The QB Corner: Trending QBs

By: Tom Di Benedetto

If you found your way here intentionally, I thank you up front. If you’re here by accident, welcome to my brand new quarterback blog for the 2016 NFL season. The blog will have weekly entries starting with Week 1, but before then I have a four-part preview that will address each of the league’s starting QBs. Stay tuned over the next two weeks for parts 2-4.

For this installment, I decided to gauge where we stand heading into the season by evaluating how each quarterback (“undefinable” QBs aside, but that’s for a later post) fared in 2015 versus expectations from this time last year. I then picked ten players set to defy their trending directions this season.

QB TRENDS

UP – Carson Palmer

UP – Cam Newton

UP – Russell Wilson

UP – Andy Dalton

UP – Derek Carr

UP – Teddy Bridgewater

UP – Kirk Cousins

UP – Alex Smith

UP – Jameis Winston

UP – Brock Osweiler

UP – Blake Bortles

UP – Ryan Fitzpatrick

SAME – Ben Roethlisberger

SAME – Tom Brady

SAME – Aaron Rodgers

SAME – Jay Cutler

SAME – Eli Manning

SAME – Drew Brees

DOWN – Marcus Mariota

DOWN – Philip Rivers

DOWN – Andrew Luck

DOWN – Matt Ryan

DOWN – Joe Flacco

DOWN – Tony Romo

DOWN – Matt Stafford

DOWN – Ryan Tannehill

DOWN – Sam Bradford

BUY LOW

  1. Andrew Luck

 

By any measure, it was a tough 2015 for Andrew Luck.  Starting only 7 games, his play when he was on the field was just as concerning as the awkward kidney laceration that wrecked his season. He threw 12 interceptions in those 7 games and completed only 55.3% of his passes. Cue the growing chorus of doubters calling sports radio stations to claim Luck has always been overrated and will never reach the level of his hype. I don’t buy it. And while I’m perennially unimpressed with the weapons provided by somehow-still-employed GM Ryan Grigson, I have no trouble saying we’ll see a drastic improvement in the uber-talented and extra-motivated Luck this year.

  1. Tony Romo

Man are they down on Tony Romo in Dallas despite the fact that he is just a season removed from a legitimate MVP candidacy. In 2014, he led all passers in completion percentage AND yards per attempt (consider this for a moment) as well as QB rating and threw just 9 interceptions. We all remember the Dez non-catch catch but we have all forgotten how good Romo was in those playoff games. Then the collarbone happened. And at age 36, health will certainly be a concern again this season. But he is still one of the best competitors and accurate passers in the NFL, and with the Dallas running game looking like it will be back on track, Romo should have no trouble putting up top 10 numbers once again. If, of course, he can stay on the field.

  1. Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan has been in a slow tumble for several seasons now following his career-best 2012, in which he led the league in completion percentage, threw 32 TDs and had the 5th-best QB rating. His ranks in QB rating since? 12th in 2013, 11th in 2014 and 20th in 2015. He is no longer considered a top 10 quarterback and shouldn’t be. But there are some things to consider about Mr. Ryan. He is always on the field, having started every game since 2010 and missing only 2 games in his career. He also has an outstanding rapport one of the very best targets in the game in Juilo Jones and an underappreciated offensive line to work with. My confidence level in the Falcons this season is not high, but my confidence level that Matt Ryan is not a bottom-half QB is. His own critical errors cost him dearly last season. Just cleaning those up will have him on his way to an improved 2016.

  1. Philip Rivers

Don’t sleep on Old Man Rivers. It’s been a terrible stretch for the Chargers franchise and last season was an epic disaster in the wake of inflated expectations heading into the year. Hidden in the wreckage was the fact that Rivers was second in the league in passing yards, carrying the team on his back in yet again. His arm continues to fade as he ages, and man is there mileage on those tires (has never missed a start), but he competes unlike any other and has a compelling group of targets for this season in Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry. He should once again be better than anyone will credit him for as the Bolts struggle yet again to close out critical games en route to another disappointing year.

  1. Joe Flacco

You don’t hear much of the “Is Joe Flacco elite?” debate anymore these days. And last year was a complete wash for Flacco and the Ravens. But arguably the league’s most dangerous downfield bomber should be in his prime at 31 and expectations really can’t be lower. He has clocked in at 30th or worse in QB rating in two of the last three seasons and the 2016 Baltimore offense does not inspire a tremendous amount of excitement. Call me crazy, but I like big-armed proven winners with near-impeccable injury records (he hadn’t missed a game in his career until last season). He is nowhere near “elite,” but he’s not near the bottom of the barrel either, and I expect him to bounce back to the middle of the pack this season barring another injury apocalypse in Baltimore.

SELL HIGH

  1. Brock Osweiler

$37 million guaranteed. The number on everyone’s lips this offseason. And it’s as crazy as it sounds. Osweiler showed flashes of legitimate ability in his brief stint leading the Broncos, but ultimately fumbled the job back to the worst starter in the NFL last season. His struggles in the 2nd half of games (53.9% completion percentage) was the most concerning issue from 2015, but I’m not sure we have an adequate sample size to correctly gauge Houston’s decision to hand him the franchise reigns. He has a lot on his shoulders this season, and I think it will come with its fair share of adversity.

  1. Ryan Fitzpatrick

It was undeniably a career year for Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015. But there are plenty of holes in the story about how great his season actually was. Like the fact that he completed less than 60% of his passes (29th in NFL) despite surspringly adequate protection that saw him sacked just 19 times (same number of times JOHNNY MANZIEL was sacked last season). Or that spectacular Week 17 season-wrecking three-interception fourth quarter implosion at the hands of Rex Ryan. The man who has never started a playoff game will likely have to improve on his performance from last year (and stay healthy) to do so in 2016. I won’t be betting on that.

  1. Kirk Cousins

Likely the most surprising breakthrough player in the NFL last season commanded the Redskins with probably the two most important QB qualities: confidence and accuracy. But can he keep the ride going now that the wave has passed? Certainly his league-leading and frankly astonishing 69.8% completion percentage will fall back down to earth this year. The previously turnover-prone Cousins also threw just one interception in the fourth quarter all season and maintained his impressive 69% on third down attempts. It was too good to repeat, and even though I think the Redskins should once again be in the NFC East hunt this year, a regression to the mean is unavoidable for their QB.

  1. Alex Smith

Alex Smith continued his mostly-ignored Kansas City renaissance (30-16 as Chiefs’ starter) last season with a near carbon-copy of his performance from the prior year. He firmly holds the title of best game-managing QB in the NFL. He completes 65% of his passes while rarely turning it over, and he’s become increasingly adept at utilizing his potential as a scrambler. Smith’s a decent bet to repeat the same season a third time, but I’d also say that’s basically his ceiling. My gut warns me that he and the Chiefs are due for a slight step backwards this year.

  1. Derek Carr

Derek Carr was certainly impressive last season, making big strides from his rookie year and cementing his status as the future of the franchise. While there’s plenty to like about Carr, his legend appears to be outpacing his actual production, which is what landed him on this list. He has completed less than 60% of his passes in his career so far (61.1% last season) and was well below league standard in fourth quarters, where his completion percentage dipped to 57.3% to go with 7 interceptions. Another step forward won’t be a surprise this season, but I’m thinking the hype for Carr to move toward “elite” status in 2016 while leading the Raiders to a playoff run is premature.

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