Rookie quarterbacks and running quarterbacks were all the rage in 2012, but across the board the position was full of productivity. With so many quarterbacks putting up gaudy numbers, the temptation heading into 2013 is to wait on the position; after all, if you can still find above-average productivity in the middle rounds there’s less of a need to reach for elite quarterbacks early on. Here’s a breakdown of not only the position’s productivity over the past few years but also each team’s performance over that span–as well as what’s in store for the upcoming campaign.
Position Totals by Year
|Year||Runs||Rush Yards||Rush TD||Passes||Comps||Pass Yards||YPC||Pass TD||Int|
Even on the heels of 2011’s record-setting season the numbers kept going up: not only more passes, completions, yards and touchdowns but more rushes and significantly more rushing yards–a more than 50 percent increase over the past four seasons. Despite all the throwing, interceptions were down–perhaps because, as evidenced by the step back in yards per completion, all those completions were taking place closer to the line of scrimmage.
Top Ten Quarterback Totals
|Year||Runs||Rush Yards||Rush TD||Passes||Comps||Pass Yards||Pass TD||FF Pts|
Rushing quarterbacks are taking over the fantasy top 10. Among the top scoring QBs rushing attempts were up by 20 percent, rushing yargage lept by a whopping 60 percent, and even after last year’s spike of rushing scores that total crept upwards as well. Meanwhile, passes and completions continued to climb but yardage and touchdowns took a step backwards–as noted above, due to more West Coast-type passing games and fewer deep shots. Overall QB fantasy scoring fell off of last year’s astounding pace–but it’s still a healthy amount beyond what productivity has been prior to 2011’s blow-up.
(Improving) It’s not difficult to slap an “improving” tag here, as quarterback play in Arizona has been bottom-feeding since Kurt Warner retired. This offseason the Cardinals bought low on Carson Palmer and have teamed him with new coach Bruce Arians in hopes of kick-starting the passing game. Arians loves the home run ball, and Palmer’s numbers in Oakland suggest he can still go deep; with Larry Fitzgerald itching to be put to work and Michael Floyd set to move into the lineup, there’s an opportunity for Arizona to once again produce a fantasy helper at quarterback.
Matt Ryan’s numbers continue to improve, and with Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez at his disposal once again there’s no reason to expect a step backwards. The only potential stumbling block is the arrival of Steven Jackson, who should prove to be more effective in the ground game than Michael Turner was last year; however, Jackson’s skill as a receiver provides a benefit for Ryan that should offset anything his rushing might take away. Ryan may not be viewed in the same light as Brees and Rodgers, but if he hasn’t already gained membership into the elite QB club he’s in the process of slipping past the bouncer.
Joe Flacco’s playoff performance put a ring on the Ravens’ collective finger, and Baltimore rewarded him with a monster contract. Fantasy owners, however, remain non-plussed–and for good reason, as his numbers once again ranked smack-dab in the middle of the pack. The Ravens aren’t paying Flacco for his fantasy performance, they’re paying him to win games–and at that he’s succeeded. But this year he’ll be without safety blanket Anquan Boldin so it’s unlikely fantasy owners will shell out the same respect for Flacco the Ravens’ front office did.
(Camp Watch) Turns out Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the answer after all, and the Bills have last season’s back-sliding numbers to prove it. A bargain-priced Kevin Kolb was Buffalo’s first pick to fill Fitz’s shoes–but that was before the draft yielded E.J. Manuel, who will battle Kolb in training camp for the right to run Doug Marrone’s offense. We’ve seen what Kolb can do and there doesn’t seem to be much fantasy upside there; Manuel, however, is the closest thing in this draft class to the Kaepernick/Wilson/RG3 model of accurate, mobile quarterbacks. As the numbers at the top of this article suggest, it’s a model for fantasy success so there’s obvious potential if Manuel lives up to his first-round draft status.
