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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 10 Dropouts - Quarterbacks
Which QBs will fall from the fantasy top ten in 2019?

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 this fall.

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s standard league scoring.

  Top 10 Quarterbacks - 2017
Rank Player
1 Russell Wilson
2 Cam Newton
3 Tom Brady
4 Kirk Cousins
5 Matthew Stafford
6 Alex Smith
7 Philip Rivers
8 Ben Roethlisberger
9 Carson Wentz
10 Dak Prescott
  Top 10 Quarterbacks - 2018
Rank Player
1 Patrick Mahomes
2 Ben Roethlisberger
3 Matt Ryan
4 Andrew Luck
5 Deshaun Watson
6 Jared Goff
7 Aaron Rodgers
8 Drew Brees
9 Kirk Cousins
10 Russell Wilson

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?

Ben 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 that role.

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.

Drew Brees, 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 Tre’Quan Smith 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.

Russell 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.

Next: Running Backs

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