Still two months away from the start of training camps, the internet is currently full of fantasy football hot takes: Chris Johnson usurping David Johnson as the starter in Arizona, Tavon Austin catching 100 passes in 2016, etc.
Here’s my humble offering, backed up with some factual evidence: Russell Wilson will be the fantasy QB1 in 2016.
NO MARSHAWN, MORE RUSSELL WILSON?
As of this writing, Marshawn Lynch is still “retired.” Despite rumors swirling about his possible return to football and his unpredictable nature in general, I’m moving forward under the assumption the Seahawks will be without the man that ranks fourth all-time in rushing in franchise history. Seattle drafted both C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins in the first five rounds of this year’s NFL Draft, lending support to this “no-Marshawn” theory.
One of the most useful apps available on RotoViz is the Game Splits App which shows how certain players have performed under different circumstances, including with or without specific teammates in the lineup. Wilson’s stats with and without Lynch are striking:
This is not to say we should expect nearly 500 FPs from Russell Wilson. It is to say that if Lynch does indeed miss the 2016 season, we could see a massive uptick in fantasy production from Wilson, enough to contend for QB1 status.
ANYONE TO THROW TO?
Looking at Wilson’s AY/A Chart since entering the league in 2012, we see that only Golden Tate is missing from the top-end.
It’s entirely possible that Doug Baldwin’s efficiency drops off this season, but even so, with such a low level of roster turnover, we can safely expect Wilson to keep chugging along thanks to a group of efficient options to target.
SO DAMN EFFICIENT
Speaking of efficiency, the table below shows the most efficient passers with at least 1000 total pass attempts over the last four seasons:
Since entering the league in 2012, Wilson has literally been the most efficient fantasy passer in football on a per-attempt basis. He ranked third in paFPOE behind only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees despite 888 fewer pass attempts than Brees.
Efficiency, however, is only part of the formula. It takes passing volume as well if you’re looking to identify fantasy value.
According to the most recent composite staff rankings here on the site, the RotoViz writers are projecting a decrease in passing TDs compared to last season, but a five percent increase in overall fantasy production, a testament to Wilson’s highly-efficient style of play and rushing ability.
We have him ranked as the QB2 behind only Cam Newton, so perhaps my take isn’t as hot as it initially sounds.
There are of course, a few trap doors to consider when thinking about Wilson’s place in the fantasy hierarchy for 2016.
According to the QB Sim Scores App, specifically the Projection Summary, using Wilson’s high-end projection of 21.3 FPPG pro-rated for 16 games, we only get to 340.8 FPs, well short of our current projection.
There’s also the question of how the Seahawks play-calling might change without Lynch and how Thomas Rawls fits into the plan, not to mention Prosise and Collins.
On the surface it would appear that losing such a steady, reliable and effective player like Lynch would shift the focus of the offense to another steady, reliable and effective player, like Wilson. But logic doesn’t always win out in the NFL.
PLANTING THE FLAG
There’s enough evidence here for me to feel confident in projecting Russell Wilson as the top fantasy quarterback this season. He’s also currently being drafted as the fourth QB off the board in early MFL10 drafts, making him even more intriguing.
Maybe Cam Newton posts a repeat season. Maybe Andrew Luck stays healthy and blows up. Maybe Aaron Rodgers rights the ship after being re-united with his old friend, Jordy Nelson.
But is it any more unlikely that we see Russell Wilson ascend to another level as a fantasy asset?
I think not.