%). Even with bad touchdown luck and top targets A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert hurt much of the year, Dalton ended up usable in nearly half of his games. I’m a Dalton hater generally, but was pleasantly surprised in looking back at his season. A nice late-round MFL10 target.

Philip Rivers’s numbers surprised me: just 3 startable weeks? There were plenty of QB14-16 finishes, so this metric undersells him a little, but man, he provided basically no advantage over the waiver wire. After starting out with a 68.7 completion % and 5-0 TD/INT ratio in September, he dropped to 58.6% and 28-21 ratio from October on. The optimist would say the return of Keenan Allen plus Tyrell Williams and Hunter Henry a year older gives Rivers his best supporting cast in years. The pessimist, and probably the realist, would say Rivers’ big jump in INT% and decline in completion percentage in his age-35 season are downward trends, not 1 year blips.

The warning signs were there on Carson Palmer—in 2015, at age 36, he posted career bests in AY/A, INT%, and TD%—but I thought his elite receiving corps would keep him afloat. Then only Larry Fitzgerald showed up, Palmer struggled to recapture the deep ball magic of 2015, and his line got him killed. Entering his age 38 season, I’m not banking on Palmer bouncing back.

Jameis Winston dropped off slightly in passing efficiency this year, and he predictably couldn’t repeat the 6 rushing TDs that bolstered his rookie campaign. His receiving corps is Mike Evans, some slow white guys, and I think Cecil Shorts. He finished 20th in ppg, and was startable less than half the time. And yet:

  Age Comp % TD% INT% AY/A NY/A
Player A 23-24 57.0 3.8 2.3 6.60 6.08
Player B 22-23 59.3 4.7 3.9 6.30 6.69
Player C 21-22 59.6 4.5 3.0 6.94 6.62

Player A is Andrew Luck’s first 2 seasons. Player B is Peyton Manning’s first 2 seasons. Player C is Winston. I bring this up because Luck and Manning both exploded in their 3rd season. Mariota will get the hype, but we should probably be more excited about Winston’s breakout potential than we currently are.

 

MATCHUP PLAYS

Name PPG (Rank) Fantasy Points (Rank) Games Top 6 Finishes Top 12 Finishes Avg. Weekly Rank
Joe Flacco 15.2 (21) 242.48 (20) 16 3 4 16.63
Alex Smith 14.9 (22) 223.78 (22) 15 2 6 16.93
Sam Bradford 14.7 (23) 220.88 (23) 15 3 4 16.93
Ryan Tannehill 14.6 (24) 190.20 (27) 13 2 5 16.85
Eli Manning 14 (25) 224.18 (21) 16 0 4 18.44
Trevor Siemian 13.7 (26) 191.74 (26) 14 2 3 19.5
Matt Moore 13.7 (27) 54.74 (36) 4 1 1 17.75
Carson Wentz 13.3 (28) 212.98 (24) 16 0 3 19.13
Brian Hoyer 13.3 (29) 79.60 (31) 6 1 3 18.67
Robert Griffin III 13.3 (30) 66.44 (35) 5 0 1 19.4


Joe Flacco
seemingly had bad touchdown luck—his 3.0 % TD rate was 4th lowest in the league—but his career average is only 3.8%. Any positive regression in scoring will probably be counteracted with lower volume, as Flacco’s 672 pass attempts were 2nd most in the league (and well ahead of 3rd place, Bortles, at 625 attempts). In any event, the pass-heavy approach didn’t work for Flacco (21st in ppg) or Baltimore (24th in offensive DVOA).

Alex Smith’s value has always been as a streamer capable of putting up suitable performances in good matchups. That didn’t happen this year. He underperformed in several prime spots and threw for multiple touchdowns in only 4 games. He also used to have sneaky rushing value—at least 250 yards and 5.2 YPC in each of the past 3 seasons—but in 2016 Smith ran for only 134 yards on 48 carries (2.8 YPC). Even more scary, despite his sub-par rushing numbers, his 5 rushing touchdowns actually accounted for 13% of his fantasy points, most among the top 30 QBs.

Sam Bradford set a record for completion percentage (71.6), and his 258.5 yards/game wasn’t terrible (15th in the NFL). I also kind of like his receivers, even with Laquon Treadwell mysteriously MIA. The problem is touchdowns. Bradford’s career 3.4% TD rate just doesn’t provide enough upside, and sure enough, Bradford only threw 3 TD passes in a game twice: Weeks 16 and 17.

