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The Year After: QBs the year after positing 30, 35, 40, 45, or 50 TDs

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Published, 4/30/14

by Terry Herlihy, Special Contributor

 

Note: this article is based on a one-QB, standard-scoring league.

 

In the NFL, quarterbacks are part of scoring plays more than the other skill positions, and that’s a fact that won’t change, especially with more running QBs having success. However, even knowing this, there is a misconception when it comes to the consistency of the position. Many view the elite options at the position as stable with regards to fantasy football production, at least relative to other positions, but the numbers reveal a different truth. So what actually happens to “elite” fantasy QBs the year after they post 30 or more total TDs?

 

The following graphs represent those stud fantasy QBs who have posted 30 or more TDs in one season over the past 10 years, with their next season’s scoring total to the right.

 

Quarterback

2004 Total Touchdowns

2005 Total Touchdowns

P. Manning IND

49

28

D. Culpepper MIN

41

7

D. McNabb PHI

34

17

J. Delhomme CAR

30

26

B. Favre GB

30

20

 

Note: Culpepper and McNabb played in seven and nine games, respectively, due to injury.

 

Quarterback

2005 Total Touchdowns

2006 Total Touchdowns

C. Palmer CIN

33

28

 

Quarterback

2006 Total Touchdowns

2007 Total Touchdowns

P. Manning IND

35

34

 

Quarterback

2007 Total Touchdowns

2008 Total Touchdowns

T. Brady NE

52

0

T. Romo DAL

38

26

P. Manning IND

34

28

B. Roethlisberger PIT

34

19

D. Anderson CLE

32

9

 

Note: Brady was lost for the 2008 season in in the first quarter of the first game, and Anderson only registered 10 starts due to injury and a regressed performance.

 

Quarterback

2008 Total Touchdowns

2009 Total Touchdowns

D. Brees NO

34

36

P. Rivers SD

34

29

A. Rodgers GB

32

35

K. Warner ARI

30

27

 

Quarterback

2009 Total Touchdowns

2010 Total Touchdowns

D. Brees NO

36

33

A. Rodgers GB

35

32

B. Favre MIN

33

11

P. Manning IND

33

33

 

Note: Favre missed three starts due to injury in 2010, but still only registered 11 scores in 13 games.

 

Quarterback

2010 Total Touchdowns

2011 Total Touchdowns

T. Brady NE

37

42

D. Brees NO

33

47

P. Manning IND

33

0

A. Rodgers GB

32

48

P. Rivers SD

30

28

 

Note: Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury

 

Quarterback

2011 Total Touchdowns

2012 Total Touchdowns

A. Rodgers GB

48

41

D. Brees NO

47

44

T. Brady NE

42

38

M. Stafford DET

41

24

C. Newton CAR

35

27

T. Romo DAL

32

29

M. Sanchez NYJ

32

13

M. Ryan ATL

31

33

E. Manning NYG

30

26

 

Quarterback

2012 Total Touchdowns

2013 Total Touchdowns

D. Brees NO

44

42

A. Rodgers GB

41

17

T. Brady NE

38

25

P. Manning DEN

37

56

M. Ryan ATL

33

26

A. Dalton CIN

31

35

R. Wilson SEA

30

27

 

Quarterback

2013 Total Touchdowns

2014 Total Touchdowns

P. Manning DEN

56

?

D. Brees NO

42

?

A. Dalton CIN

35

?

P. Rivers SD

32

?

T. Romo DAL

31

?

M. Stafford DET

31

?

N. Foles PHI

30

?

C. Newton CAR

30

?

 

One thing to notice outside of the actual players and their touchdown totals is the rise in number of quarterbacks per year who post at least 30 touchdowns. The last three years saw 27 field generals score at least 30 touchdowns; by comparison, the previous seven years saw only 24. It is undeniable that more quarterbacks are crossing the 30-TD threshold than ever before. This then begs the question: while there is good depth at the position, is there an elite tier that separates the depth? Are 40 scores the new 30? More importantly, how can these stats best predict who will be in the “40-TD Club?” More to come on this…

 

The next graph breaks the quarterbacks into groups based on the touchdowns sored in a given season and the number by which they missed or surpassed their previous year’s total.

