Monday - Jan 25, 2021

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What’s In A Name?

I recently wrote an article that explained why

Ben Roethlisberger won’t be able to duplicate his 2007 touchdown total; he doesn’t have the firepower at receiver and he doesn’t throw a lot of passes. A colleague of mine who had read the article disagreed with my conclusion. In fact he seemed downright perturbed that I had written such a thing. “You don’t understand”, he told me. “Ben is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s gonna have a

huge year”.

It then occurred to me that Ben is one of those players whose name is rarely mentioned in conjunction with bad projections. People just love him. They identify with him. He represents the ‘everyman’. When his name is attached to anything even remotely negative (after 2007, fantasy projections included) it causes people’s backs to stiffen.

So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll expand upon the 2 main points that underpinned the original article. This has nothing to do with Ben directly, so you can forget about him for a minute. In fact, imagine that you never even learned how to pronounce Roeth-lis-ber-ger. I’m just going to give you a couple of guidelines that’ll help you to steer clear of some QB situations that won’t be conducive to big fantasy numbers.  

Guideline #1 – Without the help of an

elite WR or TE, a quarterback that throws the ball less than 500 times won’t throw more than 25 TD passes

First, I guess I should define the term ‘elite’. I know that we all have an idea of what it means, but the word is bandied about so often that it seems to have lost some of its punch. I could use stat lines and superlatives to hone the definition, but I’ve got a better idea. Since we’re talking about elite

receivers, I’ll use a list of wideouts and tight ends that will give us the framework we need:

  1. Randy Moss
  2. Terrell Owens
  3. Jerry Rice (in his prime)
  4. Larry Fitzgerald / Anquan Boldin
  5. Reggie Wayne / Marvin Harrison (of past years)
  6. Isaac Bruce / Torry Holt (in their primes)
  7. Tony Gonzalez
  8. Antonio Gates
  9. Shannon Sharpe (obviously, while in his prime)

I think we can all agree that these are elite NFL receiving options. I shouldn’t have to explain why.

Now, here’s the interesting part. Without the help of one of the receivers listed above and without 500 pass attempts, only 5 quarterbacks in the past 15 years have managed to throw for more than 25 TD’s. And none of them did it more than once.

That makes 5 individual instances since 1993. It isn’t like 26 scores is some impossibly high plateau. It’s just a good solid number. Yet in order to get there, nearly every quarterback in recent history has needed either

dominant receiving talent or at least 513 pass attempts. In case you’re wondering, here are the 5 exceptions:

  • 1999 – Vinny Testaverde had 421 attempts/29 TD’s
  • 2000 – Rich Gannon had 473 attempts/28 TD’s
  • 2003 – Brett Favre had 474 attempts/30 TD’s 
  • 2004 – Tom Brady had 469 attempts/28 TD’s
  • 2007 – Ben Roethlisberger had 404 attempts/32 TD’s

    (OK… I had to mention him once)

Of course, you could make the argument that one of these 5 players actually did have an elite receiver; one that wasn’t mentioned on the list above. That’s not the point. I wasn’t trying to give you a comprehensive list. If you want to make the case that Tim Brown was an elite receiver, that’s fine. It only reinforces the issue. What I’m saying here is that a quarterback needs either

superstar receiving talent or at least 500 pass attempts in order to post 26+ TD’s. Exceptions are incredibly rare.

You can judge for yourself what qualifies as elite receiving talent. It’s not about stats or opinions. It’s about pure dominance. You know it when you see it.

Let’s move forward.

Guideline # 2 – You can only expect a QB to post really big numbers if he is playing with an elite wide receiver.

In order to illustrate this point, I’ll first have to clarify something. What kind of totals constitute ‘really big’ numbers? Well, I’d say that anything more than 28 TD’s and we’re entering really big territory. Short of that, regardless of the yardage, and we’re heading towards the rest of the pack. So, I’m going to give you another list of elite players, this time comprised only of wideouts (there are some duplicates from the list above):

  1. Randy Moss
  2. Terrell Owens
  3. Steve Smith
  4. Chad Johnson/TJ Houshmandzadeh
  5. Isaac Bruce/Torry Holt (in their primes)
  6. Reggie Wayne/Marvin Harrison (of past years)

Okay. Between 1996 and 2006, there were 13 different QB’s who put up 29+ TD’s in a season; 9 of these quarterbacks had help from one of these 6 WR options.

This probably won’t shock anyone. It makes sense. But there were 4 quarterbacks that

didn’t need that kind of help. Who were these guys? Well, one was Brett Favre. He was putting up 30 TD’s with the likes of Robert Brooks, Bill Schroeder and Robert Ferguson. He could put up 30 TD’s throwing to my grandmother. He is a pure gunslinger and one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Nuff’ said. The other 3 QB’s might surprise you, though. Here they are:

  • Steve Beuerlein – he tossed up 36 TD’s in 1999.
  • Vinny Testaverde – he threw for 29 TD’s in 1998, and 33 TD’s in 1996.
  • Jeff George- had 29 TD’s in 1997.

Outside of these individual seasons, Vinny never had more than 21 TD’s. George never had more than 24. And Beuerlein didn’t hit paydirt more than 19 times in any other year.

To put it mildly, these 3 guys were not upper tier fantasy quarterbacks. They were basically one-year fantasy wonders (except Vinny, who was a 2-year wonder). In those 4 seasons the stars were aligned. Or some prayers were answered. Or whatever. No one could have predicted that those guys would leap up the statistical charts in those particular years. Granted, Vinny Testaverde and Jeff George had some decent seasons. But, outside of those magical ones, you probably wouldn’t want one of those guys starting on your fantasy team.

So, fluke seasons and bazooka-armed NFL legends notwithstanding, I can confidently reiterate this point. If your fantasy QB doesn’t have an elite receiver by his side, his chances of posting big time numbers are basically zilch. Of course,

this doesn’t mean that every QB that is paired up with an elite receiver has big time fantasy potential. I’m not saying that at all. It depends on the situation. But without an elite receiver, forget about it. Better hope for a Beuerlein (my new word for fantasy fluke).

I know that I’ve thrown a lot of numbers at you. But when you put all of that aside, this stuff is really straightforward. Quite simply, if you’re trying to gauge a quarterback’s fantasy potential, there are 2 factors that you have to at least consider: 1) the number of times he puts the ball in the air 2) the caliber of his receivers.

This won’t change your evaluation of the upper tier quarterbacks. The QB’s that should be at the top of your 2008 cheat sheets all had well over 500 attempts last year. And they are all playing with amazingly talented receivers. It’s the middle of the pack that you have to watch out for.

Look at the number of attempts that these guys have had in the past. Evaluate their receiving talent. Most importantly,

forget about the name of the quarterback. It’ll only cloud your judgement. It’s the situation that matters, not the name.

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