Precision is overrated in May and June. The archery, surgical lasers, and nanotechnology will have its time in July. This spring, it's all about horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear weapons at the office of the Gut Check.
We all have to start somewhere. As I create my first set of fantasy rankings, I'm beginning with the broad strokes. Today's Gut Check profiles quarterbacks that I like significantly more or less than the current ADP in PPR leagues.
A COMMUNIQUE FROM CAPTAIN OBVIOUS
My values versus existing ADP will change. How much, I have no idea. This article is that starting point. The purpose of this exercise is to note which receivers merit closer examination when creating your draft plans.
A Specific Note on Fantasy Quarterbacks
Quarterbacks take the most time to rank if you're incorporating the numerous questions that factor into their production:
- Is the running game good enough for opponents to honor?
- Is there at least one go-to receiver?
- Is there a receiver capable of erasing less accurate throws with his athletic prowess (H/T to Cian Fahey)?
- Is the receiving game more than a one-man show (think Julio Jones last year and Matt Ryan's production)?
- How good is the offensive line?
- How mobile is the quarterback and more important, how mature and accurate is he with his execution after avoiding pressure?
- How good is the defense?
Many of these questions I will address below as I share my perspective on each player. The great thing about quarterbacks requiring the most time to rank is that most of the fantasy community prefers (or in the case of analysts) to wait until the mid-to-late rounds before selecting a quarterback. Most fantasy owners will be selecting two players with the hope that one will hit rather than leaning heavily on one guy.
Fortunately, most of the quarterbacks I'm profiling will be part of a Quarterback By Committee (QBBC) draft strategy so the decisions aren't as pivotal as if contemplating an option in the first five rounds and leaning hard on them to deliver well above his peers. After typing that previous sentence, we begin with exactly that situation.
There's always an exception.
Andrew Luck (ADP 42, The Gut Check 64): The aura of Luck's past production, athletic ability, and potential of his surrounding skill talent buoys his 2016 ADP. I also appreciate Luck's physical grit and athletic skill on the move as a passer and playmaker. But when I describe Russell Wilson's grit, it's more mental and physical. And when I describe Wilson's athletic skill, it's on a higher plain than Luck where it matters most: avoiding punishment.
This is different than avoiding pressure or taking hits. Wilson has taken 164 sacks from 2012-2015 and Luck has 115 during the same span. Even if you project more sacks for the nine games Luck missed last year after he refused to slide on a play where he was flushed from the pocket, Wilson has been dropped more often.
QB Hits is also trickier than it seems. According to ESPN this time last year, Wilson (317) and Cam Newton (587) have taken more hits than any quarterback since entering the NFL. But the company's stats crew includes "tackled while running" into its equation. The NFL only counts QB Hits as "sacks" or "hit while throwing the football."
Remove ESPN's "tackled while running" from Wilson's totals and his 2012-2014 number falls from 317 to 249. Pretty big dip if you ask me and I think it's warranted to question ESPN's stat as the best one to use.
There are different kinds of runners at the quarterback position than what the stats show and that running style often dictates the types of hits these quarterbacks take. For ESPN, a hit is a hit. For a quarterback taking a hit or his teammates and staff trying to reach the playoffs, all hits aren't equal.
Newton runs like a fullback and the offense even incorporates Newton's size into its ground game. It makes sense he'll take more punishing hits. Wilson takes his share of hard hits, but he's far more likely to be chased down and tripped up than hit flush when he's running past the line of scrimmage. He's also adept at sliding and avoiding hard punishment. Hopefully, Luck will have learned his lesson but thus far, the Colts QB has invited hard hits.
ESPN's stats clouds the picture of QB punishment for two reasons:
1) When quarterbacks leave the line of scrimmage, they become runners. ESPN's stats lump "tackles" into QB Hits and it unjustifiably punishes quarterbacks who do their job correctly as runners past the line of scrimmage.
2) The mindset of quarterback leaving the line of scrimmage is different than the mindset of the same quarterback hanging in the pocket to deliver the ball. It's true of all QBs. Hanging in the pocket makes one more prone to routine punishment than breaking the pocket to run downfield.