It’s not rocket science; while Cam Newton threw almost 100 fewer passes than any other quarterback who finished in the top seven in fantasy scoring he also rushed for more than twice as many yards and scored twice as many rushing TDs. The Panthers will be a run-first team again, and there is some talk that maybe they’ll ask Newton to run a little less, but that falls under the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category. A change in offensive coordinators shouldn’t ruffle Newton’s feathers, as the new guy calling plays is Mike Shula, who has been his quarterback coach since he entered the league. Factor in the emerging play of Brandon LaFell and there’s at least as much upside to the Carolina passing game as their is potential downside to less running by Newton–and probably more.
(Improving) Jay Cutler has yet to deliver on Chicago’s expectations after they traded for him coming off a top-five fantasy season. This year the Bears are going all-in with Cutler; every move they made this offseason is geared towards squeezing that potential out of their QB. New coach Marc Trestman is a quarterback whisperer, and his offense calls for shorter drops that will help a Bears’ offensive line that has been downright brutal during Cutler’s tenure. Trestman’s coordinator used to oversee the offensive line for the Saints, and the Bears brought in a pair of new lineman to keep Jay clean as well. To tall and talented targets Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery the Bears added tight end Martellus Bennett, and Matt Forte is one of the top pass-catching backs in the league. It will be a new brand of football in Chicago, with a whole lot more passing than the Windy City has been used to; for Cutler and the Chicago passing game stats, that’s bound to be a good thing.
Year Two of the Andy Dalton era saw modest improvements across the board, with a healthy jump back to Carson Palmer glory days in the touchdowns category. The offense will remain roughly the same, but there are legitimate candidates for a quality WR2 opposite A.J. Green in Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones and a shiny new tight end in Tyler Eifert as well as the added dimension of Giovani Bernard out of the backfield. Some question if Dalton has a ceiling and is fast approaching it, but with new weapons at his disposal there’s little reason to think the upward track of his productivity won’t continue.
(Camp Watch) (Improving) Brandon Weeden felt like a bit of a reach–maybe a consolation prize?–when the Browns traded back into the first round to get him last year. His numbers were a mild improvement over the previous season despite an ill-fitting offense and an inexperienced supporting cast. Things are looking up this season with Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner implementing a more vertical passing game that better fits Weeden’s skill set. He’ll eventually have Josh Gordon to throw to as well, as well as a reliable underneath target in Davone Bess and emerging tight end Josh Gordon. And if Weeden doesn’t take to the new offense as expected, Jason Campbell is a veteran backup plan who will at minimum push him during training camp.
The Cowboys have $108 million reasons to put their faith in Tony Romo, and while some find fault in his late-game foibles or lack of postseason success fantasy owners look at the numbers and have to agree with Jerry Jones. That investment also should lessen any fears that new play-caller Bill Callahan will turn Dallas into a running team one year after watching Romo’s attempts jump by 15 percent in 2012. With Dez Bryant poised to join the elite receivers and Jason Witten the most reliable tight end this side of Tony Gonzalez, the Cowboys will once again rely on Romo’s arm to put points on the board; again, fantasy owners–aside from those invested in DeMarco Murray–couldn’t be happier.
Has there ever been a bigger shift in quarterbacking styles than Denver’s move from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning? After a season lost to injury Manning re-emerged with the Broncos, and aside from maybe losing a shade off his deep ball he was every bit the stud we’ve come to know and love. Rewarded for their faith in Manning, the Broncos returned the favor by bringing in the best slot receiver in the game in Wes Welker, giving Peyton a trio that rivals the Harrison/Wayne/Stokley record-setting glory days. They also re-signed left tackle Ryan Clady and loaded up their backfield committee with Montee Ball, giving Manning everything he needs to wring one more ring out of his HOF career–and at least one more big fantasy season along the way.
