FOR WHOM THE BELL FOLES
"[Nick Foles] is the starting quarterback for the next 1,000 years here," proudly proclaimed head coach Chip Kelly in a December press conference. That's quite the declaration considering that just a few months before that no one, Kelly included, had confidence in who would be under center in Philadelphia.
Kelly's confidence in the young signal caller was certainly justified:
- 8-2 as a starter
- 64.0% completion rate
- 27 touchdowns
- 8.5% TD rate (#1 in the NFL)
- 2 interceptions
- 9.1 yards per attempt (#1 in the NFL)
- 14.2 yards per completion (#1 in the NFL)
In a truncated season as the starter, Foles led the Eagles to an improbable division crown, top 5 NFL offense, and playoff berth. Pro-rating Foles' numbers over a 16-game season would look downright Aaron Rodgers-like:
- 294 completions
- 459 attempts
- 64% completion rate
- 4,232 passing yards
- 38 touchdowns
- 3 interceptions
- 86 rushes
- 352 rushing yards
- 5 rushing TDs
BUT ARE LAST YEAR'S METRICS SUSTAINABLE?
Some fantasy football analysts cringe at the notion of 'regression to the mean', but there's a reason the concept is one of the most important in statistical analysis. The issue with regression in football analysis though is relatively small sample sizes. After all, we only get 16 games in a season, and even the most productive players touch the ball a few hundred times. However, there is still a tremendous amount of value in being skeptical about the sustainability of HISTORIC levels of production.
Concern #1 -- Foles' 8.5% TD rate
Foles' 8.5% TD rate ranks among the best of the modern era. It's the 5th best single season rate since 1970. To put that in perspective:
- Peyton Manning had a 9.9% TD rate in 2004. His next best season (last year) was 8.3%. Manning's TD rate was 6% of lower in 11 seasons. His career mark is 5.8%
- Ken Stabler has a 9.3% TD rate in 1976. He had an 8.4% rate in 1974. In 11 other seasons his rate was below 6%. His career mark was 5.1%
- Aaron Rodgers had a 9.0% TD rate in 2011. His rate fell to 7.1% the following year. His career mark is 6.4%
- Tom Brady had an 8.7% TD rate in 2007. He had a 7.3% rate in 2010. His rate has been below 6% in nine other seasons. His career mark is 5.5%
- Drew Brees has never eclipsed 7%. His career mark is 5.3%
- Kurt Warner never had an 8.5% TD rate. His career mark was 5.1%
- Joe Montana never cracked 8%. His career mark was 5.1%
- Fran Tarkenton never cracked 8%. His career mark was 5.3%
Concern #2 -- Foles' 0.6% INT rate
Foles threw only 2 interceptions in 317 attempts. That mark ranks as the 3rd best in NFL HISTORY. Even if we assume Foles can maintain elite accuracy, let's compare him to the same group of great quarterbacks:
- Peyton Manning has a 2.6% career INT rate
- Ken Stabler had a woeful 5.9% career INT rate
- Aaron Rodgers has one of the best ever, at 1.8%, which is still three times higher than Foles' 2013 rate
- Tom Brady has a 2.0% career INT rate
- Drew Brees has a 2.6% career INT rate
- Kurt Warner had a 3.1% career INT rate
- Joe Montana had a 2.6% career INT rate
- Fran Tarkenton had a 4.1% career INT rate
Concern #3 -- Foles' 9.1 yards per attempt rate
Once again Foles' 2013 was a rarified achievement. His 9.1 yards per attempt ranks 9th among passers (1970-present). How did those who bested his 9.1 yards per attempt fare for the rest of their careers?
- Kurt Warner (9.9 in 2000) averaged 7.9 yards per attempt for his career
- Chris Chandler (9.6 in 1998) averaged 7.1 yards per attempt for his career
- Ken Stabler (9.4 in 1976) averaged 7.4 yards per attempt for his career
- Aaron Rodgers (9.2 in 2011) averages 8.2 yards per attempt
- Lynn Dickey (9.2 in 1983) averaged 7.5 yards per attempt for his career
- Boomer Esiason (9.2 in 1988) averaged 7.3 yards per attempt for his career
- Peyton Manning (9.2 in 2004) averages 7.7 yards per attempt
- Joe Montana (9.1 in 1989) averaged 7.5 yards per attempt for his career
OK, FOLES WILL REGRESS BUT WON'T HIS INCREASED WORKLOAD OFFSET THE NORMALIZATION?
Certainly Foles' attempts should increase this year, if for no other reason than he'll be the starter for all 16 games (if healthy). That's the good news. The bad news is Chip Kelly's team was a top 5 offense last year in spite of throwing the ball 508 times. The Eagles ranked 27th in pass attempts in 2013, and 1st in rushing attempts. While it's possible the Eagles might attempt a few more passes per game this year, why would they dramatically change the run/pass ratio? The old adage, "If it ain't broke..." applies.
