Fantasy Football: Josh McCown Isn’t Who You Think He Is

Josh McCown
Andrew Weber USA TODAY Sports

Josh McCown, Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, and fantasy footballers the world over are about to witness the power of Marc Trestman.

The impact of Chicago’s quarterback whisperer won’t only be seen in the Windy City; it’ll be visible to anyone in Tampa with two functioning eyeballs. McCown, a career backup who was signed by the Bucs Wednesday and instantly named the team’s starting signal caller, isn’t the guy we saw in 2013.

Not even close. You were hallucinating.

The aged quarterback, in short, shredded a handful of porous secondaries, stayed well within Trestman’s proven passing offense, and had the luxury of chucking the rock to the NFL’s best wide receiver duo: Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

He also had one of the league’s premiere pass-catching running backs, Matt Forte, at his disposal. It was truly an embarrassment of riches for the career backup.

It’s not nearly outside the range of outcomes that McCown will be occasionally useful for fantasy football purposes, serving as a fine and dandy waiver wire option for those who don’t burn an early or mid-round draft pick on fantasy’s most replaceable position.

The best case scenario looks something like this: The Bucs’ defense struggles mightily, forcing the conservative Lovie to put the ball in the air more than he’d like, and McCown force feeds the ball to big, fast targets like Vincent Jackson and Tim Wright. Jackson, for one, fits the mold of the Bears’ monstrous receivers, so maybe that’ll translate nicely.

But here’s how I know McCown will regress to what he is — what he has been — for the vast majority of his 12-year pro career: 2013 was an aberration. Similar to the way Rich Gannon in Oakland was transformed into one of fantasy’s elite signal callers under Trestman’s tutelage in the early-2000s, McCown was simply a product of Trestman’s system.

Gannon’s career 60.2 completion percentage, for instance, jumped to 65.8 and 67.6 percent in 2001 and 2002, respectively, under Trestman. CFL quarterbacks on Trestman’s Montreal Alouettes also saw marked jumps in almost every statistical category when immersed in his offense.

Gannon didn’t put up big yardage and touchdown numbers before or after Trestman. Weird.

McCown, who last season combined with teammate Jay Cutler to post the third most fantasy points among quarterbacks, has never posted numbers even close to those he put up in eight 2013 games.

Year Games Drop backs Fantasy points per drop back
2003 8 194 .34
2004 14 444 .31
2005 9 299 .32
2007 9 219 .33
2013 8 243 .56


It’s not that McCown saw a slight uptick under the Bears’ quarterback whisperer. He became an entirely different fantasy producer, nearly doubling his previous per-drop back outputs. I’d challenge you to find a more startling one-season reversal of fortunes.

Cutler, for the record, also saw the undeniable statistical benefits of Trestman’s system.

Use whichever metric you fancy — McCown doesn’t measure up in his pre-Trestman days. My buddy JJ Zachariason over at numberFire took a close look at McCown’s career net expected points (NEP) and uncovered a treasure trove of nauseating stats.

McCown’s NEP over the past decade or so showed definitively that, statistically, he has “always been a detriment to the team he’s played on,” Zachariason writes. He hasn’t been average — far from it. McCown has been objectively terrible as an NFL passer without Trestman presiding over his every move.

Tampa’s new quarterback has averaged .33 fantasy points per drop back over his career. If he drops back a respectable 600 times in 2014, he’ll notch 195 fantasy points, which would’ve made him QB23 last year, just behind Eli Manning.

No player is dead to me — as you might know — but McCown will be strictly a streaming option on my fantasy squads in 2014. He’s not who you think he is. Don’t crown his ass.

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