“Past performance does not guarantee future results.”
No kidding, right? Football junkies such as myself have long comprehended
the wisdom in that little caveat emptor, fastening our fantasy hopes
and dreams to NFL players whose performance often fluctuates wildly
from one year (or even one game) to the next. Nevertheless, this
knowledge never stops us from bravely predicting the unpredictable
come every August.
In that spirit, I’ve attempted to handicap the future performance
of the game’s elite, fool’s errand though it may be.
I’ll examine the reigning top 10 quarterbacks and take a stab
at determining who is likely to maintain that status, and who is
bound to disappoint, in 2011. I’ll use as my guide the lessons
we may have learned from the dropout class of 2010. Sound like a
plan? Let’s do this.
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s default standard
Missed the Cut in 2010 (3 of 10):
T. Romo, B. Favre, and B. Roethlisberger
This trio of top 10 dropouts included one surprise (Romo), one non-surprise
(Roethlisberger), and one surprise that really shouldn’t have been
(Favre). The Wisconsin-bred Romo managed to do something in 2010
his idol never did in sixteen professional seasons with the Pack:
miss a game. Lots of them, actually. This, of course, is why Tony
Romo toppled out of the ranks of the elite on the heels of a
very impressive 2009. Tough break, for sure, but there’s no reason
to think he won’t bounce back this season provided he’s fully healthy.
After all, on a per-game basis, he was firmly entrenched in the
top 10 and I fully expect, provided he plays more than six games,
he’ll rejoin that select group in 2011.
Another guy who probably joins him barring injury or, um, further
malfeasance is Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben also missed games in
2010 but not on account of his health. Rather, the Steelers’
main man ran afoul of the authorities and got the four-game boot
from Commissioner Goodell to start the season. Like Romo, however,
he was stellar in the games he did suit up and even managed, despite
the late start, to lead his squad to the Super Bowl. Not too shabby,
I should say. For all the emphasis Pittsburgh places on running
the football and playing nasty defense, they’re truly a title
contender when Roethlisberger’s slinging it all over the yard.
Expect more of the same this coming year.
Only the dwindling faction of Favre fanatics and/or the incurably
optimistic couldn’t have seen #4’s freefall coming.
As a recovering devotee and near 40-year old, I should probably
sympathize with a man succumbing to middle age. Nevertheless…well,
let’s just say Favre makes it really difficult to wax nostalgic
about those glory days in green and gold. Besides, we couldn’t
really have expected him to continue performing like a man 10-15
years younger, could we? To wit, I’m instituting a new fantasy
football golden rule for 2011. Call it the Brett Favre rule. If
you’re older than me, you won’t be quarterbacking my
fantasy squad. If only actual NFL teams would follow suit.
Most Likely to Fall in 2011:
Sure, pick on the new guy, why don’t I?
Freeman was certainly a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners in
2010, following up a supremely shaky freshman campaign (10 TDs v.
18 picks) with a superb sophomore season (25 TDs v. six INTs and
3,000+ yards). On top of that, he scampered for 364 more yards,
trailing only Michael Vick amongst quarterbacks. In other words,
he’s young, strong, accurate, and can make it happen with his legs
when the pocket breaks down. What’s not to like, right? Well….
Joseph, pickin' on the new guy.
Warning sign #1: Freeman played,
arguably, the weakest schedule of any QB in the top ten. Aside from
the obligatory home-and-homes with playoff-caliber division mates,
Atlanta and New Orleans, the Bucs faced only three other playoff
teams, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and (cough) Seattle. He was crummy
in losses to the Steelers (minus Big Ben) and the Ravens and below
average in two losses to the Falcons. He was also just average in
another loss to New Orleans. Granted, he was lights out in a Week
16 drubbing of the Seahawks and stellar in a season-concluding payback
win over the Saints. Nevertheless, the young signal-caller was only
2-5 against playoff competition in 2010 and…
Warning sign #2: …there’s much
more where that came from in 2011. Gone are the aforementioned opponents
along with Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Arizona, Washington,
Detroit, and San Francisco. In their place are Green Bay, Indianapolis,
Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minnesota, Jacksonville, and…Detroit and
San Francisco (whew!) Only those final two doormats can be safely
excluded from the playoff chatter. I guess there’s a reason Vegas
is expecting a pullback (+/- eight wins at last check) from the
Bucs this year.
Warning sign #3: Freeman amassed
almost four bills on the ground in 2010, but he didn’t
score a single touchdown with his feet. Heck, even Jon
Kitna ran one in last year! It’s not that he isn’t capable,
but why risk the franchise when you’ve got LGB to do the goal-line
dirty work for you? (By the way, GO DUCKS!)
Raise your hand if you knew Matt Schaub
threw for the fourth most yards in the NFL last season. Mine is
still by my side because I owned him and remember precisely one
transcendent performance (Week 2 vs. Washington) and a whole bunch
of pedestrian 250-300 yard, single-TD outings. I also remember my
record in that particular league, though I’m certainly trying to
forget it (think sub-.500).
Schaub is a serviceable signal-caller who could and maybe should
be spectacular. He’s accurate, durable (for the last two seasons,
at least), and has at his disposal the game’s most lethal wideout,
Johnson. Still, where’s the wow factor? He failed to notch at
least two TD passes in half his starts last year and has failed
to throw for more than 30 TDs or fewer than 10 picks in any season
thus far. Could you live with 29 and 15, his numbers in 2009? Sure
you could, especially when he bests the 4,000-yard mark. It’s just
that when a guy throws for more than 4,000 yards (he’s actually
gone over 4,300 two years in a row), it would seem 30 TDs should
be an easy benchmark to attain. His prodigious yardage output feels
like so many empty calories, making him the fantasy football equivalent
of a Hostess cupcake.
Add to the equation the sudden emergence of premier yardage-gobbler,
Arian Foster, and you start to see why I’m bearish on Schaub’s
chances of holding onto his spot in the top 10. I hope I’m
wrong (the aforementioned league involves keepers, after all) but
if I were a betting man—and I am—I’d bank on somebody
replacing him in the ranks of the elite come 2011.
I can already hear the boo-birds warming up.
Trust me, people. I get it. I’ve historically been a sucker for
the über-talented since I started participating in this wacky hobby.
This guy might be the most “über” of them all. Nevertheless, consider
the following facts. Vick has played all 16 games in just one of
his six professional seasons. He routinely carries the ball 8-10
times per game. He’s been a top six-sack victim in each of his last
four seasons as a full-time starter (non-consecutive, of course).
See where I’m going with all of this? Throw in the fact he’s topped
the 3,000-yard mark just once in his career (last year) and hit
the twenty passing TD threshold twice, and the Vick portfolio starts
to look rather risky.
To be fair, his legs are the primary reason Vick is such an otherworldly
talent to begin with, even if they ensure he’ll take more
punishment than most. How many non-NCAA QBs do you know of who are
capable of tallying 600+ yards and nine touchdowns on the ground?
Also, he’s coming off merely the single most impressive per-game
performance in fantasy football history. Statistical outlier or
not, the numbers are eye-popping and exceedingly difficult to ignore.
Still, from a risk/reward standpoint, you have to admit Michael
Vick is the most volatile fantasy asset of them all. The potential
reward is off the charts. The potential risk, based on where he’ll
likely be drafted, is similarly chart-topping. Do you pass because
of it? I sure wouldn’t but I’m not exactly risk-averse.
I’m just saying (again) buyer beware.
Next: Running Backs