No two years are ever the same.
That’s a motto owners, feverishly sorting through mountains of data prepping for draft day, should live by.
Regardless of position, it’s an incredibly rare feat for a top commodity to repeat as king of the fantasy castle. Since 2006, Calvin Johnson is the only player at one of the three major positions (QB, RB and WR) who refused to relinquish his throne in points per game (2011-2012). With that in mind, odds are strong perceived top dogs Jamaal Charles and Peyton Manning, who had a stranglehold on their respective positions last year, won’t match the previous season’s success. Whether in fantasy or reality, reigns are often cut short. Just ask Emperor Modi of the Jurchen Empire who, crowned while under siege in February 1234, was killed in a tussle with Mongols a whopping 12 hours later – the Matt Asiata of monarchs.
Sucked to be that guy.
Several familiar names, including Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and even Tony Romo, could usurp Peyton’s power atop the QB ranks this year. However one player, who’s underachieved massively the past couple seasons, has a great chance to carry a jeweled staff.
Bow down to Matthew Stafford.
While most have buzzed about Johnny Manziel, Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan, the Mustafa of the Motor City, a signal-caller who logged one of the greatest, most overlooked single seasons in NFL history in 2011 (5,038 passing yards, 41 TDs), is someone few are talking about. Maybe burned owners can’t get over the emptiness of the past couple seasons. Despite his ridiculous volume during that stretch (1,361 total pass attempts) and valuable resulting yardage (300.5 pass yds per game), the touchdowns simply haven’t been there (49), a puzzling outcome.
Blame bad luck.
From 2012-2013 Johnson was tackled inside the 5-yard line 11 times, easily the highest amount by a WR/TE during that stretch. Those missed opportunities turn into touchdowns and most owners wouldn’t feel skittish about drafting him at his current mid-40s average draft position.
Here are four reasons why you should be high on No. 9:
Weapons. Stafford might have more nuclear warheads than the Russians did at the height of the Cold War. Megatron is undeniably the league’s best downfield threat. His tender knee is a concern, but he played through discomfort often last year, finishing with 84 receptions, 1,482 yards and 12 TDs in only 14 games. Premier offseason acquisition, Golden Tate, is a superb underneath receiver who runs with the vigor of a bruising tailback in the open-field. A season ago his 55.2 yards after catch percentage ranked No. 1 among qualified wide receivers. Sure-handed RBs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, who combined for 87 receptions in 2014, are safety nets in the short-field. Sproles-like Theo Riddick could also provide a spark. Rookie tight end Eric Ebron, despite his occasional banana hands, is yet another field stretcher. Next to Denver and possibly Chicago, there’s no better all-around arsenal in the game today.
Offense. Gifted an embarrassment of riches, the Lions, under former Saints QBs coach Joe Lombardi, are expected to throw, throw and throw some more. From 2010 to 2013 New Orleans averaged 658.7 passes per season. Stafford is no stranger to burdensome volumes. He led the league in pass attempts in 2011 (663) and 2012 (727). When he "dialed it down" last year, he still chucked it 634 times.
Different from Scott Linehan’s attacking brand, Lombardi’s scheme will feature more movable parts and substitutions, designed to increase effectiveness, efficiency and aerial potency. Crosses and slants will be the norm, short routes that are bound to reverse Stafford’s downward trending completion rate (’11: 63.5, ’12: 59.8, ’13: 58.5). Nickel and dime-ing defenses will also open up the deep-ball game, an area Stafford underperformed in last year. According to Pro Football Focus, his 37.7 accuracy percentage on passes beyond 20 yards ranked No. 13. That’s borderline deplorable with the leader of the Decepticons on roster. The new system will help.
Improved Mechanics. At times last year, Stafford was disoriented and generally lost in the pocket. He often pressed making back-foot throws which fell short, or floated over the head, of an intended target. To solve his delivery issues, the Lions' front office brought in QB guru Jim Bob Cooter. His job was to improve Stafford's footwork and speed up his release. Head coach Jim Caldwell has also given him more pre-snap freedom. As evidenced thus far in preseason play (11-for-14, 106 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) , the results are very encouraging.
Shootout appeal. Projected defensive performance is probably the most overlooked aspect when projecting fantasy QB production. The looser the D, the better. With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley manning the trenches, Detroit's frontline is downright nasty. However, the Lions' secondary, annually near the bottom of the league in pass yardage allowed, should again thrust Stafford into several keep-up or catch-up situations. Corner Rashean Mathis was solid in pass coverage last year ranking No. 23 in the category. However, his tag-team partner, Darius Slay, was overly generous. Signal-callers posted a 118.1 QB rating on throws his direction in 2013. Starting safety James Ihedigbo was equally giving. A year ago as a Raven, he ranked No. 72 among safties in pass coverage.
Last Saturday, the former No. 1 pick looked like a QB on the precipice of a career year, albeit against an exploitable Raiders secondary. On two surgical drives, he guided his team to the end-zone both times, barely breaking a sweat. On the night, he was 9-for-10 with 88 yards and two TDs. And that was with Johnson in street clothes.
Bottom line, Stafford, no matter what some "experts" will tell you, is worth every penny at his 48.9 ADP (QB4) in Yahoo leagues. After consecutive disappointing seasons, he should finally return to an elite level. At a minimum anticipate close to 5,000 yards and 35-38 total touchdowns.
Hail to the (new) QB king!
Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise. Also check out 'The Noise' along with colleagues Andy Behrens and Brandon Funston for another season of 'Fantasy Football Live' every Tuesday-Thursday at 6 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.