Offseason Dynasty Refocus: Quarterback | Draft Sharks

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Offseason Dynasty Refocus: Quarterback

By Matt Schauf 11:02am EST 2/7/19


Patrick Mahomes just delivered the 3rd season ever of 50+ TD passes.

Tom Brady tossed 50 of them back in 2007. He hasn’t reached 40 in a season since.

Peyton Manning beat his record with 55 in 2013. Then he dipped to 39 the following season before imploding in his final campaign.

Manning did crack 40 one other time. He threw a record 49 TD passes in 2004. Manning averaged 31.4 a year across the 7 seasons he played between that and the 55.

There have been 9 other seasons of 40+ TD passes to date. Drew Brees delivered 46 and 43 in consecutive campaigns (2011 and 2012). Aaron Rodgers tossed 45 in 2011 and 40 in 2016. Dan Marino racked up 48 as a 23-year-old, 2nd-year player back in 1984. Two seasons later, he threw for another 44 scores.

Brees has averaged 31.9 TD passes over his other 11 Saints seasons.

Rodgers -- including his 2 years of 40+ -- has averaged 34 TD passes per 16 games over 11 seasons as a starter.

Marino never topped 30 touchdowns after his 4th season. He averaged 28 per 16 games for his career.

That’s all a somewhat long way of saying that we’re not likely to keep seeing seasons like the one Mahomes just delighted us with. It was just the 3rd time we’ve seen a QB average 30+ fantasy points per game. Each previous occasion saw the following year’s top QB scoring average dip by more than 3 points per game.

So, am I telling you to go ahead and sell high on Mahomes in dynasty?

No. I own him on 1 squad, and I’m certainly not rushing out to unload him.

That said, I also don’t think you should totally dismiss the idea if you own Mahomes.

Is it possible the 23-year-old (until September) Chief just keeps making history? Of course. He can fall short of his 2018 numbers and still remain atop QB scoring for years. At the very least, Mahomes looks likely to deliver you nice fantasy numbers for quite a while.

But if you have some other holes to fill and can deal Mahomes for intriguing young players at multiple positions and still start a solid QB … well, it’s worth considering.

QB differs from the rest of the positions. A 12-team league should pretty easily outfit every squad with a decent starter. Most likely also sport a solid backup. Even leagues of 14 or 16 teams should find plenty of quality options in the current landscape.

Keep that in mind as you consider any options for your own QB situation. Try not to overpay, and try not to over-value your own QB asset(s) if other owners come sniffing.


QB Age

Youth obviously beats age in dynasty when you’re looking at a pair of productive players, because you’ll likely get to use the young guy longer. So there’s always the temptation to sell off older guys. That practice can present value opportunity at QB, which generally allows stars to produce longer than their peers at other positions. But we might be in for a bit of an age correction over the next few years.

I checked back over QB ages for every season from 1980 to last year.


As you can see in the chart above, “top” QBs have commonly skewed older than the full group. (“Top” here refers to annual rankings in total pass attempts.) That makes sense. As a QB gains experience, you’re bound to rely on him more. And the best QBs figure to keep their jobs and stick around longer.

But the “top” QBs have gotten older lately. The past 6 years have each finished with a top-12 average age of 30+. Since 1980, that had never before happened more than 2 years in a row.

We’re likely in for some age adjustment over the next few years, where we’ll see fantasy stalwarts such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger retire and younger guys move in. Impressive QB classes from the past 3 years look like the vanguard. Look back at the chart, and you can see the ages drop with the famous QB class of 1983 (led by John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino).

Of course, that doesn’t make every current 30+ QB poison. We can still find plenty of value and productive years from some dudes in that range.


