*The following fantasy football article is based on PPR -- point per reception -- scoring, as will all my article be, for I am The PPR Monster!*
Today's edition of Dueling Draftees takes us to the Motor City, and the City by the Bay. Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions vs Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers.
Matthew Stafford - Detroit Lions
Stafford has the best receiver in the game to throw to, an offense that loves to run-and-gun, and still has only finished as a top 5 fantasy quarterback once in his 5 years in the league. His 2011 season -when he finished 5th among quarterbacks- was a magical year when he threw for 5038 yards (only 1 of 8 5,000 yard seasons in NFL history) and had a ridiculous 41-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio. All these factors made Stafford a 2012 first round, average draft position of 12th overall, and as high as the 5th overall selection in fantasy leagues across the country. And how did he reward his "coaches"? By tossing less than half his 2011 touchdown total (20) and more picks (17) while producing 66 less fantasy point for the season. To put that into perspective, you could have waited on Peyton Manning (56th overall), Tony Romo (64th), RGIII (97th), Andrew Luck (112th), or Russell Wilson (121st) and gotten more points and a better player at another position. Now in 2012 Stafford had 10 pass attempts stopped inside the 5 yard line, 7 of the 10 at the 1! Stafford rushed in 4 of the 10 for touchdowns which greatly helped his ragged season, but if he converted the other 6 into touchdowns either passing or rushing, he would have went from the 11th quarterback to between the 8th and 6th. Still not worth a 1st round pick, but definitely a lot better than he was.
Let's examine who Stafford has to throw the ball to and why that hurt his stock in previous seasons as well. We all know he has Calvin Johnson, the best receiver the game has seen since Jerry Rice, but outside of Megatron has anyone else really helped Stafford out? In his three full seasons, Stafford has completed 302 passes to Johnson, while completing just 317 to his other wide outs over that period. That means Johnson has caught 48.8% of Stafford's pass completions that span (Dez Bryant was the next closest with 40.3%). Johnson never had less 1489 receiving yards a year over the last three seasons, while every other receiver combined has not topped 1454. Megatron also has 33 touchdown receptions from 2011-2013 versus 22 for all Lions wide receivers over the same span. The Lions added Golden Tate this offseason and it may be the first time that Johnson has had a legitimate receiver to line up opposite of himself. Tate has increased his targets, receptions and yards every season 2011. Outside of that 2011 season, when Tate only started 5 games, his numbers blow out the second best receiver on Detroit’s squad in both 2012 and 2013. In the 2012 season Tate snagged 45 balls for 688 yards and 7 touchdowns. Stafford’s number 2 that season was Titus Young, yes that Titus Young who is no longer in the league, who had a stat line of 33-383-4. Not only are all his number better, Tate also averaged 3.7 yards more per catch (15.3-11.6), and caught 67.2% of his targets compared to 58.9% for Young. 2013 saw Kris Durham as the Lions 2 and him going 38-490-2 and Nate Burleson finished as the 3rd best receiver on the team at 49-461-1. Last year Tate went 65-898-5. COMBINED Durham and Burleson (77-951-3), barely edged out Tate in receptions and yards while falling short of his touchdown mark. With Johnson and Tate as his top 2 receivers, Stafford’s wide out arsenal is already way ahead of any season he has started.
Onto Stafford’s other new toy, tight end Eric Ebron. The Lions selected Brandon Pettigrew in the first round along with Stafford in 2009, but he has not become what they need in a receiving tight end. He has size (6’6”), but he can’t seem to be that go-to threat that other big ends like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have become for the respected teams. Pettigrew has played in 71 NFL games, and in that span he has 16 touchdowns –with zero multi-touchdown games- while only recording three 100 yard games. Gronk has had at least three 100 yard receiving games in EACH of the past three years to go along with 42 touchdowns in 50 career games, and Graham has had 12 games eclipsing the century mark since 2011 and has 9 career games with multiple touchdowns. Ebron comes into Detroit as the pass-catching tight end Stafford has so desperately needed. Ebron caught 62 passes for 973 yards and 3 touchdowns in 13 games his final collegiate season, a yard mark Pettigrew has not ever achieved –best he’s done is 777 in 2011- and his two seasons with more receptions (71 and 83) and touchdowns (5 and 4) barely surpassed Ebron’s junior season. Ebron will come in and make an immediate impact in Detroit’s vertical passing attack.
