5 Big-Play Quarterbacks Who Could Regress in 2016
Back in my college days, I used to be a big-time partier. I loved to go out, go dancing, go to insanely packed concerts and generally just get wild. I thought I might like to go skydiving, I left school assignments until the last minute and then pulled back-to-back all-nighters to get them done. I made it work, and it was a blast.
Now, though, I’d much prefer to watch “The Next Food Network Star” with a nice bottle of wine and takeout for an exciting night. Adventuring every weekend just isn’t as interesting to me anymore as cuddling my cat.
I like comfort when it comes to plans, and I like comfort on my fantasy football teams, too. I’m not a huge fan of boom-or-bust passers like Blake Bortles or Jay Cutler, who -- sure -- could go off for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. They could also give up four picks in any given week.
That’s why I want to look at which fantasy players earned much of their 2015 value in the big-play department. We all love upside but not always the risk that goes along with it. These aren't players you need to avoid at all costs but ones whose statistical profile should put up a warning sign.
Which five fantasy quarterbacks could see their 2016 stock drop due to big-play regression?
First of all, let’s define the term “big play”. For our sake, a big play (some call it an “explosive play”) is any that results in a gain of 20 or more yards on offense. These plays are often fairly fluky, happening usually as a result of a broken coverage or missed tackle and don’t tend to be consistent year-to-year. For instance, there were 1,689 passing big-plays in the NFL in 2015, up 3.8 percent from 2014, which was 0.9 less than 2013, which was 4.0 percent more than 2012, and so on, and immense fluctuations happen for each team in specific.
I used the play-by-play search function of Pro Football Reference to pull up every passing play that resulted in a gain of 20 or more yards in 2015. By comparing their production on big plays -- in the form of completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns -- to their production overall, I was able to find what percentage of their production was due to a big play.
I then took only the quarterbacks who attempted at least 150 total passes last season (38 of them) and ranked them in each category. Those with the highest average rank are our “flukiest” quarterbacks and have a good chance to regress in 2016. The table below shows the average percentages of completions, yards, and touchdowns on big plays over the last five years, for reference.
|% of Total||14.85%||39.12%||34.24%|
5. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
|% of Total||19.01% (3rd)||43.59% (8th)||28.57% (19th)|
This one is somewhat surprising to me. It’s obvious that Carson Palmer is one of the stronger-armed quarterbacks in the NFL, but I didn’t expect him to be a big-play beneficiary to this extent. Wildly, about one in every five completions of his were on a big play, the third-most among quarterbacks. He also earned just under half of his total passing yards hurling the ball downfield, which is not a sustainable recipe.
A heartening thing for Palmer fans is that his rate of touchdowns scored on big plays ranks a solidly middle-of-the-road 19th out of 38. Given that he stays healthy in 2016, expecting around 35 touchdowns again seems to be fair. He also has a great playmaker corps around him, which certainly helps. The numbers put him on this list, but it’s very fair to consider him the least-risky regression candidate.
4. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
|% of Total||20.28% (1st)||49.44% (1st)||28.57% (19th)|
Welcome, Blake Bortles truthers, to the stark, cold reality: Bortles did a lot of great things this year, but he capitalized a ton on garbage time and big plays. He ranked first in two categories -- big play completion share and yard share -- and the only thing that prevented him from walking away with the title of flukiest quarterback of 2015 was an average touchdown rate from far out.
Don’t get me wrong: Bortles has a lot of good things going for him in his future, including incredible playmakers like Allen Robinson around him. Still, he had six passes alone for more than 50 yards each, which accounted for 407 of his passing yards. That is not sustainable play, no matter how you spin it. In fact, 12 of his 72 big play completions (16.67 percent) were in the fourth quarter of games where the Jaguars were down at least two scores. Garbage time is fluky, and so was Bortles’ deep passing.
3. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
|% of Total||17.04% (9th)||45.15% (4th)||47.62% (4th)|
Poor Jay Cutler. He has his first good year in a while, he can’t get any consistency because his general manager trades away his second-best wide receiver (Brandon Marshall) for table scraps, and every other pass-catcher on his team spends half of the year on the trainer’s table. On top of that, now we’re calling him fluky! Good thing he doesn’t care what we think because he was consistent only in that his big-play production per total production was top-10 across the board.
Cutler didn’t have a ton of completions on big plays, relatively, but he was in the top-five for most yards and touchdowns on plays on 20 or more yards. I understand that he was given the trust of offensive coordinator Adam Gase to go out there and sling it like he wants to but, boy, does that come with a big risk. Cutler has never been good at limiting picks before, and now that Gase is gone, we may see some gunslinging regression for Smokin’ Jay.
2. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
|% of Total||18.24% (6th)||43.64% (6th)||52.94% (2nd)|
Russell Wilson plays well in chaos. Russell Wilson is a legitimately excellent NFL quarterback. Russell Wilson also plays in a run-first Seattle Seahawks offense that played out of its mind in the air when their running game stalled out late in the season. Losing Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls didn’t make it easy for them to have a ground attack, and Jimmy Graham's injury meant the short passing game wasn’t going to be as controlled.
Wilson’s main fluke red flag is that ridiculous 52.94 percent big-play touchdown rate. More than half of his touchdown passes were from 20 or more yards out. Remember Doug Baldwin's insane touchdown scoring run this year? Eight of those came off of big plays. Eight of 14. Wilson made a lot of magic out of mincemeat this year, but we should not expect this same kind of production to repeat.
1. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
|% of Total||18.60% (4th)||47.51% (3rd)||70.00% (1st)|
Finally we reach the pinnacle of preposterous, the crème de l’crazy, Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor’s 2015 was his first NFL season as a starting quarterback, so of course, no one has told him yet that no one typically does the ridiculous stuff he did on the field. He was a dual-threat machine when healthy but without anyone besides Sammy Watkins and Charles Clay in his receiving corps. The receiver depth chart is fairly bare in Orchard Park, which is a big reason why Taylor’s statistical bottom could fall out in 2016.
In addition to that, he had an unholy 70.00 percent big-play touchdown share. That’s more than double the five-year average! That means that 14 of his 20 passing touchdowns came off of big plays, and there is very little chance that that repeats. Add in a whopping near-half of his passing yards coming from big plays -- whether it was after-the-catch racking them up or deep bombs -- and Taylor’s 2015 statistical profile reeks of regression.