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Fantasy vs. Reality: Cutler to Miami

Does Jay Cutler actually make the Miami offensive players better fantasy assets?

Our Chad Parsons wrote a great article in reaction to the news that Ryan Tannehill was hurt. Chad assessed the prospects for each of Miami's skill players if Tannehill were out for the year. Now that he is and Miami has signed Jay Cutler to replace him, let's take a macro look at Miami's offense with Cutler as compared to Tannehill.

It might seem like a "hot take" question, but is Miami's offense actually better with Cutler than Tannehill? As a whole (or in a real football sense), it probably isn't. But for fantasy football – especially as it relates to the prospects for Devante Parker and Jarvis Landry (and even Julius Thomas) – an argument can be made. Let's take a look at the impact each quarterback has had on his teammates throughout their careers.

Cutler

PlayerPositionSeasonReceptionsYardsTD
Alshon Jeffery WR 2014 85 1133 10
Brandon Marshall WR 2012 118 1508 11
Johnny Knox WR 2010 51 960 5
Devin Hester WR 2009 57 757 3
Brandon Marshall WR 2008 104 1265 6
Brandon Marshall WR 2007 102 1325 7
Martellus Bennett TE 2014 90 916 6
Greg Olsen TE 2009 60 612 8
Matt Forte RB 2015 44 389 3
Matt Forte RB 2014 102 808 4
Matt Forte RB 2010 51 547 3

Cutler has passed for 3,000 or more yards (I chose this arbitrary round number as a cut-off because it generally shows when a quarterback is the "main guy" for his team) seven times in his career. In one of those seasons, his WR1 (yardage-wise) was Devin Hester. In another, it was Johnny Knox. In three of those seasons, his WR2 (again, by yards) was Earl Bennett. So he hasn't always had elite weapons around him.

However, in five of those seasons, he had either Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery as his WR1 (and there was overlap, albeit injured overlap, of those two in Chicago as well). Excluding 2015 (Jeffery was the WR1 but only played 9 games) the average WR1 total for Cutler has caught 102 passes for 1,308 yards and 9 touchdowns. Cutler also generated a 91-980-5 season for Eddie Royal as a rookie in Denver.

He has also done well passing to tight ends and running backs. In 2009 (Cutler's first season in Chicago), Greg Olsen managed 60-612-8. Olsen had 41-404-5 the following year. In 2013, Cutler played only 11 games, but Martellus Bennett accumulated a 65-759-5 line. The following year, Bennett put up career numbers with 90-916-6.

And we know what Matt Forte has done as a dual-threat in his career (most of which was played with Cutler). In his seven seasons with Cutler in Chicago, Forte had at least 44 catches in every single year. This was highlighted by 74 and 102 consecutively in 2013-2014.

Overall, Cutler has supported four 1,000+ yard seasons, the lowest of which was 1,133 yards (this doesn't include 2013 when Cutler was injured and Josh McCown played a portion of the season; in 2013, both Jeffery and Marshall had over 1,200 yards). He has also had six seasons where one of his receivers (Marshall three times, Jeffery, Olsen, and Bennett once each) accumulated six or more touchdowns.

Tannehill

PlayerPositionSeasonReceptionsYardsTD
Jarvis Landry WR 2016 94 1136 4
Kenny Stills WR 2016 42 726 9
Jarvis Landry WR 2015 110 1157 4
Mike Wallace WR 2014 94 862 10
Brian Hartline WR 2013 76 1016 4
Brian Hartline WR 2012 74 1083 1
Charles Clay TE 2013 69 759 6
Lamar Miller RB 2015 47 397 2
Lamar Miller RB 2014 38 275 1
Reggie Bush RB 2012 32 292 2

In Tannehill's five seasons, he also has supported four 1,000-yard seasons. Two of those seasons, however, were sub-1,100 yards with the highest being 1,157). Tannehill has only three total seasons of six or more touchdowns. Tannehill also doesn't throw to his backs very often, which makes sense given what we know about quarterbacks with the ability to run generally choosing to scamper vs. dumping off to a back.

Cutler has done more for his skill players that Tannehill. An argument can be made, however, that the talent around Tannehill isn't as good as the supporting cast Cutler had in his best seasons. That point is mitigated at least somewhat by the fact that half of Cutler's career was played prior to the "live ball era" that is today's NFL. Considering the eras, Tannehill's guys – even if they are inferior talents – should have accumulated at least the same level of success as Cutler's.

The Takeaways

For most teams, a switch to the backup quarterback would make them more run-heavy. But that won't happen to Miami. The reasoning for that is two-fold: a) Cutler isn't a typical replacement-level backup; b) Miami already was projecting to be run-heavy. Below is a quick chart that shows what I would do with the Miami assets, with terminology similar to what Chad used in his "What If" article.

PlayerCurrent PPR ADPAction with Cutler
Jay Ajayi 15 Hold
Jarvis Landry 34 Hold
DeVante Parker 85 Buy
Julius Thomas 143 Buy
Kenny Stills 196 Avoid
Jay Cutler n/a See below

You can see that I'm buying or holding the passing game weapons. While Cutler's "who cares" mentality has become a bit of a joke, his boldness is an asset for fantasy football, where interceptions don't hurt his teams nearly as much as they do in real football. Parker and Thomas figure to see about the same in terms of receptions and yards, but they could each get a touchdown or two extra with Cutler at the helm. Ajayi's workload won't be impacted (especially in a negative way), and he could even see more passing game targets as Cutler isn't bashful about checking down to avoid sacks.

This article has been about the weapons in Miami's game and how a shift to Cutler impacts them. But what about Cutler himself? Tannehill was going around 149 overall (QB22), which sounds about right for Cutler as well. Because Miami still projects to be run-heavy, the upside is to Cutler being a streaming type of play when the matchup is right. Though Cutler won't get points with his legs like Tannehill, his boldness could afford him a couple more touchdowns through the air.

It's a unique scenario in which a season-ending injury to a team's starting quarterback may result in a wash to its overall offense, even with a backup who is coming out of retirement to join the team. I'm very interested to see reports on how Cutler meshes with his teammates and to see how quickly he can knock off any rust in the preseason.