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Fantasy Football: Jay Cutler as Your Backup

Jay Cutler on your Fantasy Football roster?
by Arif Hasan


The most consistent and potent position in any fantasy roster is the quarterback. While the quarterback might not be the most important position you’ll end up drafting, screwing up your starting quarterback situation will come back to haunt you.

Many fantasy owners decide to wait until the fifth or sixth round until they consider a quarterback. That has merit—fifth overall scoring quarterback Peyton Manning was selected in the fifth round on average, and starting quality quarterbacks Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger were drafted later.

The principles of Value Based Drafting dictate that one should generally compare players to other players drafted in the first 100 picks. In a typical draft, that will mean 12 quarterbacks, 40 running backs, 40 wide receivers and eight tight ends.

Depending on scoring rules, that might change to fifteen quarterbacks, 36-38 wide receivers and running backs, and eight tight ends.

Regardless, if an owner is fine with forfeiting an opportunity to draft an elite quarterback—one of the top three—then many VBD disciples would recommend drafting skill positions until 18 or 19 running backs and 3 receivers are off the board (keeping in mind the other owners and specific rules).
That might end up leading to a value-rich draft full of highly regarded skill players, but could leave players drafting boom-bust prospects at quarterback or fill-ins.

Jay Cutler might be the answer.

This isn’t to say that Cutler is a starter in most leagues, but he could be the best backup available.
There are a number of tantalizing quarterbacks in the league, and much of that might have to do with the fact that running quarterbacks simply score more points on a per-game basis. Right now, running quarterbacks like Colin Kapernick are going in the sixth or seventh round of mock drafts.

Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson it the mold perfectly as well.

Last year, the top quarterback in the league (Drew Brees) scored an average of 20.5 points in the first sixteen weeks of the season. But Robert Griffin III exceeded that average in games he played uninjured. Cam Newton wasn’t far behind.

The issue, unfortunately, is that there’s good reason to believe that running quarterbacks are an injury risk (especially the recently injured RGIII). Compounding that, many of them are relatively new to the league and could be effectively nullified by new league practices designed to stop the read-option and other run-supplemented passers.

 That reward might be worth the risk, but backing up a concerning quarterback is important as well.
This is where drafting the high-value skill position players early pays off: instead of choosing between Ryan Broyles, Julian Edelman or Ronnie Hillman as a backup flex player, the owner can choose a player that they know has a good chance to start and produce.

Jay Cutler isn’t getting a lot of respect as a fantasy quarterback. The consensus of draft experts rates him as about the 18th-best quarterback available, with some experts going as low as 24.

That’s an inaccurate assessment. While Cutler certainly had a down year when it comes to fantasy numbers, he’s in a rare spot to improve as one of the league’s surprising late bloomers.

Cutler now finds himself in a situation where he can establish himself as the quarterback he was in Denver. It’s not just the fact that his offensive line improved or that Alshon Jeffery should be in for a good season after only starting six games his rookie year.

It’s that Cutler is finally in a place where he can maximize his fantasy value. He has an offensive system that emphasizes heavy passing and any new wrinkles added to the offense will add points, not subtract them. 

Not that an improved offensive line shouldn’t help—Cutler had the second-lowest average time before he scrambled. More importantly, Cutler should be able to make deeper passes with more time in the pocket.

But Marc Trestman (and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer) are among the most-pass happy coaches in the league. In Trestman’s time as a coordinator, he consistently led offenses that had some of the most pass attempts in the league, and never finished below the bottom half in total pass attempts.

This may in part be due to the fact that some of his teams were poor, but not all of them. The 1995 49ers went 11-5 and 12-4 the year after. His 2002 Raiders also went 11-5 and played in the Super Bowl.

In fact, when adjusting for score and time remaining, Trestman has been the 17th-most pass-happy coach in NFL history. This includes time he struggled with Rick Mirer and Jake Plummer at quarterback.

Coming back to the NFL after the CFL might make Trestman even more enamored with spread concepts—the CFL’s lifeblood is a vertical passing game.

Offensive coordinator comes from an even more passing-friendly background. In New Orleans, he co-coached a team that threw the second-most passes and was the fifth-most air-oriented offense in league history, when accounting for time remaining and score differential.

Cutler will have a lot of dropbacks.

Not only that, Trestman has also indicated that the Bears might be willing to run read-option elements in their offense. That won’t mean a lot of runs, but it will be enough to boost Cutler’s numbers.

Should Cutler increase his dropbacks to match the numbers of other pass-oriented offenses, he should have upwards of 600 pass attempts. At seven yards per attempt, that’s over 4200 yards. With a touchdown rate of over four percent and an interception rate below 3.5 percent, he should get around 24 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

The experts at FootballGuys project between 470 and 520 passes, while other websites like RotoWire project 513 attempts and ProFootballFocus project 519.

It might make sense to scale back the prediction of 600 pass attempts, but even splitting the difference between 600 and 470 produces 535 pass attempts. Projecting 550 pass attempts overall seems to make sense, so 3745 yards looks like a reasonable floor.

With 22 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, he would be top-tier backup or a lower-level starter. He should also have a run or two in each game to his name because of the read option and that should boost his value even further. With about 40-50 scrambles a year already, he could potentially have 70 total carries for over 400 yards and over four touchdowns.

Cutler is going as the 17th quarterback drafted, generally in the 11th round (although he’s gone anywhere between the 8th and 14th round). If you decide to wait on a quarterback and gamble on a young runner in the 6th or 7th round, grabbing Cutler in the 10th round would represent excellent value as the primary backup. Don’t be surprised if he finishes as the 14th-best quarterback or better.

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