OTHER MITIGATING FACTORS
- DeSean Jackson's departure -- Jeremy Maclin is healthy and rookie Jordan Matthews improves the depth, but expecting them to duplicate what Jackson brought to the offense is unlikely. Jackson led the Eagles in receptions (82), yards (1,332), and touchdowns (9). Jackson may have been an bad fit in the locker room, but he was the difference maker in the receiving game.
- Strength of Schedule -- The Eagles ended up facing the 2nd easiest schedule last year. While it's difficult to predict SoS, we can reasonably say that there's a strong chance the Eagles face a more difficult schedule in 2014
- The Eagles have one of the league's best offensive lines
- Chip Kelly's offense capitalizes on spreading the ball around, theoretically reducing the risk of losing one particular piece (i.e., Jackson)
- Foles, like many of today's young starters, runs the ball a fair amount which gives a stealthy boost to his fantasy value
- Foles' 2013 numbers are nearly impossible to maintain, even the best QBs in league history haven't maintained close to that pace beyond a random season
- The Eagles ranked 4th in points scored and won their division last year by running the ball a ton and throwing it much less, what incentive does Chip Kelly have to change that approach?
- DeSean Jackson was the Eagles top receiver, not to mention the only credible deep threat
I'm not only a writer for Footballguys, I'm also an Eagles season ticket holder. Nothing would please me more than to dissect Nick Foles' outlook and jump aboard the consensus who view him as the 5th or 6th best fantasy QB this year. Unfortunately the numbers don't bear out that level of enthusiasm. Unless you think the Eagles are going to throw a LOT more than they did a year ago, you HAVE to assume Foles can maintain his ridiculously elite TD%, INT% and YPA from a year ago. Something has to give, and that means Foles slots more comfortably into the tier of quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick (at best)...young passers who will push for fringe QB1 numbers but won't be difference makers week in, week out.
Nick Foles Projections
THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB
I like Nick Foles, but his ADP is a tad high for me at QB7. The loss of DJax will hurt his numbers. I expect his insanely high YPA and TD:INT ratio to come down from last year. And as Jason said, this is a run-first team. He simply won't have enough pass attempts to justify taking him that high. I've currently got him ranked as QB11 so he will not be on any of my rosters this season. I will probably have a wait on QB strategy again this year. If I do take a QB earlier in the draft, I prefer Griffin, Kaepernick, Newton, and Brady to Foles.
When I look at Foles ADP on FFC, he’s the 6th QB going off the board. Come August I expect that to be closer to 12-14. Consider that once he took over for Vick, while going 9-2, he also only averaged 28.36 Attempts/Game. What made Foles a prolific FF QB during this 11 game stretch were:
1) An absurd 9.17 YPA in an NFL where an 8 YPA is considered elite. When you look at Foles 22/52 downfield passing number, consider that in the best year of his career, Peyton Manning had a completion rate of 47.8%...you’ll see that Foles is in pretty good company. Drew Brees for instance completed 37.5% of these throws. Do you have confidence in Foles being able to replicate this performance? With a new deep threat? I’m skeptical.
2) An elite TD ratio. Again, comparing to Peyton Manning who had the best season his first ballot HOF career, Foles actually threw TD’s more frequently than Manning; 8.52% of his attempts vs 8.35%. Russell Wilson was 3rd at 6.39%.
3) The lack of negative points. With 2 INT’s…that’s -4 point over the course of the season.
When the Eagles are going good, Foles is a complementary weapon. One that last year took full advantage of the attention paid to other members of the Eagles offense, but now will have to perform under a higher degree of scrutiny. Even if he’s very good, it will be a significant step down. Interesting stat about the Eagles QB’s last season. Matt Barkley led the team with 4 INT’s.
Also, I view things a little differently. The 2011 Eagles offense was productive and the 2012 offense was pretty mediocre. I am not so sure Kelly is a genius, but he was able to get the offense back to 2011 levels. The 2013 team averaged 6.3 yards per play while the 2011 team averaged 6.2. The 2013 unit, though, was able to average an additional 3 ppg. Part of what made the Eagles offense look superhuman last year was their performance in two games when they compiled 103 points and 1056 yards from scrimmage against the Raiders and Bears. That accounted for 23% of their season scoring and 16% of their season yardage in just two games.
In the main, one has to think that Foles cannot possibly be as efficient as he was last year. It's unlikely he will approach 9.1 ypa, but it is almost a lock that he will not post a 27-2 TD to INT ratio. I think Foles does well, but just not crazy good like some folks may be expecting.