Where do dual-threat quarterbacks fit in 2013 fantasy drafts?
A new age is dawning on the world of fantasy football: the age of the dual-threat quarterback.
These aren’t just guys that can run with the best of them. They’ll run past defenders when the play breaks down. They’ll catch defenses sleeping with the read-option. But when push comes to shove they have the arm talent to put up impressive passing numbers as well.
Robert Griffin III. Russell Wilson. Cam Newton. Colin Kaepernick. And although he arguably doesn’t fit in this category, I’m putting Andrew Luck here for the sake of argument. This season, all five of these quarterbacks established that they are top-tier fantasy options, and I believe they will be in that category for the long run.
Just look at it from a statistical standpoint: in standard fantasy leagues, it takes 25 passing yards to gain one point, but only 10 rushing yards to get one point. Beyond that, rushing touchdowns typically count for six points, whereas passing scores only count for four. In this regard, the scoring scale is skewed to favor these players by no fault of their own.
For example, look at Cam Newton’s rushing statistics from this past season. 741 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns yields 122 fantasy points. That alone is 36.2 percent of Drew Brees’ total production, and Brees, a total pocket passer, was the top fantasy quarterback this year. Imagine if Newton was able to muster up more than his meager 19 passing touchdowns, which was a lower total than such mediocre fantasy quarterbacks as Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Give Newton just five more passing touchdowns, for a total of 24, and he would have been the top fantasy quarterback this year, despite his maddening inconsistency.
Eventually NFL defenses will find a way to out-scheme gimmicks such as the read-option. But as long as these five quarterbacks have the physical ability in terms of rushing and passing that they displayed this year, they will continue to find ways to put up the big stats much in the same way that oversized, vertical threat tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham will continue to do. The only feasible way I can see these quarterbacks and tight ends being slowed down statistically in the next two or three years? Injuries. RG3 was the only one of those dual-threat quarterbacks to sustain a major injury, so he has a leg up on that competition. Gronkowski and Graham both had their injury woes but still finished as the top two fantasy tight ends, albeit by a smaller margin than they did in 2011.
Long story short, these are phenomenal athletes and tremendous football players. When ranking these players for fantasy football purposes, we might have to think even further outside the perspective of the past. With all this in mind, I’m going to take a way-too-early, unofficial look at next season’s fantasy football quarterback rankings, for the sake of showing the ceiling of these dual-threat quarterbacks.
The top echelon of fantasy quarterbacks remained untouched this season, with Drew Brees finishing first, Tom Brady second, and Aaron Rodgers third. I don’t believe that order should change come draft time, and I don’t believe any other quarterback will crack the top three in 2013. Why? These guys just pass too much, and they are way too good at it for any other quarterback to approach their level.
My candidate for the #4 fantasy quarterback and the best bet to crack that top tier? Colin Kaepernick.
Yes, I just said Colin Kaepernick is my #4 overall fantasy quarterback for next year.
Here’s my rationale behind that claim. Kaepernick played the majority of eight games this year, and totaled 164 fantasy points (1,814 passing yards, 10 pass TD, 3 INT; 415 rushing yards, 5 rush TD). Kaepernick did have additional stats from manning the Wildcat while Alex Smith was still starting, so for the sake of argument, let’s say Kaepernick played nine games to obtain his 164 fantasy points. Project that to 16 games, and that gives Kaepernick 291 points. That ties Kaepernick with Matt Ryan, who was most people’s sexy sleeper pick at quarterback this year.
Now let’s approach Kaepernick’s 2013 projection from the NFL angle. The 49ers will probably grant Alex Smith’s life dream and rid him from a franchise with which he’s had the worst possible luck, in turn ridding Kaepernick of an incredible distraction. Looking at the amount of growth Kaepernick has gained under head coach and former NFL coach Jim Harbaugh in his first two years, it seems pretty logical to say that he’ll continue to grow this offseason, his first as a full-fledged NFL starter. It’s my guess that Kaep is well on his way to NFL superstardom.
For the 5 and 6 spots in these mock quarterback rankings, I’m going to go to a pair of traditional passers, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan (in that order). Manning showed that his neck injuries are a thing of the past, and Ryan showed that, with a little more passing in the Falcons’ offense, he can be a bona fide top fantasy quarterback. I don’t think either of those guys are going anywhere next year.
Following those two pocket passers, though, comes three of our remaining dual-threat quarterbacks. Coming in at seventh in these mock rankings is…Andrew Luck.
The fact of the matter is that Luck isn’t really a dual threat quarterback. He’s more of an Aaron Rodgers-type of guy, who will put up about 20 rushing yards a game and use his size to score rushing touchdowns on the QB sneak. Now, sneak touchdowns are extremely unpredictable in fantasy football. But tell me with a straight face that, a year after he got almost 4,400 passing yards and 23 pass touchdowns, you don’t think Luck is capable of 4,800 yards, 30 total touchdowns and 15 interceptions next year? My personal guess is that he could do even better than that, but those seem like reasonable benchmarks for Luck’s sophomore campaign.
Questions surrounding Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton bump them down to 8th and 9th, respectively, in my rankings. It’s safe to say that no quarterback, when healthy, was as sensational as RG3 was this year. Mike Shanahan did a fantastic job developing an offense in which Griffin and fellow rookie Alfred Morris could flourish. But keep in mind that RG3 will be coming off his second surgery on his right knee and his third knee surgery overall. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Redskins dial down the running just a bit with RG3 next season; I would place his ceiling for those stats at 700 yards and 6 touchdowns.
With Newton, the questions are less objective and more subjective than they were with RG3. Although Mike Shula could be bound for greatness given his father Don’s pedigree, Newton could be in for a rough season following Rob Chudzinski’s departure to Cleveland. Just ask Jason Campbell and Alex Smith how tough it is for a young quarterback to adjust to a change in offensive coordinators. Add in the fact that Newton is still showing signs of mental weakness and was terribly inconsistent in this season’s first half, and it’s hard for me to put him any higher on this list. It’s not as much a knock against Newton as it is recognition of the talent of the other quarterbacks available.
That leaves Russell Wilson as the last of our dual-threat quarterbacks to be slotted in these rankings. In order, I would still draft Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, and Eli Manning ahead of Wilson, placing him in the category of fringe starter/top backup as far as fantasy quarterbacks go. The simple rationale here is that Wilson just wasn’t used as much in the Seahawks’ run-oriented offense, as Wilson only eclipsed 250 yards passing twice and only had 1 rushing score outside of a sensational Week 15 performance against Buffalo. Wilson did make astounding strides as the 2012 season went on; he averaged 10.5 points per game in the first 8 games, while he increased that number to 21.8 for his last 8 games. But as is the case with Newton, the proven talent ahead of Wilson would be a safer fantasy football pick.
Dual-threat quarterbacks are storming the ranks of the NFL, and now they’re making a charge at the upper echelons of fantasy football glory. Like it or not, change is happening in the game of football.
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Down and Distance Columnist Joe Ray – @jpray_SK