In my last post here at Pro Football Focus, I projected rushing yards using a regression of running backs’ yards-per-carry. In that analysis, I attempted to correct for fluctuations in 2011 YPC using the strength of correlation for year-to-year YPC. That is, I projected YPC by determining what portion a running backs’ efficiency is due to skill and other repeatable factors, and how much is due to luck (and thus unlikely to repeat itself).
In this article, I will project 2012 passing yards using a simpler form of regression toward the mean. This method, which will involve multiplying a passer’s mean yards-per-attempt from the previous three seasons by projected 2012 attempts, is more accurate than a leaguewide regression. Whereas running backs’ YPC regress strongly toward a league average, the same isn’t true for passing yards. Thus, using individual YPA figures is likely a more suitable method to acquire accurate projections.
A few notes prior to getting to the rankings. . .
- You might obtain different projections by altering passing attempts. Passing attempts are influenced heavily by factors such as team strength and offensive philosophy, and thus not as likely to regress toward a specific mean as YPA.
- For quarterbacks with less than three years of suitable passing history (Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, and Andy Dalton), I submitted my own projections.
- I didn’t account for factors such as personnel changes that might affect YPA. Matt Ryan is statistically due for a drop in YPA, for example, but he could actually see an increase with the probable emergence of Julio Jones.
- The second number in parentheses is the quarterback’s 2011 passing yards rank.
Projected 2012 Passing Yards
1. (1) Drew Brees: 610 attempts, 7.9 average = 4,819 yards
- Even with a rocky offseason, Brees is poised to lead the NFL in passing yards again.
2. (6) Philip Rivers: 560 attempts, 8.5 average = 4,760 yards
- One of the biggest risers in the rankings, Rivers’ 7.9 YPA from 2011 was well below his career mark.
3. (3) Matthew Stafford: 620 attempts 7.6 average = 4,712 yards
- Stafford’s place near the top of the fantasy quarterback rankings isn’t a fluke.
4. (2) Tom Brady: 570 attempts, 8.1 average = 4,617 yards
- Brady actually has unusual upside with new weapons. If his YPA doesn’t regress as much as expected, he’ll approach 5,000 yards.
5. (5) Aaron Rodgers: 520 attempts, 8.6 average = 4,472 yards
- In terms of efficiency, Rodgers is the top quarterback in the league. He won’t throw the ball as much as Brees or Brady, though.
6. (4) Eli Manning: 560 attempts, 7.9 average = 4,424 yards
- Manning overachieved in 2011, and he’s almost sure to turn in a YPA figure below his 8.4 mark from last year.
7. (7) Tony Romo: 520 attempts, 7.9 average = 4,108 yards
- One of the underrated performers from 2011, Romo is a safe bet be in the top 10, but unlikely to crack the top five because he simply won’t get enough attempts.
8. (9) Ben Roethlisberger: 500 attempts, 8.2 average = 4,100 yards
- With the ability to rush it into the end zone and a potentially weak running game, Roethlisberger could surprise people this year.
9. (19) Matt Schaub: 500 attempts, 8.1 average = 4,050 yards
- Schaub will be undervalued simply because he was injured last year.
10. (18) Carson Palmer: 500 attempts, 8.0 average = 4,000 yards
- Palmer is an intriguing fantasy option at quarterback. Touchdowns will be a key factor.
11. (12) Joe Flacco: 550 attempts, 7.1 average = 3,905 yards
- The Ravens throw a whole lot more than you think, and Flacco is a whole lot less efficient than you might realize.
12. (8) Matt Ryan: 560 attempts, 6.8 average = 3,808 yards
- Again, Ryan’s numbers could change with the emergence of Jones and his own development. The time is now, though.
13. (10) Cam Newton: 500 attempts, 7.6 average = 3,800 yards
- Newton will wind up far higher in the overall quarterback rankings because of his rushing prowess.
14. (16) Michael Vick: 450 attempts, 8.0 average =3,600 yards
- Will he get injured? If he plays more than 13 games, he’s a top-tier option.
15. (15) Andy Dalton: 500 attempts, 7.0 average = 3,500 yards
- Even with a bump of 0.4 in YPA, Dalton’s total passing yards won’t change much.
16. (11) Ryan Fitzpatrick: 530 attempts, 6.6 average = 3,498 yards
- Fitzpatrick will need to improve a whole lot in 2012 to crack the top 10 in passing yards.
17. (14) Mark Sanchez: 520 attempts, 6.6 average = 3,432 yards
- Even projecting an improvement in YPA, Sanchez just isn’t much of a fantasy option.
18. (13) Josh Freeman: 500 attempts, 6.7 average = 3,350 yards
- What happened to Freeman’s upside? Vincent Jackson is his saving grace right now.
19. (20) Jay Cutler: 450 attempts, 7.2 average = 3,240 yards
- People are all over Cutler this season, but I think too much emphasis is being placed on Brandon Marshall’s arrival. From a pure statistical standpoint, Cutler isn’t ready to make big strides.
20. (17) Alex Smith: 450 attempts, 6.8 average = 3,060 yards
- Perhaps the most overrated quarterback in the league, Smith isn’t a viable fantasy option.
So there you have it. Your big question might be, “Why no 5,000-yard passers?” While I do believe one or more quarterbacks will again cross the 5,000-yard barrier, I don’t think it’s appropriate to project any to do it.
That might sound paradoxical, and it sort of is. Think about it like this: Imagine you’re playing some roulette in Vegas, and the table is packed. It’s so full that every number, black and red, has a bet on it. Unless the ball lands on ‘0,’ someone is going to win.
Now imagine you’re asked to make a side bet on which player is going to win. Regardless of who you pick, the choice is irrational. Despite the fact that someone will win, you simply aren’t justified in believing it will be any particular person.
Similarly, even though the odds of one or more quarterbacks throwing for 5,000-plus yards is at least decent, there’s no reason to project an individual quarterback to cross the threshold unless you believe he has a better-than-a-coin-flip chance of doing it. If Brees and Brady both have a 49 percent chance of throwing for 5,000 yards, you better believe I’m projecting both of them under that total, even though the numbers say the most likely occurrence is one of them breaking the barrier.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of TheDCTimes.com and writes for the New York Times and Dallas Cowboys. He’s the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.