Soppe's Quarterback Outlook for 2014
Rankings are nice to have, but plenty of things are going to change between now and when the season opens in early September. The quarterback position is deep, but landing one of the top five producers can put you in a great spot to compete for a 2014 title. So how do the signal callers project for the upcoming season? Here’s a brief look at what you can expect from 16 of the top QB’s as of this moment in time.
“The receiving core doesn’t come close to rivaling that of the Broncos or Packers, but with Marques Colston serving as a proven target for Brees, and three receivers in Kenny Stills, Chris Givens, and Joe Morgan that are all 25 years of age or younger, there is upside worth buying into.”
“Manning has never been shy about running the ball when the opportunity presents itself, something that ultimately helps the Broncos succeed, but can frustrate his fantasy owners. In other words, I think Manning will maintain his high level of efficiency, but with his total number pass attempts that more closely resembles the 547 he averaged in 13 seasons as opposed to the 669 he averaged in two outlier seasons (2010 and 2013).”
“The strong running game might take away a bit from Rodgers’ final numbers, but the threat of a bulldozer in the backfield should keep defenses honest, allowing the best receiver 6’0” or shorter (Cobb) to fully establish himself as a stud.”
In terms of counting statistics, Luck regressed a bit, but when it comes to projecting future numbers, the pride of Stanford took a very positive step in 2013. He threw 57 fewer passes, yet he completed four more passes and doubled his touchdown to interception ratio. That’s the type of growth that is important for a young single caller, and by adding a healthy (and confident) Reggie Wayne, I would have bet on improved fantasy numbers even before the Hakeem Nicks signing.
A motivated Nicks (don’t forget that he is just 26 years of age) should provide a beautiful compliment to the T.Y. Hilton/Wayne combination, as he has physical tools that Luck has been without during his first two season. The Colts signal caller tops this tier because I trust his passing progression and his mobility (his 6.0 yards per carry last season top any Cam Newton season average) is a real weapon. Expect 4,300 yards and 35 touchdowns, with the understanding that he could surpass those numbers if the team around him stays healthy.
Well, I would say the Eagles solved their quarterback situation. Remember when Mike Vick was the quarterback with the significant fantasy upside? Foles started 11 games in 2013, producing a 16-game pace of 4,454 total yards, 42 touchdowns, and only three interceptions. He showed off the decision making of Alex Smith with a fantasy ceiling as high as any signal caller in the NFL. And you’re telling me he gets to add job security, Jeremy Maclin, and Darren Sproles?
Consider that Drew Brees had two elite pass-catching running backs, a lesser receiving core, and played in a stronger defensive division on his way to 5,162 passing yards and 39 touchdown tosses. I’m not projecting that for Foles, but a season like that should at least be considered a viable result, especially with Chip Kelly calling the shots. Foles completed over 71% of his passes throw ten yards or fewer down the field and with Sproles/Maclin as proven chain movers, his low-risk passes will continue to drive his value, making him a safer option than you might assume.
As a quarterback who has ranked in the top three in passing yards in each of the last three seasons (14,655 yards over that stretch), Stafford is the first quarterback on this list whose fantasy value surpasses his NFL value. Whether you believe it is Detroit’s lack of defense that forces their offense to throw the ball all over the yard, or that Stafford wouldn’t be a top ten quarterback if not for Calvin Johnson … it doesn’t matter because none of that is going to change. The sheer volume of attempts lands Stafford in this tier, and the fact that he is still just 26 years of age gives him the upside to finish atop this tier.
Stafford is prone to streaks (57.9% of his interceptions came in one month while65.6% of his touchdowns came in five games), but the continued growth of Joique Bell and the addition of Golden Tate should help stabilize this passing attack a bit. Consider this: Tate played in a rush oriented offense, yet he managed to haul in 64 passes for 898 yards and five touchdowns. The top two Lions receivers not named Calvin combined for 77 catches/951 yards/3 touchdowns last season. Don’t overlook the depth of pass catcher on this Detroit roster (Johnson, Tate, Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria, Reggie Bush, and Bell), as this has the potential to be as lethal as any attack in the league.
He’s being in penciled in as the fourth most valuable fantasy quarterback in many early rankings this season, but given the weaponry at the disposal of the other top signal callers, is that really a smart assumption? His physical abilities make him a starting quarterback in any league, but I’m not buying a quarterback who figures to rely on his legs as much as ever as a lock to finish in the top five at his position. His passing yards and rushing touchdowns have both decreased in each professional season, two trends that will have to reverse in a big way for Newton to even justify this ranking. Project the leading receiver for this team … go ahead, I’ll wait.
Nothing? Exactly. That would be concerning for a proven pocket passer (see Tom Brady 2013), and it could be damning (for fantasy owners of course, not the Panthers, as they are capable of winning a handful of pitcher’s duels) in the pass heavy league that the NFL is these days.
