Ed. Note: Chet takes a look at the performance of quarterbacks in 2015 against their ADPs and advises us on the ups - and downs - of notable signal-callers for the 2016 fantasy season.
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
As you can see from the chart above, you should have picked Cam Newton instead of Andrew Luck last season. Shocking, I know. Of course, picking any quarterback within spitting distance of the first round is folly, as picking a quarterback who will dominate enough to set you apart from the crowd is nearly impossible. But it sure helped to have that quarterback, who was Newton this season, and he was taken as the 11th quarterback, somewhere in the sixth to eighth rounds.
Should you have known that Newton would dominate or at least be a top quarterback in 2015? Well, he finished as the 16th-best fantasy quarterback in 2014, with two games missed due to injury. But he had finished in the Top-Four in each of the three previous seasons. His 2014 season maybe should have clued us in, as he was hurt Week 1 with a rib injury and couldn't play, and he then only rushed for two touchdowns in the first 12 weeks. Then he was in a car accident, which kept him out of another game. And in retrospect, it looks to have been an outlier, as he now has fantasy finishes of third, fourth, third and 16th during his first four seasons.
The biggest question going into next season will be his passing touchdown total. His 35 from last season does not fit in with his yards per attempt and completion percentage, which is a consistent predictor for touchdowns on average. Coming into this season, he had averaged 1.32 touchdown passes per game, whereas in 2015, he averaged 2.19. If we had seen a big jump in yards per attempt and completion percentage, it would be easier to just say Newton took a big step in his ability, but I do think there was some luck involved here.
But I can also say there was some luck in the touchdowns he had passed for earlier in his career, as his stats backed up a few more expected touchdowns than he had. So, in the end, I think we can say that his 35 passing scores should regress somewhat next season. Touchdowns are always tough to predict, but 45 from Cam in 2015 will be hard to repeat, but at this point in his career, there's no reason to think his rushing numbers are going to fall off exponentially and those help buoy Newton each and every week, making him one of the most reliable fantasy quarterbacks in the league.
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
This was very much a lost season for Luck, but it is true that his early season numbers were discouraging. Expectations that put Luck as the No. 1 quarterback off the board were born partially from the Colts acquiring Andre Johnson and, to a lesser extent, Frank Gore. Those veteran players, coupled with a nice young receiving group, led many to believe Luck had been given all the tools he needed to succeed. Unfortunately, both players were not all that good, the offensive line was a wreck and Luck may have been playing hurt longer than we thought. But let's not absolve Luck completely here. He made plenty of bad decisions and continues to be turnover prone.
I assume Luck will be behind Newton in ADP next season, and I can see that, as I currently have Newton ranked No. 1, but it's not a firm No. 1, and I can assure you I won't be picking Newton as high as his ADP will be. Luck will be poised to turn things around and his 40-touchdown season in 2014 is a worthwhile comp for a healthy 2016.
Tom Brady: The pissed-off Patriots mowed down opponents early in 2015, all on the arm of Brady. It truly was a devastating attack as Brady led all fantasy quarterbacks, including Newton, for the bulk of the season. It wasn't until injuries clearly had decimated New England's offense, that Brady relinquished the No. 1 spot.
Since 2005, Brady has been out the Top-10 fantasy quarterbacks just once (not counting his injury year). But he was first only once, and that was his insane 2007, when he passed for 50 touchdowns. The Patriots' offense is malleable, and that means Brady isn't always needed to put up big numbers. Much depends on if their running game is actually a short passing game or actually handing the ball off to someone. This season, the running game was very much a short passing game, as Dion Lewis and James White, both good receiving backs, were the team's most productive backs. We'll have to see what the team makeup looks like going into 2016, but there's a good chance it will lean toward the 2015 offense, and that means the old man should be in line for another good season.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
A-A-Ron finished last season as the seventh-best fantasy quarterback, but if you ask many of the people who drafted him how he did, you are sure to get some expletives thrown in your face. The preseason loss of Jordy Nelson, the lack of depth at the receiver position, a poor offensive line - exacerbated by lack of quality receivers - and an often gun-shy Rodgers toward the end, made for his worst season as a starter. And the trouble he and his team had in Weeks 15 and 16, the fantasy championships, put an extra hurting on those who drafted him (see Tom Brady in this category as well).
So, Rodgers had his worst season ever and was still the seventh-best fantasy quarterback. Since 2008, he has finished as the second-, first-, second-, first-, second-, 21st- (injury), first and seventh-best fantasy quarterback in the league. That's a lot of twos and ones. So what happens next season? Jordy Nelson will be back, but older and coming off a knee injury. The offensive line will be improved by Ted Thompson, I do not doubt that. And you would think the Packers would add depth at the receiver position. But 2015 does have me worried as to Rodgers' ability to continue as the de facto-No. 1 quarterback. I'm not concerned enough to drop him out of the Top-Three, but I very much want to see a healthy Nelson and some moves this offseason that will help Rodgers rise back to the top.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
Wilson was the only quarterback to finish the same as his ADP, but through his first nine games, that finish didn't seem plausible. Through those first games, he averaged a paltry 15.1 fantasy points. For comparison, Cam Newton averaged 23.3 for the whole season. But to finish the season, Wilson averaged a healthy 26.6 fantasy points over the last seven games. That is straight ludicrous.
