Who’s ready to throw some cold water on all those wildly optimistic
fantasy projections? I had to chuckle when I reviewed the latest
FFToday pre-season rankings, not because I found them unhelpful
or even improbable, but because I happen to know firsthand how rudely
the math treats projections year in and year out. Should this year’s
rankings prove completely accurate, only five total QBs, RBs, and
WRs would fail to reclaim their Top 10 status in the coming season.
Unfortunately, that’s ten fewer than have ACTUALLY failed
to do so every year since 2011 when I started writing this piece.
Math. Never personal, but rarely convenient. Let’s take a
look at who’s most likely to douse our pre-season positivity
Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s standard league
Who Missed the Cut in 2018 (7/10): Cam
Newton, Tom Brady, Matthew. Stafford, Alex Smith, Phillip Rivers,
Carson Wentz, & Dak Prescott
I’ve been writing this same article for nine years now and
at no time during that near decade-long stretch have we seen such
a churn rate at the quarterback position. Just three of 2017’s
Top 10 QBs retained that coveted status this past season (Ben Roethlisberger,
Kirk Cousins, and Russell Wilson) and only one of those three, Big
Ben, managed to improve his ranking from the year prior.
Cam Newton certainly would have been the fourth Top 10 returnee
had his promising 2018 campaign not been derailed by an uncooperative
right shoulder. Through Week 13, the big guy averaged a sterling
26.3 FPts/G. Alas, he only scored 23.7 TOTAL points the rest of
the way and toppled to QB14 for the season. Carson Wentz, meanwhile,
missed his first two and final three games, meaning he never really
had a chance to replicate that sensational sophomore season. As
for Alex Smith...don’t YouTube it.
Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, and Philip Rivers slotted between Danger
Russ at QB10 and Newton at QB14, respectively, but none of them
performed poorly. Brady scored 10+ points fewer than he had in 2017,
yet spent most of the year with one reliable WR (Julian Edelman)
and one continually dinged-up and now retired TE (Gronk). Oh, and
he still won another Lombardi Trophy. Prescott and Rivers actually
outperformed their 2017 selves but failed to keep pace with a more
competitive field. How much more competitive? The Top 10 QB class
of 2018 scored an astounding 426+ points more than their 2017 counterparts,
or about 43 points per QB! Scoring inflation at the position made
Matthew Stafford’s lousy 2018 stand out in particularly stark
relief. Detroit’s franchise slinger averaged a career worst
17.5 FPts/G, causing him to plummet all the way to QB20.
Most Likely Candidates to Fall from
the Top 10 This Year:
Will the loss of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon
Bell put an end to Ben Roethlisberger's top 10 run?
Roethlisberger, PIT: Roethlisberger’s
been flirting with retirement since the end of the 2016 season,
but if he keeps performing as he did last year, it’s difficult to
imagine him hanging up the cleats anytime soon. The last of Pittsburgh’s
fabled Killer Bees tallied a whopping 420.3 total points in 2018,
easily a career high, and would have led the league in scoring if
not for a certain wunderkind in Kansas City. That’s especially impressive
considering he played the entire year without one of the Bees (Le’Veon
Bell) and publicly sparred with the other (Antonio
Brown). Bell bolted for New York and Brown floated away to Oakland,
so we now get to see if Pittsburgh’s brass committed to the right
Bee. Here’s the short answer: They did.
The longer answer is they won’t be getting the same statistical
version of Big Ben in 2019, regardless whether they made the right
longer-term move. Franchise quarterbacks are always more valuable
than Tier 1 RBs and WRs for the simple fact they’re more scarce
and take much longer to develop. Indeed, the Steelers already have
capable stunt doubles in James Conner/Jaylen Samuels at RB and JuJu Smith-Schuster at WR. Don’t mistake “capable”
for 1:1 replacement value, though. JuJu has never drawn the kind
of attention he will as a go-to receiver and it’s unclear
whether he has the AB-esque precision/slipperiness to thrive in
The other concern with Big Ben is that he threw 675 passes in 2018,
a game’s worth more than anyone else and almost 70 more than
he’d ever thrown in a season. Though he was fairly efficient
from a points-per-pass standpoint, can we really expect 650+ attempts
in 2019? Don’t forget he’s only played a full slate
four times in 15 seasons. Be skeptical.
NO: Brees has a great chance to again rep the 40-and-over
crowd in the NFC Championship early next year, but it’s fair to
ask at this stage of his career if he’s still a great fantasy quarterback.
His QB8 ranking would seem to indicate he’s still in the conversation,
but a closer look at the details suggests he won’t be much longer.
For starters, the Saints’ future HOF slinger threw a staggering
186 fewer passes in 2018 than the guy we just talked about, Ben Roethlisberger. That’s 16 more passes than Lamar Jackson threw
AT ALL, for perspective. Brees was certainly more efficient than
either Big Ben or Baltimore’s rook (hence, the Top 10 finish)
but fantasy greatness more often correlates with volume than not,
so the declining attempts are worrisome. They go from worrisome
to panic-inducing when we train the microscope on Brees’ late-season
power outage. From Weeks 1 through 12, he averaged 26.7 FPts/G,
better than Big Ben ultimately did in his career year. From Week
13 on, however (including playoffs), the former Boilermaker tallied
a Bortles-like 17.4 FPts/G. Coupling that late-season inefficiency
with steadily declining attempts this next season could prove disastrous
for owners expecting a full Brees bounceback.
I might’ve been more optimistic had the Saints made any effort at
all to upgrade a top-heavy WR corps this past off-season, but it’s
looking like they’ll reprise the Michael
Thomas Show come September. Thomas is certainly extra special
but nobody else catching passes really is unless the intriguing
can make huge sophomore strides or newly acquired TE Jared
Cook can replicate what he was able to achieve last season as
a Raider. I’m not expecting enough volume or improved-enough help
to net Brees a Top 10 finish in 2019.
Wilson, SEA: Wilson’s owners have
long been accustomed to modest passing volume —he’s only surpassed
500 attempts two times in seven years—but have always been able
to count on robust rushing totals to bridge the gap. The dual-threat
Seahawk averaged about 607 rushing yards on 102 rushing attempts
through his first four NFL seasons. Over the course of his last
three, however, those averages have dipped to 407 yards on 78 attempts
and that’s including a more characteristic, Russ-like 95-carry,
586-yard campaign in 2017. Scarier still is that Wilson, for the
first time as a pro, failed to tally a single rushing TD in 2018.
Heck, even the mostly immobile Brees scored four of those!
Seattle’s star field general was able to overcome this startling
downturn in rushing efficiency, not surprisingly, by compensating
with stellar passing efficiency. His 110.9 passer rating for 2018
was a career high (albeit barely), as were his 35 TD passes. He’d
need to be equally efficient this season, presumably, as there’s
no indication the ‘Hawks brain trust is interested in deviating
from their run-heavy ways. Seattle led the league with a 52.44%
run play percentage (nobody else was north of 50%), the highest
such mark since...Seattle posted a 52.71% run play percentage back
in 2013. Pete Carroll and Co. continue to zig while the rest of
the league zags and this has the effect of putting a relatively
low ceiling atop Wilson’s fantasy prospects.
Not only does Wilson have to be near perfect to remain fantasy relevant.
His margin for error is narrow. He only outscored Tom Terrific by
0.7 fantasy points in 2018, or one completed 14-yard pass. Take
away Doug Baldwin, his now retired star wideout, and that already
narrow margin becomes wafer-thin. Be careful with Russ.