If Nick Foles can maintain his current pace throughout the remainder of the regular season — or even something close to it — we may be seeing one of the more significant victories for the growing “why the hell are you drafting that quarterback so early?” crowd.
First, let’s define exactly what that pace is, and how Foles has arrived at his current perch. Let’s also readily acknowledge of the top that the sample size we have to use while judging Foles is admittedly limited, though with a cushy upcoming schedule there’s reason to have faith that a regression of any significance will be fought off.
You’re aware of the now most famous numbers associated with the Eagles quarterback. Specifically, these ones: his 16 touchdowns passes and zero interceptions over five starts, eight total game appearances, and 162 pass attempts. Those digits are quite rightfully being discussed often, just as earlier this year we marveled at Peyton Manning’s streak without an interception which lasted for nearly five games and 179 attempts.
But Foles’ efficiency has often received less attention. His completion percentage has been above 65.0 over his last three starts, which topped out at 78.6 in Week 9 against Oakland, a game when he passed for 406 yards. He’s had three starts when his yards per pass attempt has been in the double digits, and overall it sits at 9.6. Since we’re already using Manning as a gauge and comparison, let’s kindly note that he’s averaging 8.4 yards per pass attempt, while Drew Brees is at 8.3.
We’re dealing in fantasy here, and in the construction of rosters that only exist in your mind and on your computer screens. In reality, Foles isn’t Manning, and he isn’t Brees or Brady or Rodgers, or any other common upper-echelon quarter you’d like to rhyme off. But in fantasy, those numbers and that early quick start make Foles another living, breathing argument against drafting a quarterback early.
Let’s digress slightly, though, to outline the most up to date definition of the late-round quarterback, and what that fake footballer looks like. First, consider the common quarterback gold that was highly sought after this past August in drafts. According to the composite ADP data at FantasyPros which is compiled through several major fantasy sites (including ESPN, Fantasy Football Calculator, and CBS), six quarterbacks were commonly selected in the first four rounds of drafts. In order, they were Aaron Rodgers, Brew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan.
Even a casual glance shows mixed results there. Those who invested highly in Rodgers were fine with his average of 20.9 fantasy points per game prior to his injury, while Brees and Manning sit atop their position, and Newton isn’t far behind despite several maddening stumbles (two games with less than 10 fantasy points, albeit in tough matchups against San Francisco and Arizona).
But although he’s now becoming the Brady we know and love/hate with his receivers healthy, for much of the season our boy Tom sputtered while adjusting, leading to only 138 fantasy points overall right now. That’s far behind Manning’s 257, which makes him the highest producing fantasy player. Ryan has been better despite his team’s limping and disarray, but at 158 points he’s still in the same territory as, say, Ben Roethlisberger, who has 155 points and could be drafted 88 picks later on average. Or worse, there’s Alex Smith, he of the dinking, dunking, and sometimes doinking who’s only nine points behind Ryan, and he often went undrafted (ADP of 166th overall, and even right now he’s still available in 34 percent of ESPN leagues, and 39 percent of Yahoo leagues).
That’s a slice of the valuations we can reflect on now nearly through Week 12, and the scattered return on high investments. There are other high-end late-round producers like Roethlisberger and Smith, most notably Andy Dalton (ADP of 112th overall, and 169.5 fantasy points), and especially Philip Rivers (ADP of 155th, and 177 points). And now we arrive back at Foles, who’s the most extreme example of quarterback patience.
Whereas every other regular starter has been under center for 11 games now (barring injury), in Week 13 against the Cardinals Foles will make only his sixth start of the season. Despite that minimal time, his 16 touchdowns put him only one behind Newton and Brady, and two behind Ryan. At 128.0, his passer rating leads all quarterbacks who have attempted at least 100 passes, and he’s tied for second in +40 yard completions with Brees, with both quarterbacks at 11. Emphasized again: those chunky plays have come over just five starts.
What’s even more encouraging for Foles owners is that with a soft schedule after the Cardinals this upcoming week, riding Foles to a championship is something that’s very possible. He faces the Bears, Vikings, and Lions during the final three weeks of the fantasy season, and two of those pass defenses (Lions and Vikings) are currently ranked 28th and 29th.
For Foles to emerge Michael Vick had to both struggle and break. But while they’re small in number, benefiting from a Foles-like mid-season waiver rising isn’t entirely unique. Last year it was Colin Kaepernick making us swoon and pay several body parts to obtain him on the waiver wire, with his 197.6 points over just seven regular-season starts. And two years ago our savior was famously/infamously Tim Tebow, and his 236.5 points in 11 starts.
Even this year Foles — who’s somehow still out there in 33 percent of ESPN leagues — isn’t alone with his mid-season shining that can be obtained for a mere pittance. There’s also Tampa’s Mike Glennon, and of his eight starts, he’s had 15 or more fantasy points in six of them, with an impressive TD:INT ratio (13:4).
There’s luck at play here, which is a redundant and useless statement. Process and strategy always influence the result, but luck lingers throughout all of fantasy. Why, just look at the top of the running back position, where we see two top 10 picks from August out for the season (Arian Foster and Doug Martin) and three more who have struggled mightily throughout much of the year (C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice, and especially Trent Richardson).
But what we have here in Foles this year and to a lesser extent Glennon are mid-season examples to reinforce a growing philosophy. Most leagues start only one quarterback, making the waiver wire generally scattered with plug and play options. So the decision you’re faced with at the position is increasingly this: do you want to risk an average to poor return on a high investment, or wait much later on the Roethlisberger or the Smith or the Flacco?.
Or eventually, the Foles.