When I put out the update to my 2012 rankings, I did something a little crazy, putting Matt Ryan ahead of Cam Newton. According to Fantasy Football Calculator as of Aug. 5, 2012, Newton has an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 2.09, while Ryan’s ADP rests at 7.01. Obviously, I have some ’splainin’ to do.
Newton had one of the best fantasy football rookie seasons in recent memory at any position last year, posting elite numbers at the level of guys like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and the rest by throwing for 3,810 yards, rushing for 831 yards and scoring 35 touchdowns while racking up 17 interceptions. It was more than anyone could have dreamed of, and fantasy owners are paying for a repeat of his record-breaking performance.
Record-breaking, as in 14 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, the most of all-time. How many other prolific rushing QBs have been able to replicate big TD seasons for two years in a row?
Michael Vick followed up seasons with eight, six and nine rushing TDs by scoring just one, two and one, respectively, on the ground in the following season. Donovan McNabb followed up two six-TD rushing seasons with seasons of two TDs and three TDs. Steve Young scored a career-best seven rushing TDs in ‘94 and had just three in ‘95. Daunte Culpepper scored 10 rushing TDs one year and four the next. Kordell Stewart rushed for 11 TDs in ‘97 and just two in ‘98. Steve Grogan, whose record Newton broke, followed up his age-23 monster performance with just one rushing TD the next year.
It looks like rushing TDs from QBs tend to fluctuate year to year, but maybe Cam Newton is a special new type of QB that should be treated like a running back. So let’s look at some of the best TD performances by young running backs over the last ten years and see how those RBs did in the following year. We’re talking guys age 25 or under, to be sure we’re getting RBs with fresh legs, not backs with mileage getting near the end of the their careers.
|Player (age)||TD||Year||Team||TD Y+1||Diff|
|DeAngelo Williams (25)||18||2008||CAR||7||-11|
|Adrian Peterson (24)||18||2009||MIN||12||-6|
|LaDainian Tomlinson (25)||17||2004||SDG||18||+1|
|LeSean McCoy (23)||17||2011||PHI||?||?|
|Ricky Williams (25)||16||2002||MIA||9||-7|
|Shaun Alexander (25)||16||2002||SEA||14||-2|
|Arian Foster (24)||16||2010||HOU||10||-6|
|Clinton Portis (21)||15||2002||DEN||14||-1|
|LenDale White (24)||15||2008||TEN||2||-13|
|Maurice Jones-Drew (24)||15||2009||JAX||5||-10|
|LaDainian Tomlinson (23)||14||2002||SDG||13||-1|
|Jamal Lewis (24)||14||2003||BAL||7||-7|
|Clinton Portis (22)||14||2003||DEN||5||-9|
|Marion Barber (23)||14||2006||DAL||10||-4|
|Chris Johnson (24)||14||2009||TEN||11||-3|
|Cam Newton (22)||14||2011||CAR||?||?|
|Travis Henry (24)||13||2002||BUF||10||-3|
|Deuce McAllister (24)||13||2002||NOR||8||-5|
|LaDainian Tomlinson (24)||13||2003||SDG||17||+4|
|Willis McGahee (23)||13||2004||BUF||5||-8|
|Domanick Williams (24)||13||2004||HOU||2||-11|
|Maurice Jones-Drew (21)||13||2006||JAX||9||-4|
|Steven Jackson (23)||13||2006||STL||5||-8|
|Rashard Mendenhall (23)||13||2010||PIT||9||-4|
|BenJarvus Green-Ellis (25)||13||2010||NWE||11||-2|
|Rudi Johnson (25)||12||2004||CIN||12||0|
|Adrian Peterson (22)||12||2007||MIN||10||-2|
|Joseph Addai (24)||12||2007||IND||5||-7|
|Maurice Jones-Drew (23)||12||2008||JAX||15||+3|
|Adrian Peterson (25)||12||2010||MIN||12||0|
|Marshawn Lynch (25)||12||2011||SEA||?||?|
|Ray Rice (24)||12||2011||BAL||?||?|
Three of the 28 young running backs followed up their 12-plus TD seasons with improvement, and two were named LaDainian Tomlinson. Two others broke even, and 23 guys went backward. Even including the positive and neutral performances, the 28 performances were followed with 4.5 less TDs on average the following season.
Remember that being a great running quarterback is both a gift and a curse, as by taking more hits from the defense, rushing QBs also increase the probability of injury (ask Vick). Some adjust by running less, and if Newton passes more and runs less, it’ll hurt his overall value. If he keeps running the ball at the same frequency, he opens himself up to potential injury, which would be even worse for fantasy owners. If he runs the same amount and manages to get through the season unscathed, it seems probable he’ll lose rushing TDs just by regressing to the mean.
This wouldn’t be as much of a concern if the Panthers had given Newton some more help in the passing game to continue his development as a Panther, but that wasn’t the case. Newton again has Steve Smith, now 33 years old, and not much else to work with. If the Panthers offense is going to take a step forward, it’s going to take Brandon LaFell or David Gettis stepping up. Otherwise, Newton is going to slip from being on the cusp of fantasy elite down to merely “good.” He’ll outscore a lot of QBs either way, but Matt Ryan won’t be one of them.
Ryan had himself a pretty good rookie year as well, going 11-5 and posting the third-most passing yards ever by a rookie at the time. As he’s developed, he’s gradually improved on his numbers, finally topping 4,000 yards for the first time last season. Despite throwing about 570 passes in each of the last two years, he’s showed great decision-making skills, tossing just nine interceptions in 2010 and 12 interceptions in 2011. That means that over his first four years, Ryan is 43-19 as a starting quarterback with a 60.9 completion percentage 95 TDs and only 46 interceptions.
Ryan’s only getting better. Part of the reason he set new highs in yardage and TDs last season was a rookie by the name of Julio Jones. The team has already said they’re going to get the explosive Jones even more involved this year, and when Jones is paired with fantasy goldmine Roddy White, Ryan likely has the best 1-2 WR combination in the league. Throw in Tony Gonzalez and quality slot-man Harry Douglas, and Ryan’s not lacking for weapons.
Michael Turner racked up more than 300 rushing attempts in 2011, and it’s likely the last year that’s going to happen. The coaches have already said that he’s going to receive less work moving forward, which should put Jacquizz Rodgers and his much better passing-game skill set on the field more. The Falcons have been in the top 11 in rushing attempts in each of Ryan’s first four years, and when you mix White, Jones, Gonzalez and Rodgers with less Turner, it means they could be closer to league average this year, which would be another boost to Ryan’s value.
All in all, I’m giving Ryan 4,400 passing yards, 35 TDs, 14 INTs and another 40 yards and a TD rushing, totaling up to 356 fantasy points (20 passing yards per point, four points per passing TD). Meanwhile, I think Newton will realistically be looking at 3,600 passing yards, 22 TDs and 20 INTs, with 550 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs mixed in. That would give him 353 fantasy points in the same system.
Obviously, making predictions with such precision is a little bit of a fool’s errand, but it’s clear that I have the two scoring about the same number of fantasy points per game. I see Ryan as a little bit safer, with less of a chance of getting injured than Newton. That’s why I’m passing on Newton in the second round and targeting Ryan in the sixth round of fantasy drafts.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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