2013 Fantasy Football Debate: Aaron Rodgers vs Matt Ryan

Many fantasy football general managers fall in love with the idea of drafting the projected highest scorer in their league. It seems to be the obvious optimal strategy. If you draft the player who will score the most points in a given season, you have the best chance of winning your championship, right? Wrong. Despite being the top scorers in most leagues, quarterbacks rarely outscore their counterparts at the rate that running backs and wide receivers do. Most of us already realize this fact. What the majority does not realize is the extent of this information, and how to create value by waiting a few rounds to draft your franchise signal caller.

Aaron Rodgers is consistently being drafted in the first round of dynasty start-up leagues (cumulative ADP of 11.67 in Ryan McDowell’s 18 mock drafts thus far). At first glance, this isn’t surprising. Many of you will see him drafted right around that spot, if not earlier in your own start-ups. Rodgers has done plenty to warrant being the first quarterback off the board. Since Brett Favre’s departure from Green Bay, Rodgers has averaged 4,266 passing yards, 34 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He can also run the ball, averaging 279 rushing yards and over three rushing touchdowns over that same time span. The California product also has a regular season and Super Bowl MVP to add to his luster.

Early in the fifth round of these same dynasty drafts (ADP of 48.72), you will see a quarterback by the name of Matt Ryan. Ryan does not have an MVP, nor has he won a Super Bowl. In fact, until this past year, he hadn’t even won a single playoff game. He does not appear in Ford, Nike, or Pizza Hut commercials. He can’t even have a signature touchdown dance. Though, this information means about as much as Ashley Lelie’s retirement when it comes to fantasy football and dynasty leagues.

Ryan has increased his points per game average every year at an average rate of two points per year. The 2013 season should be no exception. This off-season, the Atlanta Falcons exchanged “goal-line hoarding” Michael Turner, for “pass-catching” Steven Jackson. Tony Gonzalez re-signed for one more Super Bowl run. Julio Jones is entering into his third year, which is traditionally a breakout year for young receivers. Roddy White still has plenty in the tank, and at the age of 27 (he will turn 28 in May) Ryan is just now entering into his prime.

On the other hand, Rodgers saw a dip in production of almost five points per game from the 2011 season to the 2012 season. He averaged 25.6 points per game last year and if you discount his amazing MVP season, he’s actually only averaged 24.4 points per game over his career. Therefore, the 2012 season should be considered the norm, not the exception. This off-season, Rodgers also lost his favorite receiving target, Greg Jennings, to a division rival in Minnesota. While the Falcons are beefing up their roster, the Packers just lost their best offensive weapon. Rodgers turns 30 this year. This won’t hinder his ability to throw, but it could neutralize his ability to run. A staggering 12.2% of Rodgers’ points in his career have come on the ground. Since 2010, his rushing attempts have gone down each year as well. Expect to continue seeing a dip in his rushing numbers in seasons to come.

If you’re drafting around Aaron Rodgers’ ADP, you may have some exciting running back prospects to chose from. The three running backs being drafted closest to Rodgers’ ADP are Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, and Jamaal Charles. If you’re drafting near Matt Ryan’s ADP, the running backs are less exciting. The three running backs being drafted closest to Ryan’s ADP are Darren Sproles, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ryan Mathews. If you draft Rodgers and still need a running back in round four, you will be picking from one of the three closest to Matt Ryan. If you wait and draft Ryan in the fourth (a round earlier than his ADP) and take a running back in the first round, you will be picking from one of the three closest to Aaron Rodgers. Let’s take a look at the implications of drafting Rodgers early against waiting for Ryan, using last year’s numbers as a barometer.

Quarterback Running Back QB PPG RB PPG Combined PPG
Aaron Rodgers Darren Sproles 25.6 10.7 36.3
Aaron Rodgers MJD 25.6 10.3 35.9
Aaron Rodgers Ryan Matthews 25.6 8.5 34.1
Matt Ryan Marshawn Lynch 24.0 15.7 39.7
Matt Ryan Alfred Morris 24.0 15.4 39.4
Matt Ryan Jamal Charles 24.0 13.2 37.2

If you average out Rodgers with his three fourth round running back options, they will combine for a mere 35.4 points per game. If you do the same with Matt Ryan and his three first round running back options, they will combine for 38.7 points per game – that’s an extra 3.3 points every game. These are last year’s numbers, but the Sproles/Jones-Drew/Mathews combination has an average age of 28.0, while Lynch/Morris/Charles have an average age of 25.9. You can expect some of the fourth round running backs production to go down, while you can project the first round running backs to have equal to or greater years than last season.

I will not make the case for drafting Matt Ryan before Aaron Rodgers. Fortunately, you will not have to make that decision. Rodgers will be the first quarterback taken in almost any dynasty draft you will be a part of. When you see Rodgers drafted, wait two or so rounds, take his equal, and pour yourself a well deserved drink. You will have fairly equal quarterbacks, and gain a much better player at a different position for years to come.

Follow me on twitter: @karlsafchick

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