Fantasy Football: A Look at Josh McCown's Surprisingly Great Season
The thought heading into the 2017 season was that the New York Jets were tanking this year. An 0-16 season, albeit unlikely, was not totally out of the question. It didn't feel like a stretch to say that head coach Todd Bowles was pretty much a dead man walking.
But our beliefs were incorrect, as no one told the Jets' players -- in particular Josh McCown -- that they were supposed to be lying down. While New York is still an extreme longshot to make the postseason, they’ve certainly been competitive, and McCown has been one of the more surprising fantasy stars.
His fantasy numbers have clearly been superb so far. But what do his real-world metrics say, and can McCown keep this up throughout the fantasy playoffs?
Throughout this piece, we'll be using Net Expected Points (NEP), our in-house metric that tracks the expected points added on each play throughout the season for both teams and players -- with the team totals being adjusted for strength of opponent. NEP gives us the context to know that a three-yard completion on 3rd and 2 is much more valuable than that same completion on 3rd and 4. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
A Career-Best Season
McCown is one of 40 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, and he ranks 15th in that subset with a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.12. His Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of his drop backs that positively impact NEP -- is 46.56%, which ranks 17th.
For reference, among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs this season, the average Passing NEP per drop back is 0.08, and the average Success Rate is 45.57%. Last season, the league averages were a tad better -- 0.12 Passing NEP per drop back and 47.02% Success Rate.
When you compare this season to McCown's previous campaigns, his numbers look even more impressive. We'll look at only the seasons in which he amassed at least 250 drop backs in an effort to weed out any small-sample oddities.
|Season||Drop Backs||Passing NEP Per Drop Back||League Average|
Per drop back, we can see that McCown has actually been a below-average performer in each of his previous high-volume seasons. Although, to be fair, he was pretty solid for the Cleveland Browns in 2015.
What a Rush
McCown's improved passing efficiency has helped him become a fantasy revelation. He hasn’t finished outside of the top-24 weekly quarterbacks since Week 4, and he's been a top-seven weekly quarterback five times since Week 5. He has at least 257 passing yards in four of his last five games, including back-to-back 300-yard performances.
But there is some randomness working in his favor in terms of rushing production, as McCown has miraculously scored five rushing touchdowns.
Here's a full list of running backs who have more rushing touchdowns than McCown -- Mark Ingram, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Alvin Kamara and Marshawn Lynch. That's it. McCown has more rushing scores than all but six backs.
Prior to this season, he had eight rushing touchdowns in 82 career games, so he's certainly due for some negative regression there. But nothing else in his stat profile -- his 4.7% touchdown rate isn't super wonky -- screams that his campaign is a fluke. He's just playing better than he usually does, with his 67.8% completion percentage, 7.5 adjusted yards per attempt and 240 passing yards per game all well above his career averages.
One of the main drivers behind McCown and his success seems to be the big-play ability of Robby Anderson. Anderson, a second-year undrafted free agent out of Temple, has turned into a real gem for the Jets as well as one of the best performers at his position.
Among wideouts with at least 50 targets, Anderson sits eighth in Reception NEP per target at 0.89. If we include all players who have seen at least 50 targets, adding in tight ends and running backs, he's 10th out of 102 players.
Anderson has made a lot of splash plays, and his catches have consistently provided value to the Jets' offense, something we can see from his Reception Success Rate. Among receivers with at least 86 targets, his 90.00% Success Rate checks in 14th.
The surprising competency of the Jets' offense is due in large part to the stellar play of Anderson and McCown, and their breakouts go hand in hand.
The Rest of 2017
As good of a run as McCown has been on, he may have a rough time keeping it going during the fantasy playoffs.
The Jets take on the Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Chargers in the next three weeks, with the games against New Orleans and Denver on the road. All three of these teams rank in the top half of the league in pass defense, per our schedule-adjusted metrics. While the Broncos have been skidding lately, they've still allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards, so a matchup at Denver is still a pretty brutal one.
McCown has taken fantasy owners on a great ride this season, but now looks like the time to depart the train.