A few weeks back, I looked at second-year running backs over the last five years and what we could unearth from the data about potential rises or falls in production and value. I've also looked at both the second- and third-year wide receivers, who often times put up solid numbers for owners.
Now, it's time to look at the quarterbacks.
More to the point, it's time to look at how rookie signal-callers have fared both on the field and from a fantasy perspective. This is more important now than in some past seasons, as the 2014 draft class has at least three quarterbacks who could come in and start for their new NFL teams -- Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel. I'll also take a look at how signal-callers did as sophomores. Are there any trends that can be found to help fantasy owners in 2014 drafts?
You'll need to read on to find out.
From 2008-2013, a total of 20 rookie quarterbacks saw action in at least eight games. That will serve as our baseline to determine who is eligible for this research piece.
The 2008 draft class had two different quarterbacks picked in the first round (Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan), and both finished as No. 2 fantasy signal-callers and matchup-based starters based on their numbers. Ryan was the better of the two field generals with almost 200 fantasy points, which at that time wasn't a bad total. Flacco was a few spots behind Ryan in the stat sheets, averaging around one fewer fantasy point per game than the Falcons quarterback.
The following season, neither Flacco nor Ryan made a significant step forward from a fantasy standpoint. The former saw a near 20-point increase, while Ryan scored fewer points (183.54) but improved his point-per-game average (13.11) because he missed two starts. This doesn't show a whole lot for fantasy leaguers, but keep in mind that the statistical explosion at the quarterback position didn't happen until 2011.
Three signal-callers (Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford) came off the board in the first round in 2009, but none of them made much of an impact in fantasy football. Sanchez had the most points, but he also started the most games (15) of the trio. Furthermore, the Southern California product averaged the fewest points per game (8.82). Stafford, who missed six games due to injuries, averaged the most points with 12.55 per contest. Had he been able to start a full 16 games, Stafford would have projected to finish 16th in fantasy points among quarterbacks. Freeman played in 10 contests but was inconsistent in the stat sheets and failed to make statistical noise.
Unfortunately, Stafford had more problems with injuries in his second pro campaign and finished with a mere three starts and 50.50 fantasy points. On a positive note, he scored seven total touchdowns in those games and was on pace to score almost 270 points before he was hurt. Believe it or not, but that would have put him at the same level as Drew Brees! Sanchez saw a decent bump in production as a sophomore, but he still ranked an unimpressive 18th in fantasy production at his position. The biggest mover was Freeman, who saw a 163.86-point increase compared to his rookie totals.
Sam Bradford was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. Not surprisingly, he was also the best rookie quarterback based on fantasy points with 190.78. However, that was good enough to finish just 20th at the position. Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Jimmy Clausen were the only other rookie signal-callers to play in at least eight games, and neither of the trio made waves in fantasy land. Tebow did rush for 227 yards and six touchdowns, but Kyle Orton was the main starter for the Denver Broncos.
Tebow went on to make a nice impact for fantasy leaguers as a sophomore, finishing 18th in points at the position. That's not too bad when you consider he started just 11 contests. McCoy also increased his fantasy production (+70.08) year over year, but neither Bradford nor Clausen were able to accomplish the same feat. Bradford missed six games due to injuries, while Clausen saw his role with the Carolina Panthers fall off a cliff when the team drafted a certain quarterback from Auburn.
Quarterbacks, including the rookies, started to make a bigger impact in the stat sheets in 2011. The best example was Cam Newton, who broke the mold of first-year signal-callers making little impact. The versatile athlete threw for over 4,000 yards, rushed for 706 yards and scored a combined 35 touchdowns (21 pass, 14 rush). While Newton was the most celebrated of the rookies, Andy Dalton scored 207.12 points himself. That was the second-highest total a quarterback had scored in his first season since 2008 ... behind Newton. Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert also started a majority of their team's games, but neither was fantasy relevant.
Newton did experience a 45.88-point decline in fantasy totals as an NFL sophomore, but he still finished fourth in points. Dalton showed improvement, scoring 43.64 more points than he did as a rookie, while Ponder saw a 75.18-point increase. Gabbert, who has never met NFL expectations, dropped by over 20 fantasy points. I should also note that Jake Locker (five games) and Colin Kaepernick (three games) were drafted in 2011, but neither played in enough games to qualify for this column.
