2020 Quarterback Manifesto

Updated: May 20th 2020

I’ve recently had the pleasure of collaborating with a few dynasty newcomers in my 3 RSO leagues.  In doing so, I have found their hunger for insight invigorating.  It’s caused me to push my own boundaries as an analyst.  Try as I may, I cannot cover everything these guys need to know in one offseason.  Learn by doing, right?  I hate giving them vague advice like, “Zig when people zag” or “Forget groupthink and do your own due diligence.”  I have to be able to offer them (and RSO readers) more.  So for me, this article goes beyond just breaking down quarterbacks.  It’s a template for changing the way you attack fantasy.

Years ago, I found myself constantly arguing with friends over the Aaron Rodgers’ “Sit and Learn” myth.  I call it a myth because until Pat Mahomes burst out on to the scene in 2018, the list of 1st-Round QBs that sat as rookies post-Aaron Rodgers’ 2008 breakout consisted of Tim Tebow, Blaine Gabbert, Johnny Manziel, and Paxton Lynch.  Not exactly the who’s who of NFL careers.  It took 10 seasons to find a second qualifying case for this gabage sentiment, and yet NFL pundits beat us over the head with it week after week, year after year.  As a result, many owners missed out on the Jared Goffs and Josh Allens, fearing that they might be wasting a pick/roster spot.  1st-round rookie QBs play Year 1 (except for you Jordan Love).  It may be 7 games like Lamar Jackson and Dwayne Haskins.  It may be 14 games like Daniel Jones and Baker Mayfield.  Whatever the case, buying into this realization and investing accordingly will always give you an edge from a cap perspective.

I understand this is old news for a lot of you veterans that could not wait to grab Tua and Herbert in your Rookie Drafts.  Hopefully, this next insight will be a bit more compelling.

Lamar Jackson threw a touchdown pass on 8.98% of his attempts last year.  Why not just round it up to an even 9% you ask?  Well, because since the merger, Peyton Manning is the only person to have ever surpassed that threshold.  He threw 49 TDs on a mere 497 pass attempts (9.86%) in 2004.  Despite all the monster QB seasons that came in the 15 years since then, Lamar’s 36 TDs on 401 attempts ranks the closest.  Here’s a list of the Top 10 seasons according to TD to Pass Attempt Ratio.

Name Year TDs Ratio
Peyton Manning 2004 49 9.86%
Lamar Jackson 2019 36 8.98%
Aaron Rodgers 2011 45 8.96%
Tom Brady 2007 50 8.65%
Pat Mahomes 2018 50 8.62%
Nick Foles 2013 27 8.52%
Dan Marino 1984 48 8.51%
Peyton Manning 2013 55 8.35%
Russell Wilson 2018 35 8.20%
Randall Cunningham 1998 34 8.00%

The TD to Pass Attempts Ratio helps us pinpoint efficiency.  Contemplate Rodgers vs Brady vs Brees for this upcoming season.   Deciphering which one of these old-timers we may want to invest in becomes much easier once we focus our attention to efficiency.  Rodgers has the biggest arm, while Brady boasts the best weapons.  Brees, however, is the clear-cut choice due to his 7.1% TD rate last year (3rd highest).  Observe what a difference this made in terms of fantasy points per game.You will notice Peyton Manning is the only player who has eclipsed 8% multiple times in his career, and the second instance came 9 years later in 2013.  This data can be beneficial to us in a couple of ways.  For starters, Lamar’s absurd scoring efficiency through the air is bound to come down in 2020 (more on that later).  35-36 TDs may be repeatable, but it will require a hell of a lot more throws moving forward.  So the first question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you envision Lamar increasing his pass attempts to say 480+.  If you do not, you should probably forget about him returning to this mark.

2018 TD/Att Ratio 2019 TD/Att Ratio 2019 Points Per Game PPG Ranking
Drew Brees 6.5% 7.1% 20.4 7th
Aaron Rodgers 4.2% 4.6% 17.4 13th
Tom Brady 5.1% 3.9% 16.5 16th

Back to Lamar.  Earlier I referrenced how disproving the “Sit and Learn” rookie myth provided clarity for dynasty leagues.  I would like to now PROVE a QB trend that should have a similar impact.  In 2018, Patrick Mahomes threw for 5100 yards and 50 TDs.  Public opinion varied on how he would follow it up.  Most expected at least a mild step back.  I, on the other hand, was placing small bets with friends that even with Tyreke Hill eluding a suspension, Mahomes would not exceed 36 TDs.  Now I hardly expected him to be reduced to nearly half his production (26 TDs).  I was more in the 32-34 range.  I did predict a massive regression, though, and here is why.

