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Fantasy Football Perspective: Getting to Know the Running Quarterbacks

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fantasy football

New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) throws against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Panthers defeated the Saints 44-38. Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton in 2011 changed the landscape of how quarterback is played in both real and fantasy football. Newton, the first overall selection from the 2011 draft out of Auburn, went on to an historical campaign, setting what, at the time, were rookie records for rushing yards by a quarterback, passing yards, and combined touchdowns passing and rushing.

Sure, fantasy football has had Randall Cunningham and Steve Young post a plethora of points weekly with their feet and arm, and Mike Vick had arguably one of the greatest stretches in fantasy lore during 2010. The difference is that all three relied on the majority of their groundwork to be done via the scramble.

By definition, a quarterback scramble is an impromptu action taken by the quarterback to gain positive yardage. Whether it’s avoiding a sack, a failed blocking assignment, the defense taking away the initial reads, or just all out blanket coverage, the true intent of the play was not designed for the quarterback to run.

Newton’s multifaceted abilities ushered in a new way the game would be played, becoming the first quarterback to have season long success using a heavy dose of QB specific designed runs in a pro offense. One year later, and “zone read” has become part of every NFL fans vernacular. Newton was joined in 2012 by Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick as a new young group of freakishly athletic playmakers that can beat teams on the ground, as well as through the air.

Let’s break down their 2012 seasons both passing and rushing and what we can anticipate going forward.

Cam Newton

2012 4PT TD QB rank (QB4), 6PT TD rank (QB6), Rush Pts (122.1)

Game Log Rushing 2012

CAM12

*Stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com (Other = QB Kneels, busted plays, etc.)

*Click to enlarge*

Game Log Rushing 2011

CAM11

*Stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com (Other = Qb Kneels, busted plays, etc.)

*Click to enlarge*

We might as well begin with Cam since he has a prior body of work we can compare. In 2011, Newton set an record for rushing scores from a QB with 14 on his way to scoring 154.5 points on the ground.  Last season, that number dropped to 8 TD, affected his per game output by an average of -2 pts per week despite him rushing for more yards than when he set the initial record.

Cam relied less on his scrambling ability, gaining 99 less yards than 2011, but the trade-off was a 125-yard increase in his  designed runs, as Carolina called his number more times. Not all was good however; Newton had seven weeks of less than 5 points rushing in 2012 after only three such games as a rookie. The promising (or harmful, if you are still banking on the Carolina backfield) aspect though is that 20 of his 22 rushing scores have come via a designed run. If Carolina scores on the run, they are likely calling Newton to get those points.

 Robert Griffin III

’12 4PT TD (QB5), 6PT TD (QB7), Rush Pts (123.5)

Game Log Rushing 2012

RG

*Stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com (Other = Qb Kneels, busted plays, etc.)

*Click to enlarge*

Griffin proved to be more than worth his weight in draft picks that the Redskins surrendered to get him. Breaking Newton’s rookie rushing record, RGIII was on pace for 3,500 pass yards and 1,000 rushing yards through 6 weeks and was fake football’s No. 1 quarterback after eight weeks. His inability to avoid big hits however, forced him to leave two games early and miss a third entirely. After leaving week 5 vs Atlanta with a concussion, he came back and posted the second best regular season rushing performance by a quarterback, rushing for 138 yards and two scores vs the Vikings. 120 of those yards came from the scramble (29% of his seasons scrambling total).

In 11 of his games, the Skins gave him five or more designed attempts. As the season wore on, Griffin’s rushing output dwindled (even before the knee injury vs Baltimore), as he rushed for only one touchdown over the last nine weeks.

Russell Wilson

’12 4PT TD (QB10), 6PT TD (QB9), Rush Pts (72.9)

Game Log Rushing 2012

RW

*Stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com (Other = Qb Kneels, busted plays, etc.)

*Click to enlarge*

A quick glance and it’s easy to dismiss Wilson as a runner, as 37 percent of his rushing output came in Week 15 vs Buffalo. There’s more to it than that though, because midway through the season, the Seahawks borrowed a page from Mike Shanahan’s playbook, installing the zone read. During the first eight weeks, Wilson ran 36 times for 128 yards (120 scrambling) with only two games of 20 or more yards and only six designed runs.  The next eight weeks, he carried 58 times for 361 yards and all four of his touchdowns, with Seattle calling his own number 18 times. In seven of those games he went over 20 yards on the ground, five of those seven he topped 30, and in three of those five he bested 50 yards.

Colin Kaepernick

7 games started – Rush Pts (35.8)

Game Log Rushing 2012 (starts only)

CK

*Stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com (Other = Qb Kneels, busted plays, etc.)