Down

We recently did a big refresh on our dynasty rankings. Here are some key names who dropped among QBs …


Cam Newton, Panthers

Perhaps we’ll look back on the end of Newton’s 2018 as just a blip. Overall, he actually had a nice year. Newton set a career high for completion rate. He posted his 2nd-best passing-TD rate. He delivered his 2nd-best fantasy scoring average among the past 6 seasons, despite a career-low 4 rushing TDs. But Newton also had surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder in January, his 2nd operation on that joint within the past 2 years. We don’t yet know whether to worry about that shoulder going forward, but we need only look back to Andrew Luck’s 2017 for reason not to ignore it.

We also have no real precedent for understanding the toll of Newton’s rushing role. He has averaged 7.6 carries per game for his career. There have been 10 seasons of 120+ QB rushing attempts since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger; Newton owns 4 of them. Only Michael Vick has joined him in reaching that level twice. All 8 of Newton’s seasons rank among the top 35 for total QB rushing attempts since 1970.

That said, if he rebounds well from the latest shoulder surgery, Newton could head into 2019 still just 30 (not terribly old for a QB) and with the best WR corps of his career. D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel each finished last season well and will be younger than 24 when the season kicks off.


Matthew Stafford, Lions

Stafford just posted his worst career fantasy season, averaging even slightly fewer points per game than he did as a 2009 rookie who tossed 13 TD passes and 20 INTs. Things got a lot worse for him after Marvin Jones landed on IR. Stafford tallied a 4.8% TD rate over 9 games with Jones and averaged 19.8 fantasy points per contest. In 7 without Jones, his TD rate plunged to 2.2% and fantasy points per game to 12.4.

Even the bigger numbers there fell short of stellar. Stafford would have ranked just 20th in the league with a 4.8% TD rate for the season. And his 19.8 fantasy PPG would have ranked 21st -- between Josh Allen and C.J. Beathard.

The bottom line: Things probably aren’t nearly as bleak for the 31-year-old (as of this week) as the end of 2018 made them look. But Stafford’s also not a QB to rest your fantasy roster on. Only the advanced ages of players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady keep Stafford from resting lower than his new QB16 post. Frankly, though, I wouldn’t trade any of those lower-ranked oldsters right now to get him.

Jones, for what it’s worth, might have just 1 more season before his contract makes him a cap casualty.


Marcus Mariota, Titans

Mariota just turned 25 at the end of October. He’s 2 years removed from a top-12 fantasy season (by points per game). But he took a step back in 2018 … from a disappointing 2017 that we hoped was just dragged down by complications from the leg fracture that ended his 2016.

Mariota boosted his completion rate by 6.7 percentage points over his previous high. But his 3.3% TD rate ranked 27th in the league, trailing Sam Danold and Eli Manning, among others. He checked in 18th in Pro Football Focus QB grading and 27th in each of Football Outsiders’ primary passing-efficiency metrics.

Tennessee’s offensive struggles, meanwhile, didn’t keep OC Matt LaFleur from getting Green Bay’s HC job this offseason. The Titans promoted TEs coach Arthur Smith to replace him, meaning the 1st-time OC will be Mariota’s 5th play-caller in the QB’s 5 seasons.

It’s too early to give up on Mariota, but the still-young QB now needs to prove that we should return to optimism -- which is even harder given the nice QB class that entered the league last year.


Up

Baker Mayfield, Browns

We had Mayfield atop last year’s intriguing class of rookie passers, and he probably started even better than we could have hoped. He checked in a decent 18th in fantasy points per game for the year. But the 23.0 fantasy points he averaged over 8 games with Freddie Kitchens in charge would have ranked 9th -- just ahead of Aaron Rodgers’ season scoring average. Mayfield also graded out 8th among all QBs on PFF and ranked top 14 in FO’s passing DYAR and DVOA metrics.

He’s looking like a strong investment in both real and fantasy life.


Josh Allen, Bills

The athletic upside for Allen was always obvious, even if you doubted his ability as a passer. And all fantasy owners probably underrated the former Wyoming QB’s rushing upside. That’s what carried him to 5 starter-level fantasy outings among just 12 appearances as a rookie.