I call it the “Matt Ryan Rule”.  It’s simple.  Big seasons are followed up with considerable regression.  To prove it, I have provided a list of all the 34+ Passing TD seasons in NFL history, as well as their respective fantasy totals.  Also included are the follow-up seasons’ stats and Regression %.  Of the 51 season sample size, only 3 QBs managed to improve upon their big year fantasy output.  Another way of putting that is 94.1% of these QBs experienced some level of regression.  The average regression rate was 31.7%, which indicates these follow-up seasons as a whole range from significant dropoffs to absolute busts.

I know what you are thinking.  These passing trends do not account for the 1200 yards and 6 TDs Lamar just ran for, and therefore can not be applied to him.  Fair enough.  While we are at it, let’s disect history’s most notable QB rushing seasons.  Our metrics of qualification can be 500+ yards or 6+ Rushing TDs.

The running results are a bit more positive with 7 of the 44 QBs improving in their fantasy production via running.  Ultimately, though, it is a similar diagnosis.  84.1% of the follow-up seasons experienced some form of regression, and the average regression was 23.9%.  To sum it up, the safe bet is Lamar Jackson is neither throwing for 35-36 TDs, nor is he rushing for anywhere near 1200 yards in 2020.  I have him projected for 3500 passing yards with 26 TDs & 9 Ints. On the ground – 810 rushing yards with 6 rushing TDs & 4 Fumbles.  Those are still Top 5 QB numbers, but that represents a 16.5% regression.  If you are satisfied with that level of production on the final year of his rookie contract, power to you.  I, however, would consider shopping him around.  Perhaps someone in your league will throw you 3 future 1st-round picks, with plans to later tag and extend Lamar in the offseason.  Whatever you do, do not drop 30+ mil on him in the event that he is available in your auction (for leagues entering their 1st season).  Regression is coming.

The same can be said for Dak Prescott.  The man went from 3900 yards in 2018 to 4900 in 2019…on just 32 more completions.  I love Dak’s development through 4 seasons, and his WR trio is the best in the league in my opinion.  The Cowboys expeirenced a lot of stat padding in garbage time, however.  CeeDee Lamb and Blake Jarwin may have more upside than Randall Cobb and Jason Witten, but that is still a combined 118 receptions, 1,350 yards, and 25 years of experience that just left the building.  On top of all this, Zeke Elliott could easily lead the league in rushing once again.  All in all, I have Dak projected for 4300 yards with 25 TDs and 12 Ints, while adding 300 yards and 4 TDs on the ground.  This stat line represets roughly an 8% regression.  That forecast really shouldn’t scare you considering Dak has recorded 29, 28, 28 and 33 total TDs in his first 4 seasons.  I would pay Dak less than Wilson but more than Watson for what it’s worth.

 

So, if Lamar and Dak aren’t throwing for 30 touchdowns this season, who is?  I would like to close with 5 cheap QBs I believe can accomplish this feat in order of probability:

1).  Derek Carr will never receive the “Doing it with nobodies” credit the league showered Tom Brady and Andrew Luck with every year, but his 4,000+ yards & 21 TDs in 2019 is the new standard with which I measure those type of overachieving seasons.  Carr’s “veterans” consisted of Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones and Jalen Richard.  Darren Waller was embarking on his 4th season, but only had 18 career catches.  Aftert that it was all rookies, albeit some good ones: Josh Jacobs, Hunter Renfrow, Foster Moreau and Keelan Doss.  Such an uninspiring group, and yet Carr completed 70.4% of his passes (2nd only to Brees).  Observe below how his compared with 3 of the biggest names in the league.

