By Jared Clifton
Fantasy football started in 1962 when part Oakland Raider owner Bill Winkenbach and a group of friends put together the inaugural GOPPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League). In 1997 CBS launched the first of its kind online fantasy football league platform. As recently as 2018, the industry estimates that over 59 million people play, spending roughly $7 billion a year in some form or fashion. We can’t get enough. Redraft. Dynasty. Keeper. Daily. IDP. Best Ball. You name it, and there’s a game for it.
Fantasy drafts are events, and Sundays take on duality as we watch both our favorite teams and our hand-selected fantasy squads rack up TD’s and points decimal by decimal. Cash prizes are won and lost. Bragging rights begin and natural rivalries form. Fantasy has been a contributing factor in the NFL becoming the ultimate in sports entertainment.
But, it’s the players that truly bring us back every year. We all want to pick the next Marshall Faulk or Priest Holmes or, more recently, Lamar Jackson or Christian McCaffrey. There’s a history in fantasy numbers. We see legends made and reputations shattered with each sleeper or bust that happens.
We know names like Rob Kelley and Justin Forsett and Ladell Betts when the casual non-fantasy player wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a singleback set. We still revel over our waiver finds of Victor Cruz and Tim Hightower and Gary Barnidge that carried us to faux championships over our friends and mortal enemies.
But do we use history as a tool when drafting our upcoming year’s teams? Possibly recent history, as there are a myriad of tools and projections at our disposal to research and provide us with all of the numbers to create our cheat sheets and draft strategies. However, we don’t typically consult one readily available tool. A deep dive into what the projections look like in the frame of historical statistical seasons.
There are very few outlier seasons in the past 20 or so seasons of electronic fantasy gaming. In this exercise, we will do our best to pair the consensus projections of the top fantasy players, to their historical peers. I try to find the most comparable season stats, not necessarily the most similar player, that best fits what the experts predict as the projected stats for the upcoming season. The season comparisons are sure to be flawed, and I would encourage you to find seasons that better match those that I have seen. It is a fun look back on the players that have made or broken our championship dreams, but also a useful and tangible perspective of expectations for the big names of 2020.
**A few quick notes on methodology and the process to sync up the projected stats and the historical seasons. I used the past 20 seasons as the sampling size due to a few factors.
- The NFL game has changed dramatically over the past few decades.
- Fewer carries for lead backs.
- A greater emphasis on passing.
- More receivers involved in offenses.
- More receiving focused hybrid tight ends.
- Name recognition and player relevance.
I also tried to match up the best season stats, while still trying to compare to similar players, so when we view this historical data as a tool, it still has a justifiable frame of reference to be able to connect the players. It was not possible for each player, and certain positions were more difficult than others. When feasible, I cast former players from the 2020 comped players team, to add an element of symbiosis to the comparison.
While there are a few players that didn’t play full seasons, I worked to include as many full seasons as possible for maximum relatability. There aren’t any advanced metrics used in the comparisons, but rather a pure focus on counting stats lining up to provide the closest fantasy point per game possible. There are a few exceptions, but yards, receptions, TD’s, etc. are all very close and could be interchangeable between the two players.
Lastly, this series was a labor of love. There were many hours put into the meticulous matching of players and even longer coordinating and poring over statistics to make this as enjoyable and relevant a piece as possible. As I mentioned in my introduction to the series, I encourage you to do some deep diving in the past ten or twenty or even thirty seasons and see what you find. It will be a lot of fun, and you might accidentally get a new tool of perspective to use in your drafts going forward.
A special thanks to Fantasy Pros, Fantasy Data, and Player Profiler, for the fantastic tools that made this article possible. Consensus projections were pulled from Fantasy Pros. Historical fantasy stats were pulled from Fantasy Data and real life peer comparisons were pulled from Player Profiler.
Quarterback Comparisons: QB12 – QB7
QB12: Tom Brady (2019 Rank #12)
Player Profiler Comparison: Philip Rivers
2020 Consensus Projections:
It’s weird, right? It’s not just me? Weirder than Montana in a Chiefs uniform or Manning with a different horsey on his helmet. But, here we are. After nineteen seasons and arguably the greatest dynasty we’ve seen in our sports lifetimes, Brady has packed up his winter Uggs and moved on to his beach Crocs.
And what a situation he finds himself in. Brady should enjoy the new receiving scenery and he even brought an old buddy along for his farewell tour. With Evans, Godwin, Gronk, et al., Brady may have his best pass catching group of his entire career and those that project out his stats, seem to think the same way.
