Let’s get right down to brass tacks. In 2007 Ben Roethlisberger had 404 pass attempts and 32 of those resulted in a touchdown. That’s about 1 TD for every 12.6 attempts (I call this the Roethlisberger Ratio). How good is that? Let me put it in perspective.
In the past decade there have been only four instances in which a QB with 15+ TD’s has found the endzone with greater frequency than Ben last year (on a per attempt basis):
- 1998, Minnesota – Randall Cunningham was throwing to Randy Moss and Chris Carter.
- 1999, St Louis – Kurt Warner and the greatest show on turf.
- 2004, Indi – Peyton breaks Marino’s TD record.
- 2007, New England – Brady breaks Peyton’s TD record.
These were 4 of the greatest offenses of all time. There were
monster numbers for all the major players involved. The 2007 Pittsburgh Steelers… not so much. It wasn’t that Ben was just really adept at spreading the production around, it’s that the production didn’t exist. The big man had only 3154 passing yards and his top 3 receivers had 942, 732, 566 yards respectively. Not one of them had more than 8 TD’s.
Before I expound on Ben’s situation, I should mention that in the past decade there have been a handful of quarterbacks that have come
close to the Roethlisberger Ratio. In 1998 Chris Chandler threw one TD for every 14 attempts. He had 25 TD’s that year, but he never had that level of success (in terms of TD frequency or TD total) at any other point in his career. In 1999 Jeff George, while playing with the Randy Moss/Chris Carter freak show, had a 1:14 as well. But he played just half the year. He didn’t come close to that ratio in any other season. Other standout QB’s include Romo in 2007, McNabb and Culpepper in 2004, and Warner in a few different years.
Outside of Chandler (who, for lack of a better word, was a fluke), can you see the similarity here? All of these QB’s were playing with an absolutely
dominant receiver, and in some cases 2 of them. Moreover, these offenses were dominant as a whole. Now I’m not a master of deduction, but it sure seems that Big Ben is a lot closer to Chandler territory than the fortuitous situations of these other QB’s. Not that Ben is a fluke, he just doesn’t have the talent around him. His guys don’t have the scary red zone presence of Moss, TO, or even Fitzgerald. And they don’t have the crazy speed of the greatest show on turf. Really, Ben has just a solid group of receivers to work with. That’s okay. It just means that if he continues to throw so few passes, he won’t continue to put up a lot of TD’s.
Maybe you’re thinking that Ben doesn’t need an elite wide receiver. He doesn’t have to throw the ball all over the field in order to throw a lot of TD’s. Or maybe you’re thinking that completions are all that matter. Who cares about the number of attempts? Well, all of these things are true, at least when you look back over the season. But in the fantasy world, when you draft someone, you’re playing the odds. Or at least you should be. That’s why a receiver’s
targets are so important. You shouldn’t reach for a wideout who, each week, sees only 5 or 6 balls thrown in his direction. No matter how many TD’s he had in the previous season (see Williams, Reggie). Likewise, you want a fantasy QB that has a lot of attempts. Better odds of success.
In any case, when a player sees a
massive spike in his TD production without any change in his circumstances, you’re probably looking at an anomaly. Now if a guy can pull it off for a few years in row then it’s a different story. But after one season you should
never bank on it. Last season Ben was putting up TD’s on pace with the most freakishly talented offenses in NFL history. Doesn’t that seem a little off to you, since Pittsburgh’s offense was basically mediocre?
Look, if you think that Ben’s 2007 TD total is even remotely reproducible, you must assume that Ben made a
stupendous leap last year. Let’s not forget, he threw the ball 469 times in 2006 and he had only 18 passing TD’s (that’s roughly one TD for every 26 attempts, in case you’re wondering). This kind of jump is not indicative of an elite fantasy quarterback in the making. It’s indicative of a fantasy blip. I mean really, did Ben’s play change all
that much. The Steelers didn’t add an elite receiver that might account for the extra production (ala Moss/New England, TO/Phili). Their offense, while new in 2007, wasn’t revolutionary and it’s still based on ball control. Is it possible that Ben’s rise to fantasy prominence is reflective of his evolution as a QB? If that were the case you would see a
progression. Not a freaky jump from 18 TD’s to 32, and a passing yardage total that shrunk from 3513 in 2006 to 3154 in 2007. Here’s another angle: last season, with 65 less attempts than the year before, Ben had 14 more TD’s. This screams out “anomaly!”
But let’s forget about the numbers for a second. Just look at the situation. Roethlisberger is not a ‘gunslinger’. He doesn’t have that mentality. He’s not going to throw a ton of passes and he doesn’t have elite talent at receiver, tight end or running back. From a fantasy perspective these factors will make things difficult for Ben in 2008. For him to become a consistent mid level fantasy QB, Ben will have to throw the ball
a lot more (in the past 4 seasons he’s made 295, 268, 469 and 404 attempts respectively). Otherwise his numbers can only go south. This season you should expect Ben’t TD total to stay below the mid 20 range.
So, the smart money is on Ben being a low level fantasy starter this year. He’d be a great 9th round selection but you shouldn’t be reaching for him in the fifth. In any case, no matter where you draft the big guy, don’t expect the Roethlisberger Ratio to surface in Pittsburgh anytime soon. Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.