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10 Re-draft Targets in 10 Days: #4 The Hydra Quarterback Strategy feat. Sam Bradford, E.J. Manuel, and Geno Smith

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Other installments in this series:

1. Marques Colston

2. Eric Decker

3. Mike Williams


In ancient times people used to sit around and dream up all sorts of crazy monsters (e.g. the hydra) because they didn’t have anything better to do like watch Murder She Wrote on Netflix. The hydra was a many headed serpent-like beast from the sea that would be scary as shit if it actually existed. Can you imagine a bunch of rappers shooting a music video on a boat and then all of the sudden a hydra just pops out of the water and scares the bejeesus out of all the ladies in G-strings? Thank god the hydra isn’t real… except on your fantasy football team this fall. #Transitions

Below I’ll go through my argument for forgetting about the top 12 quarterbacks and instead waiting forever to draft a three-headed QB group. Even though the title of this series implies that I’ll give you 10 players to target, what I’m really doing is giving you 10 draft ideas.  But before I get to that, let me offer a few words about expert outlooks. They’re often horseshit. Mine can be sometimes. Beware when you hear experts talking about how deep QB is this year, because what they’re really saying is that QB was deep last year. These are generally the same experts who told you last year that you needed to get one of the top three QBs.  Don’t worry, eventually they’ll catch up and start predicting the future instead of predicting the past. That’s a really asshole thing to say right? I’m actually only half serious, and no amount of the half that is serious includes the ire that you can probably draw from the earlier sentences. The reality is that predicting the future is hard.

Here’s another reality: QBs might become so undervalued this year that you could actually get some value out of taking one early. That’s not typically my style and I’m a creature of habit, so I’m not naturally inclined to do that.  But it’s at least worth looking at. Last year when everyone else chased the QB bubble, you were better off waiting. This year QBs could actually become a bargain. If Matt Ryan is sitting out there in the 6th round and I have 2 RBs and 3WRs already on my roster, I might have a very difficult time turning down that kind of value. That would be a departure from my typical strategy though. The three-headed strategy below is more my speed.

Sam Bradford – ADP: QB23

Bradford represents an arbitrage play on a number of levels. First, he’s an arbitrage play on the STL passing game. Almost all of Bradford’s pass catchers are going to be drafted at premiums to their past production. Specifically, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Brian Quick will require that you spend a little more for them than would be warranted by their past production. That’s fine and they might return value to the owners drafting them. But they’re not going to return value to their owners if Sam Bradford doesn’t also take a big step forward. So instead of using picks on the STL pass catchers, draft the guy that’s going to have to throw them the ball.  You can even draft him at what is likely a discount to his inherent value.

When I say inherent value, I mean that Bradford is available at QB23 and I have him forecast at QB15 right now (without factoring in new talent or increases in attempts). I wouldn’t normally advise you to draft a guy that I expected to be QB15, except that in this case that guy got a major upgrade in weapons during the offseason.

Bradford also represents an arbitrage play considering the other options that you could draft at QB. There are a few QBs being drafted ahead of Bradford that aren’t actually better QBs, they may have just put the ball up more in the past. I’m going to use Adjusted Yards/Attempt as a proxy for QB quality here because it’s a stat that is correlated to winning NFL games and also it captures a few things at once. Here are some QBs that have generally the same AYA as Bradford, along with each QB’s ADP:

QB AYA ADP (Overall)
Matthew Stafford 6.33 6.1
Andrew Luck 6.42 7.07
Michael Vick 6.13 10.02
Andy Dalton 6.61 10.09
Jay Cutler 6.41 12.04
Philip Rivers 6.55 12.11
Josh Freeman 6.88 13.03
Sam Bradford 6.42 13.09
Carson Palmer 6.78 14.01
Ryan Tannehill 6.09 14.03

Bradford has a better AYA than Matthew Stafford and he has the same AYA as Andrew Luck. Those guys are both going 6 or 7 rounds ahead of Bradford. We could dismiss these differences in valuation based on usage if STL hadn’t spent money in the offseason on a pass catching TE, along with using a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick on wide receivers over the past two drafts. STL is waving a big red flag trying to tell you that they’re going to be passing more. The lazy objectors at this point are crying because they don’t think Sam Bradford is a good QB. I’ll try to address that objection related to Bradford’s talent.