 

Touchdowns

30-34

35-39

40-44

45-49

50+

Totals

Number of Quarterbacks

24

8

5

3

1

41

Failed to Exceed

17 (71%)

6 (75%)

5 (100%)

3 (100%)

1 (100%)

32 (78%)

Failed by 10 or More TD

7 (29%)

2 (25%)

3 (60%)

1 (33%)

1 (100%)

14 (34%)

Failed by 6 to 9 TD

2 (8%)

1 (13%)

 0 (0%)

1 (33%)

1 (100%)

5 (12%)

Failed by 5 or Fewer TD

8 (33%)

3 (37%)

2 (40%)

1 (33%)

0 (0%)

14 (34%)

Same TD

1 (4%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

1 (2%)

Exceeded

6 (25%)

2 (25%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

8 (20%)

Exceeded by 5 or Fewer TD

4 (17%)

1 (13%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

5 (12%)

Exceeded by 6 to 9 TD

 0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

Exceeded by 10 or More TD

2 (9%)

1 (13%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

0 (0%)

3 (7%)

 

Note: the graph excludes 2013 totals as the 2014 data is “to be determined.”

 

Numbers don’t lie: even the statistically potent quarterbacks struggle to better their previous season’s scoring clip when coming off a particularly strong season. As you can see (and what shouldn’t be surprising), the best chance for a quarterback to score more touchdowns after a 30-score season than he did in the 30-score season happens when he posts 30-34 TDs, but that happened only six times over the last 10 years. And over the last 10 years, no QB to post 40 or more TDs has tied or exceeded his previous year’s TD total in the next season. The most consistent QB in this department has been Drew Brees, who twice has followed up a 40-plus season with yet another, but neither time did he reach his previous season’s total.

 

And unfortunately, it seems like QBs have as much of a chance to miss the mark by “a little” as they do to miss by “a lot.” Of the 78% of QBs who failed to surpass their previous season’s touchdown total, 34% missed by 5 or fewer TDs, 12% missed by a range of 6 to 9 scores scores, and the remaining 34% missed by 10 or more. Obviously, the large majority of the quarterbacks in this study were drafted the following season with the expectation to meet or exceed their previous season’s scoring mark, or at least come close to it. These expectations make the miss costly, as the fantasy owner likely overpaid from a value perspective when selecting a quarterback coming off a 30-plus TD season. The expectations and severity in value loss multiplies with the more touchdowns a respective quarterback scored the season beforehand. As this site is so fond of saying, it’s always prudent to take the “under” on a player coming off a magical season.

 

To ensure we don’t over-project QBs in 2014, let’s look at the qualifying signal callers from 2013 and give some statistical insight into their pending 2014 campaign.

 

Peyton Manning (Den, 56 TDs)

 

You might have heard that 2013 was a record-breaking season for Manning. He took full advantage of his outstanding supporting cast en route to breaking the single-season scoring mark for quarterbacks, with 55 passing TDs and even a rushing TD. But looking ahead to 2014, Manning lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno to free agency, but has Montee Ball and Emmanuel Sanders to help fill the void. But will there be growing pains? Despite Ball’s superior talent and the fact that RBs always produce with Peyton (just ask Dominic Rhodes), he has not proven to be as effective in pass protection as Moreno, and has some growing to do as a receiver. Ball also has a reputation from his time in Wisconsin as having a nose for the end zone, which could poach some TD opportunities around the goal line from Peyton. And certainly, Decker was an outstanding red-zone target and deep threat for Manning, so he will be missed, especially if it takes time for Sanders to acclimate himself.

 

Manning again has great weapons (Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas), but will be 38 years old next season and struggled to drive the ball down field last year especially as the season progressed. This made Denver susceptible to teams that played aggressive press coverage (Seattle) and took away everything underneath. The formula to beat Denver also saw teams like Seattle and San Diego establish a ball-control running game to keep Manning off the field. It won’t happen every week, but the blueprint to slow the Broncos’ potent offense is out there for the rest of the NFL to follow (executing that blueprint, of course, is another story).

 

But if you just skipped the previous two paragraphs, Occam’s razor tells us the simplest answer is sometimes the right one. And the simplest answer is that “56 TDs is absolutely ridiculous and it would be absurd to assume Manning can approach that mark with ease.”

 

Considering the above, there are enough “questions” surrounding Manning entering into 2014 that a decreased touchdown total in the upper 30s or low 40s seems most likely. That, of course, is still impressive, but not necessarily a slam-dunk first-round value at a deep QB position.

 

Drew Brees (NO, 42 TDs)

 

Brees has exemplified elite consistency the past nine years, finishing as the top fantasy quarterback twice, second-best three times, and never below seventh in that time frame. It is fair to call him the most consistent player in fantasy, and a very hard guy to bet against from a production standpoint. And as we established above, he’s one of only two QBs in this study who followed up a 40-TD season with another (he did it twice). And for 2014, the Saints have another emerging receiving weapon in Kenny Stills to further antagonize defenses. 

 

But consider this: Marques Colston showed signs of regression in the first half of 2013 and never got the type of separation necessary for Brees to target him with the same confidence he did in the past. Gone are perennial safety valves Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. Jimmy Graham, the Saints best receiving threat and the NFL’s biggest mismatch, could potentially hold out (as of publication in late April, he had yet to sign his franchise tender or a contract extension). History suggests Brees will still put up QB1-worthy numbers, but the warning signs for a drop-off are there. It’s certainly possible he’s overvalued on draft day.