It's why I prefer the NFL QB Hit stats; there's no confusion.If you want to incrementally account for punishing hits to Cam Newton as part of the Panthers short-yardage game, then it's a little easier to do.
From the NFL's perspective, Andrew Luck has taken far more punishment from the pocket than Wilson.
QB Hits By Year
QB Hits By Year (Ranking vs. Rest of League)
Although the Seahawks line has valid concerns and Wilson has taken more hits than 60-70 percent of the starting quarterbacks in the league since he's entered the NFL, there's evidence that Seattle is turning things around. Although sacks are only one type of QB Hit and I couldn't find weekly QB Hit data, it's worth noting that Wilson's second-half tear coincides with the Seahawks' unit improving its performance.
Seattle's like gave up 45 sacks last year. Wilson took 31 of those sacks during the first 8 weeks of the year. Seattle only gave up 14 for the remaining 8 weeks. That's a significant change and, as a Seattle fan, I noticed the difference with the line's performance.
The Colts have been among the four worst in this category every year of Luck's career.It coincides with Luck taking a lot of punishment and his style of escaping pressure is not nearly as fleet-footed as Russell Wilson or even Alex Smith, who was also high on ESPN's clouded "hit list." Luck has proven that he hasn't cared for his body like a pro should.
I expect Luck to get wiser in this area after missing those nine games but I don't expect the Colts offensive line to demonstrate massive improvement this year. It's a unit undergoing significant turnover and will at least take a year to develop rapport. When Luck was dealing with last year's more experienced but arguably less physically talented offensive line, he was the No.12 fantasy QB (161 points) between weeks 1-9—and closer to being No.21 (142 points) than No.11 (180 points).
Wilson was even worse as the No.17 QB (152 points) during that span. But Wilson's line began to gel and from Weeks 10-17, Wilson was the No.2 QB (236.4 points) and it was enough to elevate him to No.3 overall for the year. The Colts QBs Matt Hasselbeck, Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley only earned 100 points total. Granted Luck's skill as a starter would have warranted him more points but it's unrealistic to expect Luck would go on Wilson's tear without vast improvement from the offensive line.
While I don't fully agree, there's the argument that Luck has better receivers than Wilson and he still couldn't significantly make up for the offensive line during those first nine weeks. Luck only scored a point more per week than Wilson.
I'm not bowled over by the Colts' receiving corps this year. T.Y. Hilton is good, if not excellent. Donte Moncrief flashed the ability that makes him projectable as a future starter of note and he still has ground to cover before he gets there. Phillip Dorsett has great physical skills and an injury that cost him time to earn rapport with Luck last year. And Dwayne Allen is a fine all-around TE—when healthy.
None of these guys run routes like Reggie Wayne and as we saw last season with Aaron Rodgers sans Jordy Nelson, great athletes only offer so much at WR if they can't be where they are supposed to be for a great quarterback. Blake Bortles ran for his life last season and had a lot of garbage time opportunities but he also had two good route runners at his disposal.
I still think Luck is a good bet as a QB1. But there's a difference of 60-100 points between earning consideration as one of the top-2 fantasy QBs and a low-end QB1. While I can't tell you with a straight face that Russell Wilson is a much safer bet to deliver top-5 QB production than Luck after losing J.R. Sweezy and Russell Okung to free agency, I have a lot doubts that Luck can return to top-five production on his individual skills alone. If the Colts don't get it together long-term, Luck could wind up with a career closer to the original Manning—and I'm not talking about Peyton...
Andy Dalton (ADP 105, The Gut Check 146): Unlike Luck and Wilson, Dalton has benefitted from a good Bengals offensive line. Unlike Luck and Wilson, Dalton also needs this caliber of line far more. What Dalton had over both quarterbacks was weapons.
A.J. Green is a clear step up from T.Y. Hilton or Doug Baldwin and the quartet of Marvin Jones Jr, Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard is a far more diverse and potent supporting cast than what the Colts or Seahawks can offer. Injuries aside, Dalton has always had good weapons and a respectable amount of time to execute the ofense.