Matthew Stafford threw a record 740 passes last season, yet all that work amounted to just 68 more yards than the previous season and a whopping 19 fewer touchdowns. Yes, Calvin Johnson was taken down inside the five multiple times but those numbers beg the question: has the Detroit passing game reached its ceiling? They’re replacing both tackles–which isn’t necessarily a downgrade, by the way–and adding Reggie Bush. Will the Lions continue to throw at a record pace? Can someone step up to give Megatron some help? There’s nothing wrong with the numbers Detroit’s passing game is putting up, but it’s difficult to find any room for improvement so set expectations accordingly.
Green Bay Packers
After a monster 2011–kind of a theme amongst quarterbacks–Green Bay’s passing game fell back to Earth a little bit; despite similar attempts and completions yardage was off by more than 16 percent and touchdowns were down by almost one-fourth. Now they’ll have to deal with the loss of Greg Jennings, though they held up just fine without him last season as missed half the year with injuries. The Packers also spent two early picks on running backs in hopes of making their offense a little more multi-dimensional, but there’s little question this is still Aaron Rodgers’ team. The 2011 numbers show what Rodgers and the Packers are capable of, but the reality of what they’ll actually accomplish lies much closer to the 2010 and 2012 seasons that bracket it. Not that there’s anything wrong with 4,300 yards and 30-plus touchdowns.
Less T.J. Yates in 2012 meant a return to the 4K plateau for the Houston passing game. And when you consider how much of a run-first team the Texans truly are, that Matt Schaub has directed them to 4,000 yards two of three seasons and 20 or more passing scores each of the last three years it’s plain to see he’s doing a heckuva job. Of course, platitudes like that don’t count for much in most fantasy leagues, so once again the Texans look poised to offer a consistent, reliable, yet ultimately middle-of-the-road fantasy solution at quarterback–with perhaps a smattering of upside due to the rave reviews first-round pick and projected WR2 DeAndre Hopkins has garnered thus far during offseason activities.
Andrew Luck didn’t necessarily make people forget Peyton Manning, but he did erase memories of the Kerry Collins/Curtis Painter/Dan Orlovsky nightmare in 2011. Luck topped 300 yards in three of his first four games and exceeded that mark a half-dozen times running Bruce Arians’ big-strike offense, but with Arians now in Arizona those numbers might be reined in a bit under Pep Hamilton. Not that Luck’s former Stanford OC doesn’t trust his QB, but Hamilton’s version of the West Coast offense isn’t as likely to go deep; at Stanford about 40 percent of his completions were to tight ends, and even with Luck under center the Cardinal displayed a strong tendency to run the football. Luck’s bottom line numbers shouldn’t change dramatically, but that’s likely because while he may not be over 300 as frequently he also won’t be sub-250 yards seven times like he was last year. There’s no reason to expect a regression of numbers, but given the change in system it’s also tough to see Luck make a big jump towards elite fantasy numbers.
(Camp Watch) (Improving) If you squinted hard enough last season you could see signs that Blaine Gabbert might just make it as an NFL quarterback after all: a better TD/INT ratio, a higher completion percentage… okay, so you really need to squint. But the Jaguars couldn’t find a better option in the offseason so they’ll give Gabbert another shot–though he will have to compete in camp with Chad Henne, who was slightly more productive (about four points a game fantasy-wise) in relief of the injured Gabbert last year. There’s little question Jacksonville is still in rebuilding mode, but they’ll have to start the process without suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon. That leaves Cecil Shorts to carry the passing game with not much identifiable help. With Blackmon and a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew, maybe the Jags’ QB battle winner offers a little fantasy assistance; sans Blackmon and with MJD still a big question mark, there’s just not much to see here.
Kansas City Chiefs
(Improving) Here’s another major shift in philosophy: Andy Reid’s teams have thrown the ball at least 542 times each of the past nine seasons; the Chiefs haven’t chucked it like that since 2007, when Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle were playing catch-up for the bulk of a 4-12 season. Alex Smith will run Reid’s offense; he’s never thrown more than 445 passes in a season, but like Winger and Ziskey in Stripes he is willing to learn. The better news is that Smith’s completion percentage–a must-have trait in a West Coast offense–has been trending up each of his last two seasons in San Francisco and he was connecting on better than 70 percent of his throws prior to last year’s injury and subsequent benching in favor of Colin Kaepernick. Dwayne Bowe heads up a good-not-great collection of pass-catchers, another Andy Reid trademark; given that Reid QBs have produced an average of 20 fantasy points per game for nine straight seasons, all that familiarity bodes well for Smith’s numbers this season.
