‘Sauce vs. Sal: Early 2018 Thoughts on the State of 2QB Fantasy
With the 2018 offseason ramping up as we approach the NFL Draft, I traded some emails about the current state of the quarterback position with my partner in TwoQBs crime, Salvatore Stefanile. Here’s what transpired…
Greg: It’s 2018, Sal. Have you begun questioning your reality at all, or are we truly living in a beautiful house, with a beautiful late-round quarterback as the reigning Super Bowl MVP? Nick E. Foles (the “E” stands for “Effing”) just hung 373 yards and three TDs over the Patriots in the NFL championship. Oh, and he caught a touchdown pass, too. Have we achieved two-quarterback nirvana? How did we get here?
Sal: We’ve always said quarterbacks don’t matter in fantasy football, and you can get by with any non-brand name QB in your fantasy league, but it appears the NFL has been reading TwoQBs. Blake Bortles, Case Keenum, Nick Foles, and some 40-year-old scrub were the last gunslingers left standing this past season. Now we live in a world where Nick “Week 3” Foles is a Super Bowl MVP quarterback. Hallelujah.
Until Alex Smith wins a Super Bowl, we will not have reached Mecca, but we’re pretty darn close with Foles. We’re in a layover waiting for our flight to take us to our final destination. How’d we get here? Not sure. When Carson Wentz was lost for the season, it seemed like the Eagles’ chances to win the Super Bowl went down with him. Foles had a decent game against the Giants in Week 15 (237 yards, 4 TDs), but he followed it up with a dud against Oakland (163 yards, 1 TD, 1 pick). There was even talk of Foles possibly being benched in the team’s first playoff game for Nate Sudfeld (something I was all for because I hate myself and love horrible quarterbacks). But Foles played decent enough to not get benched and the Eagles won, moving onto the next round. In his next two games, he threw for a combined 725 yards and six scores, guiding the Eagles to a Super Bowl and winning the MVP award. And I believe this is the story of How I Met Your Mother.
Now we head into an offseason where I’m sure we’ll get many think pieces stating the Eagles should start Foles bcz reasons. What do you think?
Greg: Short-sighted, reactionary analysis has become a staple of sports coverage in the age of social media, so yeah, the Nick Foles truthers out there are sure to come out of the woodwork in the coming months. The Eagles aren’t giving up on Carson Wentz, though. Not a chance.
With that said, the parallels between Wentz’s second season and Foles’ second season back in 2013 are pretty amazing. If you look at yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt, adjusted net yards per attempt, touchdowns, and touchdown rate on Pro Football Reference for quarterbacks in their sophomore seasons over the past 10 seasons, Foles in 2013 and Wentz in 2017 were top-10 across the board. And Wentz wasn’t the only second-year passer to hold such distinction in 2017. Jared Goff was top-10 in all those stats as well.
We can nitpick the numbers if we want to, especially with Foles. He only started 10 games as a sophomore and had the benefit of a Chip Kelly offense around him. He wasn’t asked to do as much as his younger cohorts, attempting only 24.4 passes per game, compared to 27.5 for Wentz (13 games started) and 31.8 for Goff (15 games started). Foles’ yards per game in 2013 (222.4) don’t stand up to 2017’s marks from Wentz (253.5) or Goff (253.6), either. Small samples sizes often make mirages of efficiency metrics, and it’s safe to say Foles’ hyper-efficient 2013 season is one of those cases.
But rather than focus on the negative, I’d prefer to take a page from The Hold Steady’s songbook and stay positive. What went right for these players to make them late-round quarterback royalty? What did they have in common? Let’s go back and examine the correlation between Nick Foles and Chip Kelly. Did innovative offensive schemes also play a part in the success of Wentz and Goff? Absolutely! To be fair, though, Kelly didn’t last long in the NFL. We’ll have to wait and see if Doug Pederson and Sean McVay can stay ahead of the curve with their offensive tactics in the years to come. If they can keep innovating, and if the Eagles and Rams can hold onto the talent they’ve amassed around their quarterbacks, then Wentz and Goff should stay successful going forward.
What’s important to me is the blueprint these players have laid out for fantasy success from a late-round quarterback. Talent matters, but a good situation can turn a risky quarterback into a reliable one. I’m particularly intrigued by the effects of offensive line play (both Philadelphia and Los Angeles ranked top-12 in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate) and the benefits of having a great defense on the other side of the ball (both teams were top-six in FO’s Defensive DVOA). Controlling the trenches on offense and controlling field position are great ways to take stress off a non-elite quarterback, but O-line and defense aren’t commonly talked about in analysis of fantasy quarterbacks.
Focus more often turns to receiving weapons, but I think those players’ impacts are often overstated. Don’t get me wrong, receiver talent definitely matters. Wentz was clearly aided by the better-late-than-never emergence of Nelson Agholor, plus the acquisitions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Goff went from Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, and Lance Kendricks in 2016 to Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, and Cooper Kupp in 2017. There are tangible benefits to improving one’s receiving corps, but it’s only part of a bigger picture. Andy Dalton and Eli Manning also saw their receiving arsenals improve going into 2017, but without good offensive lines or defenses, how did things work out for them in fantasy? Not great, Bob!