Solely looking at fantasy production, Dalton has been a poor man's Matt Ryan when Ryan had Julio Jones, Roddy White in his prime, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas. But much of that firepower in Cincinnati is in transition, at best. I think it's gone.
What Cincinnati has left is Green, Bernard and an ailing Eifert. For a quarterback like Dalton, whose margin for error is much smaller when he has to break with the structure of the play, lacking multiple weapons on the perimeter and the intermediate zone hurts. What could be even more damaging is the loss of Hue Jackson.
Ryan's 2015 season is a good model for what could happen to Dalton. The Falcons QB lost Dirk Koetter, who I've long maintained did great work to keep the Falcons in games despite injuries that riddled Atlanta's skill positions and a patchwork offensive line, and the transition to Kyle Shanahan's system exposed many of the flaws of Atlanta's offensive personnel. Although Ryan's 2015 production was nearly identical to 2014 in terms of attempts, completion percentage, yards, and interceptions, his tossed seven fewer touchdowns and his fantasy ranking plummetted from No.7 to No.18.
Red zone and vertical game production come with rapport, timing, and comfort with the scheme. Change the scheme and don't replace the talent lost to age, injury, and free agency, and it's a no-brainer that a team will struggle in the red zone. Ryan had 14 touchdowns inside the five in 2014; 8 in 2015. He had 9 between the 20 and the 6 in 2014; 5 in 2015.
And Julio Jones had a monster year last year!
A.J. Green is a different style of talent than Jones, but arguing who is truly a better wide receiver at this point is best done over a friendly round or two with friends when it's a harmless waste of time. It's likely Green is in for a huge year due to an increase in target volume that will come with Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd attempting to replace Jones and Sanu. I don't see Dalton and the Bengals receiving corps acclimating to a new system and a loss of player any faster than the Falcons.
One advantage the Bengals have over Atlanta is a good offensive line, which should mitigate some of the disastrous moments Atlanta had down the stretch of 2015. It won't change the fact that Dalton and will be adjusting to a new offense. Ken Zampese, the long-time QB coach in Cincinnati with experience in Mike Martz's offense, will take the helm and he's a pass-heavy guy.
If the Bengals locals are right about the excitement surrounding the offense in 2016, it's probably due to Dalton's excellent production during the first 12 games of the year. Fantasy owners of Dalton had their league's No.4 QB until he got hurt. Credit goes to Dalton for his play but you can't ignore the value of talent developing within a scheme over the course of 2-3 seasons.
Cincinnati won't have that luxury and unless the offense is truly more plug-and-play than most, projecting Dalton at QB14 might be even more optimistic than it appears.
On the Fence
Marcus Mariota (ADP 112, The Gut Check 76): The Titans are going to an exotic smash-mouth offense. DeMarco Murray. Derrick Henry. I can imagine the offensive line coach standing atop the blocking sleds like a mash-up of R. Lee Ermey (Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket") and Vince Lombardi: I wanna hear you grunt when you hit those pads, boys! We're gonna plow the road!
I love the idea of a run-first, power running game that will chew up nickel-sized defensive units across the NFL landscape. Won't it require a defense that can stop teams from scoring? The Titans were the sixth-worst scoring defense in the league last year. Of the worst dozen defenses in this category, only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints had good ground games with one consistently strong runner.
It means Mariota's will remain a big factor in a division that has the talent to score points. The second-year starter is leaving boards as QB16 but he was QB4 from weeks 9-14 once he returned from injury. Mariota did it with Kendall Wright in and out of the lineup, Dorial Green-Beckham's growing pains, and a struggling ground game.
I understand how the intent of the Titans organization could dictate less confidence in Mariota's fantasy production. I also understand that spring is filled with good intentions that never come to fruition. The ground game will be better this year in Tennessee. So will the quarterback.
If I have to choose, I'm leaning towards Mariota performing better than his ADP until I see evidence that proves otherwise.
Derek Carr (ADP 97, The Gut Check 123): I think I'm too low on Carr. The Raiders have a good offensive line, Amari Cooper was great for a rookie receiver, and even Seth Roberts gives Oakland a good option as a third receiver after the steady Michael Crabtree. If Clive Walford takes that next step and the team can generate a more consistent ground game, Carr could be a mid-range QB1.
