The Big 4 Quarterback Changes and Impacts on New Teams
With the 2018 NFL offseason being one of the largest quarterback carousels in history, it’s a wise idea to analyze the potential impacts of the quarterbacks’ styles on their new weapons. Looking back at 2017, we have 27 quarterbacks that fit this study: at least 150 attempts, playing in 2018 and the definitive starter. The Cardinals, Bills, Colts, Chiefs and Dolphins don’t have representation due to injuries and/or rookies. You could argue for the Ravens not having representation too… given how terrible Joe Flacco was.
With the significant changes of a new quarterback, I decided to examine each of the four quarterbacks’ tendencies to see what we should expect from their arrivals. I will be discussing three areas for each targeted position, which includes running backs, wideouts (specified as wide receiver lined up out wide), slot receivers (can be receivers or tight ends) and in-line tight ends. For each position, the quarterback’s target percentage, completion percentage and Yards Per Attempt (YPA) all play significant roles in projecting for the 2018 Fantasy Football season.
RBT% (Running Back Target Percentage)
TET% (Tight End)
RBC% (Running Back Completion Percentage)
TEC% (Tight End)
RBYPA (Running Back Yards Per Attempt)
TEYPA (Tight End)
Alex Smith, WSH
Smith is not only coming off a career year, he’s coming off one where he spat in the face of everyone calling him a “checkdown only” quarterback. In fact, Smith led all quarterbacks in the sample on WYPA at 10.3. The next closest was Matthew Stafford at 9.2. Not that you will be surprised, but just for reference, Joe Flacco did check in last with a measly 5.0 YPA.
Smith had one of the more balanced target distributions, and surprising to many, his RBC% was merely middle of the road (79.2). See what happens when Andy Reid loses his mind for a few weeks and forgets about Kareem Hunt? Meanwhile, Smith’s WC% (62.2) and SLC% (68.6) ranked second and sixth. That makes sense when you consider that Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce ran 41.1 and 55.7 percent of their routes from the slot. Another interesting note is that Hill’s big-play ability suffers when he’s in the slot, seeing both Smith’s and his YPA drop to around league average.
With Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson, Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson for the Redskins, no matter how much Smith ignores that checkdown perception, not everyone can succeed. Again, Smith’s career year was still only 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns. While most assume that Crowder will be the main beneficiary, and Reed will be a potential Top 5 tight end (for the few weeks he’s healthy), there is appeal in the big-play and/or red zone options of Doctson and Richardson. I’m on the Doctson bandwagon, as he already had the 21st most red zone targets last year and seventh most over the final eight games. Richardson is an intriguing late-round flier as well on the opportunity that Smith has a better rapport with him and Doctson continues with his consistency issues.
Case Keenum, DEN
Keenum still has his doubters, as he has one decent season in his career and Pat Shurmur won’t be with him in Denver. You can argue that Keenum is seeing a small dip in surrounding talent as well. Yes, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs before anyone knew the latter’s names. However, the running back situation is more of a question with Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker, and the tight end position is a significant drop-off.
No metric from Keenum’s 2017 season stands out, as he’s not terrible in anything and doesn’t top out in any area. The one piece of interesting information is that Keenum ranked highly in WT% (29.4, eighth), TET% (13.9, sixth) and completion percentage for both, 61.3 (fourth) and 80.0 (first). For reference, the TEYPA checked in around the average with WYPA tied for sixth (8.6).
With Keenum being at the league average for running backs across all stats, if Booker is pushed into the pass-catching role, it might not be enough work to warrant even RB3 value in PPR. As for the receiving crew, Thomas and Sanders should see an uptick… not that you need to be told Keenum is an upgrade over Trevor Siemian. Actually, Siemian had a higher WT%, but his WC% was much lower (52.8 to 61.3) as was his WYPA (7.2 to 8.6). The other area of interest is to watch the tight end position. Jake Butt has already been forgotten after a torn ACL stole his rookie season. Butt is a strong tight end (don’t you laugh!), more in the reliable, tough tight end mold than the new field-stretching, hybrid, wide receiver types. If he wins the starting gig, Keenum’s reliance on the position could have Butt cracking Fantasy rosters (sorry, even I couldn’t resist that wordplay).
Kirk Cousins, MIN
So Smith replaces Cousins in Washington, while Cousins heads off to Minnesota to replace Keenum… or truly… give the Vikings the upgrade they wanted, as they pushed Keenum out the door. The easy assumption from the quarterback change is that the Vikings passing game will be improved. After all, Cousins has thrown for at least 4,093 yards each of the last three seasons while averaging 27 touchdowns.
