2013 Rookie Draft – Early State of the Union: Quarterbacks
As an NFL draft industry, the 2013 season is in full swing with pundits giving new angles on a full spectrum of players. With dynasty league owners, there is also a full spectrum of interest in an upcoming rookie class. Some owners play in developmental leagues where 5-star players are drafted by the time they step foot on a college field and others play little attention until, at a minimum, the NFL draft as passed.
Last summer was my most intensive period of rookie scouting to-date. I built an extensive projection model for all the skill positions, watched more tape than all previous years combined, and did a rigorous rookie draft study to fine tune the event known as a rookie draft, which in my opinion is part science and part art form.
I have talked with both sides of the spectrum in terms of rookie drafts being an art and science. I believe without both sides of the equation, it is very much an incomplete picture. On the science side, there are metrics, probability and opportunity cost. On the art side, there is film study, situational fit, and other generally non-quantifiable aspects of each player, position, and then an overall draft class.
As someone who combines the two aspects of evolving, but rigid, formula analysis with film study, the tricky part is the melting pot of the final result on a player. Extreme examples of this would be one player that has a great buffet of metrics and measurable qualities along with spotty play on tape juxtaposed with another prospect whose metrics fail to compare to most at his position, but flashed that tantalizing potential of a future star on film.
Things are still fluid with more tape to be devoured and more metrics to be measured over the next two-plus months of the NFL draft season. As of early February, here is a summary of the position:
This position for the 2013 NFL draft has been beaten up quite a bit in my observation and largely for good reason. We have been outright spoiled over the recent years with outright fantasy starters like Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, and Colin Kaepernick – all in just the last two drafts. That group contains multiple non-first round picks in the NFL draft, a group that had basically been Drew Brees and little else in recent fantasy memory. That is historic. That recent dynamic in-flux at the quarterback position creates an interesting scenario for the dynasty landscape. The first is the depth, specifically youthful depth, at the position. It is absolutely loaded heading into 2013. That creates a situation where an older, still stud, performer like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and even Drew Brees can be moved down the QB1 board because others are nearly matching their current production and are a decade or more their younger.
Spinning that concept forward creates a tough position in rookie drafts for future quarterbacks. The cupboard is stocked enough that Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Tony Romo can be options for teams that wait on quarterback in startup drafts and auctions this offseason in start-1 formats. Think about that for a moment. I would not be surprised if all three of them are top-6 performers at their position in 2013. That situation creates a weak market, if any, that dynasty teams will have any sort of need at the position heading into a rookie draft this year. The cost of another team’s backup will likely cost about the same (or less) and yield better production for your lineup over at least the short-term.
The other side of the coin is that all the recent success of rookie and second-year signal-callers leads to the thinking that it will continue to occur. That is a dangerous road to travel down as the position, in fantasy terms, is more competitive than ever to get into the range of an every week starter. Following the last two classes of rookie quarterbacks is a gigantic task for the 2013 prospects because the 2011 and 2012 players are young in their own right, yet already a much-more known (and highly productive) quantity on the NFL level in the eyes of a dynasty owner.
This is the position where I have the least faith in a metric-driven projection mode. That said, like a true stat-head, I have a model that covers the last decade of drafted quarterback prospects that I feel does a good job of putting a number to a player. That number specifically relates to how they will project to the NFL in terms of their fantasy points-per-game over their first three NFL seasons.
According to my projection metric, the 2013 quarterback class is very weak. That is being as politically correct as possible. Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III broke the model (high scores of the past decade of >93.0 out of 100) the past two seasons and no one in 2013 will even break a score of 80. That will not change even if Geno Smith goes first overall or any number of others are drafted in the top-5. That is the biggest arrow through the heart of the class right there: Their individual draft position cannot even save them in terms of a big bump to their overall projection score. When the metrics (or film study) part of a player evaluation say one thing, I need a very good reason to change my tune. I have not seen traits on tape to change what the metrics are saying about the quarterbacks this year.
Owners with a need for a starting quarterback, or even a top-15 level backup in start-1 leagues should look towards greener pastures to address the position. That means trading for a veteran, going best available player at another position, or planning ahead to 2014 for a new batch of rookies.
My rookie draft data goes back to 2005 and the duo of Luck and Griffin were the only quarterbacks to have an ADP inside the top-5. In 2008, 2009, and 2011, the top quarterback off the board in an average rookie draft was not until the mid-second round. Going by the projection model that is about right for 2013, if Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford were removed, basically the firepower of those classes. While I expect the official ADP later in the summer to be higher than this, no quarterback in 2013 should be in the top-20 rookie picks in my opinion.
As of now, my top four quarterbacks would be: Geno Smith, a tier break before Matt Barkley, then Ryan Nassib and Tyler Wilson in a third tier.
I put Smith as a late second round rookie pick and the rest somewhere in the 30-45 overall range for rookie drafts. In my opinion, all four of those quarterbacks will need to be managed, coached, and schemed well to be fantasy relevant in their early NFL years. There is no player that can transcend their situation and surrounding talent to be a fantasy factor.
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