2013 Quarterback Sleepers And Busts
By JJ Zachariason
In 2013, there’s a quarterback for everyone.
You could be the last person to select a signal caller in a standard 12-team league and still have your choice between Tony Romo and Eli Manning. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, a player like Russell Wilson or Matthew Stafford will fall to you. No matter what happens, as long as you don’t wait forever, you’re bound to have a good-looking quarterback on your roster post-draft.
This obvious depth at quarterback has pushed familiar low-end quarterback starters to backup roles. Philip Rivers used to matter in fantasy football. Now, after a down year and a plethora of young talent entering his position, he’s just another guy on your bench.
These young superstars, however, also come with potential risk. We haven’t seen a full season worth of games from Colin Kaepernick, and how are we so sure that Andrew Luck, under a new offensive system, will throw the ball over 600 times again?
The sleepers at quarterback in 2013 are actually less ambiguous than the ones we’re drafting as our starters. Eli Manning and Tony Romo have slowly dropped to backup roles in a lot of 12-team leagues, and Andy Dalton, a once promising starter, has slipped to a lower-tiered passer.
But just like any other season, we know our pre-season rankings won’t look identical to the actual post-season result. Someone selected late in drafts will more than likely finish as a Top 10 player, and a quarterback drafted early on will surely drop to be unstartable. But who? Whose rank is going to change that significantly in 2013? Well, here are my [educated] guesses:
2013 Quarterback Sleepers
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers signal caller was actually having one of the best statistical seasons of his career in 2012 before nearly puncturing his aorta and injuring his shoulder in Week 10 against Kansas City. In fact, through the first nine weeks of the season, Big Ben was averaging over 19 points per standard fantasy contest, ranking him eighth in the NFL in the category. And this was under a new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, who seemed to lack a true offensive identity.
Though Mike Wallace has left the Steel City, and Heath Miller may potentially be sidelined early due to his late-season ACL tear, Roethlisberger still has room to grow in Haley’s offensive system. Deep balls aren’t part of the gameplan like they were under Bruce Arians, but Haley’s offense has shown to decrease Roethlisberger’s mistakes and increase his overall efficiency. Without a true number one back to rely on, the Steelers offense will look at their franchise quarterback to lead the way again in 2013.
Roethlisberger is currently leaving the draft board in the 12th or 13th rounds of 12-team league mock drafts. And even though I’m not sold on him being my starters, if this ADP stays constant, you could be getting a very steady backup quarterback with Top 10 potential.
Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Vick has never been on one of my fantasy teams, but that could change in 2013. After a disappointing 2012 season, Vick is (once again) set to be the starter in Philadelphia under the new Chip Kelly regime.
Vick has already proclaimed that he thinks he can run for 1,000 yards in the new offense, and while that’s unlikely, he isn’t entirely crazy. Kelly’s spread offense could create easier reads for a quarterback like Vick and should definitely allow running lanes for one of the league’s best running quarterbacks. In the past, Kelly has claimed that having the rushing dimension from a quarterback can help create one of the most lethal threats to a defense. It’s worked, as Kelly produced some of the best offenses in the history of college football while coaching at Oregon.
The issue with Vick is, without a doubt, his durability. His turnover problems can be overlooked in fantasy football, but when he’s playing just seven or eight games in a season, he’s just not trustworthy enough to start. The guy has played just one complete season in the NFL, but when he does play, there are fewer quarterbacks with a higher fantasy ceiling.
Though Vick’s numbers have been heavily overstated in the past, the ex-Falcons passer has great value in 2013. He’s barely being selected in current mock drafts, and considering the potential that’s there, he should at least warrant a late-round pick. If he starts to rise, I’d stay away, but for now, Vick is a potent fantasy sleeper.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
The Bears starter hasn’t done much on the stat sheet to force you to select him as your starter, but Cutler still holds some worth in 2013 fantasy leagues. Despite the fact that he barely reached the 3,000-yard mark in 2012, Cutler should get more opportunity next season under new head coach Marc Trestman.
Trestman, a former CFL head coach, has quite the impressive resume. Nearly every quarterback he’s coached turned in career seasons. In 1997, as the quarterbacks coach for the Lions, Trestman led Scott Mitchell to a near 3,500-yard season, which was fourth most in the team’s history. In ’98, Trestman went to Arizona as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator and helped Jake Plummer throw for over 3,700 yards. It was Plummer’s second year in the NFL, and ended up being the second highest total he accumulated in the NFL.
