A "statement season" is one so exceptionally good (or bad) that it has definite ramifications for seasons to come. Why is Martz proclaiming Warner his 2003 starter even though Bulger had the better season in 2002? Because Warner had a statement season in 1999: 4353 yards, 41 TDs, 13 INTs. Why will Ryan Leaf never play pro football again? Because he had a statement season in 1998: 1289 yards, 2 TDs, 15 INTs. Those two examples are very strong statements; so strong that they stick out in our memories now, four and five years later.
In the following analysis, some strong and medium statement seasons will be broken down for 2002 quarterbacks: what happened, why did it happen, and what does it mean for the future?
Vick was a sensation in 2002. He was fast; he had moves; he threw lasers with that beautiful flick motion; and he helped take the Falcons into the playoffs. The most obvious statement Vick made with his 2002 season was that he can deliver on the promise of being the premier running quarterback in the NFL. By rushing for nearly 800 yards and eight touchdowns, Vick stabilized his game-to-game numbers which made him one of the more consistent fantasy QBs. Aside from three awful games in the fantasy point single digits (vs. TB, BAL, and TB), Vick's worst game was 17 points. He scored eight times in the 20s and twice in the 30s.
While much of that consistency drew on the running element of Vick's game, he could not have done it without being a very accurate, steady passer. Taking out the three games where he was shut down, Vick averaged a respectable 220 yards passing (or, 11 points in this scoring system). Combine that with a 2:1 TD to INT ratio, and the passing element of Vick's game demands respect. Not only does it earn respect, but Vick's passing ability adds another layer to his 2002 statement season.
He will continue to run wild for the next few years, but in that time I expect his passing game knowledge, timing, and decision-making will continue to develop. As the passing game comes along, he will have all the tools necessary to be the best and stay at the top of the fantasy rankings when his legs slow down. I can't see a reason why Vick won't repeat in the top-three next season...and the season after that...and the season after that...and...
McNabb broke his ankle in week 11, against the Cardinals, and missed the remaining six games of the regular season. Up to the point of injury, McNabb was the among the best quarterbacks in the NFL; and he, in fact, finished the season with the highest quarterback fantasy points per game average (25.3). What set McNabb apart in 2002 was his adaptability. If the pass wasn't working, he ran it well; if the run wasn't working, he passed it well; and he never went a game without scoring a touchdown. There were two games (vs. NYG, vs. CHI) in which McNabb didn't throw a passing touchdown, but he ran one into the endzone on both occasions. Against the Giants -- who were holding him under a 50% completion percentage -- McNabb accompanied that rushing touchdown with 111 rushing yards. After sitting out seven weeks, he returned from the injury in time for the Eagles' round two playoff game against Atlanta to score 18 fantasy points. The quick return and solid performance indicates that McNabb should be back at full strength for the 2003 season.
I consider this a statement season for two reasons:
1. Not only did he play the whole game against Arizona on a broken ankle; but, because he couldn't run (zero attempts), he threw for four touchdowns. That game took McNabb to new levels of team leadership, by demonstrating the will to perform through pain.
2. Minute-for-minute, McNabb was the best fantasy quarterback in 2002.
Assuming no further injuries, McNabb is a lock for a top-three ranking on the 2003 QB Cheatsheet.
Chad Pennington RANK G P.ATT COMP P.YDS P.TD INT R.ATT R.YDS R.TD FP FP.G Projected: NOT 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Actual: 14 15 400 276 3128 22 6 30 49 2 249 16.6
Discounting the first two games he subbed into (13 total pass attempts), Pennington had a starter's average of 19 fantasy points per game. That per game average puts him right between Manning's 19.2 and Bledsoe's 18.9; elite company for the young quarterback, but judging by the above statistics he could belong in that group.
The statement of Pennington's 2002 season was twofold: good decision making and amazing accuracy. With a healthy sample of 400 attempts, he put up a 69% completion percentage. He consistently got the ball out of his hands, and put it in position for his man to make a play on it. Evidenced by his TD to INT ratio of 3.6:1, his decision making ability is already at the elite level.
The only concern is Pennington's tendency to not put enough heat on the ball. His game is mostly a touch one, and that causes the ball to float once in a while. In those situations, he can be intercepted by aggressive defensive backs. This was demonstrated well in the playoff game against Oakland, where Pennington threw two floaters that were intercepted. If he can put a little more zip in his throwing arm, he should eliminate his most obvious weakness and be in the top-10 next season.
The statement Kitna made in 2002 was simple: he can play. From the third string QB spot (I think it was QB3...it's so difficult to tell with the Bengals), he won the starting job and actually put up some quality fantasy numbers. Weeks 8-15 were the sweet spot for Kitna. In that span he scored 19, 29, 15 (vs. BAL), 23, 18, 21, 30, and 17 fantasy points. That is a starting fantasy QB production level from a free agent QB you could have (and should have) picked off the junk pile.
Not only did he save many a fantasy team from QB problems in the middle of the season, he made Chad Johnson a top-20 wide receiver. And -- assuming that the Bengals' front office isn't completely insane -- Kitna made it possible for Cincinnati to enter the season with a concrete starting QB for the first time in years.
All I'm saying is, in the same number of games, he had a better season than Brian Griese (see below), with half the supporting cast. It was a statement season for Kitna, because he earned next-level consideration. I'd like to draft him as my QB2 next season. Since Bengals not named Dillon get no respect, I'll probably get my chance.