 

Andy Dalton (Cin, 35 TDs)

Did you have to do a double take when you realized Dalton had 35 touchdowns in 2013? And did you know he had 31 in his second season in 2012? Or even 21 as a rookie in 2011? That’s a lot of touchdowns for a guy many have said at times is holding the Bengals back (your author included). But despite the inconsistency, 66 scores over the last two seasons is quite impressive. Enter 2014, and the Bengals’ offensive supporting staff for Dalton remains formidable. Superstar A.J. Green and the talented, up-and-coming Marvin Jones are a great one-two punch at wide receiver. Gio Bernard is primed to take off this year and is one of the better receiving running backs the NFL has to offer.

 

But the pass-happy Jay Gruden is now gone to Washington (RG3 anyone?) and run-game guru Hue Jackson takes over as the Bengals’ new offensive coordinator. Jackson held the same role for the Redskins in 2002, Falcons in 2007, and Raiders in 2010. In those three years, his quarterbacks averaged just 19 touchdowns per season. Carson Palmer and Jason Campbell combined for 22 scores for the Raiders in 2011, a high for any Jackson-coordinated team. The Red Rifle should have enough firepower to top that, but Dalton’s inconsistency and Jackson’s history suggest it’s a stretch to expect him to reach his 35-TD mark from last season. Get ready for some ball-control offense in the Queen City, as Jackson attempts to limit Dalton’s mistakes and inconsistency while letting the Bengals’ talented defense set the tone. These factors could demote Dalton to the ranks of QB2, and despite his high finish last year, he probably should not be drafted as a starter in re-draft leagues.

 

Philip Rivers (SD, 32 TDs)

 

2013 was a return to glory for Rivers, as he side-armed 32 scores and exceeded everyone’s expectations. Rookie sensation Keenan Allen is back, Ladarius Green has the skill set to be a difference maker at tight end, and Danny Woodhead is one of the league’s best receivers out of the backfield. Despite this, the feeling in San Diego for 2014 is that the Charges will employ the same ground-and-pound attack that baffled the division-winning Broncos and spurred a late-season playoff run (remember, they added Donald Brown to the backfield, to supplement Woodhead and Ryan Mathews). Still, Rivers found ways to put up numbers while the Chargers ran the ball more, and still has the firepower to have a touchdown total in the upper 20s next season, perhaps putting up low-end QB1 numbers. Anything before the late middle rounds of next year’s drafts would likely be too early, but it still feels like fantasy players are sleeping on Rivers or writing off his 2013 season. He’s an underrated player with good receivers and great coaching, as he proved last season.

Editor’s note: We should point out that we rated Rivers’ schedule as top-5 against the pass in 2013 but bottom-10 in 2014.

 

Tony Romo (Dal, 31 TDs)

 

A poor man’s Drew Brees in terms of consistency, Romo has put up at least 26 TDs all but once since 2007, and the one exception came in 2010 when he broke his collarbone. In 2013, Romo’s role as the poster-boy of low-end QB1s continued, as he registered 31 TDs and tied for 10th among fantasy QBs. Now, enter 2014, and enter new “passing-game coordinator” Scott Linehan. As such, enter the potential for Romo to take a step up into the upper tier of QB1s.

 

While in Detroit, Linehan’s offenses attempted 3258 passes from 2009 to 2013 (A ridiculous 651.6 pass attempts per year, including Matthew Stafford’s record-setting 727 attempts in 2012). By comparison, the Cowboys attempted 2940 passes over the same span (588 pass attempts per year). Over the last five years, Linehan’s Lions never attempted fewer than 585 passes (2009). Only twice have the Cowboys topped that – with 586 in 2013 and 658 in 2012. And we don’t think the Cowboys are hiring Linehan and asking him to change his stripes at the same time.

 

Over his career, Romo has thrown a touchdown every 18.30 attempts. Should Romo attempt 650 passes, which would put him at Linehan’s average over the last five seasons, the same TD rate would put him at 36 passing TDs in 2014. Heck, if Romo throws “only” 600 passes, something he’s only done once in his career (2012), a consistent TD rate would put him at 33 TDs. He’s also an occasional threat to run one in around the goal line. Terrance Williams should also provide a boost, as he gives the Cowboys a legitimate threat opposite Dez Bryant, and expect RB DeMarco Murray to be involved quite a bit as well, looking at Linehan’s history with pass-catching RBs. All things considered, Romo is a good bet to top 30 TDs in 2014 if he’s healthy. As per usual, he should provide solid mid-round value for those waiting on the QB position.   

