Fantasy Football Value of 2012's AFC Playoff Quarterbacks
If you’ve played fantasy football for any period of time, you’re well acquainted with the fact that a team’s real-life, on-field success doesn’t always translate into the realm of fantasy. Just because a team makes it into the NFL’s postseason doesn’t necessarily mean they possess a receiver, running back, or quarterback who can help you reach your fantasy playoffs.
That being said, the quarterback position is just as important to fantasy teams as they are to their real-world counterparts, and it’s easy to look at those passers who made it to the postseason last year and earmark them for your own fantasy drafts this summer. However, sometimes teams have success despite their quarterbacks’ struggles, so remember that before you peg Christian Ponder as your desired fantasy starter based upon the fact that the Minnesota Vikings made the playoffs.
This week, we’ll take a look at the six AFC quarterbacks who reached the postseason in 2012 and try to determine their 2013 fantasy football value. Next week, we’ll do the same with the NFC quarterbacks, all in hopes that you can get a more complete picture of the men who could lead your fantasy lineups this year. After all, in a perfect world, no position should score you more points, so it’s a must that you make the right decision.
In 2012, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a better fantasy football year than some of the seemingly more reliable options like Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger, with 250.9 points according to our data. He had 200 more regular-season passing yards than his career-typical 3,600 and had the most reliable group of receivers in his five years with the Ravens. The team’s switch from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell at offensive coordinator only seemed to help Flacco, and ultimately, his stellar performances in the playoffs helped Baltimore all the way to a second Super Bowl win.
That being said, there are reasons to be skeptical about Flacco’s fantasy value this year. First is the departure of veteran receiver Anquan Boldin, who took up 144 of Flacco’s 657 passing targets last year (including playoffs). Though tight end Dennis Pitta along with another younger receiver — perhaps Tandon Doss or Deonte Thompson — should make up for Boldin’s absence, at least from a snaps standpoint, the question is whether they can make up for Boldin’s reliability. The second concern with Flacco is one that has dogged him his entire career to this point — consistency.
Though Flacco’s year-end numbers aren’t that different season after season, his week-by-week performances are hard to predict. Regularly, he’ll follow up a game in which he completed 72.4 percent of his passes (such as in Week 1 of last season against the Cincinnati Bengals) with a completion percentage of 52.4 the next week (at the Philadelphia Eagles) and then bounce back with another 71.8 percent performance in the next (versus the New England Patriots). His yardage, too, fluctuates wildly — he had six games with fewer than 200 passing yards last year along with five of 300-plus. This lack of stability can be infuriating, especially if you’re heavily leaning on the quarterback to carry your fantasy team.
As such, Flacco can only be recommended as a starting quarterback if the rest of your offensive roster is made up of stable, proven performers and you have strong depth behind them. He’s an effective — if not a little confusing — real-life quarterback, but for fantasy purposes you don’t likely need him as your No. 1.
Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub’s fantasy value has taken a hit over the past two years, first with his injury-marred 2011 season and then with his number of targets dwindling in 2012. His passing yardage has gone from a present career-high of 4,770 in 2009 to 4,008 last year, despite his top receiver Andre Johnson having his best yardage season so far with 1,598. But it takes more than just one elite receiver to make a quarterback viable — either in the NFL or in fantasy football — and Schaub desperately needs more weapons to throw to if he’s going to make a convincing case to be your starter this year.
Overall, Schaub isn’t a terrible choice. He’s a smart quarterback who doesn’t make many bad decisions, as evidenced by his very favorable touchdown-to-interception ratios over the past few years, along with stable and high completion percentages. However, his 235.4 fantasy points in 2012 leaves a lot to be desired, as does the fact that he threw passes of 20 or more yards just 9.6 percent of the time last year. Both numbers serve to put him on the fringe of covetable fantasy starters despite his general reliability.
Schaub’s fantasy stock could rise over the summer if 2013 draft pick DeAndre Hopkins stands out in training camp, because another talented receiver to pair with Johnson will only make Schaub’s job easier and his season that much more productive. If you’re thinking of putting off quarterback to a later round in the draft, Schaub could be useful — he’s got far less variance in his weekly performances than Flacco — just don’t expect a ton of points out of him.
In 2012, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed 401 regular-season passes for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns while throwing a mere eight interceptions. However, 4,084 of those yards, 338 of those completions and 39 of those touchdowns belonged to four players who are off the roster and one who is recovering from back surgery — Wes Welker is with the Denver Broncos, Brandon Lloyd is as yet unsigned by any team, Aaron Hernandez is you-know-where, Danny Woodhead is with the San Diego Chargers, and Rob Gronkowski is the aforementioned surgery patient. So will Brady yet again be a top performing fantasy quarterback when there are so many question marks surrounding who he’ll throw to this year?