Now, more than ever, it feels paramount to avoid recency bias associated with last season’s results and focus on how overall, holistic situations have changed for the league’s less prolific passers (it only makes sense that the worse a quarterback is, the more help he needs from all aspects of the team). It was easy to fade the outlier performances of Cam Newton after 2016 and Matt Ryan after 2017, but putting stock in an unproven signal-caller you expect to ascend is a tougher pill to swallow. Fantasy football is largely played with a “show me first” mentality, so I’m curious to see how the community responds to the breakouts of Wentz and Goff. The hive mind seems to get a little smarter each season, but I worry Wentz and Goff will be overvalued, when instead we should be seeking the 2018 versions of those players. Do you think this is the season recency bias finally dies, or are we due for another year of overreaction to the previous season? And which quarterbacks do you think will return positive value from later-round draft positions in 2018?
Sal: Recency bias will never die in fantasy circles. While we are always trying to pinpoint the next big thing in fantasy football, we fall back on previous year’s production (myself included) far too much. The same goes for overreacting to the events of years prior — whether we’re over-excited about a fantastic season put up by a fantasy stud or want to throw dirt on someone’s career because they had one bad season. We take the good with the bad.
While it’s way too early to predict which late-round quarterbacks will outproduce their ADP in 2018, one quarterback I have my eye on is Mitch Trubisky. Yes, the same Trubisky who threw for under 130 yards in his first three games, and who scored fewer than 10 fantasy points in each of his first four games. On the other hand, it’s also the same Trubisky who completed 4-of-7 passes for 107 yards in Week 7. Sound the alarm, we have a potential fantasy league-winner here, folks.
But seriously though, as the season wore on, Trubisky flashed some potential that put him on my fantasy radar for 2018. In his last eight games, he had four games of 14+ fantasy points and even had two weeks of top-12 production. The Bears have a new head coach in Matt Nagy, who will hopefully tailor an offense to Trubisky’s skills, and Trubisky will have some appealing weapons in the passing game such as Adam Shaheen, Tarik Cohen, and a healthy Cameron Meredith (if the Bears retain his services).
It may be a long shot, but we saw last year what can happen to young quarterbacks who play in a friendly passing offenses under head coaches who utilize their strengths (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz). I might be putting a lot of pressure on Nagy to do the same with Trubisky, but if he can, the Bears signal-caller might turn into a late-round steal.
Greg: Readers might not be aware, but our own Derrik Klassen recently laid out the case on TwoQBs for Trubisky under Matt Nagy. Derrik compared Trubisky to Alex Smith, so it’s no surprise you’re enamored with the sophomore signal-caller. How do you think Alex feels about your new quarterback crush? Will your relationship and your #brand survive?
You’re right, though. The weapons for Trubisky are intriguing, and the Bears’ defense is also on the way up. They ranked 14th in defensive DVOA last season, improved from 23rd in 2016. But unlike Wentz and Goff, Trubisky doesn’t have the same talent blocking for him up front, at least not at the moment. In 2017, Chicago’s offensive line ranked 23rd in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate (pass protection) and 28th in Adjusted Line Yards (run blocking). The concepts from Nagy’s offensive system highlighted in Klassen’s article could help mitigate the Bears’ blocking woes, but I imagine they’ll try to improve their front line through free agency and the draft. All in all, though, Trubisky has nowhere to go but up, and I agree that his unimpressive rookie-year statistics should keep his cost down.
How are you approaching Trubisky’s second-year counterpart Patrick Mahomes at this point? Relative to the Bears’ quarterbacks, Mahomes barely gave us any 2017 work to evaluate. All we have to go on are his college production, an impressive presesaon, and an unspectacular Week 17 performance against Denver (23-of-35, 284 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 10 rush yards on 7 attempts). His situation seems better than Trubisky’s, if only because the Chiefs were already a playoff contender. With that said, he’s still only a second-year player in his first season as the starting quarterback.
I ranked Mahomes aggressively in my initial redraft rankings for 2018, ahead of Derek Carr, Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton, and many other more proven passers. Still, QB20 was as high as I could go, just behind Alex Smith and Jared Goff. Rankings are subjective, though, and rather than try to parse Mahomes’ value versus specific players, I’m curious how you evaluate players with little to no NFL track record in general. I know you didn’t play fantasy in 2017, but in the abstract, are you more willing to take a chance on an unproven guy you believe in, or are you more likely to lean on established quarterback commodities? How much appeal do you typically find in shiny new things?
Sal: Alex knows I’ve been his biggest supporter since he joined the Chiefs, and this past fantasy season was a perfect sendoff. We’ll always cherish the good times.
Since I don’t watch college football, I rely on the analysis of those who do to help form an early opinion about rookies. In the case of Mahomes, both Klassen and Anthony Amico were a big part of my research process on the soon-to-be QB1 in Kansas City. Amico immediately sold me on Mahomes when he compared him to Dak Prescott — someone I was into his rookie season — and Klassen sealed the deal with his Mahomes breakdown and how he would potentially fit into an Andy Reid offense. We’ve seen what Reid’s systems have done for quarterbacks in the past, and with Mahomes being more talented than Smith, it would seem he is in the right spot to flourish in his sophomore campaign.
