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Fantasy Football: Andrew Luck And Mining For Quarterback Gold

C.D. Carter takes a deeper look at what fantasy football owners can expect from Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer, and Tom Brady in 2014.

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Luck was trapped in a throwback offense last season, inexplicably limited in offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s run-heavy attack that was primed to destroy the quarterback’s fantasy usefulness.

Until Luck finished as fantasy football’s seventh highest scoring signal caller in 2013 while throwing a relatively meager 570 passes — 11th most among all quarterbacks.

The Colts, it turned out, passed the football four percent more than expected during Hamilton’s first year as coordinator. Indianapolis played with a lead quite a bit in 2014, and when the running game faltered and Luck was forced to throw and throw some more, he put up ungodly numbers.

Luck’s peripheral stats, over his final six contests (including the playoffs), bear little resemblance to his first 12 games of 2014.

Luck was among a few quarterbacks who I thought deserved a deep dive analysis using fantasy points per aimed throw (FPAT), a measure of efficiency we’ve used to find potential breakout candidates and pass defenses that struggle mightily on a per-throw basis. An aimed throw, rather than a pass attempt, is any throw that isn’t a spike, throw away, or batted ball.

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Luck, who was outside the top-12 quarterbacks at midseason, averaged 30.1 aimed throws per game through the Colts’ first eight contests. It’s a fairly low average, as several top-end quarterbacks were averaging around 40 aimed tosses every week.

Luck’s FPAT over that first half was a low .47. That changed over the Colts’ final six games, when Luck’s pass attempts spiked and his opportunity to tack on fantasy production on the ground saw an uptick.

It was over that six-game stretch that Luck posted a .55 FPAT. It’s not just that Luck’s per-aimed throw efficiency spiked, his opportunity did too. He threw 37.4 passes per game in December and January. With Trent Richardson struggling to crack three yards a carry and the Colts’ defense crumbling against offenses of every caliber, Hamilton was forced to take the chains off his all-pro quarterback.

Hamilton has expressed some willingness to embrace a similar approach headed into 2014 with a stockpile of wide receiver talent young and old. I think there’s little reason to think Luck will transform into a hand-off machine in 2014, and if he maintains something close to his late-season FPAT, I like him as a locked-in top-4 fantasy signal caller.

Below is a range of outcomes for Luck that might explain why I ranked him third among all quarterbacks this season. The range includes Luck’s 534 aimed throws from 2013, along with projections for how he’d do with more pass attempts. Six quarterbacks last season posted more than 570 aimed throws.

It’s worth noting that I have Luck projected to score 48 rushing points in 2014 (that’s tacked on to each total). He’s averaged 59 fantasy points via his legs over his first two seasons as a pro.

Aimed throws FPAT Fantasy points QB rank
534 .55 341 QB3
560 .55 356 QB2
570 .55 361 QB2
534 .50 315 QB4
560 .50 328 QB3
570 .50 333 QB2
534 .48 304 QB6
560 .48 316 QB4
570 .48 321 QB3

 

Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

I swear I’m not being paid to laud old man Palmer as we approach his second season in Bruce Arians’ offense. I’ve mentioned that the proverbial light went on for Palmer during Arizona’s Week 9 bye week, as Cardinals coaches have confirmed. He went on to post QB8 numbers from Week 10-17 — a stretch that included matchups against all three brutal NFC West defenses.

Palmer was unusable for fantasy owners over the first half of 2013. He was QB27, a full 31 fantasy points behind Geno Smith, who didn’t exactly light the world aflame during those first eight games. Palmer’s FPAT sat at a depressingly low .39.

During the year’s second half, when Palmer outscored the likes of Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, and Luck, he maintained a solid .52 FPAT. Palmer, in Arians’ pass-happy attack, attempted 34.1 aimed throws from Week 10-17, compared to 33.2 attempts from Week 1-8. There was no real opportunity spike, as you can see.

Palmer says there’s “zero comparison” between this off-season and last off-season, when he was overwhelmed while trying to learn Bruce Arians’ offensive scheme. Teammates have said they’ve seen a difference in how Palmer has grasped the Cardinals’ offensive scheme during his second year in the desert. I think there’s very real reason to believe Palmer can maintain that second-half FPAT, which would make him more than a streaming centerpiece.

Below is a range that includes that .52 FPAT, along with a slightly regressed .5 FPAT. If Palmer’s FPAT dips below the .5 FPAT, he’s nothing more than a quarterbacks by committee candidate.

Unlike Luck, Palmer doesn’t get the benefit of rushing production. He rushed for three yards in 2013.

Aimed throws FPAT Fantasy points QB rank
540 .52 281 QB10
550 .52 286 QB8
560 .52 291 QB7
540 .50 270 QB12
550 .50 275 QB11
560 .50 280 QB9

 

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Ranking Tom Brady with Rob Gronkowski‘s availability in question is a lot like ranking Matthew Stafford without knowing if Calvin Johnson would be ready for Week 1. Brady, like Stafford, is an entirely different fantasy producer without his transcendent pass catcher in the lineup. I’m not exactly breaking news here, I know.

Below is a quick look at Brady’s per-game numbers with and without his dominant tight end since 2011, courtesy of RotoViz’s Game Split app.

Brady with Gronkowski Brady without Gronkowski
Passing yards 314.6 264.3
Passing touchdowns 2.2 1.7
Completions 25.3 22.9
Interceptions .59 .79

 

Now to Brady’s FPAT output: He posted a meager .42 FPAT in 2013 as he did what he could with a patchwork group of pass catchers led by Julian Edelman. Brady’s FPAT was no higher than that of Matt Cassel and Jake Locker. Alex Smith, who outscored Brady in 2013, also posted a higher FPAT (.44).

But just like the above splits, Brady’s FPAT is eye popping with Gronkowski in the lineup, dominating linebackers and safeties between the 20s and in the red zone. Brady, in Gronk’s breakout 2011 campaign, notched a hearty .60 FPAT — higher than the per-aimed throw efficiency of Russell Wilson in 2013. That’s impressive, considering Brady’s throw volume that year (588 aimed throws, the third most among all quarterbacks).

Brady’s FPAT jumped to .50 during Gronk’s six games in 2013, before his campaign ended with a hideous knee injury that has once again put his availability in serious doubt. That’s a far cry from the .60 FPAT he posted in 2011, but it’s enough to paint a deeply contrasting picture of what Brady’s 2014 numbers could look like. Below is a look at Brady’s prospects with FPATs reflecting Gronkowski in the Patriots’ lineup, and without his hulking pass catcher.

Brady, the eighth quarterback off the draft board, would be a decent value play with the latter outcomes. With the .42 FPAT, he’d be a train wreck for fantasy owners in 2014.

Aimed throws FPAT Fantasy points QB rank
580 .42 250 QB16
590 .42 255 QB15
600 .42 260 QB15
580 .50 297 QB7
590 .50 302 QB6
600 .50 307 QB5

 

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