Carr's current ranking is a good example of where a player is victimized by landing in that 13-18 range where I can see him making the jump to QB1 territory but where's the upside receiving option beyond Cooper who can provide high-end WR2, TE1, PPR RB2 production? I like Crabtree as a consistent force who lacks that ceiling. And Walford will have to double his 2016 production to reach TE14-TE17 territory based on last year.
Roberts intrigues me as an option who, combined with Walford, could elevate Carr's totals if Crabtree remains consistent and Cooper increases his rookie totals. It's DeAndre Washington's potential as a receiving back that gives me the most hope. It's just not enough for me to budge from Carr as a QBBC option worth gambling on, but not taking earlier than this tier after round 10.
Matt Ryan (ADP 124, The Gut Check 145): I like Mohamed Sanu more as a player than a fantasy option so a new team will be a good test of my stance. I've long thought that Ryan needs a strong timing route runner to complement Jones' athletic gifts. Perhaps Sanu's skills as a rebounder with strength, vision, and burst after the catch will present double-trouble for Falcons opponents trying to account for two players with similar styles.
The most compelling reason I'm not completely sold on Ryan's ADP remaining in the basement is rookie tight end Austin Hooper. The fact Hooper is not allowed to participate in OTAs because of an NFL rule in place since the 1990s is depressing his value even more than the fact that rookie tight ends don't fare well for fantasy owners.
Despite the missed time and his rookie status, Hooper could be an exceptional instance where the intersection of his talent, the Falcons' scheme, and the offense's needs could lead to immediate, low-end TE1 production. One of the things I agree with Shanahan about Hooper is route running:
"We really liked his route-running ability," Shanahan told ESPN's Vaughn McClure. "He's come off the ball hard. He's not the fastest guy in the world, but he's fast enough. He's got good cutting ability so he can break guys off at the top of his routes. He's a big guy with length. he's got very good ball skills. And he's not scared to attack the ball. When he's covered, he still has a chance to make the play."
I can't say the same things about any other rookie tight end in this class. Quickness, flexibility, and technique in a player's routes can make a slower receiver a lot better than a speedy one. Hooper won't make fantasy owners gush like they did with the potential of Jermichael Finley, but he'll win inside, at the line of scrimmage, and even on the perimeter because of his physicality and length.
If Hooper can earn the starting gig or a primary role in the red zone, Ryan's red zone production earn back those six touchdowns he lacked inside the opponents' five between 2014 and 2015. If this happens, Ryan could once again deliver low-end QB1 fantasy production at a value. If Sanu produces close to the money Atlanta is paying him, Ryan could have a complete rebound to the days where he was a mid-range QB1.
Neither scenario feels likely, but there should be enough production from both newcomers to elevate Ryan within the top-15 at the position. I have him No.23 as of now. I expect to bump Ryan at least 3-5 spots, but anything more will be in the hands of Sanu and Hooper.
Russell Wilson (ADP 49, The Gut Check 28): I fear I'm too high on Wilson. The offensive line lost two tackles after the unit finally righted the ship down the stretch (see my analysis on Luck for details). Will the Seahawks have to undergo the same rough patch it did for the first half of last season? Can Wilson survive it?
I'm leaning towards "yes". Wilson was on fire after October and this receiving corps should be at full strength (Jimmy Graham excluded) and with players that I think are more skilled than credited. Doug Baldwin is on track to develop into this decade's Derrick Mason. Tyler Lockett thrilled with his potential and I'm still a believer that Paul Richardson Jr can be as good if not better.
But if this line can't start better than it did last year, it's more difficult to bet on Wilson as a top-five fantasy QB. One notable nugget about last year's tackles, Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy, is that they missed four games between them last year. But this year doesn't look any better on this front and it's only June. Projected left tackle J'Marcus Webb has a severe calf strain, Germain Ifedi is a rookie, Justin Britt will be the new center, and Gary Gilliam will be the left tackle. Add new starting left guard Mark Glowinksi to the mix, and this line is completely new. Rapport matters and the Seahawks have none with this unit.