Fantasy’s Rip Van Winkle, perennial sleeper Ryan Tannehill, didn’t break out this year either. He averaged 37.6 passing attempts over his first 3 games, but once new HC Adam Gase had a few weeks to see him up close, that number dropped to just 26.6 attempts/game. Tells you everything you need to know.

Eli Manning was 7th in passing attempts and 10th in touchdowns, yet finished as QB25… usually that level of inefficiency and ineptitude is reserved for the government! (Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.) His offensive line was a bit of a mess, but his 3.4% sack rate was 2nd lowest of his career, so it’s hard to lay too much blame at their feet. Living in the Tri-State area I got to see a lot of Eli this year, and he just looked done.

The chart doesn’t lie on Trevor Siemian: he scored nearly 40% of his fantasy points in 3 games, and did almost nothing the rest of the season. I can’t imagine he’s starting in 2017. Then again, I couldn’t imagine he’d be starting in 2016 either.

Carson Wentz looked legit the first 4 weeks of the season, but it turns out he was playing against some bad secondaries, and always with the benefit of playing from ahead. The rest of the year was a different story, and on the whole, he doesn’t stack up well to other rookies. Since 2000, among rookie QBs with at least 100 attempts, Wentz’s 5.72 AY/A ranks 31st. There are a few guys below him who ended up fine, but mostly it’s a who’s who of QB busts. His college resume was rife with red flags, and with a bad pro season in the books and one of the most hopeless receiving corps in the NFL, I don’t see reason for Year 2 optimism.

The numbers lie on Brian Hoyer, who was QB 11, 7, 5 and 21 in the 4 full games he played. On the other hand, his 2016 play looks like a major outlier compared to his career production.

Robert Griffin III can still run (no fewer than 5 attempts in any game this year), and showed capableish passing his last 3 games. Some under the radar streamer value if he gets an opportunity in 2017.

Name PPG (Rank) Fantasy Points (Rank) Games Top 6 Finishes Top 12 Finishes Avg. Weekly Rank
Brock Osweiler 11.3 (32) 168.78 (28) 15 0 2 22.3
Case Keenum 11.1 (33) 111.14 (30) 10 1 2 21.9
Matt Barkley 10.1 (35) 70.84 (34) 7 0 1 21.71
Ryan Fitzpatrick 9.5 (36) 133.40 (29) 14 0 1 23.71
Paxton Lynch 9.5 (37) 28.38 (43) 3 0 0 25
Jay Cutler 9.4 (38) 46.76 (39) 5 0 0 25.4
Cody Kessler 8.6 (42) 77.0 (32) 9 0 1 25.33
Jared Goff 7.6 (43) 53.16 (37) 7 0 0 27.71
Jimmy Garoppolo 5.8 (45) 34.98 (40) 2 0 1 14.5
Bryce Petty 5.4(46) 32.26 (42) 4 0 0 24
Landry Jones 4.2 (49) 33.92 (41) 2 1 1 12


Brock Osweiler
didn’t post a QB1 week until Week 13 against Green Bay, and didn’t hit 20 points until a meaningless Week 17 game against Tennessee’s awful secondary. He bad.

Matt Barkley played well for Matt Barkley, but grading on a curve doesn’t help us in fantasy. For all the late-season noise, he had only 1 startable week, a QB11 finish requiring 54 attempts (albeit with 10 drops) against Tennessee, one of the worst secondaries in the league.

Yeah, we’ll spend less time discussing Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract this summer.

Jay Cutler, literally useless.

Cody Kessler was PFF’s top-ranked QB under pressure, but held onto the ball too long and must’ve led the league in leaving games early with an injury. Kessler also showed no ability to overcome a below average arm and take advantage of his playmaking receivers: his 10.8 yards per completion would’ve been 24th in the NFL if he had enough attempts to qualify. But I’m a Browns fan, i.e., dumb, so I’m a little intrigued by his accuracy/acumen combination in a 2nd year with Hue Jackson.

Just as you get 600 points on the SAT for signing your name, quarterbacks get 10 fantasy points just for completing a game. Except for Jared Goff, who somehow reached double digits only once: a 16.56 point performance against the Saints in which he managed just 214 yards, but threw 3 TDs. He never finished higher than QB22 in any week, and appears on this list of 2016’s worst QB games more times than Alec Baldwin has hosted SNL.

Jimmy Garoppolo finished as QB8 against a good Arizona defense, and was on his way to another strong performance (24/33, 264 yards, 1 TD) before separating his shoulder against Miami. People love the idea of Garoppolo, and there’s reason for optimism, but let’s not pretend he’s established himself as an NFL starter.

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