So what happened? Coming into 2015 expectations were high, after a third-place fantasy finish in 2014 and the acquisition of Jimmy Graham from the Saints, but an injured Marshawn Lynch and the over-reliance on Lynch and the running game, seemed to keep Wilson's numbers, along with the entire offense, down. Amazingly, Wilson's surge came with Lynch and Graham getting injured. That led to a bigger reliance on Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, both of whom played extremely well, with Baldwin unbelievably so. This turn of events gives some hope that we might see this efficient passing offense in 2016, which would put Wilson as the clear No. 1 quarterback if he were to continue that blistering pace.
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Welp, all good things must end and Manning's fantasy dominance did just that. It was foreseeable to be sure, but he had been able to put up 39 touchdown passes in 2014 with noticeably deteriorated arm strength. That arm strength just kept going, and when you add in other ailments, you have one of the worst quarterbacks in the league statistically. If he happens to not retire, don't draft him.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jaguars
Bortles was an absolute steal as a late flier in 2015. His team was losing often and he had some good to great receivers, so he chucked the ball 606 times. Eighteen of those passes were intercepted and he lost the ball another five time due to fumbles, but the sheer mass of his attempts and the breakout season by Allen Robinson, carried Bortles to a top fantasy total. Will this happen again? Maybe, but there is a lot of fluidity in his range of outcomes. Thirty-five touchdown passes is a nice number, but it could be 25 next season and it wouldn't be crazy. I love Robinson, and Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas are nice pieces, but I'd like to see Bortles take another step forward and improve his efficiency, which is more bankable than garbage time.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Brees was close to his ADP, but came to his total numbers erratically. He had seven games over 20 fantasy points and eight under. The discrepancy in those numbers is even wider when you see that one of those games was a seven-touchdown effort against the Giants that netted him 44 fantasy points. Those great games almost always came at home, while the duds were on the road. This has always been a slight problem for Brees, but it was especially pronounced in 2015. That lack of consistency is concerning, but the fact that Sean Payton will return and Brees turned it on toward the end of the season is enough for me to stick with him in 2016.
Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals
I'm a little amazed that Palmer wasn't in the Top-20 for quarterback ADP. He was easily one of the higher upside fliers and someone like Teddy Bridgewater was not. Great receivers and a starting running back at the start of the season, who was more suited for third-down back, made it clear that the Cardinals' offense would be through the air. Of course, many were worried about Palmer's previous injuries, but here's a case where those injury concerns are unfounded, like many of those worries in fantasy football.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins
I was wrong about Cousins. His 19 interceptions through his first 14 games was worrisome, as was his 59 percent completion rate. Of course, this was always as a backup/starter, but even as the no-doubt starter in 2015, he started much like his previous three years in the league. Through the first six games, he had six touchdown passes to eight interceptions, but then he slowly started to come around, especially when DeSean Jackson returned from injury.
Was Cousins perfect? No. But was he a worthwhile fantasy quarterback? No doubt. Over the last eight games of the season, he averaged 275.6 yards passing, a 72.8 percent completion rate, two touchdowns, and just three total interceptions - after throwing eight in the first six games. Those are great numbers and show actual improvement. Of course, eight games don't make a career and there is also a good chance Cousins was playing over his head, as his biggest games were at home against some awful defenses, but there is hope here. Not enough hope for me to draft him, but hope.
Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals
Dalton took a huge step up in fantasy and real life numbers in 2015, but was hurt and missed most of four games. He had his best completion percentage and yards per attempt in his career, and with a full four more games, he would have tied or passed his career highs in yards and touchdowns and his low in interceptions.
The health of Cincinnati's offense was a huge contributor to Dalton's great season, as all his receivers, running backs and offensive lineman stayed healthy through the time he was on the field. It truly was a remarkable run for the Bengals health-wise, that is, until it wasn't.
Dalton is a solid quarterback, and with the right complement of players, he can be a fantasy asset, but it is a perilous line, because he's shown that he can't take a team on his back in the past. His upside was this year, but I believe that's the most we can hope for.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Jets
This was a perfect storm for Fitzpatrick, as he had a top offensive line, wide receivers and defense, as well as an effective running game. I'm not saying The Bearded One doesn't deserve praise for playing well, but I think we know who the Harvard grad is, and it's not a fantasy player you can rely on to win you a championship. Lighting may strike again, but you can only hope for a similar season to 2015, which I believe will go down as his best ever.
I really don't understand why you keep bashing the 49ers contracts. You have to overpay for guys when you have one of the worst rosters in the NFL. Beyond that, they have nearly $70 mill in cap space even after free agency, so what's the big deal if they overspend?