Colin Kaepernick - San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick is one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the NFL to watch play the game. His 49ers have one of the best receiving corps in the league, an elite tight end, and a terrific running game. Not to mention Kaepernick could be the best quarterback when he uses his running ability, wether that be to scramble and pick up yards or on designed carries, not many other quarterbacks in the league can compete with Kaep's feet. Since he took over for Alex Smith in week 9 of the 2012 season, Kaepernick has lead his 49ers to 17 regular season wins - only Peyton Manning (21), Russell Wilson (20), Tom Brady (19), and Andy Dalton (18) have more- and to two straight NFC championship games including a Super Bowl appearance in 2012. Kaepernick was drafted on average at the top of round 6 in fantasy drafts last season, making him the 7th QB off the board. Although he finished 9th in points at the quarterback position, he was within 32 points -only 2 points/week- from finishing as the 3rd best QB and that was without Michael Crabtree for a full season and before the 49ers added more weapons for him in the 2014 offseason and draft.
Perhaps the best addition Kaepernick will get heading into 2014 is a receiver he is already familiar with, Michael Crabtree. Crabtree was lost for a majority of 2013 when he tore his achilles in late August. He seemed to become more and more comfortable as his short season went on and he will no doubt be 100% come the start of this season. Crabtree played in 5 regular season games in 2013 posting 19 receptions for 284 yards and 1 touchdown. Although they aren't the best numbers, remember he did not have the same explosiveness off the line, or leaping ability with the repaired Achilles that he will have this year with a full offseason to recover. From 2010-2012 he increased his targets, receptions, and yards while averaging 6 touchdowns a season. Crabtree can be a top 10 receiver come the end of the season. He is only one of two receivers in the league to have at least 100 targets and a reception percentage of 67%+ in both 2011 and 2012, Wes Welker is the other. San Francisco decided that they wanted a strong, possession receiver to run with Crabtree so they added the beast Anquan Boldin last offseason. He came in and filled in the WR1 slot tremendously when Crabtree went down catching 85 for 1179 and 7 trips to pay dirt. Boldin averaged 15 fantasy points/game in 2013 which was his most in a full 16 game span since his rookie year in 2003 when he averaged 17 points/game. He had 4 games in 2013 with double-digit targets including the playoffs, 3 of those 4 came AFTER Crabtree returned to the line up, showing us that while Crabtree may be the teams number 1, Boldin only improves when they are teamed up together. Now let's factor in the 2013 offseason when the 49ers added yet another former number 1 receiver former Bills top dog, Stevie Johnson. Johnson has never had a quarterback or team like the 49ers have to offer him. When he played in Buffalo, Johnson's offenses never ranked higher than 14th best in the league since Jim Harbaugh came to San Fran, the 49ers haven't finished worse than 11th. Johnson had 3 straight 1,000 yard season from 2010-2012 and coming into a situation where he won't have the pressure to lead the passing attack, he should be the teams 3rd receiver come the start of 2014, will only help him, Boldin and Crabtree by alleviating pressure secondaries like Seattle and Arizona can apply.
Finally let's examine Kaepernick's biggest toy he has at his disposal, Vernon Davis. Davis and Kaepernick really started clicking during their 2012 playoff run when Davis caught 12 balls for 254 yards and a touchdown in 3 games. That success spilled over into 2013 when Davis finished with a career high 13 touchdowns (tying his 2009 total), while putting up 213 fantasy points, tied for 4th best in the league with Jordan Cameron, only 2 points off of 2nd best at the tight end position. Only Jimmy Graham caught more touchdowns in 2013, and since 2009 Davis has only had one season in which he didn't finish in the top 8 at the end of the year for tight end points. Taking away his putrid 2012 numbers, Davis has averaged 208 fantasy points/year. Kaepernick is at his best passing deep left and short yardage up the middle, the same areas of the field where Vernon excelled. Davis caught 4 of Kaep's 5 deep left completions with 2 of them going for touchdowns. Davis also caught 75% (3 of 4) of Kaepernick's end zone tosses in his short yardage middle-of-the-field passes. All this together just shows how Davis not only is the 49ers best threat inside the 20, but also he can beat coverages deep being too fast for linebackers and too big and strong for defensive backs.
At the end of the day both these quarterbacks can lead your fantasy team to he promised land. Kaepernick brings the extra advantage of his running ability, while you know Stafford will be allowed to sling the ball at least 700 times. With Kaepernick playing in the tough NFC west where defenses reign supreme his schedule will be a lot tougher than Stafford's in the offense-ridden NFC north here shoot-outs will come by the boatload. Both quarterbacks should come off the board between rounds 5-7 but Stafford has the higher ceiling in my opinion so in this first edition of dueling draftees Matthew Stafford gets the slight nod over playoff perennial Colin Kaepernick.