This is a team built for greater things than their offensively fun, but ineffective 7-9 finish. It’s Brady’s chance to separate himself from The Hoodie and prove that he is the one true leader. If he can stay upright, he’ll have his work cut out for him in a tough NFC South, but for fantasy, he should make a lot of owners very happy…and I’m not just talking about the Glazer family. Sundays will be interesting, seeing him in this strange new uniform and it’s very likely that his HMH comp may be the one opining this new wrinkle in NFL history.
History Meets Hype Comparison: Tony Romo (2011–finished as QB7)
Now much more loved for his broadcasting prowess, than he ever was for his quarterbacking, Tony Romo should really be remembered for his ability as a fantasy stalwart.He finished six of the seven seasons he started 13 or more games, with over 17 ppg in fantasy, including his 2011 season.
While often maligned for his inability to lead the Cowboys to the promised land, Romo never finished outside the top 12 in seasons that he played 13 or more games. A lot of that was with some fantastic weapons, including Jason WItten, Dez Bryant and one hit wonder, Laurent Robinson (11 TD’s!!!).
He accounted for the highest percentage of team TD’s in league history (32 of 39–82.1%) and that could be a very similar stat in Tampa Bay this year, with a crowded, but unspectacular backfield. Another disappointing non-playoff season was his reward for a pretty stellar fantasy campaign. Here’s hoping Brady can avoid that fate.
QB11: Carson Wentz (2019 Rank #10)
Player Profiler Comparison: Carson Palmer
2020 Consensus Projections:
Cards on the table, I’m a Cowboys fan, so I’ll be rooting against Wentz this year, as I do every Eagles QB since Randall Cunningham. That said, when on the field, Carson Wentz has been one of the top stars at his position and with a full slate of weapons, he looks to continue that trend.
Even with a hodgepodge of WR’s last year, he was a consistent producer, finishing as a QB1 nine times, including all four typical fantasy playoff weeks. While reliant on his two big tight end targets, he now gets speedster Jalen Reagor, to pair with deep threat Desean Jackson and when healthy, possession dynamo Alshon Jeffrey.
Maybe it’s the slight injury history he has or maybe he’s just seen as a back end, but unsexy pick, but he has shown the makings of a steady late round pick that you’ll be able to plug in week in and week out. Much like his fellow small school first round comp.
History Meets Hype Comparison: Joe Flacco (2014–finished as QB13)
Joe Flacco made a career as an above average game manager and fantasy streamer darling. Whenever I would wait late into a draft to draft a QB, I’d always feel fairly happy to grab him and.or Andy Dalton, to provide a baseline of points to hold up my RB and WR heavy teams.
In 2014, he was just outside the top 12 and had plenty of week winning efforts, like his 5 TD explosion in week 6 vs.Tampa Bay. 2014 was also Steve Smith’s first year in Baltimore and also the year Justin Forsett had his out of the blue star season, so it parallels the addition of weapons in Philly this season and (hopefully more than one season) emergence of Miles Sanders.
Flacco had a pretty good season, getting his Raven’s back into the playoffs after his first season missing the playoffs, in addition to winning a road playoff game against the rival Steelers and securing a Pro Bowl spot. It’d be a fantastic floor for Wentz to aspire to…and for my Cowboys sake, I hope he falls short!
QB10: Drew Brees (2019 Rank #21)
Player Profiler Comparison: Russell Wilson
2020 Consensus Projections:
If this is to be Brees’ final year, what a treat it has been to be able to watch his career or at least his post-Chargers career. He has a legitimate claim as the greatest QB of all time and is certainly on a very short list of QBs that are in that debate.
He already leads the NFL all-time in yards, TD’s, completions and yards per game and the offense is set up to help him keep adding to those counting stats. With Emmanuel Sanders added to Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook and Latavius Murray, this should be another high flying year for Bree’s and the projections tend to agree.
As mentioned before, we are seeing the final touches on a sure fire HOF career, that would be topped off with a second Super Bowl championship, much like his HMH comp provided in the twilight of his record setting career.
History Meets Hype Comparison: Peyton Manning (2007–finished as QB3)
If not the best QB of all time, he certainly is the funniest, but in 2007 he was still in the midst of one of the most dominating QB runs in history. In his sixth season of sixth straight top 3 QB finishes, he was automatic throughout the season, even while only playing two series in the Colt’s final regular season game.
A year after winning his first Super Bowl, he had to watch his brother Eli beat his long time nemesis, Tom Brady, in Super Bowl XLII. It would be another decade before he got his second, which would be fine timing for Brees, who is just over a decade since his lone ring.
For now, we get the joy of seeing Manning on insurance commercials and the ESPYs, but the period of time referenced in this snippet, was our pleasure to see one of the all-time greats. Let’s remember that as we watch finish up a comparable career.