The question, of course: Can he sustain it?

Allen delivered the 8th most rushing yards per game for a QB since the 1970 merger. (That’s 48 years at this point, by the way. And 3 of the 7 seasons ahead of him came from Michael Vick. Allen did so while tying for just 28th among that group in rushing attempts. There have only been 6 QB seasons since the merger with more TD runs than Allen’s 8, and only Cam Newton and Michael Vick have posted 2+ seasons of 8+ rushing scores.

Allen is not Vick. No other QB has been to this point. He’s not Newton either. For one thing, the Panthers design a lot of the rushing for their QB. Allen tallied 52.8% of his rushing attempts via scrambles last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Newton hit a career-high 38.1% last season.


Mitchell Trubisky, Bears

Trubisky finished his 2nd season 15th in total fantasy points, despite losing 2 games to a shoulder injury. He ranked 12th in points per game (depending on your scoring format). The Bears QB also exhibited large scoring swings, though, producing starter-level fantasy scores in just 5 of his 14 appearances. Twenty-four other QBs beat that percentage (20 of whom played 11+ games).

The biggest factor in Trubisky’s favor is youth: that of him, his offense and his coaching staff. There’s room to grow here (or go the other way).


Buy

There are many different ways to handle your dynasty strategy at any position, but here’s a “buy” target from each of us DS writers …


Jared’s buying: Jameis Winston, Buccaneers

Say what you want about his character. Or even his real-life performance. But we’re here for fantasy points. And Winston has produced them in bunches lately.

In 19 full games over the past 2 seasons, he’s averaged 23.9 fantasy points. Only 5 QBs topped that mark in this past year’s point bonanza. Only 1 did it back in 2017.

And it’s not like Winston has leaned on a handful of huge games. He’s topped 300 passing yards in 11 of those 19 outings and tossed multiple scores in 11 of them.

Yes, he can be erratic at times. And sure, he’s not exactly locked in as the Bucs’ long-term starter. But those factors have him wildly underpriced in dynasty right now, with his ADP sitting at QB23 according to January data at DynastyLeagueFootball.com.

Winston just turned 25 in January. And as a former #1 overall pick with a high-end pedigree, he’ll be given a bunch more chances to make it work at the NFL level.

The arrow is pointing up in Tampa, anyway, with the arrival of an aggressive HC in Bruce Arians and a trio of young, talented pass-catchers in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard.

Winston sits 9th among QBs in our updated Dynasty Rankings — and I could argue him a couple of spots higher. Take advantage of the discount this offseason and get yourself a guy who could be a QB1 for the next decade.


Kevin's buying: Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers

Garoppolo tore his left ACL in September. So, the first-time 49er fired off only 89 passes — at 8.1 YPA — for 5 TDs and 3 picks.

That’s not much of a sample size. But consider the combined numbers from Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens:

4,247 yards (265.4 YPG)
26 TDs
8.0 YPA
62.2% completion rate

Those are respectable totals considering the quality of QB play behind Garoppolo — and the lack of surrounding talent. In fact, with rushing included, they were enough to finish as the QB15.

Of course, George Kittle broke out (88-1,377-5). But Kendrick Bourne finished 2nd in catches, while Kyle Juszczyk finished 3rd. Injuries to Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis and Jerick McKinnon certainly hurt.

Kyle Shanahan was the one constant for this overachieving unit. No surprise there. He’s guided 3 different teams to a top-10 finish in scoring (Atlanta 2016, Washington 2012 and Houston 2009). In 11 seasons as a HC or OC, his units have finished top-16 in passing yards 9 times.

San Francisco enters the offseason with the draft picks and cap space to add 1-2 impact pass catchers. Garoppolo’s rehab has gone well, too, as he might actually take some reps in OTAs.


Matt's buying: Marcus Mariota, Titans

First of all, I'm with Jared on Winston. The recent production is there. New HC Bruce Arians seems to believe in him. And I certainly believe in Arians.