(Camp Watch) (Improving) The Dolphins brought in Mike Wallace and Dustin Keller in hopes of upgrading their passing game, and subsequently there’s plenty of buzz surrounding Ryan Tannehill’s potential this season. Maybe it was his one 300-yard game (a 431-yard outlier against the Cardinals in Week 4) or his grand total of three multiple touchdown games (home tilts all, against formidable foes from St. Louis, Jacksonville, and Buffalo). It can’t be because they let Jake Long walk and are now protecting Tannehill’s blind side with Jonathan Martin, who allowed a league-high 47 hurries last season playing primarily on the right side. On the bright side, Tannehill is athletic enough to avoid some pressure and the Dolphins seem pleased with his progress. The prudent move would be to let him give a little bit more of a demonstration–like maybe more than one game of more than 20 fantasy points over the final three months of the season–before entrusting him with the keys to your fantasy squad.
(Camp Watch) (Improving) It’s no secret the Vikings are a run-first team; for Minnesota to consider Christian Ponder a success he needs to do just enough to keep defenses reasonably honest when it comes to defending Adrian Peterson. That’s how you end up with three games with less than 100 passing yards–two of them wins, by the way. Ponder has proven capable when necessary–six 20-point fantasy games last year, the same number as Eli Manning–but is a low-end fantasy backup at least until Adrian Peterson hangs up his cleats. Same for Matt Cassel, who was brought in to prevent such scenarios as last year’s embarassing playoff loss in Green Bay, where Joe Webb played his way out of the quarterback position due to an injury to Ponder. Bottom line, if you’re looking to Ponder or the Vikings for fantasy help then it’s you who is doing it wrong.
New England Patriots
The quarterback position in New England is just fine, thank you; who Tom Brady will be throwing to, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. The good news is that Brady has been here twice before, dealing with a more than 50 percent loss of returning receiving production; once he slipped all the way to seventh among fantasy quarterbacks and the other time he added Randy Moss and blew up the record book. No Moss on the horizon this time around–yet, at least–but New England replaced Wes Welker with Danny Amendola and drafted Aaron Dobson so the cupboard isn’t exactly bare.Expectations may need to be dialed back closer to 4,000 than 5,000 yards, to the point that Brady may wind up outside the elite tier of QBs, but Brady’s floor still looks to be in the 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown range so there’s no reason to hit the panic button.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees has led the Saints’ passing game to top-three finishes across the board each of the past three seasons–and now he gets Sean Payton back. If you must find reason to quibble, Brees will be breaking in a new left tackle; other than that, there’s absolutely no reason to expect anything less than another top-three performance.
New York Giants
Eli Manning’s gaudy 2011 performance looks to be a bit of an aberration; though he’s comfortably stepped up from the mid-3K yardage range to right around 4K, that 4,933 is an outlier. It’ll be especially tough for Eli to get there if he can’t even post a 300-yard game; his last came in Week 7, so he’s working on a nine-game streak sub-300. Manning loses Martellus Bennett as well, but Victor Cruz is locked up and now the Giants can focus on tying down Hakeem Nicks as well. There’s depth in the receiving corps, and the backfield is unproven so perhaps more of the offensive workload will revert back to the passing game. You’ve seen Manning’s ceiling, but while he’s elevated the floor he seems destined to hit halfway up the wall more consistently than return to something near the light fixtures.
