Quarterback remains the marquee position in the NFL; look no further than the 2016 Draft for proof, as the Rams and Eagles traded multiple-pick packages to move into position to select their hoped-for quarterback of the future. However, the position has become a victim of its own success in the fantasy universe. With the number of productive quarterbacks growing each year—and fantasy leagues still primarily in the eight-to-12 team range—fantasy owners can wait on the position and still put up a reasonable fight on the scoresheet.
So, do you overpay for the rock-steady consistency of the elite quarterbacks? Roll the dice on a late-round sleeper? Or stream the position and hope to catch lightning in a bottle on a week-to-week basis? To help answer these burning questions, here’s a breakdown of the position’s productivity over the past decade as well as each NFL team’s recent passing-game production—and what’s in store for the upcoming campaign.
Position Totals by Year
|Year||Passes||Comps||Pass Yards||YPC||Pass TD||Int||Runs||Rush Yards||Rush TD|
In something less than a shocking development, NFL quarterbacks established new highs in attempts, completions, passing yardage and passing touchdowns last year—while throwing the fewest interceptions in the past decade. With all that throwing, it’s no surprise that quarterback rushing has tailed off slightly, though the numbers still ranked in the top four posted in the past ten years.
Top Ten Quarterback Totals
|Year||Passes||Comps||Pass Yards||Pass TD||Runs||Rush Yards||Rush TD||FF Pts|
And here’s more proof that quarterback productivity is up across the league: despite posting across-the-board statistical highs, numbers put up by the top 10 quarterbacks were barely among the top half of annual performances this decade—except for passing scores, where the top 10 QBs matched a 10-year high with 334 scoring strikes. Also worth noting is that despite all the record-setting passing numbers established by the position, the top ten quarterbacks posted the lowest fantasy numbers since 2009. Clearly the position is becoming less top-heavy and more bottom-loaded—exactly why so many fantasy owners are willing to wait to select their quarterback.
At age 36 Carson Palmer is enjoying a career renaissance. Last season he posted career highs in yardage and touchdowns while leading the Cardinals to the NFC title game, and over the past two years he’s averaged almost five fantasy points per game above his career average. Arizona once again spent the offseason upgrading its offensive line, plus the Cards have a deep receiving corps and a solid backfield rotation as well; in fact, the cupboard is stocked across the board except at quarterback, where fantasy owners have no desire to see Drew Stanton under center. Just put Palmer’s six playoff interceptions out of your mind—or better yet, bring them up at your draft or auction to help drive his price down.
The arrival of Kyle Shanahan and his beloved stretch zone running game bumped the Atlanta aerial attack down every so slightly as they slipped out of the top five in attempts and yards and dropped from 11th to 23rd in touchdowns. But even the run-happy Shanahan won’t let Julio Jones go to waste, and the Falcons spent free agent and draft capital on more pass-catchers for Matt Ryan. Matt Schaub returns in a backup role to make Atlanta’s quarterback situation one of the most stable options for fantasy owners.
Funny, Marc Trestman takes over the offense and the Ravens rank first in passing attempts. Get used to it, Baltimore; with the addition of an athletic, pass-protecting left tackle, a speed receiver and a pass-catching back on draft day, this team is shedding its defense-first skin and joining the new millennium. Joe Flacco may not have an elite receiving corps at his disposal, but between the existing talent and the expected opportunity he should easily outperform his ADP. Ryan Mallett has yet to develop into a legit NFL starter, but he’s an adequate short-term option in a pinch. Just hope that pinch doesn’t come early because Flacco isn’t recovered from the knee injury that prematurely ended his 2015 campaign.
Bills quarterbacks ranked 29th or worse in attempts, completions, and passing yards—but thanks to rushing stats that ranked behind only Cam Newton’s, Buffalo quarterbacks ranked a robust 12th in fantasy scoring. Tyrod Taylor returns in a similar role this year, but his ADP more accurately reflects the success he had in 2015. The Bills remain a run-focused squad, but between Taylor’s rushing contributions and what he can do connecting with Sammy Watkins he’s far from a fantasy afterthought. We’ve seen enough of EJ Manuel to know we’ve seen enough of EJ Manuel; better to have Cardale Jones develop his game in the background for when Taylor’s run in Buffalo comes to an end.
