Don't Forget About Ryan Fitzpatrick in Fantasy Football
One week ago, our own Jim Sannes published an excellent article titled "Matt Jones Is Terrible, Terrific, and Worth His Current Price in Fantasy Football."
It was an insightful read on Washington's running back Matt Jones, who had a forgettable year as a rookie in terms of a real-life efficiency standpoint. As the title stated, he was terrible. However, as Jim so aptly pointed out, much more goes into finding a productive fantasy asset than talent evaluation.
A not-so-good player can be a fantasy monster in the right situation (I'm looking at you, Blake Bortles), while an elite player can be dragged down by a poor supporting cast (2015 Aaron Rodgers owners can relate). Last season, Bortles ranked fourth in standard fantasy points among quarterbacks, while Rodgers finished seventh. While Bortles' actual ability as a quarterback has been argued extensively this offseason, even the most adamant Bortles truthers can't possibly believe he is superior to Rodgers.
Using the same school of thought as Jim, we're going to take a look at Ryan Fitzpatrick's fantasy outlook this year. While "Fitzmagic" does have one of the best nicknames among NFL quarterbacks, he is objectively one of the least efficient starting quarterbacks in the league.
The only real question is: do we really care?
Ryan Fitzpatrick -- Not So Good at This Passing Thing
Among many other below-average marks in 2015, Fitzpatrick ranked 29th in completion percentage, despite having receivers that can make catches like this.
That's not promising for Jets fans, but that's not exactly important for fantasy football owners.
Fantasy Football: Where All We Care About Are Points
The majority of Fitzpatrick owners last year likely weren't Jets fans, so they didn't care that he ranked 29th in completion percentage because the dude finished as a QB1, ranking 12th in fantasy points. Fitzpatrick was able to collect 31 passing touchdowns, while rushing for 2 more, in addition to passing for 3,905 yards. Both his passing yardage and touchdowns were career highs.
So, did he make a Fitzmagical (sorry) leap forward from a skills-perspective in his age-33 season? Given the fact that his completion percentage and yards per attempt were both the lowest marks he's put up in the past three seasons, it seems unlikely that an improved skillset was responsible for his drastic boost in fantasy production.
Could it be, perhaps, that he benefited from throwing to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, who have combined to average 2,342 yards and 22 touchdowns between the two of them over the past four seasons?
Touchdowns: Lots and Lots of Touchdowns
Unsurprisingly, passing touchdowns are the most highly-correlated stat to fantasy production for quarterbacks. So, should we expect Fitzpatrick to repeat, or perhaps improve on his 10th-ranked 31 passing touchdowns from 2015?
Well, in addition to having one of the best receiving combos in the league (Marshall and Decker's combined 236.9 Reception Net Expected Points, or NEP, led all other duos), Fitzpatrick's top two running backs are both pass-catching backs. Both Matt Forte and Bilal Powell topped 40 catches last season and ranked in the top 20 in Reception NEP among running backs.
Just having terrific weapons doesn't necessarily translate to gobs of touchdowns, though. So, what are some other indicators that Fitzpatrick could see tons of scoring opportunities this season?
In 2015, the Jets ranked 12th in pass attempts from inside the 10-yard line and 15th in pass-to-run ratio from inside the 10. This offseason, they replaced Chris Ivory with Matt Forte, which could result in a change in philosophy in the red zone. Last year, Ivory accounted for 38 of New York's 61 red zone rushing attempts, and he ranked fourth in rushing touchdowns from within the five-yard line. He will be replaced by Forte, who has been one of the worst backs in the red zone over the past two seasons.
Last season, Forte's 22.2 percent touchdown rate from within the 10-yard line ranked 13th of 14 running backs with at least 15 carries from inside the 10. For reference, the league average touchdown rate on rushes from inside the 10 was 30.3 percent last season. In 2014, his 20 percent touchdown rate from within the 10-yard line ranked 15th of 17 backs with at least 15 carries inside the 10.
It appears the Jets don't have an effective goal-line back, which means that they may have to lean more heavily on Fitzpatrick, who has been effective in the red zone. Over the past two seasons, only one quarterback has a higher touchdown rate in the red zone among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts than Fitzpatrick's 30.09 percent. That quarterback? Tom Brady. Fitzpatrick's 46.81 percent touchdown rate from within the 10-yard line is the highest among passers with at least 100 attempts during that span, and he has an unblemished 22:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio from inside the 10.
Fitzpatrick as a real life quarterback and a fantasy quarterback is pretty much perfectly encapsulated by his hair -- horrendous yet amazing at the same time.
Last season, he finished as a QB1, yet he is currently being drafted as the 21st quarterback in fantasy. Nothing has changed about his situation except that the Jets replaced a red zone workhorse running back with a pass-catching back. If Fitzpatrick ends up seeing more volume in the red zone this year, he could easily eclipse his career-best numbers from last season. At his current ADP, though, he doesn't even need to.