While I do my due diligence when it comes to fantasy football, I am known to be aggressive and take risks on players who haven’t proven themselves yet. That’s when they tend to be the cheapest to acquire. Talented young passers at affordable prices are appealing to me because I’d rather be a year too early on someone than a year too late. We know what the Sam Bradfords and Ryan Tannehills can do, and there will always be a bunch of them available at the end of drafts, but potential gunslingers like Mahomes have an upside of a potential high-end fantasy quarterback. Cam Newton’s rookie campaign is a perfect example. He was a late-round or undrafted rookie QB who finished with the third-most fantasy points at the position in his first season.
On the flip side of this conversation, which veteran who has been a mainstay at the top of fantasy scoring leaderboards is primed to tumble out of the elite quarterback tier? Is a 41-year-old Tom Brady still a surefire early-round fantasy stud in 2QB/Superflex leagues?
Greg: I’m sure Brady will continue to command early-round investments in fantasy. We’ve already talked about recency bias, and the most recent thing Brady did was erupt for 505 yards and three scores against Philadelphia’s vaunted defense. Unless Rob Gronkowski retires, football fans will expect elite offense from the Patriots, and that will translate to an ADP for Brady in the first two or three rounds of 2QB leagues. Just because the community drafts him there doesn’t mean that’s where he should actually go, though. Expecting some amount of decline for Brady at age 41 is reasonable. Still, I’m not ready to drop Brady below the young up-and-comers in my quarterback rankings. Brady within the New England infrastructure remains a safe bet to succeed in 2018.
As with Brady, there’s still a lot to like with Drew Brees in terms of offensive system and on-field weapons. I noted this in my rankings article, but the Saints signal-caller just posted a career best 72.0% completion rate in 2018, at a clip of over 8.0 yards per attempt. At age 39, Brees was undeniably efficient. But his passing volume was noticeably down, lower than it’s ever been during his time with the Saints. Efficiency can only carry a player so far on declining usage, so Brees’ fantasy football fate is a question of which direction his volume numbers trend. From 2010 to 2016, Brees ranked top-three in pass attempts every season. In 2017, he ranked ninth. Next season, I think he’ll hold onto his spot in the top 10, which should be good enough to keep him near the tops of our fantasy boards, as well. Brees is still a top-five passer for me, just like Brady.
To answer your question, Brady and Brees are both primed to fall from quarterback Olympus, but I don’t see it happening in 2018. On the other hand, I’m getting ready to throw in the towel on a lot of mid-tier quarterbacks. It ultimately depends on how situations change over the offseason, but right now, Derek Carr, Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton, Blake Bortles, Ryan Tannehill, Eli Manning, and Joe Flacco all rank as QB3s for me. Aside from Carr, who bagged $40 million guaranteed from the Raiders last offseason, all of these mainstays of two-quarterback fantasy are at risk of losing their starting gigs at some point this year. Some of them might not even make it to Week 1 unscathed, and it seems unfair in some cases. I’ll always have a soft spot for Tygoat, but 2018 feels too soon for Tannehill to officially get the axe. I was buying him all over the place before he got hurt last year (RIP my #SFB7 team), and if Miami moves on to a rookie or free agent quarterback, I want to see Tannehill land on his feet for a second chance elsewhere. Which of this group do you most want to stick around as a starter, whether with their current team or a new team? Who would benefit the most from a change of scenery? Do you have any other final thoughts as we hunker down and start prepping for the NFL draft?
Sal: You bring up something I haven’t thought about: which middle tiers quarterbacks are primed to fall to the back of the pack and enter QB3 territory? Each year we say the QB2 tier of fantasy quarterbacks is deep, but you just listed seven guys normally viewed as QB2s who you feel will be in your QB3 tier. A lot of fantasy analysis is geared towards predicting the next big thing in fantasy. And in 2QB leagues, we spend time trying to determine where the value is in the middle tier of fantasy passers, but how much time do we spend trying to predict which ones in that middle tier we want to avoid relative to their cost? This will be a topic of interest for me as the offseason moves along. As they say, you want to be a year early rather than a year late.
To answer your questions:
Tyrod is the quarterback I want to see stick around as a starter, preferably with a team who wants him. He would also benefit from a change of scenery, which means seeing him join a team that believes in his talents, willing to tailor an offense around his skill set. Tyrod as a Bronco, Viking, or Saint would be fascinating. I know it will never happen, but the Saints saying goodbye to Drew Brees and hello to Tyrod Taylor would explode the minds of fantasy players and NFL viewers. So I vote for that happening.
This offseason is shaping up to be one of the more fascinating quarterback offseasons we have ever seen. The NFL Draft could see as many as five passers selected in the first round, Kirk Cousins is one of the most highly sought after free agent field generals in some time, and there are a number of teams in flux at the quarterback position. None of this is to mention Drew Brees’ free agency, although it’s likely he’ll be back in New Orleans. Let the NFL offseason begin.