Hindsight is always 20/20, but when it comes to Fantasy football, owners can look at what happened one year and apply it to the next. Learning, analyzing, and predicting trends is what being a so-called expert is all about. Looking at 2017 Fantasy quarterbacks may be a little premature, but it’s never too early to start planning.
The 2016 Fantasy Football season gave owners some great quarterback play. It also provided some disappointments and surprises. This is no different than most years, but those owners that were disappointed are likely wondering what they can do to avoid that mistake again.
Lessons that are learned after the fact are usually some of the hardest lessons to learn. However, they are also often the most important.
We can look back at the 2016 performances by quarterbacks and gauge what we got right and what we got wrong. We can also look to see what was just luck and what might just be a trend for the future.
Here is an overall review of the quarterback position from 2016 and corresponding lessons learned.
Lesson No. 1: A Great Year is Not Always Followed By a Great Year
Fantasy owners drafted Cam Newton as the first quarterback off the board (per fantasyfootballcalculator.com) only to have him finish the year barely in the Top 20 in terms of fantasy points (he finished 19th in most scoring formats). After his 2015 season, Newton looked poised to have a great year. He was getting Kelvin Benjamin back and he would only improve, right?
Wrong. After throwing for 2,837 yards, 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (and 10 rushing touchdowns) in 2015, he responded in 2016 by throwing 3,509 yards, 19 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and five rushing touchdowns. It wasn’t a terrible year, but it certainly wasn’t what Fantasy owners were hoping for.
Should Fantasy owners have predicted this? It’s hard to say. In looking at the six year NFL career of a player like Newton, 2015 appears to be an anomaly, while 2016 was more of the norm. For players that have been in the league long enough to garner a sample size, look at the trend. While a player may get better in time, they are also more inclined to regress to the mean. Keep that in mind for 2017.
Lesson No. 2: A Bad Year is Not Always Followed By a Bad Year
Case in point: Matt Ryan. He was undrafted in most leagues, and finished with the second-most fantasy points. He trailed Aaron Rodgers only because Rodgers uses his legs more and had more rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Ryan actually threw for more yards in 2016 than Aaron Rodgers.
Looking back, it seems crazy that Jameis Winston, Blake Bortles and Tyrod Taylor were all drafted ahead of Ryan. But again, let’s look back a year. Ryan barely cracked the Top 20 in terms of fantasy points in 2015. He had fewer passing touchdowns than Ryan Tannehill, Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Who would draft him as a Top 5 quarterback?
In 2016, Matt Ryan threw for the most yards of his NFL career, he threw the most touchdowns of his career and the fewest interceptions of his career. In his nine year career, this is the first time he averaged over 300 yards per game. He had his highest completion percentage of his career as well. Looking at his receivers, this was surprising. However, he spread the ball around, with five players ending the season with over 400 receiving yards. Two of them were running backs.
Matt Ryan likely won’t repeat his 2016 success, but he deserves consideration as a low-end QB1 in 2017.
Lesson No. 3: Without Weapons, a Fantasy Quarterback Won’t Succeed
For some teams, it was tough to predict how a quarterback would fare. However, for others, it was simple: the Los Angeles Rams, for example, had no real pass-catchers that would pose a threat. Any quarterback stepping into that position would not have Fantasy value.
However, for others, the difference between 2015 and 2016 was because of weapons. Look at Carson Palmer, for example. In 2015, he finished as the fifth-best quarterback in terms of Fantasy points. He had an arsenal of pass catchers, and he used all of them including two 1,000-yard performances from Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. In 2016, he lost John Brown for most of the season with sickle-cell issues and no one consistently stepped up in his place.
In direct comparison is Drew Brees, who may have lost Jimmy Graham in 2015, and had a low-for-him season. However, in 2016, with the emergence of Michael Thomas, Brees was back in the Top 3 for Fantasy points on the season.
While predicting John Brown would be ineffective and Michael Thomas would be a rookie star is hard to do, the concept should be in the back of Fantasy owners minds on draft day: without solid pass-catchers, a quarterback will struggle.
Lesson No. 4: A Mobile Quarterback Isn’t Necessarily the Key to Fantasy Success
It sounds great: getting rushing yards from your quarterback. It’s like bonus points, right? Plus touchdowns are a guaranteed six points, regardless of how many points a throwing touchdown is worth. However, rushing numbers cannot be guaranteed. Rushing touchdowns should be looked at as gravy, not something expected.
Take a look at Russell Wilson, for example. In 2015, he was the third-highest quarterback in terms of fantasy points, and that was with his rushing totals taking a dip from 2014. However, he still had 103 rushing attempts for 553 yards and a rushing touchdown. In 2016, he suffered a few injuries which impacted his running game. He only had 72 attempts for 259 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. He barely finished inside the Top 15 in terms of Fantasy points.
Tyrod Taylor was another “mobile quarterback” who appeared to have promise heading into 2016. He actually ended 2016 with 580 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns, the most out of all quarterbacks (Dak Prescott also had six rushing touchdowns, but no other quarterback had more than 500 rushing yards). Taylor had similar numbers in 2015 (two fewer rushing touchdowns, but 568 rushing yards) and finished right around the same place among quarterbacks.
Just because a quarterback can run does not mean they are guaranteed Fantasy success.
Lesson No. 5: Get a Quarterback Who is Likely to Play in 16 Games
This sounds a little silly, but the Top 12 quarterbacks for 2016 all played in either 15 or 16 games (three played in 15). Odds are you’re not going to be in the top tier if you’re not playing in all the games. That being said, Fantasy owners had a hard time passing up Tom Brady in the sixth round of drafts. Knowing he was only playing in 12 games (assuming no injuries) knocked him to the sixth round, but he still was Tom Brady.
Well, Brady finished outside the Top 12 because of those missed games. He disappointed Fantasy owners toward the end of the season, and he was on the bench for the first four games. Fantasy owners that drafted Blake Bortles or Philip Rivers actually had a better season from their Fantasy quarterbacks.
Another example is Ben Roethlisberger, who has missed time over the past two seasons because of injury. While you cannot predict injury, when you have a 35-year-old quarterback who has a history of knee injuries, Roethlisberger isn’t a safe bet in 2017.
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