Word dropped Monday that EJ Manuel is out, and Kyle Orton is in, as the Buffalo starting quarterback. Here’s some quick background for you, as you consider what impact this change will have on your fantasy teams.
An Ordinary Man
Orton isn’t going to win any Peyton Manning look-alike contests. But he’s a very serviceable QB. Here are his advanced passing stats, from Pro Football Reference.1
It’s hard to be much more average than that. For comparison, here are the same stats for Manuel.
Those stats are better than I thought they’d be, but they definitely trail Orton. Assuming he plays to his career averages, Orton represents a modest but significant improvement in QB play. That in turn should help the Bills other skill position players. Manuel should theoretically be a better runner than Orton, but that hasn’t availed the Bills much this season. To date, Manuel’s rush attempts have provided -5.9 expected points.
Better Than Remembered
The public perception of Orton is that he’s nothing special. He’s not – see above, he’s just average – but he’s maybe better in some regards than we remember. I used the AYA App to find the two players at each position that Orton has targeted the most in his career, and compared that to how the same receivers fared when targeted by other QBs.
|Kyle Orton||Brandon Lloyd||WR||223||114||1920||11||8||7.98|
|Tom Brady||Brandon Lloyd||WR||131||74||911||4||1||7.22|
|Kyle Orton||Brandon Marshall||WR||149||100||1115||10||2||8.22|
|Jay Cutler||Brandon Marshall||WR||640||384||4918||32||24||7|
|Brian Griese||Desmond Clark||TE||142||94||1003||9||3||7.38|
|Kyle Orton||Desmond Clark||TE||119||64||597||5||3||4.72|
|Kyle Orton||Greg Olsen||TE||86||53||579||5||0||7.9|
|Cam Newton||Greg Olsen||TE||304||187||2199||16||4||7.69|
|Kyle Orton||Knowshon Moreno||RB||90||66||607||5||1||7.36|
|Peyton Manning||Knowshon Moreno||RB||100||81||715||3||1||7.3|
|Jay Cutler||Matt Forte||RB||312||236||2115||6||3||6.73|
|Kyle Orton||Matt Forte||RB||69||56||425||3||1||6.38|
This doesn’t account for different teams, schemes, and ages of players of course, but I think it helps clear any cognitive bias about Orton’s ability to make use of his best weapons.
Most of the time, we wouldn’t be that interested in an average QB. But the prospect of average play from Orton is appealing because of Manuel’s decidedly below average play. Switching to the Fantasy Efficiency App, we see that Manuel is the 24th ranked passer this season on a per-attempt basis. On a total basis, he’s returned the 22nd-most fantasy points above expectation. He ranks 28th in passer rating and 17th (lower is worse) in interception percentage. However you look at Orton’s career–in total, or his peak years, or just his most recent seasons–he’s . . . wait for it . . . an average performer. The hurdle that Manuel has set is a low one. Simply being himself should get Orton, and the rest of the Bills, to a better place offensively.
Patience is a Virtue
So should you make a waiver claim for Orton? The answer depends on your team’s needs, but at the moment I would lean toward no. Here’s why. Courtesy of the Buy Low Machine, here’s the Bills’ upcoming schedule.
Yep. That’s the worst fantasy QB schedule over the next three weeks.2 Playing at home, Detroit has limited Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers to 291 yards passing. Combined. The Bills could struggle mightily next week, and perhaps over the two weeks following that, as well.
But take a look at the Bills’ schedule from Week 8 to the end of the season.
Yep. That’s the second-easiest QB schedule, although it does tighten up a bit during the fantasy playoff weeks. Still, the Jets twice and Oakland are nice matchups, and most of the rest are neutral or slightly favorable.
Things are set up for the Bills to struggle in the short term. There’s a good chance that, if anyone picks up Orton, they’ll wind up dropping him in the near future.3 I’d wait and try to acquire him, either off waivers or via low-ball trade, after Week 6 or 7.
As for the rest of the Bills skill players, I think the switch to Orton will at worst be a neutral change, but it’s more likely to be a slight positive change. Just as with Orton himself, however, you may need to be patient over the next couple of weeks. I’d hold the Bills skill players for now, unless you’re really desperate. On the other hand, if you don’t own them, but their current owner is desperate, the combination of tough schedule and QB change may offer a buying opportunity. Once the schedule softens, they should have a higher ceiling with Orton than they do with Manuel.