QB9: Aaron Rodgers (2019 Rank #9)
Player Profiler Comparison: Drew Brees
2020 Consensus Projections:
It’s likely going to be a tense year in Green Bay, with newly selected first rounder Jordan Love trying to learn from the prickly Rodgers. It shouldn’t change a thing on how we draft ARod though. He’s not putting up the saem video game numbers that he did earlier this decade, but he doens;t turn the ball over and still quietly stacks up 4k yards and mid 20’s TD’s.
He’s a surefire HOFer for what he did earlier in his career, but now he’s the best game manager on the field today. In what could be his final year in GB, I’m betting that he comes out swinging a little more often, even in a much more balanced offensive attack.
He’s not playing away from a franchise tag that he doesn’t want, like his HMH comp, but he is playing for a new contract with potentially another team and I’d certainly be happy with him on my fantasy team, at his price and with these projected numbers.
History Meets Hype Comparison: Kirk Cousins (2017–finished as QB6)
Before becoming the first QB in NFL history to be franchise tagged twice (looking at you Dak), Cousins had delivered two good, but not great seasons as the Washington starter. His divorce from the rudderless Washington franchise was well documented, as Rodgers is likely to be, but he left on a fairly high note in his last season in the nation’s capital.
Much like the latter year Rodgers, there were games where he largely disappeared, but he had 6 games with 20 or more points and even contributed a career high in rushing yards to lift his floor.
He finished as a middle of the pack QB1 and the nameless team in DC has struggled to find a suitable replacement over the past few years. Maybe that will serve as a lesson for the brass in Green Bay.
QB8: Matt Ryan (2019 Rank #11)
Player Profiler Comparison: Peyton Manning
2020 Consensus Projections:
I’ve always felt that Matty Ice sounded more like a high schoolers malt beverage of choice, but I suppose at least in even years, it applies to the QB from the Falcons. I don’t know if you all have noticed that it’s 2020, being that it’s been such a quiet year and all, but if my math serves me correctly, we’re in for even year Matt and even year Matt is something to behold.
That typically means 3- plus TD’s and single digit INT’s, but apparently the projectors forgot to flip their calendars. Ryan has a dynamic group of receivers with generational talent Julio Jones and rising star Calvin Ridley, not to mention a new highly talked about TE in Hayden Hurst. My money’s on the over in both yards and TD’s.
A return to 2018 numbers would put him really close to his HMH comp and they can probably compare notes on their next Falcon’s QB Zoom call.
History Meets Hype Comparison: Matt Schaub (2009–finished as QB4)
Before he forgot how to throw to his team, in a still standing stretch of four games with a pick 6 in 2013, Matt Schaub was really a pretty good QB. Pro Bowl caliber even. It makes sense then, why he’s still on a roster even 6 years after his last meaningful pass.
A year after guiding the Texans to their first non-losing season (8-8), Schaub led them to their first winning season (9-7). With a superstar wideout in Andre Johnson and a wide open passing offense (still a year away from Arian Foster dominating on the ground) and led the league in passing yards.
In his best season of his 15 year career, he even won the MVP at the Pro Bowl. Schaub is a name that gets scoffed at a bit, but for at least one year, he was fantasy gold and certainly won more than a few championships in 2009.
QB7: Josh Allen (2019 Rank #6)
Player Profiler Comparison: Carson Wentz
2020 Consensus Projections:
Ask five different people and you’ll likely get at least three different opinions on the former Wyoming gunslinger, but for fantasy, he’s the real deal. He’s one of just a handful of true dual threats in the NFL and with the addition of Stefon DIggs in upstate New York, we could see a very real increase in passing TD’s.
His legs have been the real distinguisher among other lower passing volume QB’s and there’s no reason to expect that to go away. Coming in at 6’5” and 237 lbs., it’d be like trying to stop a Cessna with a butterfly net, when he gets his speed behind him.
While he’s no Lamar Jackson, we’ve definitely seen this mix of size and speed before and thanks to the wily Bill Belichick, we’ll get to see him match up against his HMH comp twice a year.
History Meets Hype Comparison: Cam Newton (2013–finished as QB3)
He’s been maddening at times and his “antics” and culots tend to get more attention lately than his playing, but Cam Newton has been nothing short of a cheat code in his 9 year career. He was sidelined for all but two games last season and played injured the prior year, but he has finished at 20 points or better per game in 50% of his full seasons.
In his 2013 season, Newton brought the Panthers back from a 1-3 start, to make his first playoff appearance. With just two games in which he scored fewer than 10 fantasy points, he was a secure floor QB with plenty of boom games that helped win games for fantasy teams, including TD’s games against the Giants and Vikings.
I think we can all tip our cap or fedora or bowler or Suessian floppy hat to how fantastic Newton has been this decade and hopefully appreciate that as we watch him battle his decidedly toned comp in Buffalo this season.
Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the QB ranks…
Jared Clifton – Dynasty/Redraft
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