 

Matthew Stafford (Det, 31 TDs)

 

It’s fitting that we just covered Scott Linehan in the blurb above. What effect will his absence have on Stafford’s TD totals? Be careful to overestimate that. Stafford’s new coach, Jim Caldwell, spent most of his career with Peyton Manning. And his new offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, spent most of his career with Drew Brees. In other words, Stafford and the rest of the Lions’ offense should be in good hands, at least statistically. Also, for the first time ever, Stafford has a bona fide #2 receiver in Golden Tate to line up opposite Calvin Johnson. Tate brings some of the best – and previously underutilized – hands in the NFL to Detroit. Making this signing even sweeter for Stafford, the Lions led the NFL in drops in 2013 with 58, something Tate should immediately help rectify. Stafford had 41 scores in 2011, but has not come close to that total since. The new staff and new additions to his roster should provide him with every chance possible to come close to his career highs, and is a quarterback to target in the early middle rounds of re-drafts.

 

Editor’s note: Especially if they draft another impact receiver (TE included) in the 2014 draft.

 

Nick Foles (Phi, 30 TDs)

 

In 2013, Chip Kelly proved his system could flourish in the NFL by leading the Eagles to the playoffs in his first season. Additionally, both Eagle quarterbacks who got significant playing time were fantasy studs when on the field. Indeed, Foles and Michael Vick combined for 415.4 fantasy points, an average of 25.9 FPG, which would have ranked them third among all QBs this year. Individually, Foles had 30 scores in 11 appearances. Over 16 games, that would put him between 43 and 44 TDs. However, the well documented loss of his most prolific pass catcher, DeSean Jackson, takes some of the luster off Foles in 2014. He does still have Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, but neither possesses the same downfield playmaking ability as Jackson.

 

One would think the Eagles will address this by targeting a wide receiver early in the draft, but even if they don’t, LeSean McCoy and promising tight end Zach Ertz are still key playmakers for Philadelphia. The Eagles also acquired Darren Sproles, one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL. Kelly is a master at maximizing offensive potential and efficiency (the Eagles were actually 27th in pass attempts in 2013), and he gets his playmakers in space. As the quarterback, Foles could easily see his touchdown total hit the mid 30s. Foles remains a solid selection in the middle rounds, and it’s possible that the loss of Jackson knocks some of the luster off of him, allowing him to fall a little bit.

 

Cam Newton (Car, 30 TDs)

Since entering the NFL three years ago, Newton’s never been below 6th in our site-default scoring system among QBs (and 5th among QBs who started double-digit games). And he’s a unique fantasy asset – through three seasons, Newton has 28 scores on the ground and 64 through the air. As you might expect, Newton has also been hit more than any other quarterback in the NFL over the same span (353), according to ESPN Stats and Info. So much of Newton’s success is tied to his legs. While he has been nothing short of outstanding in that department, his rushing touchdown total has dropped every year – 14 as a rookie, 8 in 2012, and 6 in 2013. Also consider that Cam recently underwent ankle surgery that, conservatively, will keep him out until training camp. Given the state of the Panthers’ WR corps as of publication time, it’s easy to consider this a major setback. Heck, even with a receiver or two added in the draft, it’s hard to envision a ton of scores from this group.

 

And you can argue that the offensive line is worse off than the Panther wide receivers, as they look to replace four out of five starters from last season. 2014 looks like it will be a step back for Cam given his annually robust rushing total trending downward, lack of weapons, and the Panthers’ reliance on their now dominant defense. Newton will need to prove he’s healthy, get even more weapons, and overall improve his game to approach his elite fantasy standing yet again. It’s going to be a challenge, and we wouldn’t argue against letting someone else draft Cam at this point if he goes in the early mid rounds.

 

Conclusion

 

Looking at all factors, the calculations in this study suggest five of last year’s eight 30-TD quarterbacks will not exceed their touchdown totals from 2013 (62.5%). Three of those five will not surpass 30 scores, opening up some room for three to five new QBs to enter the “elite” tier. Some obvious candidates include, but aren’t limited to, a healthy Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan bouncing back with Roddy White and Julio Jones on the field for a full season, Jay Cutler in yet another year under Marc Trestman, and Robert Griffin III under Jay Gruden and with DeSean Jackson added to the fold.

 

Overall, it looks like 2014 will continue to see a high number of quarterbacks top the 30-touchdown threshold, with a small number capable of reaching 40. And these numbers certainly make it look like a very early selection on a QB is a risky proposition, especially if you’re expecting a repeat of a super-elite season. In other words, this season should see the QB1s even closer together from a numbers standpoint. Be ahead of the curve and capitalize on using the past to profit in the future – you don’t get points for last season’s accomplishments.

 

FantasyGuru.com managing editor Joe Dolan edited and contributed to this article.

 

 

 

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