*Click to enlarge*

We’re segregating CK7’s stats into only the games he started since his usage was primarily only in rushing packages before taking over midway through week 9 vs St. Louis. With his record-setting, enormous playoff performance against the Packers etched in our fantasy minds, the alarming number is just how few times he ran on a designed play, carrying only once in four of the seven starts. Another jarring stat is that 45 percent of his rushing output over those seven starts came on only two runs, a 50 yard scramble in Week 12, and a 50 yard zone read score run in Week 14.

In six-point passing touchdown leagues, these guys lose a bit of their shine. Accumulative scrambling numbers are pretty stable though, even players such as Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler have maintained fairly steady end of the season scrambling numbers throughout their careers. Scrambling QB’s like Cunningham and Vick didn’t begin to decline until they were into their 30s.

Young was an exception, but he also only started 34 games before his 30th birthday. So this group has longevity on their side.

It’s the weekly variance of scrambling yards that make them hard to rely upon, which is why those points should be treated as the cherry to top your fantasy Sunday. We have no idea how long the read option will last going forward, but at least going into 2013, we know it’s more alive than ever.

Wait … what about the passing?

Removing rushing stats entirely from the quarterback equation paints a dramatically different picture, as 3 drop from the QB1 ranks. Wilson falls to QB18, Newton QB19, Griffin QB20 and Kaepernick (with his 7 game pass avg. extrapolated over 16 games) winds up moving up to QB10.

The average production of a top 12 QB, passing only in ’12 was 16.6 pts per week. In 54 combined starts, this quartet topped that number only a collective 18 times. With only 6 games combined of 300 yards passing and 32 starts with 1 or fewer passing TD (in 20 of Newton’s 32 career starts he has thrown 1 TD or less).

Wilson is a highly intriguing case though, because his second half was so strong passing over the last 9 weeks. Throughout the first 7 weeks, he was dreadful (ranked QB24 through week 8 in standard leagues), throwing only 8 TD to 7 INT while topping 200 yards in the air only twice. Those stats carried a 9.6 pt per week average passing. Over the final 9 games, Wilson threw 18 TD/3 INT with five 200 yard games and 6 games with multiple passing scores. Those weeks he averaged 15.7 passing pts weekly which throughout the season would’ve ranked 7th best.  That is cherry picking, but Seattle was clearly a different team in the second half of last season, and Wilsons escalating passing ability was a huge part of it.  Pair that with Seattle investing into his growth by acquiring Percy Harvin, and it’s hard to not be really optimistic about his prospects for the upcoming season.

Due to the fact that these guys do run, it detracts from their passing totals, just removing their rushing totals doesn’t tell the entire story. To give a fair gauge of just how really effective they were on a per pass play basis, we can look at passing points per passing attempt.

 

PLAYER PASS   PTS PASS   ATT. PTS/ATT QB RANK
WILSON 202.72 393 0.52 3
KAEPERNICK 98.32 192 0.51 T-4
GRIFFIN 195.1 393 0.5 5
NEWTON 201.36 485 0.42 T-11

 

Newton and Griffin are guys that can win you any given week nearly all by themselves, but can also give you a puzzling ill-timed egg when your faith is placed in their rushing ability. That is likely why they nearly traded spots in ranking last season. After week 8, Griffin was QB1, while Newton was QB12. Weeks 9-16, Cam was QB1 and a fantasy juggernaut, overcoming his sweater selection to post 3 consecutive 28+ scoring games weeks 12-14 and two games of both 17 pts rushing and passing in the same game. Griffin, whether you attribute his decline to him withering physically throughout the season or not, finished as QB14 over that same stretch. And future concern over his health going forward is warranted more so than of the other three.

But when both were big, they were gigantic, Newton had 10 top 12 finishes with half of those being top 6, all five being top 3, and three being the pace setter for QB scoring that week. Griffin also had 10 QB1 finishes, seven in the top 6, five top 3, and one on the throne. Both also tallied three 30 pt weeks, tied for the most out of all QB.

When the 2013 season ends, these two will likely be 1A and 1B out this group in terms of ranking, but I can’t see either being consistent enough in the passing game weekly to top a strong passer like Drew Brees or Rodgers.

Kaepernick finds himself in the greyest area out of all four coming into 2013. He’s already lost Michael Crabtree for at least a minimum of 10 games, if not the entire season. He’s also attached to a run heavy offense that ran the third fewest plays (60.8) per game in 2012.  His floor is likely the lowest of these options, but with only 10 career starts including the postseason, his ceiling is not quite entirely known. He’s someone I can see having a few big combo yardage games, but fewer than Newton and Griffin. It’s also likely that he could have the softest passing yardage total of the dual option signal callers.

Stats in this post provided by ProFootballFocus.com, NFL.com. and Pro-Football-Reference.com

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