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2012 Draft Prep: Quarterback Fantasy trends

Senior Fantasy Writer
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We all know that the quarterback position is the key to winning in the NFL (Trent Dilfer excluded), but it is quickly becoming the key to winning in Fantasy Football. Five of the top seven seasons in Fantasy history occurred in 2011 as Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton all topped the 400-point mark, joining Brady (2007) and Dan Marino (1984) in the exclusive club.

Quarterback Fantasy points are exploding and the changes are coming extremely rapidly. In 2003, the league's top quarterback was Peyton Manning and his 326 points would have placed just ninth in 2011. In 2008, Drew Brees had his first 5,000-yard season and was the top-ranked quarterback with 362 points, which would have placed just sixth last year. The average Top 12 quarterback in 2011 outscored his 2003 counterpart by 80 points over the course of a full season. Amazingly, the differential in 2008 was 77 points and it was even 54 points in the 2010 season.

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Looking at it from a purely statistical standpoint, it becomes even more shocking. We will start with the position as a whole and then get into the individual players. In 2003, quarterbacks passed for a grand total of 97,601 yards. In 2008, that number jumped to 111,010 yards, or a 13.4 percent jump from 2003. Last year, there were an NFL record 124,877 passing yards, which is a 27.9 percent leap from 2003 and a 12.5 percent gain over 2008. The change from 2003 to 2008 in total yards (13,409) was very similar to the change from 2008 to 2011 (13,867), so in another four years will we have a league with nearly 140,000 passing yards, (4,375 per team)? A near 30 percent jump in passing yardage from 2003 is astonishing in such a short period of time and when you break it down on the individual level it becomes almost laughable.

In 2003, Peyton Manning led the league with 4,267 yards passing and was one of two quarterbacks to top the 4,000 yard barrier. Last year, Manning's 2003 yardage total would have come in seventh among the 10 quarterbacks who topped 4,000 yards. 2011 also saw Ben Roethlisberger become the first quarterback to ever throw for 4,000 yards and finish outside of the Top 12 at his position in terms of Fantasy points.

Yardage is clearly off the charts and the arrow continues to point up, so what about touchdowns? Quarterbacks threw for 596 touchdowns in 2003 and saw a modest jump (5.3 percent) to 628 passing scores in 2008. Things exploded last year with an NFL record 741 passing scores, which is a massive jump of 18 percent over 2008 and 24 percent over 2003. Touchdowns grew slightly slower than the yards over the last nine years, but really shot up over the last four and on the individual level it is pretty amazing. In 2003, Brett Favre led the NFL with 32 touchdown passes and was the only quarterback to break the 30 score barrier. In 2011, three quarterbacks topped 40 touchdowns, eight produced at least 30 total scores and Favre's 32 would have landed in a three way tie for fifth. Even as recently as 2008, there were only four quarterbacks above 30 touchdowns and not one of them exceeded 35 scores.

I think you can trace the touchdown jump to the recent trend of spreading teams out at the goal line and throwing the ball much more often in today's NFL. In 2003, teams threw the ball on nearly 60 percent of their plays inside the 10 yard line and scored more touchdowns rushing (327) than passing (287). That was still true in 2008 when teams threw the ball on 56.8 percent of their plays and scored 348 scores on the ground compared to 292 touchdowns passing. Things have changed dramatically since then, however, and the league ran on just over 50 percent of its plays inside the 10 yard line in 2011. It should come as no surprise then, that there were more passing touchdowns (336) than rushing touchdowns (299) last year as well. This is why we are seeing tight end and wide receiver touchdown totals explode, because a three or four wide receiver/tight end set inside the 10 is becoming every bit as popular as the tried and true goal line formation.

The last trend I wanted to examine was the spread (the difference between the top quarterback and the No. 12 quarterback as well as the top quarterback versus the average starting quarterback) among starting Fantasy quarterbacks and how it has changed over time. My belief headed into this was that the elite are further separating themselves from the pack even though the pack itself is improving. In 2003, Peyton Manning (326) outscored the 12th-ranked Fantasy quarterback by 67 points and was 41.5 points better than the average quarterback over the course of the full season. In 2008, the top dog Drew Brees (363 points) was 129 points better than the 12th-ranked quarterback and finished 74 points better than the average starter. Last year, Aaron Rodgers outscored the 12th-ranked quarterback (Mike Vick) by a ridiculous 218 points and was 121 points better than the average starter. To put Rodgers' edge on the competition into perspective, you need to know that only six non quarterbacks in all of Fantasy even topped 218 points last year. So Rodgers would have beaten Vick and any non quarterback not named Ray Rice, Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Calvin Johnson or Rob Gronkowski in a one on two handicap match. The elite are becoming super elite and with the way quarterbacks are scoring, it sure looks like a good idea to have one of them on your team.