Pass Yards Pass TDs Ints Comp %
Pat Mahomes 4031 26 5 65.9
Aaron Rodgers 4002 26 4 62
Tom Brady 4057 24 8 60.8
Derek Carr 4054 21 8 70.4

Carr’s perseverance last year proved to Gruden he is not only the right man for the job, but that this team is ready to compete for a playoff berth under his leadership.  He and Mike Mayock’s draft selections in April reflected that.  Henry Ruggs adds explosiveness to the offense.  Even if Carr cannot connect on vertical passes, Ruggs can take intermediate work in stride and turn it into chunk plays.  Bryan Edwards and Lynn Bowden bring strong run after the catch ability to the table as well.  We round out the offensive offseason additions with Nelson Agholor.  His hands are shaky at times, but he does have 2 60+ catch and 700+ yard seasons under his belt.  It’s a raw group, but it’s talented and I believe the Raiders and Broncos are both trying to out-offense the Chiefs for that division.

Projections:  4200 yards – 28 TDs & 10 Ints, 90 yards rushing – 2 TDs & 3 fumbles

2).  Ryan Tannehill started 10 games last year.  He threw 2 or more TDs in 9 of them.  I admit, it’s easy to fall into this trap of thinking, “Well, Henry might rush for 2,000 yards this year, and who’s the #2 after A.J. Brown?”  However, I have seen time after time a team exceed passing expectations due to a stout running game.  That is when play action is most lethal.  In 2014, Demarco Murray led the league in rushing with 1845 yards on 392 carries.  Tony Romo managed to throw 34 TDs on just 435 pass attempts.  That’s a 7.8% TD rate.  Ryan Tannehill finished 2nd in the league last year with a 7.7% TD rate.   In 2007, we witnessed a similar occurence with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport combined for 428 carries for 1,815 yards.  That was hands down Big Ben’s most efficient season of his career.  He threw 32 TDs on just 404 pass attempts – 7.9% TD rate.  His top 3 pass catchers were Santonio Holmes with 942 yards, Hines Ward with 732, and Heath Miller with 566.  That’s the kind of season we can project for the 2020 Titans.

Projections:  3800 yards – 27 TDs & 11 Ints, 240 yards rushing – 3 TDs & 2 fumbles

3).  In the last 2 seasons, we have witnessed a 2nd year QB without much experience take over the league I’m not predicting an MVP caliber season, but I do believe Drew Lock is poised to somewhat follow in Mahomes and Lamar’s footsteps.  Full disclosure: I would prefer to talk about Daniel Jones or Kyler Murray here, but I don’t think they are very accessible.  From my experience thus far, their current owners aren’t interested in moving them.  Lock, on the other hand, can likely be acquired for say a future 2nd round pick.  I think many will be surprised to see just how well Lock performed in his 5 starts last year:

Week Opponent Result Comp % Yards TDs Ints QB Rating
13 Chargers W 23-20 64.29 134 2 1 84.5
14 Texans W 38-24 81.48 309 3 1 136
15 Chiefs L 3-23 45 208 0 1 50.8
16 Lions W 27-17 75.76 192 1 0 99.6
17 Raiders W 16-15 60.71 177 1 0 90.9

Lamar Jackson went 6-1 as a rookie with an 84.5 QB rating.  Drew Lock went 4-1 with an 89. 7 QB rating.  One of my favorite stats regarding Lock’s rookie campaign…he hit Courtland Sutton 4 times for 72 yards and 2 scores in his 1st NFL start & Noah Fant 4 times for 113 yards and a TD in his 2nd.  That answers the question of whether he can find his playmakers.  His completion percentage (64.1%) and his lack of Ints (3) also addresses any turnover concerns.  All that’s left to do is build around him, and did John Elway ever.  Melvin Gordon may be limited as a runner, but his 1680 yards, 11 TDs and 8.8 ypc as a receiver the last 4 years make him a perfect fit for a young QB.  Add Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Albert Okwuegbunam to the mix and Lock will now have freedom to make his own reads and exploit mismatches.  Commence “Operation Beat Chiefs 38-35 Twice a Year”.

