The first thing we need to admit when taking about Ravens QB Joe Flacco is that he isn’t elite. He’s probably not even great. … He is, however, passable enough to ride a hot streak and defense to a Super Bowl title. Crabcake Eli Manning, if you will. Compared to QBs with much steeper prices, I will lay out the case for Joe Flacco as a potential Top 10-QB in 2016.
Greatness, whether misconceived, perceived, or observed, doesn’t matter all that much in fantasy football. Aggressive coaching, pass-inducing game scripts, and reasonable efficiency are at the confluence of a high yield fantasy season.
See for yourself. Below is a chart of QB1 and QB10 scoring for 2006 through 2015.
Who left, or is primed to leave, the Top-10?
On top of the above, it doesn’t hurt if a few of the usual roadblocks kindly remove themselves from the equation. Take, for example, last year’s Top-10 QBs, ranked by standard fantasy points.
Several QBs, both inside and outside last year’s top-10, find themselves in shaky situations for the coming season. What situations do I see as fragile for 2016? I’ll highlight those I have in mind:
- Peyton Manning - Peyton’s freefall, timely retirement, and the Chernobyl of the Denver QB situation vacate one perennial Top-10 spot.
- Tom Brady - If we look at 75% of Tom Brady’s average scoring from 2011-2015, that puts him around 250 fantasy points, well shy of the Top-10.
- Blake Bortles - Reasonable reductions in TDs (25% to 26) and yards (12% to 3900) puts him around 260 points.
- Kirk Cousins - Barely nudged into the picture as it was last year, partly on the strength of five rushing TDs on only 26 attempts. Cousins also threw an incredibly low number of INTs (11), which I don’t believe is sustainable.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick - All he needs is to turn back into the pumpkin he was in HOU, BUF, TEN, CIN, etc.
- Ben Roethlisberger - A relatively inefficient player, who has played a full slate of 16 games only three times in his career, effectively narrowed down to one passing option… see where I’m going?
- Drew Brees - His efficiency and overall stats have tailed off slightly the last couple seasons. All that needs to happen in 2016 is for him to crater physically to miss the cut.
- Matt Ryan - He just needs to continue being himself, with the addition of a run-heavier scheme created by better game scripts.
- Tyrod Taylor - While I love the player, I’m unsure if he can sustain the efficiency he displayed last season. They should have more negative scripts than last year, as well, due to injuries all across their defense.
New, or returning, competition for Top 10-QB?
- Jameis Winston - I expect him to improve his efficiency and challenge for a Top-10 spot.
- Andrew Luck - Of course.
- Aaron Rodgers - You betcha.
- Tony Romo - Even if he can perform closely to 2014 efficiency, he’s not a lock for the Top-10 due to severely depressed volume (480-ish dropbacks)
Why does this mean Joe Flacco is poised for a Top-10 breakout?
It’s not necessarily the player himself. While he has a desirable skillset, it is primarily the factors surrounding him that will drive his performance upward in 2016.
History - Marc Trestman, Baltimore’s Offensive Coordinator, had a wildly successful (by their standards) 2013 campaign in Chicago. Despite an 8-8 record, and multiple games missed by Jay Cutler, his quarterbacks combined that season to rank:
- 12th in Script-Agnostic Pass % (60.3%)
- 13th in Close-Game Pass % (58.4%)
- 4th in QB Fantasy Points
- 3rd in First Downs per Dropback (37.1%)
- 5th in Pass Success per Dropback (47.7%)
Remember, Trestman is the mind that brought Josh McCown’s football-chucking corpse back to life. All it required was pass volume, two stud WRs, perhaps the best receiving RB of his generation, and a misunderstood stud TE. Those ingredients are already in place in Baltimore, with talent to spare.
In 2014, a nightmare of a year for Chicago, their QBs still managed to combine for QB13 scoring, behind even higher Pass % scripts.
Below are Game Script Split Plots for Marc Trestman’s last three seasons. I’ve chosen not to include his two campaigns as OC in Oakland due to how long ago they were.
Let me break down my Game Script Split Plots.
For these plots, the game script regimes are broken down this way:
Total Pass & Rush plays are in the title, along with the percentage of total timed offensive plays (Passes, Runs, Punts & FGs). On the x-axis, the relative percentage for each game script regime is shown. Visually, larger bars mean more plays, so you can quickly gather what scripts an offense faced when they had possession. Inside the gray boxes on each bar, you’ll see the number of plays (Pass or Run), along with the split percentage within that regime. You’ll quickly notice the two percentages don’t add up to 100%, and that’s by design - kicking plays (Punts & FGs) are accounted for, but not shown on the plot. I do this because I feel it’s important to recognize a coach’s tendencies to kick in game situations. Those percentages can also indicate an inefficient offense that requires more plays to convert or stall drives.
As you can see, Trestman offenses have leaned very script-negative, which is pass-positive for an offense. I’ll explain:
Trestman offenses, as you can see above, tend to play from behind much more frequently than ahead. For instance, the last Game Script Split Plot shows us that Baltimore played zero offensive snaps with more than a 14-point lead in 2015. That’s hard to do! Except that his 2014 Chicago offense endured the exact same circumstance. Coincidence? Probably.
What do these negative scripts mean, anyway? Let the colored bars tell the story. Dominant blue bars represent a heavy pass tendency. Trestman offenses tend to throw a lot, even in close games within a FG either direction. This leads me into my next point regarding Flacco’s indicators for a breakthrough 2016…
Script - Las Vegas projects Baltimore to win 8.5 games this season. I think that’s a little on the high side. I put their win total between 7-9 wins, depending on luck. I also believe that this team will play in quite a few shoot-outs, given a poor pass defense that boat-anchored them all through 2015.
In the past ten seasons, teams with 7-9 wins have produced this way:
I’ve highlighted in red the play and pace stats I believe Baltimore is in line for this season. Lastly, I’d like to point out the most positive indicator for Flacco, and that’s…
Surrounding Talent - Injuries destroyed the 2015 team. Midway through the season, Flacco was left with Kamar Aiken and not much else to target. Gaining back Steve Smith and Justin Forsett will help considerably. Buck Allen, as Forsett’s pass-catching counterpart, is an excellent chain-moving option. They’ve added a legitimate deep threat in Mike Wallace, and expect stud athletes Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams to produce this season.
Additionally, Flacco’s offensive line was excellent last season, ranking 2nd in DVOA for pass-blocking (3.8% Adj. Sack Rate). That unit returns mostly intact (losing Kelechi Osemele to Oakland this summer), and PFF currently projects them as the 13th-best OL in the league.
Are the smoke signals visible? I believe so.
I hope you find this a compelling case to more closely consider Joe Flacco as an ideal QB2 in your drafts. His current ADP of 106.3 (QB23) means you can get a potential Top-10 QB for literally nothing in your drafts. His upside, surrounded by blossoming talent, a solid offensive line, and playing under a pass-friendly playcaller, makes Flacco a probable 2QB league-winner in 2016.