Clearly everything passing related is on the rise and as we head into 2012, the quarterback position seems as loaded as it ever has before. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have been in the top six in each of the last three seasons. Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton look like top six fixtures for years to come after their breakout 2011 campaigns. Then you have Tony Romo, Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub, all of whom have finished in the top seven at least once in the last three years. That's 12 quarterbacks right there, not to mention Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Freeman, Carson Palmer and rookies Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. So there are at least 18 quarterbacks (19 if Jake Locker wins the starting job) headed into 2012 with legitimate Fantasy potential, so the real question becomes which ones should you target on Draft Day? Let's start to answer that question by looking at the trends at the position as it relates to draft position and ranking consistency since 2008.

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Let's start with the consistency at the quarterback position, which is the highest of any position in Fantasy. In each of the last three seasons, seven of the top 12 quarterbacks have remained in the top 12 the following season for a 58 percent consistency carryover. Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Rivers and Eli Manning have made the list in each of the last three seasons. Tony Romo (injury), Peyton Manning (injury), Michael Vick, Matt Schaub (injury) and Matt Ryan have each made the list in two of the last three years. What that tells me is that the quarterback position is incredibly deep, so we will see some yearly turnover at the bottom of the top 12, but the cream always rises to the top..

That being said, the true stars of the position shine the brightest and while they require early picks, they seem to deliver very safe returns on their investments. In 2009, the first four quarterbacks taken all finished in the top six with Brett Favre (in to camp extremely late) and breakout quarterback Matt Schaub also crashing the party. In 2010, five of the first six quarterbacks taken finished in the top six, with only Vick (who was not a starter on Draft Day) making the big leap. Last year, three of the first four quarterbacks taken finished in the top three, with only Vick (who I had deemed undraftable given his ADP) failing to land in the top six. While the early picks certainly seem to pay dividends, it should also be noted that a quarterback not taken before the seventh round has finished in the top six at the position in five straight seasons, so there is a lottery ticket out there.

An elite quarterback is not the only path to the title, even though I think it is the best one. If you do not want to spend an early pick on an elite quarterback, you must load up your team elsewhere (perhaps jump early on Jimmy Graham) and then come back with one of the second tier quarterbacks with top five potential like Romo, Vick, the Mannings, Rivers or even Ryan. Missing out on those guys in a 12 team league is foolish this year. Frankly, I would personally only feel truly comfortable with the top seven from Rodgers to Vick (if you take Vick, you will get top-five per game production but will need a good backup) on my team because I feel very secure in what they will produce. I think you can win with the Mannings, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan, but you will need to pick correctly on the one of them that makes the top five leap like Stafford (my bet is Ryan) last year. It also means you will need a lot of help from the rest of your team, which places too much pressure on positions that have proven to be incredibly inconsistent and tightly bunched year to year. I'd rather go with the elite quarterback.

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Last year, of the 10 players who had the highest winning percentage at CBSSports.com, four of them were quarterbacks, including Aaron Rodgers leading the way at 59 percent. Those elite quarterbacks did not just put up big-time points, but they also delivered championships. This year, it looks like we could have five elite quarterbacks go in the first two rounds. If you do not have a shot at Foster, Rice or McCoy, I would strongly consider a quarterback in the first round and certainly look at one in Round 2 if you miss on Rodgers, Brady or Brees. I think Rodgers and Brady are in a class to themselves this year and are both great first round picks as early as No. 4 overall. Brees is a good late first round option and I think both Stafford and Newton are solid second round selections. Those five guys will key many Fantasy titles because this game is starting to simplify itself given the changes in offensive philosophies and production.

Elite quarterbacks produce the biggest point totals year in and year out, which has been magnified by the 30 percent growth we have seen in their Fantasy points over the last nine years. Elite quarterbacks provide the biggest differentials relative to a replacement starter than we see at any other position (again it was 218 points from No. 1 to No. 12 last year). Elite quarterbacks are very safe first round investments in terms of both guaranteed production and injury risk, especially when compared to Ryan Mathews, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden and really any running back or wide receiver. Finally, elite quarterbacks have the highest winning percentages (over the last three years Rodgers, Brady and Brees are first, second and third respectively) of players at any position and at the end of the day, isn't Herm Edwards right? You play to win the game! So go draft an elite quarterback and win the game my friends!