Twenty-seventh in passing yards, 28th in completions, 30th in attempts… how did Cam Newton win an MVP and outscore all other fantasy quarterbacks by 50 points or more? Ten rushing touchdowns certainly helped, as did rushing yardage that would have ranked him 30th among running backs. And don’t overlook Newton’s 35 passing scores, 11 better than his previous career high. Everyone returns for a repeat performance, with the added bonus of a healthy Kelvin Benjamin, but to live up to his ADP he’ll have to do it all again—and that’s asking a lot. Not that whomever the Panthers would have to turn to in the face of calamity would be a major downgrade, but a depth chart of Derek Anderson and Joe Webb has Carolina saying daily novenas for Newton’s continued health.
In a tug of war between the philosophy of John Fox and that of Adam Gase, the head coach won; as a result, Bears quarterbacks ranked 23rd or worse in attempts, completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Now Gase is gone as well, after helping Jay Cutler post the lowest interception total of his career, at least in a season where he played at least 11 games. The Bears also continue to lowball their receivers, with Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett already gone and Alshon Jeffrey likely a year away from joining them. Doesn’t bode well for Cutler’s 2014 season to be anything more than an anomaly in a career of fantasy mediocrity. Brian Hoyer is a decent addition to the depth chart; if anyone can go toe-to-toe in INTs with Cutler, it’s Hoyer.
Hue Jackson’s play-calling kept a lid on the Bengals’ passing totals the past couple of seasons, but now he’s in Cleveland; will Cincy turn Andy Dalton loose? That might be tough given that the Bengals lost two of their top three receivers and elite pass-catching tight end Tyler Eifert is hurt again. But even if the Bengals remain who they are, it’s generally been enough to make him worthy of fantasy consideration—a borderline starter with some upside to his game. We saw enough in five games of AJ McCarron to determine the Bengals are in good hands if he’s pressed into action… but that fantasy owners can do significantly better.
(Camp Watch) Add another name to the ignominious list of Cleveland’s starting quarterbacks, with Robert Griffin III expected to open the season under center for new coach Hue Jackson. RG3 hasn’t taken a regular season snap since 2014 and hasn’t been truly fantasy-relevant since his rookie campaign two years earlier. Can Jackson do for him what he did for Andy Dalton in Cincinnati? That’s the hope, because the backup plan is Josh McCown, who at 37 is coming off his most productive fantasy season—eight appearances in which he put together the only season in which he averaged better than 19.5 fantasy points per game. There’s talk rookie Cody Kessler might be Jackson’s next Dalton-esque project, but with three possible hats in the ring it’s clear that—once again—the Browns really have no idea what they’re going to do at quarterback.
The Cowboys’ passing game wasn’t quite as prolific as anticipated in the wake of DeMarco Murray’s departure, but with Tony Romo limited to four games no further explanation is necessary. Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden and Kellen Moore were unable to pick up the slack, and two of the three are no longer on the roster. Instead, the Cowboys hope a surgically repaired Romo can wring one more season out of his 36-year-old body while fourth-round pick Dak Prescott understudies from the sidelines. Prior to last year’s debacle Romo was a pillar of fantasy consistency, posting eight consecutive campaigns with at least 21 fantasy points per game. He’ll get a (presumably) healthy Dez Bryant back as well. Even if the Cowboys load up rookie Ezekiel Elliott with a DeMarco-like workload Romo is capable of starter-level fantasy stats—so long as he remains off the injury report.
