Quarterback numbers continued to climb in 2015. A total of 842 touchdown passes were thrown, shattering the previous record set in 2014, of 807. Just a decade ago, there were 200 fewer touchdowns thrown over the course of the season. 30 touchdown seasons–which used to be the standard for having one of the best quarterbacks in the league–are the new normal. 14 different teams hit that mark last year.
With all this offensive explosion, the temptation might be to over-draft quarterbacks. The flip side is that more quarterbacks are putting up great numbers, so that while scoring at the position is high, as long as you have one or two of them, you are okay.
I went through every team and made educated guesses, using past performance, year-to-year fluctuations, age, roster changes, and injuries, to develop team projections for these fantasy rankings. I must emphasize that’s what they are, educated guesses. If someone’s TD totals (see, for example, Kirk Cousins having 5 rushing TDs on only 48 yards, lowest in history for that many) are out of whack with other indicators, I adjust to account for “regression to the mean.”
I then organized them in to tiers. You might notice that sometimes, I have a player with a slightly higher projected average ranked lower. That could be because of risk. Hopefully the tiers help you organize your strategy.
Two first overall picks. Both big, athletic, and the clear focal point of the offense. Newton will get more rush yards, though Luck should still bump up his rushing numbers. Luck is projected to get slightly more passing TDs and pass attempts.
Maybe you think it’s risky to take Luck after last season’s injury-marred disaster. He had over 600 pass attempts two years ago, and 40 touchdown passes. Reminder: a year ago, people were down on Cam Newton coming off a season where he was injured (and in a car accident) and put up sub-par numbers. He bounced back in great fashion, and these two have the most upside (volume, touchdowns, rushing numbers, age).
Aaron Rodgers had some of his lowest efficiency numbers last year, as the Packers offense struggled without Jordy Nelson, and with other injuries. I expect the offense, with Mike McCarthy calling plays again, to bounce back and put Rodgers back in the top 5. Russell Wilson showed that he can put up great touchdown numbers last year, and it had little to do with Jimmy Graham. The transition from Marshawn Lynch to Wilson’s offense happened over the course of last year. With Drew Brees, we saw some cracks, but you know that he is in a productive offense, and will get plenty of opportunities.
Brady gets bumped down to this tier because of his suspension, but if you are planning ahead, it comes at the best time–early, when you can draft for it. Rivers’ numbers declined last year over the second half, after Keenan Allen’s injury and the offensive line collapsed. I expect him to bounce back toward what we saw the first half. Big Ben is still putting up big numbers, and the concern there is being available every week. Bortles is at the bottom of this tier; I think his TD rate is unsustainable, as he threw 35 TDs while the team only had 5 on the ground. (They signed Chris Ivory to address red zone running issues).
I don’t think you can go wrong in this tier and this is the one to wait on and look for value in a 10-team draft.
I’m probably higher on Flacco than most as a QB2, and he is a late target. He had 27 TD’s two years ago and a QB13 finish. Last year, he was on a similar pace, and the offense was absolutely decimated by injuries. Winston and Mariota showed promise as rookies, and should be solid QB2 investments with upside. Derek Carr may be overvalued–he’s a safe pick but he and his offensive teammates played virtually every game last year and he still didn’t finish higher than 15th. Kirk Cousins will probably have a hard time sustaining the touchdown rate from a year ago (34 total TDs) which is why he falls back slightly.
Why is Tony Romo so low? This is where we must always remind that these are fantasy rankings, based on volume and points. Romo, of course, struggled with the shoulder injuries last year, so concern about his ability to hold up is part of it.
But beyond that, I expect Dallas’ offense to bounce back and be efficient passing when Romo plays. What I don’t expect is a high-volume passing offense. Two years ago, when they reached the playoffs, the Cowboys ran more than they passed. Romo had an unsustainable TD rate well above his career average. The team invested in Ezekiel Elliott and has built a dominant line. I expect them to try to protect Romo by running the ball more. I still have him projected for a lot of touchdowns, but with absolutely no rushing production, and low passing volume. His numbers are where you would project Russell Wilson–if Wilson never ran the ball.
Why is Alex Smith so low? Upside. Smith has ranked 13th, 19th, and 15th in total QB points the last three years. But he has played in 46 of 48 games over that stretch, and the chances he is a top 12 start on a weekly basis is remote.
At QB, you need big starts, either from stars, or from great matchups. Over the last three years, Alex Smith only has two starts with 25+ fantasy points. That matches the same number as Geno Smith. He’ll probably be available if needed for a spot start, but I think it’s better to take upside risk on guys that could put up more touchdowns or get higher volume.
Here, for those interested, are the underlying projections that went into these numbers.
[photos via USA Today Sports Images]