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Nathan at @nathanzegura .

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Player News
Report: Romo restructures deal, saves Cowboys $13M in cap space
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:07 pm ET) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has restructured his contract, according to Yahoo Sports. He will save the Cowboys $13 million in salary cap space.

Romo indicated in a radio interview Tuesday he was going to restructure his contract and also said he was willing to take a pay cut so the team could re-sign running back DeMarco Murray, who eventually signed with the Eagles.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if it meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


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Details of the contract were not disclosed. Wilson spent the last five seasons playing for the Jets. In 2014, he totaled 26 tackles and one sack. He has three career interceptions.


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(11:51 am ET)  The Saints announced Wednesday they extended the contract of offensive guard Jahri Evans by one year.

The Saints were hoping to rework his contract to create more cap space. Evans has started all but two games for the Saints over the last nine seasons.


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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:12 am ET) While most folks were shocked when the news broke in early March the Eagles were trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Bills, apparently McCoy's Philadelphia teammates were not

Safety Malcolm Jenkins told NFL Network on Wednesday it was not surprising when it was announced McCoy was being traded for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

"In the locker room a lot of guys weren't surprised by the trade, what we were more surprised of was that it was just a player-for-player trade," Jenkins said. "I think everybody thought we would have gotten more -- Kiko, plus a couple draft picks, you know, somebody else...

"You look at the style of runner that Chip wants in his offense and even though Shady is one of the best backs in the league, he's not necessarily what Chip is looking for all the time. Chip thinks he's a great running back, he knows his talent is there, but our (system) is really predicated on downhill, somebody who is going to hit the hole every time. It's about getting up in the defenders face as fast as you can and that's not necessarily Shady's running style."

The Eagles replaced McCoy's absence in the backfield by signing former Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 1,845 yards in 2014, and former Chargers running back Ryan Mathews.

"When you talk about what you can get for -- if you are looking to acquire more talent -- I just think Shady's cap number and what we were able to get in return for Shady, I think made sense," Jenkins said. "And some guys in the locker room who kind of know what's going on weren't surprised by it."


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by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:57 am ET) The Lions are not yet giving up on wide receiver Ryan Broyles, who has been hampered in his career by knee and Achilles injuries. 

“I think he’s a guy you have a lot of respect for because he’s had three major injuries and fought his way back,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said Tuesday, per The Oakland Press. “When he’s been in there he’s been productive. We’re excited to see where he is now after a full season of not coming back from an injury. He’s had a full year to be healthy we’re excited to see what he does in the offseasaon.’’


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by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:54 am ET) Michael Thomas, an exclusive rights free agent, formally signed his one-year tender with the Dolphins on Wednesday morning, reports Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald. The 24-year-old played in eight games last season, making 18 tackles, until landing on IR with a chest injury.

>> Want more NFL offseason? >> Mock drafts | Free agency tracker


Report: Rolando McClain agrees to one-year, $3M deal with Cowboys
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:19 am ET) The Cowboys have reached an agreement with linebacker Rolando McClain on a one-year deal, a source told The Dallas Morning News. McClain's deal will pay him $3 million in base salary and potentially another $1 million in incentives.

McClain made his return to the NFL in 2014 after twice retiring. The former first-round pick thrived in his first season with Dallas, totaling 81 tackles (65 solo), one sack and two interceptions in 13 games. 

Although, he did have some injury issues last season. Knee and groin injuries, as well as an illness forced McClain to miss three regular season games. He was then limited in the playoffs due to a concussion.

McClain remained a sought-after free agent this offseason despite reports he is facing a four-game fine for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Also, an arson investigation into a fire that destroyed his Alabama home in December remains open but inactive.


Texans' O'Brien: WR DeAndre Hopkins can 'be one of the best'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is very encouraged by the performance of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last season, per ESPN. O'Brien went as far as to say that Hopkins can be one of the best.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Due to the departure of wide receiver Andre Johnson, the progression of Hopkins will be under the microscope as he is now the focal point of the passing offense.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

In two years with the Texans, Hopkins has reeled in 128 receptions for 2012 yards and eight touchdowns.


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by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Although Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful that wide receiver Victor Cruz will be ready by training camp, the team will not rush him back, reports ESPN.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in week six of the 2014 season, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Coughlin is hopeful that he'll return to be the player that he was before the injury.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

The former undrafted free agent has tallied 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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