“Off the Matt” Quarterback Rankings 2015, 20-11 (Part 2 of 3)
In case you missed last week’s article in which I ranked quarterbacks 30-21, you can find it here. The players who appeared on last week’s list will most likely only be options in two quarterback leagues. This week, however, will feature names that need to be owned and depending on how deep of a league you play in, might be your Week 1 starting quarterback.
20. Jay Cutler, Bears
HELLO: Despite the Bears team struggles in 2014, Cutler managed to set a career high in touchdown passes and completion percentage. Cutler will have new weapons to work with in first round selection Kevin White and efficient slot man Eddie Royal.
UH-OH: The departure of Brandon Marshall will hurt. However, an even bigger loss is that of “The Quarterback Whisperer”, Marc Trestman, who allowed Cutler to air it out 37 times per game. Cutler led the league with 18 interceptions, which was the second most in his career and highest total since 2010.
BOTTOM LINE: Setting a career high in touchdown passes and throwing for the second most yards in his career would lead one to believe that Cutler has finally figured it out and is trending upward. The reality is that even a career year put him only slightly ahead of a middle of the pack ranking. His 28 touchdown passes was good enough for 10th in the league, while his 3,812 pass yards ranked 13th best. Cutler was able to post these numbers in a pass happy offense. With John Fox and Adam Gase rolling into town, look for them to balance the offense and put the reins on Cutler. If your league penalizes heavily for turnovers, slide Cutler down a few spots. With a limited ceiling, Cutler should only be starting in two quarterback formats.
19. Marcus Mariota, Titans
HELLO: The duel threat Oregon Duck was selected 2nd overall in the draft and is expected to be the Week 1 starter. The transition from the Oregon spread to the NFL might not be as bumpy as some think. Last year, the Titans ran 65% of their plays from the shotgun which should be a comfortable situation for Mariota. The Titans drafted Dorial Green-Beckham who could end up being Mariota’s favorite target.
UH-OH: As mentioned in the Jameis Winston write-up, but worth mentioning again, in the past decade only five rookie quarterbacks have produced top 15 fantasy seasons. Without much of a running game to lean on, the pressure will fall heavily on Mariota to lead the offense. The problem is that aside from Kendall Wright and tight end Delanie Walker, Mariota does not have any other proven weapons to work with. It should be noted that referring to Wright and Walker as “proven weapons” is the nicest compliment I have handed out in a long time. The phrase slightly above replacement level would probably be more fitting.
BOTTOM LINE: I do not like to rely on rushing stats at the quarterback position as a major source of fantasy points. In this case, with as bad as I expect the Titans offense to be, Mariota will have no choice but to try to make plays with his legs. I drew comparisons of Mariota to RG3 in this article. With a similar skill set, I could see Mariota putting up rookie year RG3 numbers as a best case scenario. With that type season being his upside, he is worth selecting.
18. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
HELLO: Kaepernick showed steady improvement in his second full season by improving his passing and rushing yards. His 90 yard touchdown RUN in week 16 should serve as a reminder of the big play potential that Kaepernick possesses. Speaking of big plays, Kaepernick finally has a deep threat at his disposal with the addition of Torrey Smith.
UH-OH: While the 90 yard touchdown run was impressive, it was also depressing for fantasy owners because it was his only rushing touchdown of the season. Kaepernick’s passing yards took a major hit over the final five weeks of the season. Through the first 11 games his lowest yardage total was 193 yards. Over the final five weeks he posted totals of: 121, 174, 141, 114, and 204.
BOTTOM LINE: The new coaching staff adds a wrinkle to Kaepernick’s value. Jim Tomsula has commented that he wants to emphasize Kaepernick’s athleticism. Could this mean a return of the read-option? His rushing potential makes him an attractive option, however, his lack of accuracy and inconsistent passing numbers make him hard to trust as a dependable weekly option. Kaepernick is a high risk, high reward player. Make sure to pair him up with a consistent producer if you decide to take the gamble.
17. Carson Palmer, Cardinals
HELLO: I realize that six games is a small sample size, but Palmer looked like a QB1 in his short time on the field last year. If you would extrapolate his numbers from those six games over an entire year, he would have finished with a line of 4,300 / 29 / 8.