The Broncos won a Super Bowl in February, but within two months they were looking for a new quarterback after Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler signed with the Texans. Given the shutdown ability of the Denver defense, the front office didn’t feel the need to tax themselves in the search, settling for much-maligned Mark Sanchez and last year’s seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian. Paxton Lynch also fell into their collective lap on draft day, but the Broncos would prefer to bring him along slowly. Given that last year’s Denver quarterbacks were mediocre at best (12th in attempts, 13th in completions, 14th in passing yards) and lousy the rest of the time, the feeling may be they can get by with sub-standard quarterbacking. Fantasy owners of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders might not be too excited about that.
Things will be different in Detroit with the retirement of Calvin Johnson, who has helped boost Matthew Stafford into consistent top-10 finishes in attempts, completions, yardage and touchdowns. Note that the year Megatron missed three games, the Lions fell off to 11th or lower in all of those categories. But Stafford still doesn’t have an established rushing attack behind him, so expect offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter to spread the wealth. Though the absence of Johnson will be felt, this is still a pass-first offense—not NFL-record pass-first like in 2012, but more than enough opportunity for Stafford to outperform his ADP. The depth behind Stafford is wafer-thin, with only Dan Orlovsky and rookie Jake Rudock behind him on the depth chart.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers’ passing game numbers remained for the most part solid, with the exception of a nosedive from eighth to 26th in yardage; credit the bulk of that to Jordy Nelson’s injury. Green Bay’s deep threat is presumed healthy, giving Aaron Rodgers the downfield weapon that seemed to be the X-factor in pushing the Packers’ offense from good to great. The offensive line returns intact, Eddie Lacy has been working out to help shore up the ground game, and Jared Cook has been added to a receiving corps that gained experience in Nelson’s absence. It’s all laid out for Rodgers to assert himself as an elite quarterback. Last year’s fifth-round pick Brett Hundley is the top backup, but Green Bay’s plan for him is to tease him in the preseason before trading on his potential like they’ve done with Matt Hasselbeck and others in the past.
After yet another season cobbling together the position—Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, TJ Yates, and Brandon Weeden all took significant snaps for the Texans—Houston backed up the Brinks truck for Brock Osweiler in the offseason. Upgrade? Both had one 300-yard game and Hoyer had five more multiple-touchdown games and twice as many 20-plus-point fantasy efforts than Osweiler—and he was throwing to one legit receiver instead of two. Fantasy owners are similarly nonplussed, slotting Osweiler in the bottom third of the league’s quarterback options. Osweiler is five years younger, so there’s hope he can develop with the weapons the Texans have placed at his disposal. But Houston would be happy if Osweiler merely didn’t turn the ball over and let JJ Watt do the heavy lifting.
Often times getting hurt in a contract year is a bad thing. For Andrew Luck, forcing the Colts to play nine games without him certainly loosened the purse strings and expedited the contract process. After topping the league in attempts, passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2014 the tag-team entry of Luck, Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst, Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley dropped Indy to ninth, 22nd and 17th in those categories. Luck is back to right the ship, Indy spent some draft capital to upgrade the line in front of him, and all the expectations building up to last season are still in play for 2016. None of the aforementioned backups remain on the Colts’ roster; if tragedy strikes again, Indy will turn to Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris or Josh Woodrum.
No sophomore slump for Blake Bortles, as he tossed 35 touchdowns and ranked between Tom Brady and Russell Wilson in fantasy production. While the Jaguars’ young receiving corps returns intact and Jacksonville believes they’ve upgraded their offensive line as well, an encore may be difficult. Not because Bortles will regress, but the Jags have also improved their defense so they may not be playing from behind as frequently as in 2015. Jacksonville also added Chris Ivory to their running game, which may drain some opportunities as the offense becomes more balanced; the signing also likely means Bortles won’t lead the league in red zone attempts (97) or throw another 25 red zone scores—19 of them inside the 10. Such skepticism appears built into Bortle’s ADP; he’s currently going off the board as a low-end starter. Chad Henne remains as the insurance policy, but there’s no question the Jags have become Bortle’s team to lead.