The 2012 campaign will be remembered for a lot of reasons, but fantasy owners will remember it as the season of the rookie quarterback. Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson all finished among the top 10 in points at the position, with RGIII ranking an impressive fifth. Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden ranked among the top 26, but neither made the same splash as that season's terrific trio. Overall, a total of 11 signal-callers scored 275-plus fantasy points as quarterbacks continued to rise to greater statistical prominence.
Unfortunately Griffin III couldn't duplicate his 2012 success as an NFL sophomore, scoring 104.48 fewer points. He did miss three games with a bad knee, though, and still averaged 16.39 fantasy points. If we project those totals over 16 weeks, RGIII would have finished 10th among quarterbacks. Weeden (-75.96) saw the second-biggest decline of the sophomores, while Wilson was third with a small 5.44-point drop. Luck was 16.12 points better in his second season, but the biggest gainer was Tannehill ... he finished with a 55.46-point increase and ranked 16th among quarterbacks.
Nick Foles was also a rookie in the 2012 campaign, but he only played in seven games behind Michael Vick. However, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the Arizona product broke out in his second pro year and is ranked among the top fantasy quarterbacks heading into next season.
If you were to compare the 2013 rookie quarterbacks with the previous class, well, it would leave a lot to be desired. Geno Smith was the best fantasy option, and he finished just 20th at the position due in large part to a strong final four weeks. With the addition of Vick in New York, however, the West Virginia product isn't even a lock to open next season atop the depth chart. The same holds true of Mike Glennon, who had a few good stat lines as a rookie but is likely to open 2014 second on the Tampa Bay depth chart behind Josh McCown.
The one second-year quarterback to keep an eye on is EJ Manuel, who missed six games as a rookie due to injuries but averaged more fantasy points per game (13.37) than Glennon (12.15) or Smith (12.11). In a Bills offense that should be improved in 2014, Manuel will have deep sleeper appeal.
So, what do these numbers show us that can be useful in fantasy drafts?
The first thing is obvious ... in this day and age, rookie quarterbacks can help you in that quest for a league championship. Over the last three years, Newton, Griffin III, Luck, Wilson, Dalton and Smith have finished among the 20-best signal-callers (based on points) as rookies. If you look closely at their numbers, you'll see one common theme ... five of the six quarterbacks (excluding Dalton) weren't just good with their arms, but were dual threats due to their skills as runners.
In fact, each quarterback rushed for at least 255 yards or scored at least four rushing touchdowns as rookies. Here's another little nugget ... at least 20 percent of their total fantasy production came from the ground game, with Newton (42 percent) and RGIII (39 percent) leading the charge. Now you know why I'm a fan of Manziel, who rushed for over 2,000 yards in his two seasons at Texas A&M.
If he lands a starting role, "Johnny Football" will be ranked among my 2014 sleepers.
As for the 17 quarterbacks who qualified for this column and played a second season, 12 saw an increase in fantasy points compared to their rookie totals. That's a strong percentage (70.5) on the surface, but let's look a little deeper at the numbers. Of the 12 risers, six saw an increase of just 1.24 fantasy points per game or fewer (or 19.84 points for a season). The biggest point-per-game risers in this time frame were Freeman (+5.64), Stafford (+4.28), Sanchez (+3.81) and Tannehill (+3.46).
Freeman was the lone field general of the four biggest risers who finished higher than 16th in fantasy points at the position, and his value is all but sunk now as a backup in New York.
This proves that while playing as a rookie does help a quarterback gain valuable on-field experience, it's no guarantee that he'll see a significant increase in fantasy production as a sophomore. Luckily, the position is so deep and so talented as a whole that a lot of the younger quarterbacks aren't ranked as surefire No. 1 fantasy options. Instead, owners can take a middle- to late-round chance on the likes of Manziel, Bridgewater, Tannehill, Locker or Manuel (for example) without taking a lot of risk.
If the risk pays off, you could have the next Newton or Griffin III on your roster.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!