UH-OH: Being 35 years old and coming off season ending surgery is a scary combination. Playing 25% of your games against the Seahawk’s secondary and the Rams pass rush could be problematic.
BOTTOM LINE: When he tore the same ACL Wild Card Weekend in 2006, thanks to Kimo Von Oelhoffen, he returned for Week 1 of the following season. Granted, he is ten years older than that comeback, but he has proven he can return from injury and play at a high level. Last season the Cardinals had the 31st ranked rush offense. They did little to improve in that area, so it looks like it should be lots of throwing for Palmer. Larry Fitzgerald’s best days are far behind him, but Michael Floyd and big play receiver John Brown should take a step forward. IF he is able to stay healthy and play all 16 games, Palmer will be a draft day bargain.
16. Joe Flacco
HELLO: In 2014 Flacco put together the best season of his career, setting career highs in passing yards and touchdowns. The Ravens acquired new toys for Flacco via the draft in burner Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams. Flacco’s durability cannot be questioned. He has yet to miss a start in his seven year career.
UH-OH: Even with adding Perriman and Williams through the draft, there are still questions surrounding the weapons that Flacco will have in his arsenal. Steve Smith is another year older, and while Perriman appears to be a Torrey Smith clone, that has yet to be proven. Flacco’s career best season still kept him outside of the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks.
BOTTOM LINE: Flacco will be working with his fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. However, Marc Trestman might be just what Flacco needs to put him over the top in the fantasy world. Flacco averaged just south of 35 pass attempts per game last year. With Trestman’s reputation for airing it out, volume should not be a problem for him this season. Flacco is a consistent producer, throwing for no fewer than 3,610 yards in six straight seasons. Also, he has thrown for 20+ touchdowns in all but one of those seasons (19 in 2013). With those numbers being consistently average in fantasy terms, he should be viewed as a high end backup or a great QB2 in the two quarterback formats.
15. Cam Newton, Panthers
HELLO: No quarterback scored more fantasy points than Cam Newton over the final five weeks of the season. The surge came thanks in large part to the final three games of the year. Cam threw five touchdowns to just one interception. He also found his legs rushing for 50+ yards and a touchdown in each of the three games.
UH-OH: Cam set career lows in passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. The main problem is that he only played in 14 games opposed to 16 which he managed the three previous seasons. Even so, his per game average of 223 passing yards and 39 rush yards were below his career averages. With Cam’s bread and butter being rushing stats, it is a major concern that he failed to reach five fantasy points via ground stats in nine of 14 games. The days of Cam being the primary goal line threat are coming to an end. Last year, he only carried the ball six times inside the five yard line, which accounted for only 25% of the teams carries from close range.
BOTTOM LINE: Cam signed a five-year, 104 million-dollar deal this offseason, with 60 million guaranteed. The days of seeing Cam going “superman” at the goal line might be over. He has gone on record saying that this contract will not change the way he plays the game, but at the same time I don’t think anyone in the front office wants to watch 60 million dollars go air-born often. My line of thinking is that the hits are finally starting to add up. Going into 2014, Cam had been hit 467 times. That number was DOUBLE what any other quarterback had accumulated over the same time period. He played much of last season banged up. Sadly, for Newton fantasy owners I look for that trend to continue.
14. Philip Rivers, Chargers
HELLO: Ready for a stat that will make you read it twice? Philip Rivers has been a top 10 fantasy quarterback for six of the past seven seasons. Last year he put together another ho-hum 4,300 yards and 31 touchdowns. My favorite stat from River’s 2014 seasons was that he threw for three or more touchdowns in seven games. Oh, by the way, he did all this with a significant back injury. Rivers has no problem playing through injury. In the past nine seasons he has not missed a single game.
UH-OH: Rivers was the co-leader with Jay Cutler for most interceptions thrown with 18. Not having Antonio Gates for the first four weeks of the season will hurt, especially in the red zone. River’s production really slowed down as the year went on. Over the final eight games, he only threw 11 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions.
