Who can be the NFL leader in passing yards?
As previously mentioned in last weeks rushing edition of this piece, the NFL is a passing league. This has led to an offensive explosion, and the NFL leader in passing yards has followed. For the second time in history, we had two passers top 5,000 yards in 2018.
More importantly, the NFL leader in passing yards has posted a top-6 fantasy finish in every single season since 2000. Clearly, the leading passer is a valuable fantasy asset. But identifying that player can be tricky sometimes. Heading into last season, Tom Brady was the favorite to accomplish that feat, followed by Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers. While Big Ben claimed the crown, the other four passers all landed outside the top-5 by the end of the season.
What To Look For
Over the last 10 seasons, the NFL’s leading passer has won 9, 9, 13, 7, 13, 7, 7, 7, 13, and 9 games. And all those 7-win QBs were some guy named Brees. Therefore, we are either looking for teams with positive records or the most prolific passer of all time.
According to FanDuel Sportsbook, there are 17 teams that are projected to win more than 8.0 games this upcoming season. Based on some team tendencies, their ability to tuck-and-run, and just logic, it is safe to rule out Russell Wilson, Mitchell Trubisky, Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson. This narrows our list down to 12 passers, but this is still too large to capitalize in fantasy football.
I’m no projections guru, so I won’t pretend to engineer my idea of who will lead the league in pass attempts. But what I do know is that the NFL leader in passing yards has topped 600 attempts in all but one season over the last five years. The average among those quarterbacks has been 643, but shockingly enough only Roethlisberger has hit that number over the last two seasons.
With only four quarterbacks throwing for 600 attempts in 2018, our sample shrinks pretty drastically, but what seems to be equally important is yards per attempt. Mahomes was just 32 yards behind Roethlisberger last season despite throwing the ball 95 fewer times. And over the last decade the NFL leader in passing yards has hit at least 7.51 yards per attempt every season and has averaged 7.98 yards per attempt.
If we adjust our 2018 sample to passers that hit 7.98 yards per attempt, our list shrinks to just five players. If we blend this list with our list of QBs that hit at least 600 attempts, we have Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson, Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan.
Who To Target
Ryan should be our first candidate, as he is the only one to appear on both lists. That combination of volume and efficiency puts him in elite territory. FanDuel Sportsbook agrees, giving him the second-best odds to lead his position.
Mahomes is also a strong candidate here. He is fresh off of an MVP season, has all of his weapons, and his starting RB has never received more than 50 carries in a season. Mahomes’ 8.79 yards per attempt last season was the fourth-best figure since 2000, and more volume should follow.
Cousins is the real value here, as most fantasy rankings have him in the bottom half of QBs. He is the cheapest guy on the list but has arguably the best receiver duo in the league to go along with upgrades along the offensive line. That should boost his efficiency on top of his strong volume. Cousins is also one of the five QBs to top 4,900 yards in the last three seasons, so he has the pedigree to make it happen.
Now this is certainly not the end-all-be-all of lists. Outliers occur in the NFL and someone like Kyler Murray could light the fantasy landscape on fire. But if I was pushing all my chips in the middle of the table, I would have to bet on these guys.
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