New York Jets
(Camp Watch) The Jets’ passing game has been substandard for years, and last year’s showing was no exception. Gang Green ranked in the bottom four in the league in completions, yardage, and touchdowns and outdistanced the field in butt fumbles. Mark Sanchez could hang onto his job, but he’ll have to hold off a challenge from second-round pick Geno Smith just to get a chance to match last year’s abysmal numbers. Smith offers hope of an upgrade, but the Jets are still a run-first team and there isn’t much in the way of a receiving corps to help his transition to the NFL. Like a train wreck you can’t help but watch the Jets’ quarterback situation, but even if you can’t avert your gaze you should keep them away from your fantasy team.
(Camp Watch) Isn’t it just like the Raiders to finally get competent quarterback play, then turn around and trade away Carson Palmer for late-round draft picks? Last season’s spike in productivity was a direct result of Palmer carrying the passing game; now that job falls to Matt Flynn… or maybe Terrelle Pryor… or fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson. Flynn has the edge in the battle, but Oakland’s plan is to return to its power running game roots so another 628 attempts is unlikely. Plus, with two young and untested options lined up behind Flynn this looks to have all the makings of a job share with multiple auditions along the way. There are no fantasy winners in such a scenario.
(Camp Watch) The fantasy world’s eyes are on Chip Kelly and what he’ll do with the Philadelphia offense. His offenses at Oregon piled up points and yardage primarily via the run, and the mobile quarterbacks the Ducks used suggest that Michael Vick is the logical fit for the Eagles. However, Kelly prefers a quarterback who gets rid of the ball in a hurry and that isn’t one of Vick’s strengths; enter Nick Foles, who started six games down the stretch last year and reportedly has taken the lead in what is shaping up to be a training camp battle royale. Vick operating Kelly’s offense a la RG3 or Colin Kaepernick has its fantasy upside, but he has to get there first. Foles offers less mobility, but increased accuracy; he’ll have a plethora of speedy weapons at his disposal should he wind up with the job. Plenty to watch in Philly, with Kelly’s quarterback competition at the top of the list.
Supposedly Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t a big fan of the Steelers’ change in offensive coordinators, but you wouldn’t know it from the numbers the passing game put up: upward ticks in attempts, completions, and touchdowns and another 4,000-yard season despite two games from ageless backups Charlie Batch and Byron Letfwich. This offseason Big Ben has reportedly had more input into the offense and teammates have noticed the positive change during offseason activities. That’s good; it will help cover up the loss of Mike Wallace and the possibility that tight end Heath Miller won’t be ready for the start of the season. Also notable, since Roethlisberger hasn’t played a full 16-game slate in five years, is the Steelers getting younger at QB2 with Bruce Gradkowski. With the running game also in a state of flux, a happy and healthy Roethlisberger will be asked to carry the Pittsburgh offense in a tough division–with another uptick in numbers there for the taking.
San Diego Chargers
Several factors contributed to the five-year lows the Chargers’ passing game posted last season: horrible offensive line play, the departure of Vincent Jackson, non-existent contributions from the ground game. What’s changed heading into 2013? San Diego has a new coach in Mike McCoy, a new OC in Ken Whisenhunt, a couple new faces along the offensive line and some hope in the receiving corps with a healthy Vincent Brown and third-round pick Keenan Allen. Is it enough to stem the downturn in numbers for 31-year-old Philip Rivers, or has he run his course as a fantasy helper? Most indicators point towards the latter.
San Francisco 49ers
(Improving) Just as Alex Smith was actually starting to live up to something close to first-round status, completing 70 percent of his passes, a concussion knocked him out of the lineup–and the Colin Kaepernick era began. That will obviously mean more running, though with more teams figuring out how to handle the read-option the 181-yard games will become more scarce. Kaepernick benefits from one of the better offensive lines in the game, but he’ll be without Michael Crabtree for at least the first two months of the season which could stunt his development as a passer. Casual drafters who saw only his playoff performance will overvalue Kaepernick, whose postseason showing projects out to 5,600 total yards and 37 total touchdowns. Not that Kaepernick doesn’t have upside, but the Niners are still by nature a run-first team and there will be growing pains.
