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Fantasy Football: Joe Flacco and the Marc Trestman Effect

With Marc Trestman heading to Baltimore, Joe Flacco offers fantasy football owners major value late in the draft.

Joe Flacco

It’s important to remember that, wherever Marc Trestman wanders in the professional football landscape, he rarely inherits an accurate, efficient quarterback.

Trestman’s various Canadian Football League signal callers had abysmal completion percentages before entering Trestman’s offensive system. So did Rich Gannon, who became deadly accurate during his two seasons with Trestman as a play caller. Jay Cutler was among the least accurate quarterbacks in football when Trestman was hired as Chicago’s head coach in 2013.

“Although Trestman quarterbacks tend to be quite accurate, they weren’t all necessarily high-percentage throwers before entering his system,” said Andrew Bucholtz, who covers the CFL and tracked Trestman quarterbacks during his years north of the border.

Evaluating how Trestman, the newly anointed Ravens offensive coordinator, might impact the fantasy prospects of Joe Flacco is hardly an easy task. It requires real effort to block out the locker room disaster that overtook the Bears in 2014, along with the turmoil between Cutler and his offensive coordinator. Don’t forget the various malcontents filling the leadership vacuum in the Bears’ locker room, ensuring Trestman’s unsightly demise after two short seasons at the helm.

Trestman is best as a schemer, play caller, and tutor — not as a leader. That much became brutally clear in 2014. It’s why I’m climbing back aboard the Team Trestman bus in 2015, and consequently becoming a true believer in Joe Flacco as a premiere arbitrage play on some of the game’s elite signal callers.

Joe Flacco: CEO of Ugly Numbers, Inc.

Flacco, who had an influential hand in getting the Ravens to hire Trestman after Gary Kubiak and his hair split for Denver, has scatter shot decent peripheral numbers over his seven years in the league. But between that intermittent success is statistical disaster. End of the world disaster. Michael Bay disaster.

Pocket passers like ole’ Joe don’t often post great per-dropback efficiency. That’s reserved for Russell Wilson and the like. I’m not sure that explains Flacco’s hellish per-dropback numbers in all but two of his seven pro seasons.

Season Fantasy points per dropback
2008 .42
2009 .41
2010 .47
2011 .39
2012 .44
2013 .34
2014 .47

 

We have two years, 2010 and 2014, in which Flacco posted respectable efficiency on a per-dropback basis. The rest — including 2013 — were in line with Chad Henne through much of his career as an oh-crap-we-have-no-other-legitimate-starter quarterback.

The good news here is that, after mostly terrible statistical seasons under former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Flacco seemed to take to Kubiak’s system of safer throws mixed in with the occasional deep shot — a throw at which Flacco has excelled for much of his career. More on that later.

Kubiak, unlike Cameron before him, made protecting Flacco a high priority. Cameron seemingly refused to design better protections for his quarterback, and the results showed as much: Flacco was sacked 40 times in 2010, 32 times in 2011, 35 times in 2012, and an eye-popping 50 times in 2013.

Flacco was sacked a grand total of 19 times in 2014. Weird.

Cutler, like Flacco, was among the most pressured and sacked quarterbacks before Trestman came to Chicago and was summarily (intentionally?) undermined by King DGAF Cutty. Only two quarterbacks were sacked fewer times than Cutler in 2013, though — like everything else in Chicago — that number regressed dramatically in 2014.

Trestman’s stress on quick, safe, high-percentage throws is the key to keeping his signal caller upright and conscious. We saw as much before the Bears became a dumpster fire.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Flacco, with a little protection and a system filled with quick outlet throws, had one of his better statistical years in 2014. Cutler’s efficiency was a total and complete mess before Trestman, and that changed quite a bit in 2013. The lesson: Flacco’s per-dropback numbers aren’t the big, waving, bleeding red flag they might appear to be.

There’s also this: Rotoviz’s fantasy efficiency app shows that Flacco in 2014 was top-10 in expected points per attempt, in line with Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

Fantasy owners dig the long ball, Joe

Probably the best news for those who look to Flacco as a worthwhile late-round pick with lots of upside and little risk built into his draft position is Trestman’s use of the deep shot. Film watchers and scheme analysts will tell you that there is a deep route in almost every Trestman pass play, to go along with a variety of short and intermediate routes. This is where the big-armed Flacco could rack up yardage and touchdowns in bunches.

It’s not as though Flacco has always been a high percentage deep ball passer. Only once — last season — has the veteran finished inside the top-10 in deep ball accuracy, per Pro Football Focus statistics. He connected on 50 percent of his deep shots in 2014, good for fifth best in the NFL.

Flacco has, however, always attempted quite a few bombs during his time as a pro. In fact, 14 percent of his NFL passes have been attempts of at least 20 yards. That means that a conservative 550 attempts in a season would include about 77 long balls.

And it’s a deep shot that is such a critically important piece of the Trestman attack. It’s a conservative system at its core, but it features big-impact pass routes that could (should) fit nicely in Torrey Smith‘s wheelhouse. And Steve Smith, for that matter.

The efficacy of the long ball is, like the efficiency of Trestman signal callers, closely linked to protection. We see that in a bird’s eye view of Flacco’s career: His worst deep ball accuracy percentages coincide with high sack and pressure totals. Flacco’s 50-sack 2013 campaign saw him complete a meager 26 percent of his long balls. When Trestman’s scheme is functional, the quarterback is protected. When the quarterback is protected, deep ball routes can work.

Cutler saw a marked jump in deep ball accuracy under Trestman during the coach’s first year in Chicago. Cutty, after completing 39.1 percent of his deep shots in 2012, completed 45.8 percent in 2013. That was, by far, the highest deep ball completion rate of Cutler’s pro career. McCown in 2013 also posted a career-high percentage on long balls.

Flacco’s deep-toss prowess has drawn the praise of teammates, opposing quarterbacks, and defenders alike. I think it’ll be central to Flacco’s success — or failure — in Trestman’s offensive system.

Flacco the god, or Flacco the matchup angel?

I’m not going to push Flacco as anything close to a locked-in top-5 fantasy option in 2015, though we shouldn’t forget that Cutler and Josh McCown combined for top-3 fantasy numbers under Trestman in 2013.

I will push the Ravens’ quarterback as a prime (very) late-round guy who could emerge from the world of streaming and become an every-week starter in 12-and-14-team leagues. Flacco is the 23th quarterback off the draft board at this hilariously early date, and I doubt he’ll creep higher than QB17 even with a fair amount of pro-Trestman propaganda this spring and summer.

We were able to invest in Bears skill position players on the (relative) cheap in 2013, before the Trestman effect was built into their respective ADPs in 2014. I think we have a similar opportunity here with Flacco and his fellow Ravens, especially with the bitter aftertaste of the Bears’ collapse fresh in the mouths of fantasy owners everywhere.

Flacco, I think, will be a clear and present value while quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, and Colin Kaepernick go two, three, or four rounds earlier.

To invest almost nothing in a quarterback and watch him blossom into a reliable fantasy producer is the key to Fantasy Football Heaven. Flacco, for my degenerate money, is as good a bet as any to be that key.

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