The thing about Brady is that the Patriots offense is his — it doesn’t belong to any single player he’s thrown to over the course of his career. He’s made household names out of receiver after receiver and when those receivers opt to play elsewhere, we often never hear of them again. As such, there should be little trepidation that Brady can again have a strong season with over 4,000 passing yards, two or three dozen touchdowns and minimal interceptions yet again.
Everyone likes to cite Brady’s 2006 season when making claims that this offseason’s offensive attrition won’t harm the quarterback’s production, and it’s a very good blueprint for what to expect this year. His biggest target that season was Reche Caldwell, with 760 receiving yards, followed up by tight end Ben Watson, with 643. Brady spread the ball around — the team had 11 players with over 100 receiving yards each — and he ended the season with a for-him low yardage total of 3,529, along with 24 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. These aren’t Brady’s best numbers, but a comparable 2013 season still makes him a very effective fantasy quarterback. There’s no reason to look away from him despite the fact he’ll be throwing the football to so many new faces this year.
It’s hard to call any player a fantasy football slam dunk. Anything can happen — injuries included — but barring that, it’s hard to find any reason to not recommend Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as a top-tier fantasy starter this year. Second on our list last year in quarterback rating, sixth in fantasy points among quarterbacks, third in accuracy, second in passes of 20 or more yards all while being sacked a mere 21 times, Manning clearly didn’t lose a beat in his year off nor in his transition to a new offense. This year, he appears poised to be even better.
Manning worked magic last year with his pair of receivers, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, along with tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. This year, he has the addition of former Patriot Wes Welker, giving Manning talented targets in all areas of the field. The more Manning can spread the ball around, the more dangerous he becomes to opposing defenses — and the more useful he becomes to your fantasy team.
Importantly, Manning is reliable. His passing yards didn’t dip below 200 yards once last season and he threw two or more touchdowns per game in all but four weeks. There’s no more knowledgeable quarterback in the NFL presently, nor is there any quarterback who better uses his knowledge to his team’s advantage. Having Manning on your draft-day short list is a no-brainer.
Third-year Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton helped his team reach the postseason in his first two years in the league, but they have yet to get a playoff win with him under center. The hope is that 2013 will see him take the leap to become the Bengals’ bona fide franchise quarterback, and the team did a lot this offseason to make that happen, taking tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard in the first two rounds of the draft.
Dalton hasn’t been wanting for targets, though. While he’s on a young offense, he’s managed to be an effective quarterback thanks primarily to the talents of top receiver A.J. Green as well as the presence of tight end Jermaine Gresham and receivers Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Andrew Hawkins. His yards, completion percentage, and touchdowns rose from year one to year two and he produced a respectable 274.8 fantasy points last year — better than Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Philip Rivers.
Dalton’s situation is such that he’s likely a more useful quarterback to his real-life team than he is to your fantasy bottom line. Like Flacco, there is a lot of variation in his performances on a weekly basis, and he had only five games last year with 250 or more passing yards. His deep ball is lacking — he had just 18 completions for 588 yards and four touchdowns to five interceptions on 67 attempts last year — likely because his biggest and best target down the field, Green, is often too blanketed in coverage to pull down a ton of those passes. That should be mitigated somewhat this year by the presence of the two tight ends, but if you’re looking for the big-play arm to rack up fantasy points, you won’t get it from Dalton this year. He’s a serviceable No. 2, but I’d only recommend him as a starter in deeper leagues.
Only the Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford dropped back more in 2012 than Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, and Luck ultimately threw the fifth-most passes in the league. As a rookie, he had 4,374 regular-season yards and threw 23 touchdowns to 18 interceptions and helped lead the Colts to the postseason in a year they were pegged to be one of the NFL’s worst teams. As the successor to Peyton Manning, Luck had the weight of the world on his shoulders last year, but he responded by showing the capability to develop into one of the league’s premier quarterbacks. However, is he worth your fantasy time in just his second year as a professional?
The fantasy value of any quarterback who throws a lot is high. Though Luck’s completion percentage of just 54.1 last year was the second-worst in the league, he still managed to produce in the top 10 in fantasy points among quarterbacks. Though the Colts will likely try to have a better run game this year, which would thus cut down on such heavy reliance on Luck’s arm, this still projects to be a heavy-passing offense again. Therefore, Luck should again have around 600 passing attempts. Assuming that his completions rise considering he has a year of experience to his name, and it’s not hard to extrapolate that Luck will again be producing a ton of fantasy points for your team.
There are concerns about Luck, however. Luck was sacked 40 times last year and saw pressure on 38.1 percent of his dropbacks, a byproduct of so much passing. If your league deducts points when your quarterback is sacked, that’s something you’ll need to keep in mind when considering Luck. There’s also the inherent risk of hanging your fantasy hopes on a second-year quarterback. Though Luck has the pedigree of being a first-overall draft pick and he played quite well in his rookie season, there is still a learning curve at the position and there’s a chance of regression this year. However, among the AFC quarterbacks who made the postseason last year, Luck is the third-safest option behind the proven talents of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.