Sam Bradford had one of the best college football seasons on record in 2008 and did it against a pretty difficult schedule. He lit up the college football world to the tune of 50 touchdowns… as a sophomore.

Year School Conf Class Pos Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
2007* Oklahoma Big 12 FR QB 237 341 69.5 3121 9.2 10.2 36 8 176.5
2008* Oklahoma Big 12 SO QB 328 483 67.9 4720 9.8 11.1 50 8 180.8
2009* Oklahoma Big 12 JR QB 39 69 56.5 562 8.1 8.7 2 0 134.5
Career Oklahoma 604 893 67.6 8403 9.4 10.6 88 16 175.6
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/18/2013.

Bradford also has almost as much arm talent as Matt Stafford, but without the screwy penchant for getting all side-arm on his throws. Note that Bradford put up the same AYA as Stafford, and did that without having Calvin Johnson to throw to, or having Calvin Johnson to draw coverage from other receivers. I understand that Stafford will always have Megatron to throw to, and that’s important for fantasy considerations, but I’m trying to overcome the objection that Bradford is somehow not a talented real life QB.

Discussions of Bradford almost always stick him with a lack of quarterbacking talent when the real issue is that STL has had no passing weapons. With apologies to the wildly overrated Danny Amendola, the Rams pass catchers have not been a high ceiling group during the time Bradford has been there. The two leading targets going back to 2010 have been Brandon Gibson and Amendola.

Player Targets Since 2010 Draft Round
Brandon Gibson 244 6
Danny Amendola 230 UDFA

If we expected that Bradford would have to operate an offense led by receivers that no one else wanted, I wouldn’t be high on him. But the Rams’ attempts to upgrade their passing attach have resulted in Bradford getting Jared Cook, 2012 4th round pick WR Chris Givens, along with the following draft picks that all came from the top three rounds of the draft:

Rk Year Rnd Pick Player
1 2013 1 8 Tavon Austin
2 2013 3 92 Stedman Bailey
3 2012 2 33 Brian Quick
5 2011 2 47 Lance Kendricks
6 2011 3 78 Austin Pettis
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/18/2013.

I think it’s important to emphasize those picks that came from the top three rounds because those are the rounds of the draft that have the highest talent expectation. After the third round things become more of a crapshoot. Bradford has a group of young receivers that have a lot of upside.

I’ve probably written too much on Bradford, but let me just summarize that the case for waiting for him in the draft rests on the following points:

  • He’s an arbitrage play within the passing offense in STL.
  • He’s a high upside QB and had as high of a ceiling coming into the league as any player in the last decade.
  • On a per attempt basis he was as good as either Matt Stafford or Andrew Luck last year.
  • He’ll have more weapons this year than he has ever had during his time in the league.
  • He’s incredibly cheap to acquire at QB23 (13th round).

EJ Manuel & Geno Smith – ADP: QB25 & Out of top 30 among QBs

I’m going to take these two together because the case is largely the same. They’re both probably going to end up starting for their teams. Things would change if they weren’t their teams’ starters, but for now let’s proceed under the assumption that they’ll start.  I would also be fine if you said that you didn’t want to draft 3 QBs because you could pick them up off the waiver wire after the season starts. That’s fine and I wouldn’t disagree with that sentiment. The only reason I think it could be worth taking both guys is because after the season starts, it will require FAAB or waiver position to get one of them if they have a decent game.  However, the WRs and RBs going late in the draft will end up bouncing on and off the waiver wire all season. I’m referring to guys like Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton. Also, the late QB strategy means that you’re going to be banging away at RB and WR for about 10 or 11 rounds of the draft before you take your first QB which means that the guys on your roster are going to be far superior to these late round WRs that have marginal value at best.