Matt Hasselbeck RANK G P.ATT COMP P.YDS P.TD INT R.ATT R.YDS R.TD FP FP.G Projected: NOT 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Actual: 18 14 419 267 3075 15 10 40 200 1 219 15.7
I know it is a cliche, but for Hasselbeck 2002 was a tale of two seasons. Seriously, it was schizophrenic. The first eight games he played, he averaged 8.9 fantasy points per game. In that time he threw three touchdowns and three interceptions, and averaged just 144 passing yards per game.
In Week 12, though, he was fortunate to play the confidence-boosting KC secondary to the tune of 362 passing yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions (32 FPs). From that point on, he went on a tear, throwing 12 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and averaging 343 passing yards per game. That comes out to a 26.3 fantasy points per game average over the last six weeks of the season; a period including solid pass defenses like PHI and ATL.
More in-depth study needs to be done on how often such an incredible turnaround at the end of a season translates into similar elite numbers for the following season. Even before sifting through history, though, it is clear that Hasselbeck's final six weeks were impressive enough to capture the attention of fantasy fanatics. He also captured the confidence of his coach and teammates, and they should give him every chance to succeed at the same level next season. Hasselbeck is still a year away from being a starting-caliber fantasy quarterback, but you'll regret not having him as your QB2 if he proves the end of 2002 was no fluke.
After his poor, injury-inflicted 2001 season, Culpepper came back in 2002 to put up 3800+ passing yards, 600 rushing yards, and 28 total touchdowns (10 rushing). In any game, he can be an explosive fantasy force. In 2002, Culpepper had great games of 42, 34, and 30 fantasy points. In addition, he had four games in the 20s. Of course there were those four games in the teens... And that 11-pointer against the Jets. And those three horrific eight point performances; no touchdowns in any of them, four INTs against Carolina, two INTs against Tampa Bay, and a grand total of 91 passing yards against the Giants.
Inconsistency. That is Culpepper's statement. I like to think of him as the "Wide Receiver of Quarterbacks"... he booms, and he inevitably busts. In a scoring system like this one, that rewards heavily for yardage, Culpepper may finish near the top again next season. But for those in leagues that de-emphasize yardage, and punish for turnovers (I didn't even mention all the fumbles), Culpepper is a gamble that will likely lose you more than a few games next season.
It is a difficult fantasy problem that Culpepper presents. While it is attractive that he'll nearly single-handedly win a few games for you, and be in the solid 20 point range for a few others, it is a challenge (considering Culpepper's high draft position) to assemble a team that can carry him on his 4-6 bad weeks. In a 12-week fantasy regular season, four self-destructive QB performances might be all she wrote. I think the second part of Culpepper's inconsistent statement season is: the price is too high.
The statement Griese made in 2002, to his team and to the viewing public, was one of mediocrity. He didn't have a bad season. He didn't have a good season. He missed a few games with injury and performed just well enough not to get benched. I had the opportunity to watch a few Denver games this season, and it seemed that Griese would -- rather than make the big play -- give up the big play; on an interception, or a failed third down conversion, or a failed possession in the red zone. He just didn't have it.
In weeks four through seven, Griese passed for 300+ yards in each game, but the Broncos only won two of those games. The team couldn't maintain that level of execution, or they lost faith in the quarterback, or Griese lost faith in himself ... I don't know what happened, but Griese had only one game above 15 fantasy points after that (17 against KC).
Now, the rumor is -- despite a large cap penalty -- Denver will trade or release Griese this offseason and seek a quarterback the team can actually believe in. Assuming Griese gets picked up by another franchise, I don't see any possibility of him moving to a better situation. Last season he had Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Ashley Lelie, Shannon Sharpe (for 12 games), and rookie running back phenom Clinton Portis. And, he played in a division that seriously lacked pass defense. I don't think opportunity gets better than that.
Couch didn't start the first two games of the season. In his place, Kelly Holcomb started and performed well. Holcomb had 28 fantasy points against KC, and 18 against CIN. Couch came back in as the starter in week three against TEN, and had a great game: 36 of 50, 326 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception (28 FPs). Then, Couch crumbled in week four against PIT: 144 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions (3 FPs). At that point, people were thinking again about the solid starts Holcomb had, and Couch was left to prove himself in week five against a tough Baltimore defense on Sunday night football.
I am trying to give this the dramatic buildup it deserves, because what happened that night colored perceptions for the rest of the season. At the end of three quarters, the score was 23-0, Baltimore. Couch was having a tough time, and was knocked out of bounds at the CLE two yard line. The hit also knocked him out of the game. Holcomb came in with 9:52 left to play in the fourth quarter, the score being 23-8 at that point, and he drove the Browns 98 yards for a touchdown in a minute and fifty seconds. After throwing a pick, resulting in a BAL field goal, Holcomb came back in with 3:30 left and the score being 26-15. He drove the Browns 76 yards for a touchdown in two minutes and thirty seconds. After CLE recovered the onside kick, Holcomb (limping up the field at this point after a few vicious hits) brought the Browns to the Baltimore 17 yard line with 14 seconds left ... and threw a heartbreaking interception.
Despite losing the game, Holcomb displayed the qualities of a leader that night. Couch was allowed to play out the season, and performed at the same mediocre level he has shown since 1999. Considering Couch's statistical mediocrity, and Holcomb's fine fill-in duty (he finished with 790 yards, eight TDs, four INTs), one shouldn't be surprised to see Holcomb as the Browns 2003 starting QB coming out of camp. That night against Baltimore, he looked more like the leader of his team than Couch did. Looking back, that's the statement Couch made with his 2002 season: he cannot lead like Holcomb can.