Throwing for 4,700 yards in a single season used to matter. We’ve seen it happen nine times over the last two seasons, but back in the day – the early 2000s to be exact – seeing a signal-caller toss the rock over two-and-a-half miles through the air during an NFL year wasn’t normal.
Rich Gannon was 11 yards away from doing that in 2002. Again, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to us now, but then, Gannon was on pace to set records. Gannon was the talk of the NFL. Gannon was, in 2002, like an older version of Aaron Rodgers to the National Football League.
How? How did this happen? How did a quarterback, in his 15th season of playing at the pro level, acquire this arm of an angel?
There’s a simple answer to that question, and that answer is now the head coach of the Chicago Bears: Marc Trestman.
Why Does Marc Trestman Matter?
Born and raised in Minnesota (sorry, Bears fans), Marc Trestman could be the best offensive mind that nobody knows about. His success with quarterbacks Bernie Kosar, Jake Plummer and Scott Mitchell should be noted, and when he coordinated the offense in San Francisco in the mid '90s, they were the best in the league in points scored.
But nothing compares to what he did with Raiders around the turn of the century. Nothing.
Our own Nik Bonaddio pointed out that the 2002 Raiders were one of the best 10 teams of the past 15 years. Passing-wise, their nERD score was an impressive 102.94 that year, scoring about 18 touchdowns more than an average team in a similar situation. Rich Gannon had plenty to do with that, but without Marc Trestman, that score probably wouldn’t have happened.
Trestman joined the Raiders in 2001, but didn’t become the offensive coordinator until 2002. Take a look at how the offense changed over that one season:
|Year||Adj PNEP||Adj RNEP||Adj NEP|
Oakland’s offense went from good to great after Trestman took over. Their adjusted passing net expected points increased, showing that they were more effective throwing the ball. And their adjusted rushing NEP did as well. They still ranked in the top five in 2001 in adjusted total NEP (keep in mind, Trestman was involved with the team as quarterbacks coach that season), but they jumped to number two the following season because of the increase in rushing and passing efficiency.
As fantasy footballers, however, what’s more important to us is how Trestman changed the way his players performed. The numbers below represent the 2001 to 2002 efficiency differences amongst the Oakland Raiders playmakers:
|Rich Gannon (QB)||2001||98.29|
|Charlie Garner (RB)||2001||15.57|
|Tim Brown (WR)||2001||106.34|
|Jerry Rice (WR)||2001||119.58|
|Jerry Porter (WR)||2001||19.43|
It appears that, when Trestman took over the offense, top receiver play decreased slightly, while targets lower in the pecking order stepped up. Quarterback play clearly got better, but the most significant jump came at the running back position.
So let’s look into that. Why did Charlie Garner become an Oakland legend in 2002? His total NEP, which is the number of points Garner contributed to the Raiders offense in terms of both rushing and receiving, was best in the NFL that season among running backs. Yes, Charlie Garner performed so well in 2002 that he bested fantasy studs Priest Holmes and Clinton Portis.
If you’re curious, here’s what Garner’s stat lines looked like from 2001 and 2002:
Plain and simple, Garner was better with Trestman running the offense. His yardage total increased dramatically, nearly eclipsing 1,000 yards on both the ground and through the air. And, more importantly for fantasy owners, he scored eight more touchdowns in 2002 than he did in 2001.
What This Means for the Bears
The excitement surrounding the Bears offense may not have hit mainstream media, but it certainly has made its way to fantasy circles. It’s caused Jay Cutler to be a potential fantasy sleeper, and Brandon Marshall to rise to the number two spot in many wide receiver rankings.
Is it warranted? Well, judging by our analytics, my feelings are mixed.
I genuinely believe Jay Cutler will be better this year than he has been in the past. Trestman has been a quarterback guru, and that shouldn’t change in Chicago. My hesitation in comparing Cutler’s potential in Trestman’s offense to Rich Gannon - as many do - is the fact that Gannon was still pretty effective prior to Trestman entering the equation. In 2000, Gannon still ranked sixth among quarterbacks in terms of passing expected points. He just improved from that already solid number when Trestman came aboard.
Cutler, on the other hand, has had a negative passing NEP in four of his seven seasons, including a -9.88 score in 2012. In other words, he's been a detriment to the Bears offense. Of course he should be able to improve on that number, but let’s take a step back and not automatically assume he can reach Gannon-type levels.
And while Brandon Marshall is a machine at receiver, I’m expecting his overall effectiveness to drop a little this season. It’s not to say we shouldn’t draft him as a top-5 pass catcher, but seeing the way Trestman spread the ball around in Oakland could mean more to Alshon Jeffery than it does to B-Marsh. [sleeper alert]
Lastly, and most importantly, Trestman’s presence should do wonders for Matt Forte. The Tulane back has already established himself as one of the best pass-catching runners in the league, which is a perfect match for the offensive-minded, running back-friendly Trestman. Garner ranked 16th in total net expected points in 2001, and followed that up with a top rank the next season. Last year, Forte ranked 23rd under the same metric. Could we see the same type of jump?
Forte's current average draft position sits at the beginning of the second round in most 12-team leagues. While the running backs ahead of him are certainly in a tier of their own, the Bears runner has to be considered at the tail-end of the first in PPR leagues with Trestman in town. In a worst case-scenario, barring injury, Forte should be able to finish as at least a high-end RB2 for your 12-team league squads.