(Improving) Draftniks–real, not fantasy–were all over Russell Wilson last season and he rewarded their faith by winning the Seattle job in training camp. He didn’t begin to endear himself to fantasy types until midseason, at which point he rattled off eight 20-point games over the Seahawks’ final nine games; two more in the playoffs tossed gasoline on the already blazing hype fire. The good news is that for a rookie Wilson displayed remarkable consistency, plus he’ll operate behind one of the league’s top offensive line and he received a big gift when the Seahawks traded for Percy Harvin in the offseason. So where’s the downside? At its heart the Seahawks are still a run-first team; add in a stout defense and there’s no reason for Seattle to throw any more than the league-low 402 times they passed last season. With his opportunities potentially limited there’s a ceiling to Wilson’s fantasy production. His floor is higher than most, but likewise his ceiling is lower.
St. Louis Rams
(Improving) After a sophomore slump in 2011, Sam Bradford got back in the groove in 2012 with numbers that were an improvement even over his ROY stats. With Steven Jackson gone and the Rams looking at an untested backfield committee approach, it will be on the passing game to carry the offense. To that end Bradford has new weapons in rookie Tavon Austin and free agent tight end Jared Cook, as well as hoped-for development from youngsters Chris Givens, Brian Quick, and Austin Pettis. That’s a bunch of young talent meeting a healthy dose of opportunity; makes sense that Bradford is a popular fantasy sleeper heading into the 2013 season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Greg Schiano went on record early in the offseason that he was looking for competition at the quarterback position–perhaps an overreaction to Josh Freeman throwing nine interceptions over the final three games as the Bucs limped home with five losses in the final six contests. However, Freeman did post career bests in yardage and touchdowns and was a more consistent fantasy contributor than the likes of Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton. He’s in a contract year, so there’s financial motivation, and with third-round pick Mike Glennon as the closest thing to a threat Freeman should have all year to state his case. The emergence of Doug Martin, coupled with the return to health of All Pro guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, could tip the offense towards the ground game; still, with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams on the outside there’s more than enough ammo for Freeman to make a contract push and be a fantasy factor in the process.
To this point it’s safe to say the first round pick spent on Jake Locker hasn’t produced the desired ROI. Locker split time with Matt Hasselbeck again last year, and the passing game numbers tumbled from adequate to substandard. Once again the Titans are giving Locker plenty to work with, spending their top two draft picks on help up front (Chance Warmack) and another wide receiver (Justin Hunter). Tight end Jared Cook leaves, but free agency yielded Delanie Walker. Add in sophomore Kendall Wright, veteran Nate Washington, and enigmatic first-round pick Kenny Britt in a contract year and Locker is running out of excuses. Hasselbeck is gone, but the Ttians snagged another backup plan with former Buffalo starter Ryan Fitzpatrick holding a clipboard and waiting his turn. The pieces are there, but with Locker having played in just half the games over his first two NFL seasons fantasy owners aren’t exactly holding their collective breath that this is finally the year it all comes together.
(Camp Watch) The Redskins went big with the trade for Robert Griffin III, and it paid off equally as big. While passing volume was down, efficiency was way up; moreover, the dual threat of RG3 as a runner made Alfred Morris and the ground game that much more effective. Of course, all eyes will be on RG3’s recovery from the knee injury that dampened the finish of his fine rookie season–not just if and when he’ll be healthy but also whether or not the injury tweaks how much Griffin runs. And seeing as he led all quarterbacks in rushing yardage and ranked only behind Cam Newton in QB rushing TDs, that’s a hugh component of his fantasy value. The health of key receivers like Pierre Garçon and Fred Davis also comes into play, but there’s insurance to the Washington Team QB due to fellow 2012 draftee Kirk Cousins, who threw for 466 yards and four touchdowns in one successful start and two spot appearances last year. He doesn’t have RG3’s fantasy upside, but he’ll at least keep the rest of the supporting cast fantasy-relevant.