Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Predicting Success: Quarterbacks

We talked previously about having specific numerical expectations for each position going into the draft. For quarterback, I pegged the goal at 18.00 points per game. You can adjust that to your own philosophy, but it seems perfectly reasonable to me. This post will also look at the advantages and disadvantages of taking a top tier QB in the top of the first round.

My Top 10 Quarterbacks of 2012 (compare to NFL Fantasy Analyst's Lists)

1. Aaron Rodgers: It is hard to not pick the guy who has been so consistently good for so long. He scores with his legs and rarely throws interceptions. Unfortunately, Mike McCarthy typically plays it conservative late in games, limiting his value. Still, barring injury, he is almost guaranteed to meet the 18 ppg threshold. If you hate the Packers and can't stand me picking Rodgers first, consider that he has been in the top 2 in fantasy points at the QB position for the last 3 years. That was without playing the last game of the season last year.

2. Drew Brees: This is not a consensus pick. I think the Saints, with their aging defenses, are going to be playing from behind more than they are used to. With Colston back, it is hard to bet against Brees. Sure the loss of Sean Payton for the season will hurt, but Brees should still be good for 38 TDs and 4500 Yards. More importantly, he is consistent. It will be a rare occurrence when he scores fewer than 2 TDs and 300 yards in a game. A solid 20 points in fantasyland. Need another reason to draft Brees? He plays week 15 and 16 at home against the Bucs and @ the Cowboys. Two indoor games where Brees and his receivers typically kick ass.

3. Matthew Stafford: Again, you might think that this is a crazy proposition, since there are two very good quarterbacks who have yet to show up on this list. Stafford is playing in a division with weak corners and great offenses, meaning that he should have to score lots to keep up. I think Titus Young will emerge as a strong compliment to Megatron, and Stafford will have a season similar to Brees. The up-side on Stafford might be lower than Newton and Brady, but I am picking the guy who I think is most likely to reach 18.00 points per game. Stafford is not an especially strong runner, but if you don't think he can get 32 TDs and 4400 yards, I think you are crazy. Additionally, it is HIGHLY unlikely that the Lions will secure a playoff spot before the last few games of the season, unlike the Packers, meaning that Stafford will be playing his hardest during the Fantasy playoffs.

4. Tom Brady: It would surprise me greatly if the defense were as bad this year as it was last year. If the defense is not as bad, the Patriots will be relying less on the pass. I think of this as more a regression towards the Tom Brady mean than a step down. Brady is no worse than he was last year, but I don't think he will be asked to do as much next season. If you are desperate for a huge scoring QB, this might not be your guy. Brady is consistent. I can imagine him scoring around 18.00 ppg this season, but I would not count on him carrying a team. Also, the Patriots tend to wrap up their division very early, meaning that Tom will have little to play for down the stretch.

5. Cam Newton: Finally, and I almost put a few players (Romo, Cutler, Manning, Manning, Vick) above him. This is your ultimate boom-or-bust QB prospect. Undoubtedly he will be over-drafted this year. He had to do absolutely everything for the Panthers last year. Without so many defensive injuries, he should be asked to play a more traditional role. That is not to say that he will stop running the football, but anyone expecting him to rush for 700 yards and 14 TDs again is delusional. I'm looking more for 400 yards and 6 touchdowns rushing, with about 20 TDs and 20 INTs in the passing game. His good games will be good, but his bad games can be atrocious. You don't want your 18 point bet to score 0 points in the playoffs. This is the last player who I believe has the potential to reach 18 ppg, but the next 5 players could finish around 17 ppg.

6A. Tony Romo: This kills me, because I absolutely hate Tony Romo (sorry Cowboys fans), but I really think he will have a nice season this year. If Miles Austin can stay healthy and if Dez Bryant can ever mature, Tony Romo can have a really great season. He has had two really difficult years in a row, and I won't go so far as to say that his 4th-quarter-woes are going to disappear, but in terms of pure Fantasy numbers, I think Romo will squeak out ahead of the next 4.

6B. Jay Cutler: Cutler has had an interesting career so far. First he was dealing with undiagnosed diabetes and then he went to a Bears team with a terrible offensive line and worthless receiving corps. This is the year for Cutler to really shine, if it is ever going to happen. If he does not blossom this year, he never will. I am betting he plays well enough to brush 16-18 ppg, but it would surprise me if he doesn't fall a bit short of the top 5.

6C. Peyton Manning: This is a shot in the dark. I would have a lot of trouble pulling the trigger on Manning anywhere in the first four rounds of the draft, but I do think he could do some impressive things in Denver. We will know more about his conditioning and how he readjusts to the speed of the game in the coming months, but if I had to pick now, I would put Manning I eighth overall. His numbers have never been flashy, but they have been consistently solid. If everything goes perfectly he could reach the top 5, but I have a hard time envisioning that.

6D. Eli Manning: Eli's best season as a pro landed him at a solid, but distant, 6th best QB in Fantasy. That is not promising for the future. Victor Cruz emerged, but the team lost Manningham, and it is something of a waiting game to see how Cruz does as a true #2 receiver. When all is said and done, the younger Manning will probably still be looking up at his older brother.

6E. Michael Vick: Last season he was a first round draft pick; now he has fallen to the bottom of the top 10. Last season, despite a myriad of injuries, Vick finished 11th amongst quarterbacks. We should be looking for closer to 25 touchdown passes this season, but if the injury bug bites again he could be a wasted pick. Even if he scores 24 points every week he suits up, he is too prone to injury for me to draft above some of these more consistent players. I could see drafting a Vick/Schaub/Flynn combo, assuming I have a strong early draft.

The nest group of QBs would be, in order that I would draft them, Rivers, Schaub, Roethlisberger, Ryan, Flynn, Sanchez, and Flacco. I am not spending a draft pick on any other QB unless I see huge late round value or have a shallow QB draft.

Final Word: This is a ranking of quarterbacks, not necessarily the order you should draft them. You should draft for VALUE in every round. If Vick's average draft position is 45 and Eli's is 68, and I need a quarterback picking in the 51st spot, I would either draft Vick or draft neither, even though I have Eli rated higher. There is no reason to spend a significantly higher pick than necessary on any player.

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