On the surface, some of Newton’s passing numbers show some growth (career-high TD:INT rate to go along with the best completion percentage of his three professional seasons), but those numbers didn’t come with consistency. He completed 77.3% of his passes for six touchdowns and no interceptions (not to mention 106 rushing yards and two touchdowns) in a three week run, a series of performances that make his year-end statistics a bit deceiving. Subtract that trio of games and Newton’s 16-game pace looks like this: 3,927 total yards (while completing a mere 58.8% of his passes), 27 total touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. That’s not a bad stat line, but are you spending an early round pick on Russell Wilson (3,896 yards, 27 touchdowns, and nine interceptions last year) or Ryan Tannehill (4,151 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions)?
If you’re looking for who is going to be quarterbacking the majority of my 2014 fantasy teams, you found your man. I’ve made my love of his weapons known, as I believe they are the best trio of fantasy options (Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, and Brandon Marshall) in the entire league. Cutler only played 11 games in 2013, but he displayed the ability to take advantage of the superior tools at his disposal, recoding a career-best QB Rating to go along with his best QBR and CMP% in his five years with the Bears.
Sure, Cutler is going to get away with more ill-advised bombs than most (not a bad thing for fantasy owners), but by completing nearly 68% of his passes with a Rating north of 100 on “obvious passing downs” (3rd and six or greater), Cutler looked the part of a top five fantasy quarterback with some regularity last year. For me, the X-factor on just how highup this tier Cutler finishes is dependent on NFC North defenses and if they can improve. Last year, the Packers/Lions/Vikings combined to allow 2.4 touchdown passes per interception and all ranked in the bottom ten in terms of pass yards allowed. If you believe they struggle to that extent again in 2014, the sky is the limit for the talented Cutler.
Generally speaking, I love the talent that is Matty Ice, but is it possible that we’ve seen the best of him as a fantasy quarterback? Sure, Julio Jones will be back in the fold this season, but this offense simply doesn’t have the “greatest show on turf” feel that it had only 12 months ago. Steven Jackson limped his way through a 12 game season (a career-low 3.5 yards per carry) and will turn the dreaded 31 years of age prior to kickoff of the 2014 season while Roddy White showed signs of aging as well. I’m not saying they are going to fall off the map, but counting on those two former stars to be high level contributors is risky at the minimum.
In addition the downward trending Jackson and White, the consistent Tony Gonzalez (409 catches for 4,187 yards and 35 touchdowns in the Matt Ryan era) will be watching NFL games from his living room this season. Is it possible that Harry Douglas, Devin Hester, and Jacquizz Rodgers all maximize their skills and we see the explosive Falcons offense we thought we’d get last year? It’s possible, but I wouldn’t call it likely. The NFC South is on the up-and-up in terms of quality of defense, and if they can consistently limit Julio Jones, Matt Ryan’s final stat line isn’t going to match your expectations.
Let’s be clear: I still think the Patriots win at least ten games and widely considered a Super Bowl contender. That being said, Brady doesn’t have to be a top five fantasy quarterback (or top ten for that matter) for them to do that. The Patriots are the only team in the NFL without a mobile quarterback to rank in the top 30% the league in team rushing yards in each of the last two seasons, a trend I like to continue as New England has once again refused to add dependable receiving weapons for Brady. Risk is not a word typically associated with Brady (unless you are betting against him), but his fantasy value comes with a fair amount of risk. If you’re drafting the future hall-of-famer higher than this, you are counting on a healthy 2014 from at least one (if not both) of Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski: a train of thought that is not for those looking for safety at the QB position.
The Cowboys have tried to lean on Romo over the last three season (1,705 pass attempts), but with each of those seasons ending after Week 17 of the regular season, it is easy to envision “America’s Team” taking a more balanced approach in 2014. I’m not saying he’s not a good quarterback, but with DeMarcco Murray poised for a massive campaign (led all 200-plus carry backs with 5.2 yards per carry, ripped off more 20-plus yard carries than Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch, and scored four more touchdowns than he did in the first 23 games of his career) and a second straight season with regression in CMP%/YPA/QBR, there are other options at the quarterback position that own a more positive fantasy trajectory. That being said, don’t let him fall out of this tier, as Dez Bryant/Terrence Williams tandem has considerable upside.
In his first full season as a starter, Kaepernick proved to be arguably the games most gifted dual threat (only QB in the league to rank in the top 12 in total QBR and rush for at least 400 yards). But again, I worry about his workload. In this era of pass happy offenses, fantasy production is driven as much by quantity of attempts as the quality, and the 49ers rely on their ground game as much as anyone (ended 2013 as a top five offense in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns). Frank Gore is still getting it done, and even if he begins to regress with age, San Francisco is loaded with depth (Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, and Marcus Lattimore).
That’s not to say that Kaep can’t once again rank inside the top ten at his position, I’m just not sold on his upside being nearly as great as the public seems to believe it to be. In addition to his team’s offensive philosophy, the defensive tenacity of his division scares me. He averaged a mere 1.3 touchdowns against the Seahawks/Cardinals/Rams, and it is hard to imagine that number rising in significantly as all three of these defenses are trending in the upward direction. Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are consistent producers that should limit the downside of Kaepernick, but they aren’t enough to elevate him into the next tier. No quarterback is more likely to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100, and I do like the fact that he completed at least 61.8% of his passes in five of his final six regular season games, but the quarterback position is rich with players that have a higher volume of attempts, and thus a higher fantasy ceiling.
