Fantasy Football: Joe Flacco Can Still Be a Factor for the Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos' acquisition of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco appears -- on its face -- to be another John Elway blunder as he chases the dust of a former Super Bowl MVP. But regardless of how you feel about Flacco's on-field play, we all want to know what his fantasy impact will be in Denver.
How bad has he been? Is he worth drafting or streaming? What does this mean for the Broncos' skill position players?
Let's look at all the angles and see what we find.
Flacco, though a household name, has been synonymous with mediocrity.
In his eight-year career, he has two seasons where he finished with a negative Passing Net Expected Points (NEP; the points a player adds based on their play and efficiency) overall. Looking at his completed seasons, Flacco really has just one exceptional season in eight years: his 2014 campaign in which he threw for 3,986 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and totaled 89.35 Passing NEP and 0.16 Passing NEP per drop back. Looking strictly at NEP, this year appears as an outlier. Combining all other drop backs yields an average of 0.03 Passing NEP per drop back. For some perspective, 0.03 would rank 29th of quarterback with at least 200 drop backs in 2018, just in front of Alex Smith (0.02) and behind Case Keenum (0.04).
Further evidence of Flacco’s questionable performance is his Passing Success Rate (the percentage of plays resulting in positive NEP). 2014 aside, Flacco has a Passing Success Rate of 43.24%. In 2018, that would rank 31st, below Blake Bortles (44.01%).
Per Marcus Mosher, Flacco has also posted a passer rating of 82.2 in his last 53 games, which would have ranked him 29th in 2018. And as Evan Silva pointed out, Flacco has recent back and hip injuries, is 34 years old, and only averages 6.3 yards per attempt over the last four years. Flacco has only surpassed 4,000 yards passing yards once, has a career-high of 27 touchdowns and averages 1.3 touchdowns per game.
Those aren't inspiring numbers for Elway and company.
Despite his just above-replacement level image and his “pocket-sloth mobility”, Flacco actually had a decent season (or half-season) in 2018. Through nine games, he was on pace for 4,382 yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Although his Passing Success Rate of 44.81% ranked 27th, Flacco’s 0.10 Passing NEP per drop back was tied for 21st with Eli Manning and Dak Prescott. In his nine games, Flacco was a QB1 four times and a QB2 three times.
Diving deep into Flacco’s move to the Broncos uncovers a strikingly similar comparison between Flacco and soon-to-be backup Case Keenum. Many of their numbers -- from standard NFL measurements to advanced metrics and fantasy output -- are incredibly close.
|Joe Flacco||Case Keenum|
|Yards per Attempt||6.5||6.6|
|Fantasy Points per Game||15.2||13.4|
|Touchdowns to Interceptions||12:6||18:15|
|Passing Success Rate||44.81%||44.52%|
|Pressured Completion Percentage||31.1%||36.0%|
|Red Zone Completion Percentage||53.2%||51.4%|
|Play-Action Completion Percentage||60.7%||62.0%|
|Deep Ball Completion Percentage||25.5%||34.3%|
The similarities are there, and the same goes for the two offenses.
In 2018, Denver’s offense passed 61% of the time, while the Flacco-led Ravens passed on 64% of snaps. Their offensive lines also graded out similarly. According to Football Outsiders, Baltimore’s offensive line ranked ninth-best in run blocking and eighth-best in pass blocking, allowing 32 sacks and a 6.1% adjusted sack rate. Denver’s offensive line ranked 6th-best in run blocking and 11th-best in pass blocking, allowing 34 sacks and a 6.3% adjusted sack rate.
However, there is a red flag with Denver’s offensive line. In 2017, their offensive line still ranked ninth-best in run blocking but was fourth-worst in pass blocking. They allowed 52 sacks and a 9.1% adjusted sack rate.
And if pressured often, Flacco will not perform well. From 2015 to 2018, only three quarterbacks (with a 600 attempt minimum) had a worse passer rating under pressure than Flacco. His 64.1 passer rating is something to be worried about, but if Denver’s offensive line can maintain their 2018 form, Flacco could have Keenum’s 2018 as his floor.
Now, to answer the question everybody wants to know: how will Flacco impact Denver’s fantasy output?
Remember first that Flacco was on pace for 239 fantasy points, which would have made him the 16th-best fantasy quarterback, right in between Prescott and Manning. Flacco doesn’t have the upside of a top-12 quarterback for fantasy, but he usually finds himself in the 14 to 18 range, which is perfectly fine for streaming and great for two-quarterback leagues.
When viewing the skill position players of Flacco’s past, we can get a glimpse into how he will raise -- or lower -- Denver players.
From 2013 to 2017, Flacco only supported a single top-12 running back (Justin Forsett in 2014) and a single top-12 tight end (Benjamin Watson in 2017). The highest any wide receiver for a season was 19 (Torrey Smith in 2014). Although Flacco’s recent years don't display an ability to maintain a large amount of top fantasy performers, he has been able to give us 13 to 36 ranked running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. In those five seasons, the average finish of his top performers are the 23rd-best running back, the 27th-best wide receiver and 19th-best tight end.
Of note are his 2014, 2017 and 2018 seasons. In 2014, Torrey Smith finished as the 19th-best PPR receiver, while Steve Smith finished as the 20th. Forsett was the 8th-best running back and Owen Daniels was the 16th-best tight end. In 2017, Watson was the 11th-best tight end, Collins was the 21st-best running back and Allen was the 24th-best.
Then, in 2018 Flacco again showed signs of life. Through those nine weeks Flacco supported the 22nd- (John Brown), 31st- (Michael Crabtree) and 34th-best (Willie Snead) PPR wide-receivers, while also supporting the 21st- (Alex Collins) and 24th-best (Javorius Allen) PPR running backs. These obviously aren’t on DeAndre Hopkins and Christian McCaffrey levels, but these are fantasy starters from a Flacco offense.
He now moves to the Denver offense that already had a top-12 running back and top-24 wide receiver. Phillip Lindsay's emergence and pass-catching ability should do well with Flacco. His running backs, dating back to Ray Rice, are utilized as receiving weapons. With a top run-blocking unit and a quarterback that doesn’t mind checking the ball down, Lindsay should have another solid year.
Emmanuel Sanders, on the other hand, muddies the waters. In weeks 1-13, Sanders was the 15th-best PPR wide receiver, but his his late-season injury and low air yards per target come with caution. Sanders will be 32 years old at the start of the 2019 season and will return from a torn Achilles tendon in week 13. Adding to this is Flacco’s tendency to push the ball to downfield receivers.
|Season||Targets||Air Yards||Air Yards Per Target|
Sanders' best case scenario is a Steve Smith type of season. But there is another appealing option on the Broncos: rookie Courtland Sutton.
In 2018, Sutton was 21st of all wide receivers in total air yards. His 14.0 air yards per target puts him above Sanders and the past seasons of Steve Smith and Mike Wallace. While Sutton was a strong college prospect and was drafted high (40th overall), his 84 targets and total air yards are even more encouraging. Entering his second year, he profiles as the downfield option that has the biggest chance for success in a Flacco-led offense.
While he isn't "elite", Flacco isn’t as bad as Twitter and most analysts might make him out to be.
Is he easily replaceable in the league? Not in most cases.
Flacco is in the lower-tier of competent quarterbacks, and in fantasy he has the ability to give you streaming performances in one-quarterback leagues, regular starts in two-quarterback leagues, and can lead an offense with a top-12 back in Lindsay and potentially two fantasy-relevant receivers in Sutton and Sanders. Don't go out of your way make room for him, but don't sleep on his impact in Denver.