SEE 2013 UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF ARTICLE!
We’ve completed the first 10 Speed Bumps of 2013, the first intermission is over, and the ice is re-surfaced as we kick off the next ten. You either were a little too cute playing out a wait-on-a-QB strategy and got snuffed, or you are a somewhat early team to add a backup QB to your roster. That’s likely the two scenarios in debating Sam Bradford, Jay Cutler, Josh Freeman or Philip Rivers. In terms of magazine rankings, these four are in exact succession on average as the 18th – 21st ranked QBs. With this poll the odds of getting all 11 polls correct is about one in a million (1 in 995,328 to be precise), randomly guessing anyway, as that is the number of combinations thus far through 11 polls and 39 players covered.
Entering his 4th NFL season, the pieces seem to certainly be in place for Sam Bradford to have a breakout season. The Rams have completely rebuilt their receiving corps, trading up aggressively to select WR Tavon Auston with the 8th overall pick of the NFL Draft this year and they added TE Jared Cook in free agency, after having drafted WRs Chris Givens and Brian Quick last year. Bradford now also has 42 games of experience under his belt plus the Rams have seemed to improve their offensive line as well. In 2011, the Rams surrendered 55 sacks the most in the NFL, and Bradford got knocked out of the season with six games to go. Last year they cut that to 35 sacks. It is game on. In his Heisman Trophy season at Oklahoma, Bradford laid down 4,720 yards, with 50 TDs to only 8 INTs. As a rookie in 2010, Bradford won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and immediately turned a 1-15 Rams team to 7-9 with marginal talent around him. Bradford also set numerous NFL records along the way, including most consecutive passes thrown without an interception by a rookie (169) and most attempts by a rookie in NFL history (an amazing 590 at the time, which in now owned by Andrew Luck with 629). As it has turned out with the new NFL collective bargaining agreement, Bradford got the last of the uber-rookie deals. Having never played an NFL snap, the #1 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft inked a 6-year, $78M deal, $50M in guarantees, a maximum value of $86M making it the largest contract ever for an NFL rookie.
This could be the year for everyone’s favorite quarterback Jay Cutler finally returns to the fantasy glory that he posted in his career-to-date 2008 season (by a wide margin) and final one with the Denver Broncos where he totaled 4,526 passing yards with 25 passing TDs. Cutler had the 3rd-most passing yards that season behind Drew Brees and Kurt Warner. Since then, Cutler in four seasons as a Chicago Bear, has averaged just 3,073, 21 TDs and 16 INTs per season. Yuk. But big changes are expected this year as the Bears’ welcome in new HC Marc Trestman, who many consider to be an offensive play-calling genius. Trestman most recently led the Montreal Alouettes to two Grey Cup championships and being named coach of the year one season (as he finally got a chance to be a head coach in the Canadian Football League). In various roles, Trestman helped direct several QBs to career seasons including Scott Mitchell in Detroit in 1997, Jake Plummer in Arizona in 1998 and Rich Gannon’s MVP season in 2002 with Oakland. It is indeed time for “In Marc Trestman We Must Trust”, as Jeff Melbstad summarized in the FFW Bears’ deep dive (click: here).
As Nathan Powell penned in the Tampa Bay deep dive on FFW, it is no doubt a “Make or Break Year for Freeman and the Buccaneers” (click: here). It wasn’t that long ago that Josh Freeman was all the rage, as he had taken a 3-13 Bucs team in 2009 to 10-6 in 2010. That season he busted out for nearly 3,500 passing yards with a 25-6 TD to INT ratio, sneaking into the top 10 of fantasy QBs. A year later, Freeman and the Bucs plummeted back to 4-12 and Freeman threw just 16 TDs to 22 TDs. First-year coach Greg Schiano seemed to make a successful transition from Rutgers to the NFL last year getting the Bucs back to 7-9. However, the pressure is on for the team and Freeman in particular (Tampa also drafted his potential replacement at some point in Mike Glennon with the 73rd pick of the NFL Draft this year). Freeman though definitely had his moments last year. All told, Freeman averaged 13.3 yards per completion last year, 2nd best in the NFL among QBs who started at least half the season, and it was a full three yards better than Freeman had the previous season. Over a 5-game stretch from Weeks 6-11, Freeman was actually the #1 fantasy QB last year. One area where Freeman has surprisingly lagged is adding rushing TDs. He had 4 in 2011 but has had zero rushing TDs in his other three seasons combined.
Last up, Phillip Rivers, a man who year ago would have absolutely destroyed these three competitors in a Speed Bump competition in terms of votes, as Rivers was the 11th QB selected on average, he was off his 4th-straight 4,000 yard season and had finished in the upper-echelon of passers with 4,624 passing yards. What a difference a year can make. Last season, Rivers finished as the 21st-ranked fantasy QB (behind Ryan Fitzpatrick most notably). Fantasy GMs are punishing Rivers hard. Last year, Rivers was a 6th round pick on average, selected as the 66th player overall. This year, Rivers is selected as the last pick of the 13th round on average as the 156th player. Still, Rivers still is a guy who, prior to last year, had four 4,000+ yard seasons in a row with three straight years of 100+ QB rating. He took a beating last year behind a horrendous offensive line (49 sacks), and at one point San Diego was literally signing guys off the street. Despite that, Rivers still managed a 64.1 completion rate last year (8th best among QBs who started at least half the season), slightly above his career average and he had 26 passing TDs, just one less than he had in 2011. Check out more things San Diego and their attempt to re-charge, in the 2013 deep-dive article here.
UPDATE 12/19/2013: This one ended up being a slam dunk (Philip Rivers), fantasy football beatdown – and we collectively missed this one on a pretty massive scale. In fact, just four people got this question right, and Josh Freeman got more votes! In terms of voting, this one went to Jay Cutler who got 51% of the vote and then Sam Bradford who received 33% of the vote. However, through Week 15, Philip Rivers would have won a poll against any QB not named Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton this year. After a one-year hiatus, Rivers has gone right back to being a 4,000-yard QB (he has 4,048 passing yards with two games to go). Heading into 2014, Rivers (32) will have 2nd-year standout WR Keenan Allen and a potentially new young star at TE in Ladarius Green. In Chicago, the expected Marc Trestman effect has in fact been real. Had he not gotten injured, Jay Cutler likely would have set a career-high in passing TDs (Cutler’s career-best is 27 TDs in 2009 in his first season with the Bears) – Cutler’s per-game pace would have him at 28 TDs for a full-season. If Cutler had not been hurt he and Rivers would be nearly tied in fantasy points. The status of Jay Cutler for 2014 will certainly be very interesting as he will likely be the most attractive unrestricted free agent QB on the market. Sam Bradford‘s 2013 season ended on IR with an ACL tear and he leaves 2013 with an exactly even 49-49 win-loss record as an NFL QB through four seasons. Despite leaving 2013 with a 14:4 TD/INT ratio, there is some speculation from local St. Louis reporters that Bradford could actually be released by the team. That seems unlikely but you never know. Bradford is due $14M next year and the Rams has been arguably more efficient under journeyman backup QB Kellen Clemons and St. Louis has two first round picks this year (they have Washington’s 1st round pick in addition to their own). And then there’s Josh Freeman. Wow. This guy used to have some fantasy appeal? Released from Tampa after Week 3, Freeman’s partial one-year test run in Minnesota has produced nothing. He got one start in Week 7 and they saw enough after a 40.6 QB-rating game (he looked absolutely atrocious). Freeman had signed a one-year deal ($3M down the drain) with the Vikings and it seems unlikely that they will resign him in 2014.
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