Contributed By: Richard Paolinelli
The one headache shared by both NFL General Managers and Fantasy Football Owners alike is the quarterback position. Draft a quarterback in the first round and, if he plays to expectations, you look like a genius. If he does not, then your season goes up in smoke. The same holds true if you decide to take a flyer on a younger quarterback later in the draft with the expectation that he will be your starter. If he turns into Peyton Manning you can start clearing off shelf space for your league championship trophy. If he’s this year’s Ryan Leaf, you can probably start making plans for next year’s No. 1 pick.
So, here we are to try to help you avoid the Ryan Leaf pit of despair on draft day. The question before us is which quarterback is likely to have a breakout season in 2007 and lead you to the Promised Land. First, let’s define what we are looking for when we go in search of that breakout season.
What is a successful season at the quarterback position anyway? Better than a .500 season? Over 3,000 yards, 15 scoring strikes with just a small handful of interceptions and fumbles lost? There really is no universal theory that everyone subscribes too, so let’s see if we can at least come up with a formula everyone can live, and win, with.
It would be a simple exercise if we could just rely on the quarterback rating to determine who will be the next Peyton Manning. The problem is most, if not all, fantasy scoring systems do not use this stat, and the mathematical formula behind the stat is too confusing to be able to use it as a hard and fast ranking rule. In years past, the formula used here has been this: 3,000 yards passing and 20 passing TDs. In the interest of continuity, we will adhere to these numbers as we seek to determine which quarterback will have his breakout year in 2007.
So, just how many quarterbacks have had at least one season in which he threw for 3,000 yards as well as 20 touchdowns? Let’s look at those that have done it in one of his first three seasons in which he played in at least one game during the season. Beginning with the 1997 draft and carrying on through the 2006 season, there have been 124 quarterbacks drafted into the NFL, with 27 of them first round selections. With the apparent retirement of Jake Plummer, none of the 11 quarterbacks from the Class of 1997 still remain in the NFL and only 65 of the 124 draftees over that time period are still on NFL rosters at this writing. Of those 65, here are the quarterbacks who had breakout seasons within their first three years:
Peyton Manning (1998) – 3,739 yards and 26 TDs
Carson Palmer (2005) – 3,836 yards and 32 TDs
Eli Manning (2005) – 3,762 yards and 24 TDs
Marc Bulger (2003) – 3,845 yards and 22 TDs
Aaron Brooks (2001) – 3,832 yards and 26 TDs
Daunte Culpepper (2000) – 3,937 yards and 33 TDs
Donovan McNabb (2000) – 3,365 yards and 21 TDs
Philip Rivers (2006) – 3,388 yards and 22 TDs (although it was the first year that Rivers played without Brees in front of him)
Tom Brady (2002) – 3,764 yards and 28 TDs
Chad Pennington (2002) – 3,120 yards and 22 TDs
1) Only 10 of the 65 quarterbacks (15.4%) who remained in the NFL after being drafted and qualified for this study had a breakout season in one of their first three seasons. Although there were four notable close calls, beginning with Ben Roethlisberger who finished his third year with enough yards (3,513) but fell just short in touchdown passes thrown with just 18.
Buffalo’s J.P. Losman also just missed qualifying, throwing for 3,051 yards and 19 TDs, just one TD short. Drew Bees just missed in his second year (3,284/17) and broke through in his fourth year with a 3,157/27 campaign. Rex Grossman battled injuries for three seasons before a “breakthrough” rollercoaster fourth season of 3,193 yards and 23 TDs while leading the Bears to the Super Bowl.
Now, as for the quarterbacks that have only been in the NFL for two seasons, just three of the 25 drafted quarterbacks are no longer in the league. Of the remaining 22, only six are starters, or have a legitimate shot to be the starter, at the beginning of the 2007 season. What this means is that if you draft a rookie QB, you only have a one-in-four chance of him scoring points for you anytime soon. So you had better be in a keeper league and have a very serviceable veteran QB in the stable before you court a rookie signal caller. Redraft league owners should avoid rookie quarterbacks like the plague.
2) If we look at just first round draftees, there are 27 quarterbacks that heard their name called in the first round since 1997. Of the 22 that remain, only six of have had a breakout year in the allotted time and only six others have a mathematical chance to do so. That’s less than half of the first rounders obtaining a respectable level of success.
3) QB success is not just limited to first-rounders. Aaron Brooks was a fourth-rounder, and both Tom Brady and Marc Bulger were sixth round selections. Drew Brees, who just missed, was a second-rounder and Matt Hasselbeck, who broke though in his fifth year (but just his third since escaping Brett Favre’s shadow in Green Bay), was an eighth-round pick.
Crystal Ball Time
OK wise guy, you find yourself yelling at me, so who should I be keeping my eye on as the next QB to have a breakout season? Here’s a few to try to draft if they are available:
Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys
Technically, Romo is entering his fifth year in the league, but he never sniffed the field in 2003. 2006 was the third year in which he saw game action during the season and he just missed qualifying for this list with 2,903 yards and 19 TDs. Coming in as the starter with a full training camp as the No. 1 guy should see Romo improve upon those numbers.
Alex Smith – San Francisco 49ers
In his second year, Smith finished with 2,890 yards and 16 TDs. A healthy Vernon Davis and a solid year from newly acquired WR Darrell Jackson should push Smith into the same company as the Mannings, Brady, Bulger, etc.
Matt Leinart – Arizona Cardinals
In his rookie season, Leinart played in 12 games and finished with 2,547 yards and 11 TDs. With his receiving core and a full season as a starter, Leinart should break through this year.
Jay Cutler – Denver Broncos
In just five games, Cutler had 1,001 yards and nine TDs. Over a full season he easily breaks 2,000 yards and could be pushing 30 TDs.
Matt Schaub – Houston Texans
Stuck behind Michael Vick in Atlanta since he was drafted in the third round in 2004, Schaub is now the man in Houston and, with a questionable running game behind him, he’ll be throwing a lot in 2007 and should reach the 3,000/20 mark. This, of course, is provided he doesn’t get permanently planted into the turf during one of the many sacks he’ll likely endure.
Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
Sooner or later, Favre is going to retire (or get carried off the field) and Rodgers should blossom much the way Hasselbeck did when he fled the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Personally, I don’t see Favre finishing the 2007 season. In a redraft, pass on Rodgers unless there is recent news on Favre. But if Rodgers is there in a keeper/dynasty format, grab him.
Hopefully this guide, in conjunction with similar guides at the other fantasy positions, will help lead you to one incredible fantasy football championship celebration at the end of the year.