Once the big three — Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees — are crossed off your cheat-sheet, owners seeking a QB will be faced with a tough decision: Matthew Stafford or Cam Newton? In this episode of The Docs, Brad Evans and Dalton Del Don decide which passer has the best odds of leading you to the winner's circle. Read. Ponder. React.
The Noise drives the Stafford love-train — There is little chance at their stages on the career arc Stafford and Newton will suddenly fall off into an abyss. The former No. 1 picks are young, insanely talented and the centerpieces of their respective offenses.
However, for the sake of this exercise, the Lion is the king of the jungle.
Detroit's domed environment and team structure is engineered perfectly for Stafford. He has the league's deadliest vertical weapon, Calvin Johnson, and a bevy of other above average targets, including buzzy Titus Young, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew. Without Jahvid Best potentially for the first several weeks of the regular season and due to Mike Leshoure's inability to stave off injury and his affinity for the wacky tobacky, the ground game remains in flux. Kevin Smith is suitable, but without a consistent, ultra-reliable rushing attack, Jim Schwartz will again lean on Stafford's arm. Detroit's suspect secondary, one of the NFL's worst last year, also lends credence to another 600-plus passing attempts. And don't play the "fragile" card. He emerged from 2011 unscathed. His shoulder problems are in the past.
Overall, it's clear the Lions will be a pass-first, pass-often club this year. Severe regression isn't likely for Stafford. Assuming his YPA hovers around 7.5 again this season, he should come close to matching the historic production he notched in 2011. Recall his 5,016 passing (41 TDs) yards was the fifth-most prolific passing season in NFL history. You're stealing him in Round 2 (12.4 ADP, QB4).
Newton was absolutely fabulous in his rookie season. His draws at the goal-line were unstoppable, even when defenses knew it was coming. Of course, it's probable he won't replicate the 14 ground scores achieved a season ago, but his value won't fall off the cliff. Still, Stafford's arsenal, pocket polish and pass-happy system give him the slight edge.
After the turn, hand the keys to the Motor City's newest madman.
3D shouts "Wham, bam, thank you Cam!" — In most leagues, the numbers Newton put up last season in fantasy terms were equivalent to 5,571 passing yards with 42 TD passes. It's fair to expect his 14 rushing touchdowns to regress, but he's 6-5, 245 and had 12 rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line last year, which is the same amount as Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch and twice as many as Steven Jackson. Newton converted eight of those carries for scores, making him the NFL's best goal-line runner last year. It's always possible the Panthers change philosophies and certainly have the backfield to compensate, but nine of Newton's rushing TDs came from six yards or fewer and 13 came from 16 yards or fewer, so last year's performance doesn't exactly scream fluke.
After averaging 299.1 passing yards over the first eight games, Newton got just 207.3 over the second half of the year. While defenses made adjustments, it's still incredibly impressive that such a raw rookie coming from a very un-pro system in college with a short training camp got 7.8 YPA during his first year as a pro. Historically, the biggest improvement in quarterbacks happens from year one to year two, which should only be magnified with a full offseason this time around.
I like Matthew Stafford and think he'll improve his efficiency stats this season, but it has to be noted he attempted 663 passes last year - third most in NFL history. That simply can't be counted on happening again, and let's not totally disregard the fact Stafford missed 19 games over his first two years in the league before staying healthy for the first time ever last season.
In a division featuring Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, Carolina should be in a ton of shootouts, and the Panthers' bad defense is actually a good thing for Newton's fantasy owners. Newton is a special talent who just broke NFL records during his first year in the league, and especially because of his rushing ability, he has the upside to finish as the No. 1 overall fantasy player in 2012.
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