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Contract Year QBs: Fantasy Appeal of the Walk Year Stars

 

As in most industries, the goal of the average NFL player is to maximize their earnings. Rings and Vince Lombardi trophies are all well and good, and the drive to be the best in the business is strong. But with the average career around four seasons, no one should begrudge a single player for wanting to make as much money as possible before they, in the words of Chuck Noll, get on with their life’s work.

With this in mind, and shifting back to a fantasy focus, we’ll be taking a look at four quarterbacks who, at the time of writing, are going into the last year of their current deals. These are all players who will be considered for the Hall of Fame at the earliest possibility, with two of them pretty much assured of getting in at the first time of asking. But as they head into 2019, how can their drive for another payday help your fantasy team? Let’s start with the near undisputed G.O.A.T. himself, Tom Brady.

TOM BRADY

Last Season

The 2018 NFL season may have ended with his team winning the Super Bowl, but Brady wasn’t the major driving force behind this victory. It would also be accurate to suggest that he wasn’t responsible for too many fantasy titles being won either. He was QB15 in fantasy points per game, and QB12 in total points. But his fantasy production seemed to dip just before the halfway stage of the 2018 campaign. After a three week run of QB1, QB10 and QB5 from Week 5 to Week 7, Brady had just one more top-12 week in the rest of the fantasy-relevant weeks.1

In context, Brady was the QB8 after the first seven weeks of the season. From Week 8 to 16, he was down at QB16.

The Patriots were uncharacteristically run-heavy last season, with a pass to run ratio of 1.24. This was the 8th lowest of all teams. But in 11 wins last season, Brady still averaged 35.4 pass attempts. This was against a 35.1 average in 2017, when the Patriots won 13 games. So it wasn’t as if Brady wasn’t being given opportunities. He did average 0.23 fewer touchdown passes per victory, which obviously hurt him.

Looking Ahead

If 2018 is anything to go by, the Patriots may be set up for more of the same in the coming season, leaning on Sony Michel and their plethora of other running backs to do most of the heavy lifting. The Patriots also face the eighth hardest strength of schedule in terms of pass defense, according to Sharp Football. As opposed to this, they have the eighth easiest rush defense coming at them this year. There is also the inescapable fact that Brady’s most trusted playmaker is no longer around. Rob Gronkowski and the NFL is no more. Since 2010, Brady has averaged 11.11 Adjusted Yards per Attempt when targeting Gronkowski. This his most productive haul when targeting a player more than 100 times.

The effect his absence has had on Brady’s production cannot be ignored.

Brady is entering his early 40s, and it is astonishing to see so many QBs of that vintage continuing to ply their trade at such a high level. But he is not a QB that fantasy owners should be busting a gut to snap in standard leagues. We have him at QB16 in our redraft rankings. As such his value would tend to be a bye week plug-in at best. Drafters over at Fanball seem to be of a similar mind. Brady is going off the board as the 19th QB. It’s also hard to assign much value to Brady from a dynasty point of view. In startups, he’s currently the QB21. He’s a year-to-year prospect, regardless of his oft-stated desire to play until the ice caps melt. You should probably be looking to go younger.

Drew Brees

2018 Performance

The Miami Dolphins decision to sign Daunte Culpepper ahead of Drew Brees back in 2006 will go down in history as one of the more famous misjudging of a situation since Obi-Wan Kenobi went against the wishes of the Jedi Council and took Anakin Skywalker on as his padawan. Even now, 14 seasons later, Brees is putting up ridiculous numbers in real life and fantasy. He was the QB8 in 2018. He likely would have finished much higher if not for a mini-slump at the end of the year.

After the Saints wiped the floor with the Eagles in Week 11, Brees finished as the QB3 for the week. Brees stood as the overall QB3 for the season, trailing only Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff. For the rest of the fantasy-relevant season, 18 QBs had more fantasy points than Brees.

Brees’ success came on the back of tremendous efficiency, the hallmark for which most of his Saints career has been known. The Saints had the fourth lowest pass to run ratio in the entire league. Brees attempted 45 or more passes in two of his first three games of the season. After that, he attempted more than 35 just twice.

So Much Goodness

The presence of two of the best skill position players in the NFL, namely Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, means that Brees will always be a name to consider in fantasy circles. There is also the addition of Jared Cook this offseason. Cook is hoping to see the Saints dust off some of the plays they used to make Jimmy Graham famous a long time in the past. These factors, plus (according to Sharp Football) the Saints having the 4th easiest schedule against pass defenses in 2019, make it hard not to love Brees going into the season. The Fanball drafters are in lockstep with us. We both have Brees as the QB7 at present.

Brees will be carrying a mighty cap charge in 2020, whether he is on the team or not. He is, like Brady, not a spring chicken, and is a year-to-year case in dynasty circles. But that said, if you are in a win-now mode, you might consider moving for him. Just don’t pay too much.

Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers has been one of the most productive QBs in the NFL since he signed his last contract, back in 2015. But this productivity has not necessarily translated into fantasy superstardom.

2015-2018 Total Rank
Passing Yards 17986 3rd
Passing TDS 122 4th
FP per Game 17.17 16th

We saw more of this type of behavior in 2018. Rivers was eighth in passing yards with 4,308, while only five players threw more touchdown passes than Rivers’ 32. But he still only chipped in with 17.2 fantasy points per game. This was the 18th best in the NFL, and in overall scoring Rivers finished QB13.

Rivers only had two game weeks in which he was not among the top-24 scoring QB in 2018. They came in Weeks 16 and 17. Granted, this was a serious kick in the unmentionables if you were pinning your title hopes on him. But his consistency made him a player that, depending on the strength of your roster, you could plug and play for much of the season. The highs were never too high, nor the lows too low.

The pass defenses on the Chargers’ schedule are somewhere around the league average, which is pretty much where the team was in terms of a pass-to-run ratio in 2018. The Chargers have also lost Tyrell Williams to free agency, a player with whom Rivers had established a relatively efficient partnership of late.

However, the Chargers should have the No. 2 player on the above list, namely Hunter Henry, back for the whole of the 2019 season. They will also be hoping that Mike Williams can build on his efficiency when faced with greater volume. Rivers will, injury permitting, be the exact same player he has been for years. He is the Fanball QB15 and RotoViz QB17 at present. Just know what you are getting yourself into when drafting him. This profile also makes his dynasty value something of a challenge to accurately measure, although it is hard to see him being a complete disaster. He’s probably a player I’d hold, but not one I’m aggressively acquiring nor spending a high pick on in startups.

Eli Manning

Behave yourself. Not interested in the slightest.

  1. He was QB6 in Week 17, but who cares?  (back)
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