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A Case for Cutler

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by Mike Horn, Statistical Analyst

Published, 7/1/14 

Ask yourself: where do you rank Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery among this year’s fantasy WRs?

 

I think the common answer is both are top-15 fantasy WRs for 2014. Guru’s projections have them #5 and #12. Their ADPs are WR5 and WR9, so conventional wisdom has them at Top-10 wideouts.

 

Now, where do you rank Jay Cutler?

 

I don’t think I’m stretching to suggest that the answer on Cutler would probably place him outside the Top 12 (“Starting QBs”) in most fantasy players’ minds. Guru has him right at #12, and his ADP is QB14.

 

Editor’s note: We have Cutler 12th with an upside designation, which means we believe he has the upside to finish considerably higher. Were it not for his durability issues, he would be projected higher.

 

Do these two things go together? Isn’t it more likely that:

 

a. The two WRs will be studs and therefore Cutler will be a fantasy starter, or…

b. Cutler will be a marginal starter or fantasy backup and at least one of the WRs will disappoint?

 

Since 1988, 51 different times teams have had two different WRs rank in the Top 15 at the position (total points, standard 10 yards = 1 FP, TD =6 FP, non-PPR scoring).

 

Here’s how the QBs on those teams finished in total FP (25 yards = 1 FP, pass TD = 4 FP):

QB Rank

# of times

1

7

2

5

3

3

4

2

5

8

6

6

7

3

9

3

12

1

13

2

14

2

Out of Top 15

9

Total

51

Breaking that down into manageable categories:

Starter
Category

% Finish

High-end

61%

Low-end

14%

Marginal

8%

Bench

18%

On teams with two Top-15 WRs, over 60% of the time their QB was a Top-6 fantasy QB and another 14% of the time he was a “Starter” (i.e. ranked 7th thru 12th). That could be read as such: 75% of the time QBs who had two “stud” WRs outperformed Jay Cutler’s current ADP of QB14, 61% of the time by a wide margin. That seems like a smart pick to me. 

Notice another 8% of the time, those QBs were at least “Marginal” starters, meaning they ranked 13th or 14th (or if Cutler’s case, at least matched his draft position).

 

Now 18% of the time, the QBs in this study underperformed Cutler’s current ADP, which obviously is disappointing. But I have to say that if I matched or exceeded the cost I had to pay for a player 82% of the time, I’d win a hell of a lot of fantasy football titles.

 

As a side note, three times a team has had three Top 15 WRs. The QBs in those instances were either #1 or #2 in the final rankings (Peyton Manning in 2004, Warren Moon in 1990-1991).

 

I know the knock on Cutler is that he gets hurt. In fact, he was in that 18% last year, as he was QB23 in total FP. And that’s absolutely a fair criticism. But if you had his backup Josh McCown, who cost nothing at the draft, you did pretty well most weeks anyway.

 

Here’s how the Team QBs (meaning all QBs from a given team, not just the main starter) ranked in FPG when they had two Top-15 wideouts:

Tm Rank (QB FP)

# of times

1

8

2

9

3

3

4

5

5

5

6

6

7

4

8

4

9

2

11

1

12

1

Out of Top 12

3

Total

51

Starter
Category

% Finish

High-end

71%

Low-end

24%

Marginal

0%

Bench

6%

95% of the time, teams with two top fantasy receivers ranked in the Top-12 of QB fantasy scoring.

 

Now, you can still get hosed on weeks when Cutler gets hurt, so this approach is not risk free. The best counter to my argument here (to avoid being obtuse, part of that argument is to draft Cutler) is that last year this may not have worked. Jeffrey and Marshall were WR11 and WR5 in standard scoring leagues and Cutler was QB22 in points per game, with Josh McCown at QB17. They were hurt by sharing time in a few of games, which brought their averages down. In the weeks McCown started, he was the equivalent of the seasonal QB2. In the weeks where Cutler started and didn’t get hurt, he would have ranked as the QB4. Even including games in which he played decently but got hurt and didn’t finish (the second Detroit game, for example), he was QB7. It was the Washington game that pulled down his season’s FPG average because he got hurt very early.

 

Maybe the risk for you is too high, you’re tired of being burned by Cutler’s injuries and myriad disappointments, and I can see that. But if you can get him as the 12th to 14th QB off the board, take a loss one week when he gets hurt, risk not getting his backup on waivers, and have a probable Top-6 QB, why wouldn’t you do that?

 

Now if his ADP were QB10 or better, I’d be more cautious. The risk in that instance is less justifiable, so I’m not saying to draft him at any cost. But if you’re convinced that Marshall and Jeffery are Top-15 guys, then I think you have to be bullish on Cutler (part two of my argument).

 

But if you think Cutler, especially if he’s healthy, is not a Top-12 QB, then I think you should question whether or not Marshall and Jeffery can again finish as Top-15 wideouts (third and final argument). It’s unlikely it will happen both ways.

 

3,701 people wish they still made Flutie Flakes.

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