BOTTOM LINE: Rivers is not the sexiest player to own, but at the end of the year he will contend for another top 10 fantasy quarterback season. The biggest issue I have with Rivers is his week to week inconsistencies. At the end of the season his numbers will be there. However, there will be some rough weeks mixed in, like the dud he put up Week 9 at Miami posting a line of 138 / 0 / 3. In head-to-head leagues, a week like that is the death nail for a matchup. If you decide to wait on a quarterback, Rivers is a good option to target. He does not posses much upside, but he is the best bet outside of the top 10 to put together a 4500 yard / 30 touchdown season.
13. Eli Manning, Giants
HELLO: Ironman Eli posted his 10th consecutive season of playing all 16 games. He posted one of his best seasons with a line of 4,410 / 30 / 14. In doing so, he introduced the world to a rising star in Odell Beckham Jr. Eli finished the 2014 season on fire. Over the final three weeks, he threw seven touchdowns and only one interception while averaging 357 yards per game. The addition of Shane Vereen gives Eli one of the best receiving options in the league out of the backfield.
UH-OH: No quarterback had as good of a turn around from 2013 to 2014 as Manning did. However, when Manning is bad, he is reallllly bad. It has to be unsettling for a fantasy owner to know that their quarterback has the potential to have a 27 interception season (see: 2013). Now that defenses have had an offseason to study OBJ, he could take a step back in year two.
BOTTOM LINE: Eli was able to put up a terrific season despite both Beckham and Cruz missing significant time. It is scary to think what he can do with both of them on the field for a full season. Keep an eye on Cruz during training camp/preseason to see how he is able to bounce back from the gruesome injury that cut his 2014 season short.
12. Tom Brady, Patriots
HELLO: After a slow start to the year, Brady went on a red-hot run throwing for 28 touchdowns over a ten game stretch that included 280+ passing yards in seven of those games. From week five on, Brady rated as the fifth best fantasy quarterback.
UH-OH: Unless you have been living under a rock, you already know about the four game suspension that Brady is facing for his role in Deflategate. Missing a quarter of the season will have a major impact on the total fantasy points that Brady will produce.
BOTTOM LINE: Brady is one of the hardest quarterbacks to rank based on the looming suspension. He will present draft day value, but anyone who selects Brady will have to compliment him with a competent back up for the first four weeks. Think about someone in the Palmer – Flacco range. Keep a close eye on this situation. If for some reason the suspension is lifted or reduced move Brady accordingly.
11. Tony Romo, Cowboys
HELLO: Sometimes less is more. That is how I would describe Tony Romo’s 2014 season. Romo attempted the second fewest passes in his career, yet had one of his best seasons in which he led the league in completion percentage, touchdown percentage, and yards per attempt. Romo finished the year strong. Including his two playoff games, he threw for multiple touchdowns in six straight games with only one interception.
UH-OH: I don’t know of any league that awards points for having the best completion percentage, touchdown percentage, or yards per attempt. So, while in real life football sometimes less is more, this does not cross over into the fantasy game. The departure of DeMarco Murray could cause teams to not respect the Cowboy ground game, and shift their focus to slowing down Dez and the pass game.
BOTTOM LINE: The loss of Murray is the ultimate double-edged sword. On one hand the Cowboys are more likely to open up the offense, thus meaning more volume in regards to pass attempts for Tony Romo which in turn should translate into more fantasy points. On the other hand, if the Cowboys struggle to establish a run game, teams will be able to match up better in the secondary making the passing game more difficult and Romo’s efficiency will go out the window. Here is my favorite stat on Tony Romo. In 2012, he threw the ball 648 times. He connected for 28 touchdowns. In 2014, he threw the ball 435 times. He connected for 34 touchdowns. How is it possible to attempt 213 more passes and come away with six FEWER touchdown passes? Anyway, if they fail to establish a run game, I could see Romo having the type of year he did in 2012. This would not be terrible news from a fantasy point of view. However, if you are a Cowboy fan, having Tony Romo air it out 600+ times might not be in your best interest.
This was a tough list to put together. Ranking Cam Newton at 15 will probably be the lowest you will see him in any publication. Next week you will see a name that probably won’t crack any other top 10 lists. If you have followed any of my previous work, you could probably make a decent guess at who it will be.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday July 19th from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. Call in at 646-915-8596 to ask questions. This week’s topics will be Hits & Misses, and the players that will have a big second half.