By Chet Gresham - @ChetGresham
In the 2017 season, we saw a decline in passing stats after what seemed to be exponential growth in that department. Is this a correction that will continue or a blip on the non-stop drive toward more and more passing? I'd say it's a little of both. We weren't going to have exponential growth in the passing game, and teams are going to zig when others zag, and of course injuries never help. We are still in a passing league, but it's not the only way to win.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Aaron Rodgers was the No. 1 quarterback taken in fantasy drafts in 2017, and we all know how that turned out. Injuries just aren't predictable, especially for quarterbacks, who are well protected by the NFL rules. Anthony Barr's tackle that broke Rodgers' collarbone was a hit Rodgers has taken many times in his life, and this time, it took him out for most of the season. Rodgers was playing well and would have likely finished in as a top-three quarterback, so I think we just get back on that horse next season.
DeShaun Watson, Texans
DeShaun Watson averaged the most fantasy points per game for quarterbacks in 2017, which wasn't prognosticated by anyone in the fantasy community that I remember. Yes, some were high on him, but the No. 1 fantasy quarterback? That was a curveball from left field that Watson returned for a touchdown, or something. Watson was drafted with the 161st pick and 24th quarterback taken according to Fantasy Football Calculator.
Watson did his work both through the air and on the ground, which we know is the recipe for huge fantasy seasons from quarterbacks, but also can make them more prone to injury. Watson was injured in practice without contact, so we can't say his running had anything to do with his season-ending injury, but we do have to be somewhat cautious, as even truck-built quarterbacks like Cam Newton wear down after enough hits, which can really impact his total fantasy points. Watson could go much higher than he should in drafts for next season, but we do know his upside is elite. It also doesn't hurt that he has DeAndre Hopkins to throw the ball to.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Russell Wilson ended up as the No. 1-overall fantasy quarterback in 2017 and second to Watson to fantasy points per game. That's pretty good, since Wilson was the fifth quarterback taken in drafts and was picked in the sixth round on average. This was a down year for the top quarterbacks, but Wilson led the league in touchdown passes with 34 and was second to Cam Newton in rushing yards, with 586, adding three touchdowns on the ground. Wilson, along with his offensive line, was inconsistent, so there were more "down" games for Wilson that you'll usually find for the top-scoring quarterback. He ended up with five games at or below 15 ESPN fantasy points, but he also had 10 games go over 20 fantasy points. His rushing ability kept him from having truly awful games, but unlike Newton, Wilson would still be a strong fantasy player even if he didn't run as much as he does, as shown by his league-leading touchdown numbers. Even with a below-average offensive line, I expect Wilson to continue putting up top-five fantasy numbers.
Alex Smith, Chiefs
Alex Smith had the best season of his career in 2017, throwing for over 4,000 yards with 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions. The addition of Kareem Hunt and a full-time Tyreek Hill coupled with Travis Kelce seemed to allow the coaching staff to give Smith more deep throws. Even his secondary receivers like Albert Wilson and Demarcus Robinson showed great ability separating from coverage. So, what does Smith win for his great season? Well, it looks like his job will be going to Patrick Mahomes and Smith will be on his way to a new offense, where I doubt he'll quickly adjust and put up numbers like this season. I won't be chasing Smith's 2017 fantasy season.
Carson Wentz, Eagles
Carson Wentz was well on his way to leading the league in touchdown passes and fantasy points before he was injured in his 13th game of the 2017 season. There were some high hopes for Wentz coming into the season, but not quite that high, even by the most optimistic of prognosticators. On Fantasy Football Calculator, Wentz went off the board as the 18th quarterback, just behind Eli Manning and Andy Dalton. He showed plenty of ability in 2017, and the Eagles have a strong offensive unit built around him, so I expect he'll continue putting up good fantasy numbers, but I'll need to see him duplicate this year before I'm willing to draft him ahead of the old stalwarts like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady, but he will be in that top-five quarterback mix going into next season.
Drew Brees, Saints
Drew Brees broke his own record for completion percentage, with 72 percent of his passes complete, but also had one of his worst fantasy seasons ever. He had his lowest total yardage since his last season with the Chargers, his fewest touchdown passes since 2003 and his fewest attempts since 2009. Of course, those numbers still pushed the Saints into the playoffs because they had a more balanced team than in previous years. I really didn't notice a huge decline in Brees' ability, so I don't see him falling further in fantasy, he finished as the ninth-best fantasy quarterback, but we can't expect his numbers to go up either, unless the Saints' rushing game falters. With a strong offensive line and two great running backs in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and an improved defense, it's going to take a slew of injuries to push Brees back into his career norms for passing usage.
There were of course many quarterbacks who disappointed in 2017. According to average draft position, some of the worst perpetrators were Derek Carr, who was drafted as the sixth quarterback - there are too many Raiders fans playing fantasy - and finished as the 19th-best fantasy quarterback. Matt Ryan was drafted fifth and finished 15th. Jameis Winston was drafted seventh and finished 22nd. Marcus Mariota was drafted eighth and finished 18th. Andrew Luck was drafted 11th and finished, well, he never even started.
Marcus Mariota, Titans
Out of those disappointments, Mariota stands out to me. We saw him get on a top-five quarterback streak for eight weeks of 2016 before getting hurt. He also was hurt in 2017, but when healthy, he never showed that immense upside from 2016. In 2017, he topped out with a game-high two touchdown passes just three times, while in 2016, he had two touchdown passes or more in 10 games. I'm going to give him another chance next season, but I won't be drafting him as a starting quarterback.
Jared Goff, Rams
The biggest turnaround has to go to Jared Goff, who thrived under new head coach Sean McVay. A good defense and strong running game helped Goff and likely puts a slight cap on his upside as a fantasy quarterback for the short term, but we saw that even with a balanced team, he could put up big numbers against weak pass defenses. He consistently did so, with strong games against the Titans, Texans, Giants, Cardinals, 49ers and Cowboys. And if Goff hadn't sat out the Week 17 game, he likely would have put up good numbers against the 49ers again. Seeing him finish the season strongly also gives me some confidence moving forward. In the second half of 2017, he passed for multiple touchdowns in seven of his last eight games. All signs point to him being a useful fantasy player next season.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo didn't put up huge fantasy numbers, but he showed that he is capable of doing so and that he can be a good fantasy quarterback with very few strong play-makers around him. If the 49ers get some help in free agency, I expect Garoppolo to be on a lot of fantasy players' radars going into next season. I think I'll be one of those, because he showed me that he is a starter in this league and with Kyle Shanahan at the helm, I think Garoppolo's potential can be reached.
Josh McCown, Jets
There's a good chance that Josh McCown helped you in fantasy in 2017. He had shown ability in the past, but he has never been able to keep it going for a full season. McCown didn't do that in 2017, but the numbers he put up for a very bad Jets team were astonishing. McCown wasn't even drafted in most leagues and still managed to throw for multiple touchdowns and/or 330 yards in 7-of-12 games.
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