Robert Griffin III
Everything seemed to go wrong for the ‘Skins last season, yet RGIII’s 16 game pace yardage pace (4,544) was still very respectable. He threw the ball much more this past season (63 more attempts in two fewer games), but his decision-making took a step in the wrong direction (20% dip in touchdown passes and a 140% increase in interceptions). His rushing attempts declined (from eight per game to 6.6) and he failed to reach the end zone a single time with his legs, presumably because he was protecting himself from the big hit.
This adjustment is good for his long term health and the Redskins, but a pocket passing Griffin who just looks to move the chains (not break the game open) on the ground simply isn’t a lock to finish 2014 as a fantasy starter. Pierre Garcon proved to be one of the more consistent pass catchers in NFL history (at least five catches in 16 straight and 20 of his last 21 regular season games) and Jordan Reed showed some real upside (27 catches for 323 yards and two touchdowns in a four week stretch), but Washington lacks a big play-maker that a pocket passer generally needs. If you could guarantee me 16 games, I’d love the value of Griffin, but it is difficult to project a full season out of him until he does it once.
With 33 passing touchdowns and 4,293 yards, it is possible that the Red Rifle recorded the best fantasy season for a quarterback who was viewed a failure. His decision-making is questionable at best (four of his final eight games saw him throw at least as many picks as touchdowns) and is lucky to have a gifted athlete in A.J. Green on the perimeter to turn some poor reads into fantasy gold. But you know what? Green is still a Bengal and will continue to serve as a correcting force. By rostering Dalton, you’re not betting on his talent, you are counting on him to throw the ball to his elite playmaker with regularity (30% of Dalton’s total passes, and 46.7% of his passes to wide receivers, have been thrown in Green’s direction over the last two years), and you could do worse.
Giovani Bernard is a real weapon out of the backfield and with BenJarvus Green-Ellis declining, look for Bernard to give Dalton a safety valve that he has never had. The tight end duo of Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham should be better this year than last, providing Dalton with two more red zone threats that can make plays if given the chance. If I’m building a franchise around a quarterback, Dalton probably doesn’t crack the top 20, but if you’re waiting to draft a signal caller for your fantasy squad, Dalton will once again have a handful of weeks where he carries your team (1,397 yards, 15 touchdowns, and two interceptions in his best four games last year).
What percentage of Phillip Rivers’ 2013 numbers will help you win this year? It’s not a trick question: 0. I’m buying the improvement in his TD:INT ratio (2.91 last year, up from 1.73 in 2012), as I believe Keenan Allen is the real deal and that it is no coincidence that Danny Woodhead seems to always be a part of above average offenses. The Chargers are also following the trendy roster construction of multiple tight ends with Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green giving Rivers big targets in addition to possession oriented Allen/Woodhead.
That being said, there are just as many reasons to worry about Rivers as there are to be excited about a potential repeat. For one, you will probably have to overpay for his services as a result of his great 2013. Also, the schedule does him no favors, as San Diego will play the NFC West, Denver’s improved defense and Kansas City’s stellar defense twice apiece, and the underrated AFC East (three of the four defenses ranked in the top half of the league in INT and yards per attempt against). I have no problem with rostering Rivers if you take an upside play (RG3 for example) or you want to hedge your Jay Cutler bet (I won’t, but I understand if you’re skeptical to believe in #6 as much as I do), but pegging him as your starter for 16 weeks isn’t something I’d suggest.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: volume matters as much as anything. Wilson ranked 16th in pass yards (461 yards behind the great Eli Manning) last season and, more importantly, 22nd in attempts (just ahead of historic Matt Schaub). He’s effective when he passes the ball, but he simply doesn’t have enough fantasy upside to be considered a starter. The Seahawks are a run first team that relies on the broad shoulders of Marshawn Lynch to put them in position to win late. Did you know that Wilson averaged 4.6pass attempts in the fourth quarter last year? That’s less than one pass every three minutes, not to mention that one pass is likely to be an underneath route. He had 12 games with 27 or fewer passes thrown (for reference, a much-less talented but better fantasy option in Andy Dalton had 13 games with more than 27 passes) last year, and while Percy Harvin figures to be healthier, they did lose Golden Tate this offseason.
Not sure if you’ve heard, but the Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year, so expecting a massive change in philosophy is unlikely. You may have noticed a trend here; I’m not taking NFC West quarterbacks. Wilson couldn’t even reach 1,000 passing yards in six divisional games and averaged fewer than 185 total yards in those games. Winner? Yes. Potential role model for your first born? Sure. Starting fantasy quarterback with the upside it takes to carry your squad? Not so much.
Looking for more information behind one of these ranks? Get at me @unSOPable23 and I’ll do my best to shed some light on my rational.