Beyond that, I'm just not going to spend much at QB. So if I need/want to pick up something, I'm going bargain shopping.

Winston's classmate sits even lower than Winston in the DLF ADP, and he didn't spend any of 2018 getting benched for performance. Mariota could have, of course, on the merits of a truly disappointing campaign. But he's still just 25 (until Oct. 30), has topped 300 yards rushing each of the past 3 years and topped 5% passing-TD rates each of his 1st 2 years. I'll take a low-cost shot that he rebounds.


Sell

And now a "sell" candidate ...


Jared's selling: Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Despite coming off a relatively disappointing 2018 season, Rodgers still figures to fetch a pretty penny on the trade market. He checked in 4th among QBs in DynastyLeagueFootball.com’s January ADP.

Rodgers should still have a few good seasons left — although it’s fair to assume that his best days are behind him at 35 years old.

But this is less about Rodgers and more about the young crop of fantasy-dominant QBs storming the league. Among this past season’s top 13 QBs in fantasy points per game, 6 were 26 or younger: Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky. And then there’s Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold, who all flashed QB1 upside as rookies.

Simply put, Rodgers doesn’t provide the weekly or season-long edge at QB that he used to.


Kevin's selling: Lamar Jackson, Ravens

Jackson was billed as a raw passer coming out of Louisville. I shared that view in my tape study.

Despite low year-1 expectations, I still found Jackson’s struggles alarming. The 22-year-old tallied a 58.2% completion rate, 7.1 YPA, and 159.1 YPG in 7 regular season starts. He fumbled 15 times (postseason included).

NFL Next Gen Stats further expose Jackson’s weaknesses. His completion percentage was 4.5 percentage points below expectation. Only Josh Allen, Blake Bortles and C.J. Beathard tallied a worse mark (min. 128 attempts).

Jackson’s longest in-air completion was 35.8 yards. That ranked last out of 39 QB qualifiers. Downfield passing will be an area to watch going forward — especially with Baltimore set to overhaul the WR corps.

Now, sure, Jackson supplied elite rushing production. Despite only 7 starts, he paced all QBs in attempts (147) and yards (697). But 17 rushes per game simply isn’t sustainable. Jackson's listed -- perhaps generously -- at 212 pounds.

I can’t deny that even with ~8 attempts per game, Jackson will likely provide a safe fantasy floor. But I don’t see sustained long-term upside unless his passing improves immensely.


Matt's selling: Jared Goff, Rams

No, I'm not just overrating that dreadful offensive performance in the Super Bowl. (I think.) I believe the fantasy community is overrating Goff.

First of all, I'm not saying he's terrible -- or even bad. Goff finished his 3rd season 6th in both main Football Outsiders passing-efficiency metrics and tied for 10th in Pro Football Focus' QB grading. He posted the 9th-best scoring average among fantasy QBs. That followed a #12 finish in 2017.

You do not need to unload him for whatever you can get. But ...

Goff sits 6th in the January DLF dynasty ADP that we've referenced several times in this article. He also sits 8th among QBs in the consensus dynasty rankings on Fantasy Pros as of this writing. We rank him 7th.

It all makes sense. He's young. He has produced in 2 seasons with Sean McVay. He's still young. And he still has Sean McVay. But what's special about Goff?

He's not a runner. Goff's 108 rushing yards last year ranked just 27th at the position, and that total more than doubled his 2017 tally (51 yards). He also finished 2018 a just-fine 10th in TD rate and QBR. And the Rams have finished McVay's 2 seasons 24th and 14th in pass attempts.

Goff's fine. He's solid. But he doesn't have the rushing to become Aaron Rodgers. And I don't expect him to have the volume to become Drew Brees (pre-Alvin Kamara version).

There's nothing wrong with being Matt Ryan. But at 33, the first Matt Ryan probably has at least a few more quality years left. And I could probably get him plus other help in exchange for Goff right now.

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