Quarterback is deep in fake football 2013, and quarterback is complicated. You've got options here. You've got dynamic stories here. And you've got three Yahooligans (Brad Evans, Dalton Del Don, Scott Pianowski) who can't agree on how to rank three name players.
Let's meet at the lectern and try to sort this all out. Who's your man, Robert Griffin, Tom Brady or Andrew Luck?
Noise leads off: In another resounding victory for modern sports medicine, Robert Griffin III is on the verge of carving a similar ‘freakish’ path as Adrian Peterson. He’s ultra-confident, limp-free and changing direction without inhibition. Observers from Kirk Cousins to Yahoo!’s own Les Carpenter have marveled at the QB’s rapid recovery. Their conclusion: he’ll be under center Week 1.
The biggest question about RGIII isn't whether he'll receive a Panini Press for his wedding or when he'll be ready to take first-team snaps, but exactly how productive he'll be from the onset. He's openly expressed his desire to become a more cerebral runner, opting to slide or dive out of bounds to dodge defenders instead of sacrificing his body for an extra yard. Undoubtedly, his rushing totals will suffer, but already a very polished passer – Ben Roethlisberger is the only QB in league history to notch a higher completion percentage in his inaugural season – being anchored to the pocket could actually enhance his fantasy worth.
Last fall, Griffin averaged 26.2 pass attempts, a pedestrian total in a pass-heavy era. But because of Washington's need to protect its most indispensable asset, it's conceivable that number exceeds 30 in short order. The arrival of downfield weapon Devery Henderson and Fred Davis’ return will help. Toss in his remarkable accuracy, limited turnovers (20:5 TD:INT split in '12), strong arm (8.1 YPA in '12) and above average O-line, and he could throw for 4,000-plus passing yards and 25-30 TDs, making up for the possible 300-400-yard reduction on the ground.
Andrew Luck is the biggest threat in this debate. The arrival of Pep Hamilton and Ahmad Bradshaw are major plusses. However, another five rushing TDs seem unlikely. Brady, meanwhile, is dealing with almost an entirely new arsenal. Unless Gronk is available Week 1, which is a stretch, Stevan Ridley could become the centerpiece of the Pats offense. A 3,800 yard, 30-TD campaign is in the cards.
Gamers, if you want to shout with glee, draft RGIII.
D-3 runs the middle leg: Over the last two years, Brady has averaged 5,031 passing yards, 36.5 passing touchdowns and 3.5 rushing scores. Over the past three seasons, he has a 109:24 TD:INT ratio while getting 8.02 YPA. He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, and frankly, I’m a little surprised this discussion is even taking place, although I get why - he will be facing some challenges with a different cast on offense in 2013, as he might be losing weapons at a historic level.
But Robert Griffin is coming off major knee surgery, and Andrew Luck is coming off a season in which he completed 54.1 percent (51.2 in the second half) of his passes while getting 7.0 YPA. He’s an elite prospect very likely to improve moving forward, but it shouldn’t be underestimated that he’s also going to have to deal with changing offensive systems. In fact, Bruce Arians’ downfield attack couldn’t be more different than Pep Hamilton’s West Coast based system (although it should help he was Luck’s OC during the QB’s senior year at Stanford). And if we are talking about offensive weapons, it’s not like the Redskins or Colts are demonstrably better. In fact, if Rob Gronkowski returned to health, he’d easily be the best option among these three teams. The same might also be said about Danny Amendola (Pierre Garcon has looked terrific at times, but he’s playing with a damaged foot. Reggie Wayne will be 35 years old and fell way off during the second half last year, gaining just 520 yards with two touchdowns despite seeing 94 targets).
The loss of Brandon Lloyd could be addition by subtraction while younger options in Amendola and Shane Vereen could prove more explosive than the players they are replacing. It’s possible Gronkowski and Amendola remain injury prone and Brady is left with his most depleted WR corps in years, but quarterbacks make receivers far more than vice versa, and for those who say New England may run the ball more as a consequence, realize they had the second most rushing attempts in the NFL last season (and the most rushing scores), second only to Seattle, whose quarterback had 94 carries. It’s really beneficial to tie yourself to an offense that operates at such a quick pace (Brady’s 1,231 snaps last season easily led the NFL). I’m still willing to happily bet on the Brady and Bill Belichick combo regardless of what the Patriots’ receiving crew looks like on paper in July.
Pianow to close: Even if I don't sell you on Luck, I hope I can dissuade you from drafting Brady (and that's hard for me to say, given my New Englands ties). For all the sunshine thrown Brady's way over the years with regards to how he can succeed without star receivers, keep in mind he had ONE Top 5 fantasy season before Randy Moss showed up in 2007. Gronkowski's health is a major concern - no way I'm betting on 16 games there. Maybe Amendola fits the scheme well but they said all that about Lloyd and he was a flop. And remember Amendola has seven career touchdowns in 42 games and a YPC of 8.8. There isn't a monster upside with him.
Bob Griffin? Hey, I love him. We all do. Hope he's healthy, gamers. Hope he's still an aggressive runner, gamers. And be careful with the Peterson/Griffin comparisons, with respect to rehab - let's not confuse what's possible with what's probable.
The sleeper element to this debate is the quality, depth and upside of Luck's supporting cast. Speed merchant T.Y. Hilton (17.2 YPC), tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, and running back Vick Ballard are all entering their second year, along with Luck of course. Skill players often show tremendous improvement at this part of a career. And it's not like the Colts lack for quality veteran options - Wayne is still a terrific player, Darrius Heyward-Bey should be a strong No. 3 wideout, and Ahmad Bradshaw is a versatile addition to the backfield. If you think the Patriots or Redskins have this type of depth at their skill positions, you're kidding yourself.
I don't want to hear sharp talk about Luck's efficiency stats from 2012. Toss that stuff in the trash. The Bruce Arians offense was all about throwing downfield - no team completed less passes to its running backs. The Pep Hamilton scheme is a West Coast offense, quicker throws, less deep drops (and less physical punishment for Luck). When Luck and Hamilton were running an offense together at Stanford in 2011, Luck completed 71 percent of his passes. And there's a deep level of familiarity with the duo, given that Hamilton was Stanford's WR coach the previous year. This should be a high-octane offense in 2013.
My colleagues have too much faith in medicine, expecting miracle comebacks from Griffin and Gronkowski. Meanwhile, Luck is in a perfect spot to take the same Year 2 leap that Peyton Manning did in 1999 (he was fantasy's No. 4 quarterback as a sophomore). Hop on board.