Perhaps Trestman’s best work came in 2002 when he was promoted as the offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders. That season, the Raiders went to the Super Bowl under MVP Rich Gannon and averaged 280 yards passing per game. It was by far Gannon’s best season under center.
Are we to expect the same from Cutler in 2013? He’ll have another year with Brandon Marshall, and while his other weapons aren’t spectacular, Martellus Bennett showed promise in New York, Alshon Jeffery has potential, and Matt Forte is one of the best receiving backs in the game.
When you talk sleepers, you look for players with high ceilings. Cutler, though usually not a typical fantasy starter, has a promising 2013 under the direction of Marc Trestman. Considering his current ADP – undrafted – Cutler could serve as a great late-round selection or waiver wire add early in the season.
2013 Quarterback Busts
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
I’m just as in love with Andrew Luck as the rest of the NFL world, but from a fantasy perspective, we may see a dip in production in 2013. Without Bruce Arians, it’s only natural. Luck’s rookie season saw 627 pass attempts, which was fifth most in the entire league. Ben Roethlisberger, Arians’ quarterback when he was the offensive coordinator for the Steelers, saw some of his highest pass attempt totals under the coach.
Has Luck seen the high-end of his potential attempts at this stage of his career? And should we expect Luck to reach that high of a number under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton? In short, it’s doubtful. Hamilton has already mentioned that he’s looking for a more balanced attack, which to me, says he wants to run the ball more than the Colts did in 2012. Although Hamilton has a great relationship with Luck, coaching in Luck’s alma mater the last three seasons, I could easily see Hamilton preaching efficiency over quantity in 2013.
Another important metric that helped catapult Luck to the eighth best fantasy quarterback in 2012 was his rushing touchdowns. Usually, it's an unpredictable stat for most fantasy quarterbacks, and Luck rushed for five scores in 2012. The only players with more were Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick.
I don’t think Luck’s underrated athleticism should be thrown out the window, but I believe the 30-plus points obtained through those runs could swing him from being a middle-of-the-road starter to a low-end one in 12-team leagues. When you consider his rising ADP, I’m not sure Luck is worth the upside. He should have a fantastic year, but because of the depth at quarterback, reaching for Luck could be a mistake.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
The Super Bowl MVP’s stock will surely rise after his masterful playoff performance, but we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves in 2013. Through Flacco’s first five seasons in the NFL, he has exactly zero 4,000-plus yard campaigns and has never reached more than 25 touchdowns in a season. For some comparison, 11 quarterbacks threw for over 4,000 yards in 2012, and 12 threw more than 25 touchdowns.
The change in offensive coordinator at the tail-end of the 2012 season was helpful for Flacco, as things seemed to click under the influence of Jim Caldwell. Of course, Flacco also looked unstoppable during the Ravens’ playoff run. But his consistent fluctuation week-to-week is frightening for any fantasy owner, and his typical play on the road is just as scary.
Because his stock has risen, Flacco is no longer a potential waiver wire value in fantasy. He’s been mock drafted as one of the top fantasy backups for 2013, and given his history, Flacco shouldn’t even crack the Top 15 at his position in terms of fantasy production.
Given this and the fact that Anquan Boldin is now in San Francisco, I’m staying away from Flacco. Though he should finally get over the 4,000-yard hump next year, the depth at the position is too desirable for me to settle with someone like Flacco.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
I’ll tell you this now: don’t get cute. Alex Smith should be a great fit in Andy Reid’s offense, but that doesn’t automatically make him fantasy relevant. Just look at his career numbers and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
Even though Jonathan Baldwin, Dexter McCluster and newly-signed Anthony Fasano have shown signs of solid production, they haven’t been consistent enough to get excited about their quarterback in fantasy.
Jamaal Charles will surely get more involved in the passing game in 2013, helping Smith’s cause. In the past, agile, talented backs under Andy Reid have seen much success (I’m looking at you LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook). Even so, Charles’ potential 60-plus reception season isn’t enough for me to even draft Alex Smith.
If Smith shows something over the first couple of weeks in the season, then sure, snag him off the wire. But in most leagues, the ex-49ers passer doesn’t even justify a draft selection. He’s been a game manager thus far in the NFL, and game managers just don’t win you fantasy championships.