The Vikings' quarterback seemed to regress in his second season. Did that tell us more about the player, or the Minnesota offensive scheme?
26 Jul 2010
by Bill Barnwell
Our Wisdom of Crowds feature returns for a second season, starting today. For those of you who are unfamiliar, we use my Twitter account to crowd-source fantasy projections for the upcoming season. You can read an explanation of the idea's origin from a year ago here.
This year, we won't be making any changes. Starting with quarterbacks, I'll nominate one player a day for predictions. The Twitter followers then provide three statistics for the player in question, assuming that the player makes it through a 16-game season without missing time. (I throw out those submissions that I consider to be disingenuous; it amounts to one or two per player.) For quarterbacks, those statistics include passing yards, touchdowns, and interceptions.
For each player, I'll provide an average projection from the users, a best- and worst-case projection in each category, and some thoughts on the likelihood of the player matching said projection.
I started with the most prominent quarterback to change teams this offseason.
Monday: Donovan McNabb
Average: 3,406 passing yards, 22 TD, 13 INT
Maximum: 4,180 passing yards, 31 TD, 7 INT
Minimum: 2,500 passing yards, 11 TD, 20 INT
Since we started with McNabb, he got about twice as many responses as any other player. It led to a wide range of responses. 11 touchdowns seems like a ridiculously low minimum projection, so you might want to consider the next-best projection -- 15 -- as the floor. There's only been nine seasons over the past 20 years in which a quarterback started 16 games and threw 11 touchdowns or less; Trent Dilfer threw an appalling four touchdowns in a full slate of games in 1995, which blended well with his 18 interceptions.
McNabb has averaged just under 3,925 passing yards per 16 games over the past three seasons, so it's pretty clear that the public expects his numbers to decline with inferior receivers and a questionable offensive line. Only three percent of the projections called for McNabb to throw for more than 3,925 yards. His touchdown total is right in line with his previous level of play, though, and his interception rate is only slightly higher. His maximum projection would be the best line of his career, which seems downright impossible at 34.
I think this is a wholly reasonable average projection. Of course, projecting McNabb to make it through 16 games is a dangerous bet, but we can pro-rate his numbers if he doesn't make it to 16 games at the end of the year.
Tuesday: Tom Brady
Average: 4,164 passing yards, 30 TD, 13 INT
Maximum: 4,800 passing yards, 42 TD, 7 INT
Minimum: 3,200 passing yards, 24 TD, 19 INT
This is basically an expected repeat of Brady's 2009 season, when he threw for 4,398 yards and 28 TD against 13 INT. It's a difference of 15 yards per game. We've written about how Brady faced an extremely difficult slate of pass defenses a year ago, one that he's not likely to face this year. Brady should also be a little healthier with another year removed from his knee injury. Then again, Brady also had Wes Welker at 100 percent for most of last season, and while Welker appears set to return at the beginning of the season, it's hard to imagine that he'll be the same player he was in 2007-2009, at least at first.
What does that all add up to? I think it's hard to say without knowing how healthy Welker's knee is. I would think that Brady beats that average yardage prediction and probably ends up around 4,400 yards again. That minimum prediction would sure make his contract negotiations interesting, though.
Wednesday: Matt Schaub
Average: 4,218 passing yards, 29 TD, 15 INT
Maximum: 4,904 passing yards, 43 TD, 8 INT
Minimum: 3,250 passing yards, 22 TD, 20 INT
Remember: Matt Schaub threw for 4,770 yards a year ago. Only 11 percent of respondents expect him to hit that total again or exceed it, a sign that the people following a Football Outsiders account on Twitter might be a little more comfortable with the concept of regression to the mean than a broader public. It could also be some sort of unconscious hedging for the idea that Schaub won't play 16 games again, something I've asked the respondents to ignore the possibility of. His average touchdown and interception figures are exactly the same as those of his actual figures from a year ago, which is something we'll continue to note going forward.
That maximum projection might seem like someone who placed a bet on Schaub winning MVP, but it's actually composed of three different projections (4,904/35/16, 4,200/43/13, and 4,100/27/8).
While Schaub's chances of playing 16 games are questionable, the bigger issue here in projecting his numbers might be the health of the players around him, something we don't ask projectors to consider. There's no reason to think Andre Johnson is going to get hurt, but an injury to Johnson would obviously dampen Schaub's numbers dramatically. Owen Daniels's healing process in recovering from a torn ACL could also slow Schaub at the beginning of the year.
Thursday: Eli Manning
Average: 3,705 passing yards, 25 TD, 15 INT
Maximum: 4,700 passing yards, 35 TD, 10 INT
Minimum: 3,100 passing yards, 15 TD, 22 INT
Again, you might think that the minimum projection came from someone with a bone to pick with the fairer Manning brother, but not so; the figures again come from three different projections (3,100/21/18, 3,825/15/16, and 3,200/22/22). The 4700-yard projection was part of a 4,700/24/15 line; only once in the past 20 years has a quarterback thrown for more than 4,500 yards and failed to hit 24 touchdowns. Warren Moon threw for 4,690 yards with 23 touchdowns and 21 picks in 1991.
Comparing Eli's line to last year's 4,021/27/14 figure is interesting. Eli threw for more than a yard per attempt more than he ever had as a pro, something buoyed by the emergence of Hakeem Nicks as an elite receiver after the catch. We don't ask people to project attempts, but I wonder whether people expect Eli to give some of his 509 attempts back to the running game.
Friday: Philip Rivers
Average: 4,146 passing yards, 30 TD, 13 INT
Maximum: 4,672 passing yards, 38 TD, 7 INT
Minimum: 3,200 passing yards, 24 TD, 22 INT
Rivers' projection expects a leap from nine interceptions to 13, but with an increase in touchdowns from 28 to 30, and he's the closest of the five quarterbacks to his actual 2009 yardage total (4,254). Considering that we've seen the userbase consistently project a larger dropoff in yardage, I'm thinking that people are expecting Rivers' attempt total to rise from 486, where it was a year ago. 486, though, is the most passes Rivers has thrown in a season; it seems remarkable that a Pro Bowl quarterback with four great years has never made it to 500 attempts, but Rivers is the exception.
I don't think Rivers's attempt total will rise, thanks to an improved running game, so I would probably regress his average prediction a bit across the board. Something more like 4,000/26/11. Of course, there's still a lot of time between now and the end of training camp, when we'll know a lot more about how much we should expect out of Jackson and McNeill.
We'll be starting up again today with a new quarterback, and continue through the week with four more. If you'd like to join in, make sure you're following @FO_BBarnwell on Twitter, and if you'd like to follow anyone else on the FO team, check out our list of Twitter names to the left.
35 comments, Last at 10 Aug 2010, 1:48pm by Anon