Kansas City Chiefs
For a guy widely considered to be a passing guru, Andy Reid has been non-relevant of late in Kansas City. Each of the past two seasons Chiefs quarterbacks have ranked 25th or lower in passes, completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Even with—or perhaps because of?—Jamaal Charles going down with an injury last year, the Chiefs failed to generate any sort of buzz in the passing game. What Smith does is not turn the ball over; last year the Chiefs threw the second-fewest interceptions after tossing the least picks each of the two previous seasons. Smith also brings a little to the table as a runner—fourth-most rushing yards among quarterbacks last year—but even that barely pushes him to the rim of fantasy relevancy. Charles returns from injury, the Chiefs didn’t upgrade a mediocre-at-best corps of pass catchers… same old same old. Aaron Murray and Kevin Hogan wait in the wings, which doesn’t exactly stoke the fires either.
Los Angeles Rams
(Improving) Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Sean Mannion… the Rams couldn’t put enough on the table to entice the Titans to part with the first overall pick, allowing Jeff Fisher to make Jared Goff the centerpiece of Los Angeles’ new franchise. Seeing as the Rams haven’t ranked inside the top 10 in completions, passing yardage or passing scores since the Marc Bulger area and ranked no higher in 21 in those categories the past three seasons, it was time for a change. There’s some talk the Rams won’t rush Goff into the starting lineup, but… Keenum, Mannion, Foles. The best way to ease the rookie into NFL life may be to have him hand off to Todd Gurley a whole bunch; between Fisher’s run-first ways and the Rams’ still-developing (and that’s being kind) collection of receivers, Year One does not project to be a fantasy wonderland for Goff and the Rams.
After a couple steps forward Ryan Tannehill backslid in 2015—but not too far, and there were reasons: a first-round wide receiver waylaid by injury, a banged-up and underachieving offensive line, a coaching staff on its way out the door. Another year, another system and this time things are looking up for Tannehill with Adam Gase calling the plays. Gase wrung a couple more quality seasons out of Peyton Manning before moving to Chicago and making Jay Cutler more efficient. Now he’ll sit in the big chair and priority one is making Tannehill the franchise quarterback the Dolphins have been waiting for. The offensive line is healthy and added Laremy Tunsil, the receiving corps gets a healthier DeVante Parker and rookie Leonte Carroo, and Gase’s future is invested fully in Tannehill’s success. Optimism abounds in South Beach!
So long as Adrian Peterson remains a Viking, this will be a run-first team. That’s why the Vikings posted the lowest or second-lowest number in attempts, completions, passing yardage and passing touchdowns last year. In fact, they haven’t cracked the top 20 in any of those categories since Brett Favre’s consecutive games streak was intact. Teddy Bridgewater was drafted to plug this gaping hole in Minnesota, and while he’s been solid he is by no means a viable fantasy option. Laquan Treadwell should help improve Bridgewater’s numbers, but this is still AP’s team—and as such, there’s a very low ceiling to the purple’s passing game numbers.
New England Patriots
The position will look different, at least for a month, as Tom Brady sits out his four-game Deflategate suspension. Jimmy Garoppolo has 31 regular season passes; Brady had 15 games (including playoffs) with that many attempts or more last year alone. The last time Brady missed a game (2008), the Patriots plugged in Matt Cassel and still squeezed a top-10 fantasy season out of their passing game, so there’s at least cautious optimism Garoppolo can hold down the fort for a month. After that it’s back to business as usual, which means so long as Rob Gronkowski is in the mix the Patriots’ passing game will produce helpful fantasy results—and once Brady is back, top-10 caliber numbers.
New Orleans Saints
The last time Saints quarterbacks didn’t post a top-six fantasy season, Aaron Brooks was their signal caller and Drew Brees was a Charger. That’s 10 years of rock-solid consistency, and last season was no exception. Despite a game plan to run the ball more, despite Brees missing a game early on and playing through a foot injury later in the season, the Saints were once again top-three in attempts, completions and passing yards and 10th in touchdown passes. New Orleans added a first-round receiver and a free agent tight end to Brees’ receiving corps, setting him up for Year Eleven of fantasy excellence. And if age starts catching up to him, Luke McCown demonstrated he’s at least capable of short-term success.