Even with the appeal that Cousins has for Fantasy and a more aggressive approach, that latter fact actually leads to average-to-subpar numbers for this study. It starts at running back, as despite having Chris Thompson for 10 games, Cousins was still middle of the pack in all three marks (RBT% 16.5, RBC% 79.8, RBYPA 7.4). At tight end, even without Jordan Reed, Cousins still hung around league average (10.5, 66.2, 7.5) thanks to solid play by Vernon Davis. The only area where Cousins stands out is the receiver metrics.
As mentioned, Cousins has an aggressive nature, and I can understand the Redskins hesitancy in making him their franchise quarterback. Cousins will often pass up an easy target for a bigger play, even if that player is double covered. You can see his struggles in completing passes out wide, as Cousins ranked lower than Keenum in WC% (51.0 to 61.3) and WYPA (7.8 to 8.6). On the other hand, his slot work was good-to-great with league average SLT% (34.4) and SLYPA (8.1) but the eighth best SLC% (67.3), all metrics rating higher than Keenum’s.
The wideout metrics could easily be a result of talent differential, and Cousins does see an improved core of players with Thielen, Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and Cook. It’s still worth noting that Cousins was better with his slot numbers though, so don’t dismiss the drop-off for wideouts solely to receiver talent and not a Cousins issue.
All that aside, the focus for 2018 is on one player specifically… or so has been the narrative so far. Thielen saw 55.7 percent of his snaps out of the slot last year while Diggs had just 35.0 percent. Interestingly enough, Diggs actually performed better out of the slot, catching 67.6 of his targets for 14.5 YPC while Thielen had 61.7 and 13.6. On top of that, Thielen was better out wide with 66.1 percent caught for 14.8 YPC while Diggs was 63.6 and 12.9.
Whoever ends up manning the slot is going to be the beneficiary of better play by Cousins and weaker coverage. If the Vikings stay the course, Thielen will obviously be in the slot more often… unless… Kendall Wright wins the third receiver role. Wright works out of the slot and would push Thielen outside, whereas Laquon Treadwell winning the job would keep Thielen in the slot when the Vikings use three-receiver sets. As you can see, the good news is that’s not necessarily bad news for Thielen, as long as the target distribution doesn’t decrease and Cousins can improve his numbers out wide.
There appears to be more risk involved with both Vikings receivers that one would assume with the quarterback change. On top of that, the narrative that Thielen is the more at risk due to a position battle looks to be false… again, if Thielen’s numbers hold true when out wide.
Tyrod Taylor, CLE
There is speculation that Taylor might not be the starter the entire season, as the team could start moving to the future with the No. 1 overall pick, Baker Mayfield. However, there is an equal chance that Taylor remains the starter all year, as he’s been a better than assumed. In fact, Taylor actually had a higher aDOT (8.8) than Jay Cutler did (8.6) last year for all of those people falling into the narrative that Taylor is a safe, checkdown type quarterback.
That’s not the news the Jarvis Landry fans want to hear, and neither are Taylor’s slot numbers. Granted, Taylor is going to rank lower than most quarterbacks given his style and fewer attempts, but the target percentage is still telling. Taylor ranked near the top in RBT% (not surprising with LeSean McCoy as the best weapon). He was also second in TET% (16.1) and fifth in TEYPA (8.5). Again, that’s not much of a surprise with Charles Clay being reliable and Deonte Thompson leading his receivers with 27/430/1. Part of that may have been Taylor’s fault though, as he ranked second to last in WC% (46.4) with Flacco being last. Again, some of it is likely a talent issue as well, but Taylor only targeted the slot 22.5 percent of the time, second worst as well.
That’s where we can have concerns about Landry’s value with the potential that Josh Gordon is the more valuable Browns receiver in 2018. Specifically for Landry, his value is directly tied to his targets. Since his 2014 season, Landry has recorded 0.75, 0.66, 0.72 and 0.70 receptions per target. Let’s keep going: 6.8, 6.9, 8.7 and 6.1 yards per target; 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.3 Non-PPR points per target; 1.7, 1.6, 1.8, 1.6 PPR points per targets. If Landry loses 20-30 targets with the potential for a lower catch rate as well due to Taylor’s play, he could not only drop out of the WR1 discussion but possibly fall into the WR3 range.
Main Image Credit: AP Photo/Jim Mone