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Joe Flacco: Fantasy Sleeper

Joe_Flacco

Yesterday I started my Stealth Star series with a look at why Ben Roethlisberger represents an elite QB1 at QB2 prices. Today we’ll look at another Super Bowl winner who hasn’t captured the fantasy imagination. Update: Flacco also finishes shockingly high in the QB Safety Rankings. See where he matches up with supposed locks like Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

Joe Flacco averaged 285 yards and 2.75 touchdowns a game in last year’s playoffs, leading his team to a title and earning one of the largest contracts in NFL history. The fantasy community has responded by making him the 17th quarterback off the board in the early going, just outside the top 130 picks.

Part of this devaluation is based on psychology, and part on legitimate flaws. A year ago, Flacco was a trendy sleeper pick as part of a mid-to-late round QB committee for many fantasy players. His ADP rose swiftly as persistent rumors about a no-huddle offense were doused in rocket fuel when Baltimore strafed their preseason opponents. By mid-season, Flacco found himself back on the waiver wire. Owners who paired him with Eli Manning or Jake Locker were contemplating which weekly league they wanted to spend their money on.

The Flacco crash was caused when a handful of individually minor flaws reared their heads simultaneously.

  • Cam Cameron struggled in his role as playcaller.
  • Torrey Smith wasn’t ready to become a true No. 1.
  • The Ravens continued to employ Anquan Boldin incorrectly.
  • Bryant McKinnie was saving himself for the postseason.
  • Faced with an unimaginative scheme and underperforming receivers, Flacco’s 2011 accuracy woes worsened.

Post-hype candidates emerge when those who were predisposed to select a certain player get burned so badly that they won’t ever consider taking him again. Depth at the QB position, perceptions about Flacco’s lack of upside, and legitimate concerns about his future accuracy have cast a pall over his fantasy value.

The numbers paint an entirely different picture. Consider Flacco’s 2013 RotoViz projection next to those of two players being drafted ahead of him.

Flacco Eli Stafford
Low 18.8 15.6 12.3
Median 21.1 18 18
High 22.2 18.9 20.1

* The RotoViz apps allow you to exclude weeks if you want. In this case, I have eliminated  Flacco’s Week 17 contest where starters were pulled after one series. Just another way in which the apps represent a huge breakthrough in fantasy analysis. 

Perhaps the most interesting part of Flacco’s projection deals with the idea of safety versus upside. As you can see, his low projection is higher than the median projection for both Eli and Stafford. His median projection is better than their high projections.

It’s easy to suggest their 2012 seasons don’t represent the true career trajectories for Manning and Stafford. On the other hand, it’s much more likely that 2011 was the aberration for both players. Eli is probably the most overrated player in the NFL, while Stafford has to prove he can provide any semblance of efficiency.

Moreover, the offseason developments for these three players strongly favor Flacco. Manning is losing valuable time with his star receivers who can’t be bothered to practice while they squabble about contracts. Stafford saw the draft and free agency come and go without the Lions upgrading the gaping chasm at the second receiver spot. Meanwhile, he’s trying to break in two new tackles. Flacco sees his playoff offense mostly return intact. Young players like Tommy Streeter and Aaron Mellette could actually be an upgrade over the flagging Boldin.

As I demonstrated yesterday for Roethlisberger, the year-over-year change plot helps explain the enthusiasm for a Flacco breakout.

flaccoseagulls

The very nature of regression creates a situation where the YOY plot for most players is going to look pretty ugly. Viewed in this light, the graph for Flacco should create even more optimism. After sifting through several enthusiastic Peyton Manning comps, you find the last two seasons for Flacco’s closest peer, Matt Ryan. Considering Flacco’s career arc, the most encouraging comparable season might be Drew Brees’ 2007. The Saints superstar started his career slowly from a fantasy perspective before morphing into an unstoppable juggernaut.

Even a negative comp offers reason for hope. Tom Brady’s 2006 season transpired one year before his epic 2007 campaign. Up to that point, Brady was considered an elite reality quarterback but hardly a fantasy asset. It’s possible RotoViz is calling the Flacco breakout a year early, but with the potential upside, that’s a very acceptable risk.

A Few Other Generally Favorable Trends

In years past, I’ve avoided AFC North quarterbacks because of the caliber of divisional defenses, the run-heavy nature of their respective schemes, and the specter of late-season weather issues. Much of that is changing. Cincinnati and Cleveland have dramatically upgraded their offenses, creating fewer games where superpowers like Baltimore and Pittsburgh can simply grind clock in the second half. Roethlisberger and Flacco should be the primary beneficiaries.

Torrey Smith. If you’ve read Bryan Fontaine’s excellent piece about the third-year speedster, you know RotoViz expects him to become a better all-around receiver and a threat to emerge as a true No. 1. While it’s possible that Boldin’s departure will leave a hole in Baltimore, it’s more likely that Smith becomes the first elite threat that Flacco has ever possessed. With Dennis Pitta establishing himself as an above average receiving tight end, and the omnipresent Ray Rice available as the game’s top dump off receiving runner, Flacco will be running a well-rounded offense for the first time.

And finally . . .

Joe Flacco will face the Detroit Lions during the fantasy semifinals. The following week Baltimore returns home to square off with the New England Patriots. It’s been suggested Sam Bradford might throw for 50 touchdowns this season. Joe Flacco might need to hit double digits just during your playoff run for his team to emerge from Week 15 and 16 victorious.

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