New York Giants
With his brother retired, maybe Eli Manning will finally get the credit he deserves? Nah, probably not. Despite winning two Super Bowls and posting consistently solid numbers in the media epicenter of the world, Manning continues to find a way to be underrated. Last season was no exception, as the Giants ranked in the top 10 in attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns. New York drafted another receiver to help Odell Beckham Jr. and hopes to finally get Victor Cruz back as well. Meanwhile, their running game remains shaky at best. It’s all set up for another sure-to-be-overlooked quality campaign for the Big Blue passing game.
New York Jets
(Camp Watch) As the Jets’ roster currently stands, there’s concern. Geno Smith was replaced last season after two mediocre campaigns as the starter, but Ryan Fitzpatrick has yet to re-sign with the team. The latest speculation has Fitz rejoining the team during training camp, so depending on when your fantasy draft is you may not have all the information necessary to make an informed decision. What we know is that Smith can run—six rushing scores as a rookie—and was pretty good (316 yards, two TDs) in one start against the Raiders last year. We also know that offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has worked wonders with the likes of Kordell Stewart, Jay Fiedler, Tyler Thigpen and yes, even Fitzmagic himself. The Jets return the same stable of pass catchers who helped spark Fitz’s success last year, and they added pass-catching back Matt Forte to their mix. While it leaves Gang Green thin at the position, with untested Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg backing up Smith, the Jets going with Geno provides fantasy potential at a bargain price. Fitzpatrick won’t come at the same value, but if he returns to the Big Apple fantasy owners know full well what he’s capable of in this offense.
Progress in Oakland, as David Carr improved his completion, yardage, and passing touchdown numbers despite fewer attempts; that’s called efficiency. Expectations are bigger and better this year, with Amari Cooper solidifying himself as a go-to receiver and the Raiders building a rock-solid offensive line in front of Carr. The Raiders are also well-stocked in the insurance department, backing up Carr with Matt McGloin and hoping to develop rookie Connor Cook as well. The Raiders have come a long way since the doldrums of the later Al Davis era, rebuilding the franchise with Carr as the centerpiece and restoring the franchise to one that Oakland (for one more year, at least) can be proud of.
The Chip Kelly era had its moments, most notably top-10 rankings in attempts and completions the past two seasons despite a nondescript group of quarterbacks that’s included Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford. Kelly is gone now, as are Foles and Sanchez, but Bradford remains to bridge the transition to Doug Pederson and first-round pick Carson Wentz. Philly’s new coach hopes to employ the same succession plan that saw Pederson start while Donovan McNabb spent a year acclimating to the NFL. That gives Bradford—or backup Chase Daniel, who followed Pederson from Kansas City—one season to replicate the mediocre passing game number the Chiefs posted with Pederson calling some of the plays. While the future of the Eagles’ offense is Wentz, who has Alex Smith-like skills and upside, the present is most likely some mix of Bradford and the rookie—with neither delivering much in the way of fantasy help.
Ben Roethlisberger has the Pittsburgh passing game humming along at an elite level, posting matching (and career-best) 23.6 fantasy points per game the past two seasons and topping 20 fantasy points per game four straight years and six of the past seven. The only hiccup is the beating Big Ben takes; he’s managed to stay on the field for all 16 games just three times in his 12-year career. Last season that proved costly when Michael Vick and Landry Jones were forced to take meaningful snaps; this year Bruce Gradkowski returns from last year’s injury to help in those two or three games Roethlisberger is bound to miss. Martavis Bryant’s suspension won’t help, but with Antonio Brown to throw to the Steelers’ quarterback situation remains as fantasy-friendly as ever.