It's by no means a death sentence for Wilson's fantasy value, but it does give pause to the assumption that he'll pick up where he left off last year.
Blake Bortles (ADP 74, The Gut Check 61): Despite the fact that the Jaguars QB benefited from garbage time and the offensive line is a weak unit, the Jaguars only allowed 89 QB Hits—tied for 12th-worst in the NFL. Of those hits, 51 were sacks, making the Jaguars the 3rd-worst in that department. It's not a good look for Bortles.
It may also not be a good look or fantasy owners to undervalue him. There is a line where a struggling team and a playmaking quarterback delivers good fantasy production. This is the intersection of talent and situation where we as fantasy owners nitpick the talent angle to our detriment.
We expect quarterbacks with great decision-making to deliver great fantasy seasons when playmaking may take precedence. Yes, Bortles is a playmaker. He's not the smartest or most efficient of playmakers, but he is one nonetheless.
One of the arguments for Bortles regression is a possible drop in red zone production now that the Jaguars added Chris Ivory. While Ivory is a nice power runner, the Jaguars did little to significant improve its offensive line. Citing Ivory's presence as an argument to a decline in Bortle's production is an incomplete argument.
Matt Ryan's red zone production took a huge dip last year and Devonta Freeman had 9 touchdowns inside the 20; Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers only combined for 7 the year prior. It's not a rock-solid fact that a better ground game in the red zone will lead to a regression in Bortles' production. There's a compelling argument that because the defense won't improve until the new personnel gets some experience working together, the Jaguars will still be facing enough garbage time scenarios for Bortles to thrive as a mid-range QB1.
The offense has the skill-position firepower and Julius Thomas should be far more acclimated than he was last year. Although I understand a slight drop for Bortles' production, I'm posting this entry as a warning to fantasy owners thinking his regression will knock him from QB1 territory.
Teddy Bridgewater (ADP 192, The Gut Check 125): Bridgewater has been a patience play and not because his individual development is slow. My buddy Jason Wood says in his rankings commentary that Bridgewater "showed almost no growth last year." I don't think Wood meant statistical development only, but I'll argue it's what he should have meant.
Watch Bridgewater against the world champion Broncos last year and see what he did to keep Minnesota in this game despite a horrific offensive line and working with a rookie receiver getting his second start as a professional. Then tell me Bridgewater didn't show any growth.
Watch Bridgewater face pressure in nearly 47 percent of his drops last year—tops in the NFL—and still cut his interceptions from 12 as a rookie to 9 despite playing 3 more games and attempting 45 more passes. Then tell me Bridgewater didn't show any growth.
Note that Bridgewater also upped his completion percentage while maintaining the same yards per completion average despite the constant pressure, performing with a rookie, dealing with one-dimensional Mike Wallace, and an early injury to Charles Johnson that derailed his season (and remember, 25-415-2 of Johnson's 31-475-2 stat line came during Week's 9-17 last year).
And guess who had the top QB rating in the final two minutes of games with a score of 155? You guessed it.
I'd call this growth.
This year, the Vikings line should be better because it's healthy. When not decimated with injuries, it's a top tier unit. Since Bridgewater has been in the NFL, the Vikings line hasn't been healthy. The addition of Alex Boone, Andre Smith, and the return of John Sullivan should give Bridgewater a lot more time.
Now add Laquon Treadwell as a receiver with skills against press and tight coverage and as a downfield blocker and this offense's red zone production, short-yardage conversion rates, and big-play capability on the ground and through the air should only increase.
While encouraging stuff, it's not a situation that a lot of analysts are optimistic about. It's difficult for them to project improvement because the projection isn't stats-based; it's film-based. In terms of QB order within the rankings of the position, I don't have Bridgewater much higher than my peers. In terms of overall order of when to take a chance on him, he's several rounds higher on my board. I view him as a legimitate option as a QB2 in a QBBC with more upside than my peers are willing to act on.
Considering that you can get him as a QB2 late in drafts, Bridgewater makes a nice option to pair with known QB1 who could reward you with play that makes your well-known fantasy stud trade bait later on.
Next week: Over-Under ADP for Tight Ends.