Projecting The Top Rookie QB's Fantasy Output

By Sean Cordy
Johnny Manziel
Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft is all but decided at this point. There are still whispers about the Houston Texans drafting Johnny Manziel with the top selection in the draft tomorrow. In the event that he is not taken first overall, there’s a high probability he’s taken in the top 10 as the first QB off the board.

Earlier, I had wrote about Manziel’s likelihood of being a fantasy star this upcoming season. If he is indeed the first QB taken, recent history says that he’s bound to be a strong fantasy starter this coming season. But it’s not just Manziel to look at — the likes of Blake Bortles and Derek Carr could still be the first gunslinger selected in this year’s draft. Simply put, the first QB taken has proven to be a viable fantasy pick in recent seasons.

In the past 10 seasons, there’s a downward trend in the rank for the top-drafted QB. Take a look at the graph below.

First Selected QBs*E.J. Manuel’s rank: based on per-game basis due to injury

But why is this happening? The answer may be found in how the league has evolved into a passing league. Check out the graph below looking at the median number of pass attempts per game over the past 10 seasons.

Median Pass AttemptsThe trend is very similar to that of the former graph — roughly a 20 percent difference. But look closer. The previous five seasons in both graphs feature very close correlations between actual and projected output (the downward trending line). Also, notice that if you take out Jamarcus Russell‘s season in which he had very little playing time due to poor play and injuries, the trend would be even stronger.

At the current trend, this year’s first overall QB drafted is projected to be a top-five fantasy QB. But accounting for the percent error between the median pass attempts and first QB drafted, whichever signal caller is taken first would be floating around in the top 10.

Now, I realize that without knowing which one will be drafted first and by which team, you can’t truly estimate the output of said prospect (or any player for that matter). But looking at the last five QBs taken, whichever is taken first will at least fall in the top 20 among quarterbacks, but has the upside of being ranked in the top five (as noted by the red mark in the first graph).

If you’re asking me who should be taken, and by which team to make this prediction correct, I’d say the Cleveland Browns taking Manziel would be the optimum selection — though I think taking Sammy Watkins would be better for the Browns overall. With their rebuilt offense that includes Ben Tate, a strong offensive line, and the potential that Josh Gordon has, Manziel could be an immediate star.

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