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Spotlight: Tony Romo

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 6th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Long gone are the days when you could win your fantasy leagues by loading up on running backs in the first few rounds, and then turn your attention to receivers, waiting until the 7th-8th-9th round to take your quarterback. As the hobby has progressed, and the league has evolved into an even more pass happy affair, savvy fantasy owners have started to realize that the quarterback position cannot be ignored if you want to give yourself the best chance at dominating your league.

With that in mind, my goal is to come away with one of the quarterbacks that I put into the top tier - the elite of the league. Sure, there are 32 projected starters and that's why 10- and 12-team leagues think you can wait, but realize that there are really only a handful of ELITE passers in the league, and Tony Romo may be the most attractive of the bunch...because he's the guy you can get the latest in your draft.

By my estimation, the 2011 Elite QB Club is comprised of:

  • Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (ADP = 8th overall)
  • Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP = 12th)
  • Tom Brady, New England Patriots (ADP = 21st)
  • Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts (ADP = 24th)
  • Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (ADP = 25th)
  • Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers (ADP = 29th)
  • Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys (ADP = 43rd)

Simply put, you need to use a 2nd or 3rd round pick to lock up an elite fantasy QB this year, unless you target Romo in the 4th round (or late in the 3rd depending on your draft spot). That's going to be a key decision, and I'm going to walk you through why Romo needs to be considered as good a QB as those going ahead of him.

Romo has historically elite skills

  • Career passer rating = 95.5 - Romo's passer rating is 4th best ALL-TIME. Only Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Steve Young have better career marks (yes, his rating is higher than Brady and Manning and Brees).
  • Career Yards per Attempt = 8.0 - Romo has the best active yards-per-attempt in the league, and yet again he ranks 4th ALL-TIME. When you realize that the men ahead of him - Otto Graham, Sid Luckman, and Norm Van Brocklin - played in the 40s and 50s, you get a better appreciation of just how efficient Romo is as a passer.
  • Career TD Rate = 5.7% - Romo has thrown for a TD on 5.7% of his attempts, which is among the best of all time. More impressively, it ranks FIRST among active passers. To put a finer point on that, Romo throws more TDs per attempt than even passers like Brady and Manning, who own the top two single season TD totals in history.

Romo has enviable weapons at his disposal
The Cowboys are resplendent with offensive weapons. No conversation about the Cowboys passing attack can start without acknowledging Jason Witten, who has three 1,000-yard seasons in the last four years. Then you turn your attention outside to the tandem of Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Bryant is widely considered one of the most talented young receivers in the league, and is poised for a breakout campaign, while Austin has already proven to be a huge playmaker that has averaged 75 receptions for 1,180 yards and 9 TDs in two seasons as a starter. Very few quarterbacks have three weapons of that caliber.

The coaching situation has stabilized
When the Cowboys finally put Wade Phillips out of his misery last year, I was skeptical it would make much of a difference. After all, Jason Garrett was the Cowboys offensive coordinator (and Phillips was a defensive coach), so why would the offense improve? Yet, my skepticism proved incorrect as the Cowboys improved in every facet of the game. What changed? Conspiracy theorists would argue Garrett called a different type of game once he had the top job, although I don't know that the film really supports that claim. A more rational explanation is that the team simply had a different mindset. Whether they didn't like, or didn't respect Phillips, they clearly embraced Garrett as the new captain. That should bode well for a much stronger start to the 2011 season.

OK, so if Romo is so great, why isn't he being drafted as high as the other quarterbacks you deem elite?
The opportunity to draft Romo a bit later is born out of football fans inability to be logical about certain things. The honest reason you can take Romo after those other six QBs is because people have convinced themselves he's not a "winner." His 1-3 playoff record is so easy to overanalyze. Yet let's remember Peyton Manning was a guy who "couldn't win a big game" not so long ago, and Aaron Rodgers was that guy until THIS YEAR.

The other issue that keeps Romo from ascending into the upper echelon is his durability, and that's a much more legitimate concern than his "ability to win the big game." Romo missed 10 games last year with a broken collarbone, and also missed time in 2008 with a broken finger. Injuries are a real part of the NFL, and Romo has to be on the field to help your fantasy team. The good news? Both of Romo's injuries weren't chronic - broken bones heal, and then you're all set.

