Market Watch: Quarterbacks
The end of June signals the official start of summer for the NFL. By now, organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamps have concluded, giving players much needed rest before the real work begins and training camps open in Mid-July.
Ultimately, the information that we gain from these practices will have some bearing on how players are valued among fantasy owners. To better understand player value, we look at average draft position (ADP) rankings, which compile the results of mock drafts.
Comparing ADP rankings to our own Pro Football Focus fantasy football player rankings will help paint a better picture of which players can provide value as we build our teams for the upcoming year. Today, we’ll discuss how the market for quarterbacks is shaping up in standard redraft leagues.
Overall, the market for quarterbacks seems to be operating efficiently. Of the 26 quarterbacks listed in the ADP rankings on fantasyfootballcalculator.com, only three (Alex Smith, Robert Griffin III, and Jay Cutler) are being drafted at least three spots ahead of where they’re positioned in our rankings. Of course, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned with each of these players heading in to the 2015 fantasy season.
Without question, Alex Smith is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL. Last season, Smith ranked third in the NFL in completion percentage on throws aimed (pass attempts less batted balls, spikes, hits and throw aways). If only he threw the ball downfield more often.
The average depth of target (aDOT) of Smith’s throws last year was a league-worst six yards down the field. Certainly, Smith’s combination of targets left a lot to be desired. But his average was still 1.4 yards less than rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.
Fearful of Smith’s proclivity to throw short, fantasy owners have steered clear. As of today, Smith’s has an unranked ADP. Last season Smith ranked 19th among fantasy quarterbacks, and sits at 24th in our rankings.
A healthy Travis Kelce (highest catch rate among tight ends in 2014), and the arrival of former Eagles’ receiver Jeremy Maclin, (11.3 yard aDOT in 2014) may make Smith enticing to some. But at this rate, he’s not a quarterback you need to draft in any format given his proclivity for short passing, and the Chiefs’ run-heavy offense.
Fantasy owners don’t appear to be impressed with Jay Cutler either; and for good reason. Last year the Chicago Bears were a mess. Their 4thplace finish in the NFC North ultimately cost head coach Marc Trestman his job. Much of the blame for the Bears’ 5-11 record can be laid at the feet of a defense that finished second to last in the NFL in points allowed per game (27.8). But the offense also struggled at times, particularly in the passing game. Much of those woes can be attributed to Cutler.
Cutler was constantly under fire, playing behind an offensive line that surrendered the fifth-most sacks (38) in the league. Despite all the pressure, he still managed to finish as one of the league’s best quarterbacks when throwing under pressure (5th) with a 69.5 completion percentage. Yet, Cutler struggled to throw the ball downfield. His aDOT of 7.7 yards tied for 23rd, and he ranked 33rd in accuracy on passes thrown at least 20 yards in the air. As if those numbers weren’t troubling enough, Cutler’s 18 interceptions tied for the league high.
Despite all of that, Cutler still managed to finish 13th among fantasy quarterbacks last season due in part to his touchdown total (28). His current ADP is 21st (13.1), and his PFF ranking is 18th. Heading into this season, changes on offense are afoot. Brandon Marshall has been replaced by rookie receiver Kevin White, who possesses an elite combination of size (6’3”, 215 lbs.), speed (4.35 in the 40 yard dash at the combine), and production (109 rec. and 1,447 yards last year).
New head coach John Fox has brought offensive coordinator Adam Gase with him from Denver. Gase’s arrival may improve Cutler’s fantasy prospects, as Denver threw out of three wide receiver sets 80 percent of the time. But for now, it seems odd to suggest that Cutler is undervalued, given recent history.
Robert Griffin III
The same can be said Robert Griffin III. As a rookie, “RGIII” finished fifth among fantasy quarterbacks, scoring 27 touchdowns (20 passing, 7 rushing). Griffin seemed to be destined for fantasy greatness, until he re-injured his knee in the first quarter of a playoff game that same year; he hasn’t been the same since.
Three years removed from the fanfare of his rookie year, and now playing under a different head coach in Jay Gruden, it’s difficult to know whether he’ll ever return to fantasy relevance. For one thing, he can’t stay on the field – he’s missed 10 games the last two years. Even though his ADP ranking (23rd) is lower than our own rankings (20th), it’s difficult to make the case that Griffin’s draft price should be higher..
On the other end of the scale, four quarterbacks are currently being drafted at least four spots higher than where they are positioned in our rankings: Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer, and Derek Carr. Of the four, Stafford and Palmer merit discussion. Carr and Dalton have not been heavily drafted (55 and 15 times, respectively), and both fall outside the top twenty in both consensus and ADP rankings.
Matthew Stafford has yet to fully deliver on the promise of being the number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Aside from the monster numbers he put up in 2011 (63.5% comp. pct., 5,038 passing yards, and 41 TDs), he’s been a middle-of-the-pack QB his whole career. Last season, Stafford finished as the 17th ranked fantasy quarterback; on a per dropback basis, Stafford ranked 20th.
In fact, Stafford has ranked in the top 10 just once since 2010 in points per dropback. Yet somehow he’s the 11th (8.05) quarterback being taken in mock drafts thus far. Improvements along the offensive line, coupled with another year of development in offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s system may lead to a better performance by Stafford this season. But there are other options that provide more safety (Philip Rivers, Eli Manning) and just as much upside.
Carson Palmer was actually a pretty good quarterback last year – when he was healthy. During the five weeks in which he finished games, Palmer was the sixth-highest scoring fantasy quarterback. As a Cardinal, he has a 71.2 percent completion rate and a 30-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio when enjoying a clean pocket. Perhaps fantasy owners are looking forward to a healthy Carson Palmer this season, as they seem to be more hopeful for his prospects this year than our staff.
Right now he’s the 17th (132) quarterback off the board. In 2013, Palmer finished 17th among fantasy quarterbacks. Therefore, fantasy owners must determine whether they’re getting the quarterback Palmer was for five weeks last year, or the one they saw two years ago. The emergence of receiver John Brown, coupled with a revamped offensive line make Palmer an intriguing play. But at that spot, fantasy owners have to ask themselves whether they’d rather have Palmer, or wait another round to take Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco, or Jay Cutler.
Then there’s everyone else. The 19 other quarterbacks in the current ADP rankings all fall within one or two spots of our staff rankings, with one exception: Peyton Manning. As it currently stands, Manning is the third quarterback coming off the board. Our staff has ranked Manning sixth. Given his age, and his regression last year (39 touchdowns compared to 55 in 2013), Manning’s best days as a quarterback are behind him. Still, his weapons (assuming Demaryius Thomas eventually shows up to camp), his accuracy (73 percent completion rate on passes aimed), and track record (second-most touchdowns in the league last year) make his draft price plausible.