Projections:  3700 yards – 25 TDs & 12 Ints, 210 yards rushing – 2 TDs & 4 fumbles

4).  You will have to forgive me for this one.  I can’t help but draw parallels between players sometimes.  In 2001, Drew Bledsoe signed a 100 mil contract with the Patriots at age 29.  He went down late in Week 2, and was replaced by 6th rounder Tom Brady.  Brady recorded an 86.5 QB rating through 14 games, and Bledsoe was subsequently traded to the Bills that offseason.  Fast forward 18 years.  Nick Foles signed an 88 mil contract with the Jaguars at age 30.  He went down in the first half of Week 1, and was replaced by 6th rounder Gardner Minshew.  Menshew recorded a 91.2 QB rating through 14 games, and Foles was subsequently traded to the Bears this offseason.  Now, by no means am I calling Menshew the next Tom Brady.  I just find the similarities interesting, especially considering Brady went on to throw for 3,764 yards and 28 TDs in his 2nd year as a starter.  That’s exactly the sort of ceiling I envision for Menshew in 2020.  For starters, the Jags hired Jay Gruden as the new offensive coordiantor.  Let’s take a look at his QB resume.

Year  Experience Comp % Pass Yards Pass TDs Ints QB Rating
Andy Dalton 2011 Rookie 58.1 3398 20 13 80.4
2012 Year 2 62.3 3669 27 16 87.4
2013 61.9 33 20 20 88.8
Kirk Cousins 2014 5 starts as RG3’s backup 61.8 1710 10 9 86.4
2015 Year 2 69.8 4166 29 11 101.6
2016 67.0 4917 25 12 97.2
2017 64.3 4093 27 13 93.9

Although he hasn’t had much success in the win column, Jay has long been regarded as a QB whisperer.  The additions of Tyler Eifert, Chris Thompson and Laviska Shenault Jr. will go a long ways in maintaining said reputation.

Another factor that plays into Menshew’s chances of ascending in 2020 is Leonard Fournette’s extreme mediocrity.  Buga found the endzone 3 times on 341 touches last year.  You can say he got unlucky in terms of goal-line opportunities.  That’s fine.  There is no denying his ineffectiveness in the passing game, however.  Let’s compare his numbers to the rest of the Top 10 Targeted RBs last year:

Fournette’s 6.9 ypc was tied for 3rd to last in this group, while his 5.2 yards per target fell short of everyone but Tarik Cohen (heads up to you Kamara owners out there as well).  The days of playing tough defense and grinding with Leonard Fournette are over.  The Jags gave up 26.5 points in the final 6 games last year.  Neither that unit, nor Leonard Fournette and his chronic ankles, are special.  The culture of this team is about to flip.  Fade Fournette and invest in Menshew long term folks.

Projections:  3900 yards – 25 TDs & 13 Ints, 360 yards rushing – 2 TDs & 5 fumbles

5).  What goes for the Jags also applies to Sam Darnold, Le’Veon Bell and the Jets.  It is time to evolve.  Bell is clearly not the runner or receiver he was in 2014 and 2016.  He and the Jets backfield accounted for 3 rushing TDs in 2019.  He didn’t do much with his 78 targets either.  If the Jets are going to score in 2020, it is going to be up to Darnold.  Chris Herndon is back.  Remember him?  He caught 39 passes for 502 yards and 4 TDs as a rookie in 2018.  Mark Andrews hauled in a similar 34 receptions for 552 yards and 3 TDs that same year.  I absolutely believe Herndon was poised for a Mark Andrews type of breakout before his 4 game suspension to start the season disrupted everything.  His prescence will be felt immediately this year.  As for the new WRs, I cannot promote Breshard Perriman and Denzel Mims too much, aside from the fact that they possess size mismatches at 6’2 215 lbs and 6’3 207.  This trio of big bodies, along with Jamison Crowder and what’s left of Le’Veon must be enough for Darnold to take that next step.

Sam threw 2 or more TDs 6 times out of 13 last year.  Baker Mayfield only managed 6 out of 16, and yet he wound up with 22 TDs.  I think that is very encouraging for all these young QBs.  You can play horrendous, backyard football, consistently fail to get a Top 5 WR the ball, and struggle with Ints all year, and still somehow finish with just 2-4 less TDs than Brady, Rodgers and Mahomes.  Darnold will never play as poorly as Baker did last year.  I think if he can give us a full 16 game season, 30 TDs is within reach.

Projections:  3800 yards – 24 TDs & 15 Ints, 150 yards rushing – 2 TDs & 3 fumbles

 

So this offseason, don’t sweat it if the Lamar, Dak or Mahomes owners talk.  Our focus is on depth and balance, not a big name QB.  Go sign/trade for 2 of the QBs on this list.  Pair them with a Matt Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff or Drew Brees and I promise you will be in a better position than the rest of the league.

More Analysis by Grant Viviano