Positives

  • Romo is one of the most accurate, efficient and productive passers in league history
  • The Cowboys are armed with a trio of dynamic receiving options, and have continuity by remaining in the same offensive system for years
  • The offensive line should be much improved this year, as Doug Free enjoys his second season as a starter and rookie Tyron Smith anchors the other side

Negatives

  • Romo missed 10 games last year, which is the 2nd time in 3 seasons he missed important games
  • Sometimes Romo has fallen into a "gunslinger" mode which results in too many interceptions
  • The Cowboys must improve the center-QB handoff, as Romo has been among the league leaders in fumbled snaps since he became a starter

Final thoughts

Tony Romo throws more TDs (per attempt) than anyone else in the NFL -- and that includes the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. He's accurate, knows the system inside and out, and has a trio of weapons that most teams would die to have. The only thing keeping more fantasy owners from appreciating Romo's abilities are an arbitrary lack of playoff wins and the recent memory of his 10 games missed. But a broken collarbone isn't something that will impair him in 2011 and beyond, and we win fantasy titles for what quarterbacks do in the regular season, not the playoffs. Romo HAS to be on your short list of quarterbacks to target. Don't convince yourself that he's roughly the same as someone like Matt Schaub, he's a much better player and yet can be had for a similar price on draft day.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Mighty Mice said:

Romo is being underrated by many. I expect his stock to rise as we (hopefully) approach the 2011 season. He is very comfortable in this offense and has some explosive weapons. Austin, Dez Bryant, and Witten have potential to be one of the elite trios of recieving options in the entire NFL. You could do much worse than Roy Williams as a fourth target in the passing game as well. Jones/Murray/Choice provide a competent stable of RBs to relieve some pressure and keep D's honest, and in the case of Felix Jones particularly, they can create mismatches in the passing game. Adding T Tyron Smith with the 1.09 pick can only help protect the QB and give Romo time to look downfield and exploit defenses.

Romo finished in the top 10 in 2007, 2008, and 2009. His 23.28 ppg average through 5 games - while a small sample size - would have placed him 3rd, behind only Vick and Rogers.

The questions in my mind regarding Romo are not recovering from the collorbone injury. The questions to me are a) will the Dallas D force the passing game to put up big points consistently to win/stay in games? and b) will Dallas commit more to the run? These questions are related IMO, and bear watching what Dallas does in free agency and how the squad shapes up in training camp.

Last year, Romo had 206 attempts though 5 games, which equates to 659 attempts over 16 games! We can't expect a duplication of this, but I don't think Dallas will make enough strides defensively to fully commit to the run or to prevent Romo from throwing over 500 passes this season, a number he eclipsed in both 2007 and 2009 (and keep in mind he had 451 attempts in 2008 with 13 games played).

This may well be Romo's signature season - 7.53 ypa last season (Kitna had 7.43 in the same offense) seems sustainable - 580 attempts * 7.53 YPA = 4367 yards.

rzrback77 said:

I think that Romo is an awesome regular season QB and that is what you are looking for in a fantasy player. I am convinced that the thinking that the Cowboys will be running the ball more is somewhat hopeful thinking by Cowboy fans. The truth is that their defense is not strong enough to provide them a great opportunity to dictate the complete offensive flow of the game. And if their defense does not allow them to run clock, they simply must use their awesome array of playmakers.

Miles Austin is a very good WR and if Dez Bryant can even approach expectations, he is easily equal to Austin. Then, there is Jason Witten who is amazingly consistent and also able to stretch the defense some. Now, let's look at the RBs. Barber may be gone, but Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, and rookie DeMarco Murray are all effective receivers out of the backfield. They simply have more options than the defense can cover and Romo is normally very accurate (completed over 61% in each of his last four seasons).

At a current ADP of QB 7, it seems to me that there are at least two QB candidates currently being drafted at 7 through 10 that are more than capable of finishing in the top five (Romo and Roethlisberger).

fdctrumpet said:

Just as much upside as the other top tier QBs (outside of Vick probably) and going at an ADP below all of them? Sign me up. Arguably the best weapons in the league and got help on the OL.

gianmarco said:

They may be MVP numbers, but they aren't that far off from what he's done pretty much his entire career. Here are his prorated numbers year by year. The first year listed, he was only the starter for 6 games. That's the reason for the prorated numbers. The next year is a full season. The next year, he only missed 3 games with the finger injury. The next year is a full season. Last year is prorating his 1st 5 games before the injury in the 6th game.

2006 -- 4280/29/18 (6 games prorated)
2007 -- 4483/26/9
2008 -- 4243/32/17 (13 games prorated)
2009 -- 4211/36/19
2010 -- 5011/32/22 (5 games prorated)

Now, I know that 2 of those seasons are small sample sizes, however, they are completely in line with his full seasons and I think just demonstrate that none of his performances have been a fluke. Only the yardage last year is significantly "higher" by prorating.

In other words, if he plays 16 games, he's a virtual lock for 4200+ yds, 30 TDs, and about 18 INTs. The guy has been incredibly consistent.


Tony Romo projections

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