San Diego Chargers
The complete and utter lack of a ground game forced the Chargers into the second-most passing attempts in the league—and Philip Rivers was more than happy to respond with a career-best 4,793 yards and 29 touchdowns. Rivers has been a steady supplier of fantasy goodness, with three straight seasons of 21.8 fantasy points per game or better and seven of his last eight with 21-plus fantasy points per game. A healthy Keenan Allen and free agent Travis Benjamin more than offset the retirement of Malcom Floyd, so once again Rivers will have plenty to work with; he should also benefit from an offensive line that can’t possibly be as injury-ravaged as last year’s unit. Kellen Clemens and Zach Mettenberger back up Rivers, but at age 34 he shows no signs of slowing down.
San Francisco 49ers
(Camp Battle) The Niners split their 2015 quarterbacking between Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, and that’s the dilemma Chip Kelly faces in his first year on the job in San Francisco. While Kaepernick posted a career-low 15.2 fantasy points per game prior to his season-ending injury, Gabbert’s 20.8 fantasy points per game were a career best by more than eight points per game. He looks to be the favorite heading into 2016, but while Kelly has boosted quarterback numbers through sheer volume the Niners’ wafer-thin receiving corps and the likelihood of Kaepernick getting at least a test drive at some point more than offset the projected bump.
With an injury to Marshawn Lynch scuttling their usual game plan, the Seahawks loaded more of their offense on Russell Wilson. Attempts climbed slightly, but completions and yardage improved substantially and touchdowns jumped significantly. Lynch retired in the offseason and his 2015 replacement, Thomas Rawls, is still recovering from an injury, so the logical expectation is for Wilson to keep doing what he’s doing. Whether Wilson can match the ridiculous efficiency of his numbers over the second half of 2015—29.8 fantasy points per game, seven straight multiple-touchdown games to close the regular season—remains to be seen, but fantasy owners aren’t betting against him as his ADP puts him in Rodgers/Luck/Brees territory. The same receivers, an improved (in theory) offensive line, and an offense that runs through him instead of the ground game—all signs point towards that ADP being more accurate than not.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston’s first regular season NFL pass went for a touchdown—the other way. The rookie recovered to post solid though hardly spectacular passing numbers, riding an unexpected six rushing scores to the cusp of fantasy relevancy. Winston’s sophomore season sees his supporting cast returning, including a young and improving offensive line and now-healthy lead receiver Mike Evans, and his current ADP places him right on the borderline between fantasy starter and quality backup. It’s a gray area where fantasy owners will have to decide for themselves whether a sophomore slump looms or Winston can ride Evans to a higher level of fantasy productivity.
Second overall pick Marcus Mariota burst out of the gate with eight touchdowns in his first three NFL games; while his pace slowed after that and injuries cost him a total of four games over the course of the season, he still flashed brightly with multiple touchdowns in half his games. Tennessee augmented his supporting cast with upgrades to the offensive line (first-round pick Jack Conklin), receiving corps (free agent Rishard Matthews and fifth-rounder Tajae Sharpe), and ground game (trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry). The latter moves may negatively impact his opportunities as the Titans attempt to feed two workhorse backs, but overall the roster additions give Mariota more weapons to work with. His numbers won’t be gaudy, but Mariota proved last season he can blow up with the best of them—a trait dice-rolling fantasy owners can appreciate.
Selecting Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the same draft in which they overpaid for Robert Griffin III paid dividends last year, as Cousins built on his 2014 spot-starting success by beating out RG3 and posting a top-10 fantasy season. Cousins got paid in the offseason via the franchise tag, but the Redskins apparently need to see another year of success before committing to any sort of long-term deal. For his audition year he’ll have first-round pick Josh Doctson added to his array of weapons, and the departure of Alfred Morris leaves the Redskins without a proven running game threat—suggesting Jay Gruden’s offense will lean even more heavily on Cousins and the pass. In that scenario Cousins seems undervalued at his current ADP—even moreso when you consider he closed out the regular season with a final month that included three 300-yard games and three games with at least three touchdowns. Toss in the additional motivation of long-term financial security and fantasy owners are bound to like what Cousins brings to the table in 2016.