The following is a list of rookie QBs that have averaged at least 15 rushing yards per game dating back to 2005:

Games Passing Rushing
Rk Player Year Age Draft Tm GS Y/G TD Y/G
1 Russell Wilson 2012 24 3-75 SEA 16 194.9 4 30.6
2 Cam Newton 2011 22 1-1 CAR 16 253.2 14 44.1
3 Andrew Luck 2012 23 1-1 IND 16 273.4 5 15.9
4 Robert Griffin III 2012 22 1-2 WAS 15 213.3 7 54.3
5 Vince Young 2006 23 1-3 TEN 13 146.6 7 36.8
6 Christian Ponder 2011 23 1-12 MIN 10 168.5 0 19.9
7 Josh Freeman 2009 21 1-17 TAM 9 185.5 0 16.1
8 Tim Tebow 2010 23 1-25 DEN 3 72.7 6 25.2
9 Colt McCoy 2010 23 3-85 CLE 8 197.0 1 17.0
10 Jason Campbell 2006 25 1-25 WAS 7 185.3 0 15.3
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/18/2013.

For rookies adjusting to the pace of the NFL game, it can often be an easy crutch to just tuck the ball and run if things look uncertain. A common objection related to Russell Wilson or RGIII during last year’s preseason was that they just weren’t the same kind of runners that Cam Newton had been in 2011. But there they were, running for 30 and 55 yards per game anyway. The other killer thing is that 6 of the 10 names on the above list had 4 or more rushing touchdowns. Given the premiums that rushing yards and touchdowns carry for QBs, that’s like free money. A quarterback that runs for 30 yards per game and throws for 200 yards per game is about the same as a QB that throws for 275 yards per game. A quarterback that throws for 23 TDs and runs for another 5 is going to yield as many fantasy points as a QB that threw for 30 touchdowns.  I happen to think that both EJ Manuel and Geno Smith have more running talent than people are giving them credit for, but even if they don’t, rookies as a group carry rushing yardage upside. I look at the issue almost like a waterbed. Push it down in one spot and it pops up in another. If Manuel and Geno are comfortable throwing the ball, great. If they’re not, they’ll probably end up tucking and running for first downs on a regular basis.

Manuel and Geno are also probably arbitrage plays on RGIII. Griffin is coming off of a knee reconstruction which brings his health into question and it’s also the case that the knee injury is going to give the Redskins pause on running with him as often. I think it’s safe to say that a lot more of RGIII’s fantasy points are going to have to come through the air this year. I don’t think people are factoring that in when they take him at QB10, which is his current ADP. There’s some chance that both Geno and Manuel end up running more than RGIII this year and they’re both cheaper to acquire.

An important point to be made about the upside of Manuel and Smith is that it’s possible that they just don’t have the same ceiling that Cam Newton, RGIII and Russell Wilson had as rookies (and also that Colin Kaepernick had as a 2nd year player). But it’s also possible that they do have that kind of ceiling and you’re getting the right price to draft them and see what happens.

If you’re not down with the strategy to take both guys, then I think the choice is pretty easy to make in choosing Manuel. Between Manuel and Geno, Manuel has more weapons in the passing game, is probably more of a threat to rack up rushing yards and touchdowns, and has one other important point on his side. The Buffalo defense was not very good last year and Buffalo probably hasn’t been doing enough in the draft to address that issue. So Manuel has the potential to rack up a good amount of garbage time fantasy points as well.  In other words, I actually have a case to draft Manuel, whereas my case to draft Geno is more as follows: If he goes out in week 1 and runs for 35 yards and throws 2 touchdowns to Stephen Hill, you’re going to wish you used a last round draft pick as an option on Geno. You may think that’s a low likelihood proposition and I wouldn’t disagree with that, but cheap options are for low likelihoo/high impact propositions.

So far I’ve given you three wide receivers that offer a lot of value based on ADP, along with a solution to plug in at QB that should offer some of the upside of much more expensive QB options.

It might actually be helpful at this point to visualize the strategy that I’m laying out. Here it is:

Draft Round Player
4 Marques Colston
6 Eric Decker
9 Mike Williams
13 Sam Bradford
14 EJ Manuel
16 Geno Smith

Four posts down in this series, with six still to come.

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