Player Points - Donovan McNabb
By Chase Stuart
June 22nd, 2010

Mike Shanahan has a reputation for being good for his fantasy quarterbacks, but that reputation was mostly forged during the Elway years. The table below shows the Broncos team QB fantasy ranks for each of Shanahan's 14 seasons in Denver, along with the breakdown of approximately what percentage of plays were run by each of the team's quarterbacks:

Year
FPs
Rk
QB Breakdown
2008
366
5
99.4% - Jay Cutler; 0.6% - Patrick Ramsey
2007
305
14
91.0% - Jay Cutler; 9.0% - Patrick Ramsey
2006
251
25
69.6% - Jake Plummer; 30.4% - Jay Cutler
2005
290
16
96.5% - Jake Plummer; 3.5% - Bradlee Van Pelt
2004
346
8
100.0% - Jake Plummer
2003
271
17
64.1% - Jake Plummer; 20.1% - Danny Kanell; 14% - Steve Beuerlein; 1.8% - Jarious Jackson
2002
316
17
79.1% - Brian Griese; 20.9% - Steve Beuerlein
2001
302
13
87.2% - Brian Griese; 9.9% - Gus Frerotte; 2.9% - Jarious Jackson
2000
380
5
58.7% - Brian Griese; 40.9% - Gus Frerotte; 0.5% - Jarious Jackson
1999
276
22
81.6% - Brian Griese; 14.9% - Chris Miller; 3.4% - Bubby Brister
1998
367
5
71.5% - John Elway; 27.3% - Bubby Brister; 1.2% - Brian Griese
1997
337
3
96.5% - John Elway; 2.1% - Bubby Brister; 1.3% - Jeff Lewis
1996
349
5
85.8% - John Elway; 10.8% - Bill Musgrave; 3.5% - Jeff Lewis
1995
358
6
90.6% - John Elway; 7.0% - Hugh Millen; 2.4% - Bill Musgrave

During the John Elway/Terrell Davis years, Shanahan looked like a quarterback expert. Since then, though, Broncos quarterbacks only finished in the top 10 in fantasy points in three of 10 seasons, roughly equivalent to the league average. On the other hand, it's pretty easy to argue that Shanahan hasn't coached a quarterback as talented as McNabb since John Elway was playing. So will McNabb have the career re-birth that Elway experienced? Shanahan came to Denver when Elway was 35 years old; he traded for McNabb and will coach him during his age 34 season.

I looked at all quarterbacks since 2000 to throw at least 1,000 passes over a three-year span for one team, and then start at least 10 games in the fourth season for a new team. The full list of those players is presented below, showing the year the quarterback switched teams, his age on December 31st of that season, his new team, his prior team, his FP/G average in the year before he switched, his FP/G average over his last three seasons with his prior team, and his FP/G in his first year with the new team.

Quarterback
Year
Age
Team
Prior
N-1 FP/G
3-yr Avg
FP/G
Chg
Donovan McNabb
2010
34
WAS
PHI
21.0
20.0
??
n/a
Jay Cutler
2009
26
CHI
DEN
21.7
19.1
18.1
-3.6
Brett Favre
2008
39
NYJ
GNB
19.9
17.0
15.6
-4.3
Drew Brees
2006
27
NOR
SDG
17.5
17.4
20.8
3.3
Joey Harrington
2006
28
MIA
DET
12.1
13.2
13.1
1.0
Steve McNair
2006
33
BAL
TEN
16.9
18.0
14.2
-2.7
Drew Bledsoe
2005
33
DAL
BUF
13.6
15.3
17.5
3.9
Kerry Collins
2004
32
OAK
NYG
14.9
16.1
17.4
2.5
Jeff Garcia
2004
34
CLE
SFO
21.1
21.1
13.4
-7.7
Jake Plummer
2003
29
DEN
ARI
15.0
15.0
19.0
4.0
Drew Bledsoe
2002
30
BUF
NWE
--
15.9
20.4
n/a
Doug Flutie
2001
39
SDG
BUF
12.8
16.9
14.8
2.0
Elvis Grbac
2001
31
BAL
KAN
22.5
16.6
14.2
-8.3
Jon Kitna
2001
29
CIN
SEA
13.6
15.3
11.9
-1.7
Average
17.4
17.1
16.5
-0.9

McNabb's 20.0 FP/G average over his last three seasons in Philadelphia is an outlier, as only Jeff Garcia had a higher average. Most of the quarterbacks on the list were not as talented as McNabb, although players like Grbac and Cutler were coming off of big seasons while McNair and Favre were elite players at the tail end of their careers. McNabb comes in tied with Garcia as the third oldest quarterback on the list, behind only elder statesmen like Favre and Flutie.

For the most part, the players on the above table did not improve, although that's not particularly surprising. For one, regression to the mean principles dictates that the top quarterbacks will regress slightly; further, switching teams usually means getting used to a new system and new players, which is bound to cause growing pains unless the new system and new players represent upgrades for the quarterback.

But McNabb doesn't need to match his 20+ points per game average to have value. He's currently being drafted as QB14, and the 14th ranked QB in FP/G last year averaged 17.8 fantasy points per game. On the other hand, most signs point to McNabb's situation being a downgrade. He goes from playing under a passer-friendly offense for Andy Reid with some excellent young targets to a team full of question marks in Washington. It seems unlikely that Shanahan will be better for McNabb than Reid, and the Redskins receivers don't seem to be as capable as what McNabb had with the Eagles. In short, this isn't a situation like what Jake Plummer had when he moved from Arizona (with HC Dave McGinnins, WR Frank Sanders, WR Jason McAddley and eight games of WR David Boston) to join Shanahan in Denver (with WR Shannon Sharpe, WR Ashley Lelie and TE Shannon Sharpe).

If you look at the four QBs who declined the most with their new teams, they mostly suffered downgrades in passing targets:

  • Elvis Grbac went from WR Derrick Alexander, WR Sylvestor Morris and TE Tony Gonzalez to WR Qadry Ismail, WR Travis Taylor and TE Shannon Sharpe
  • Jeff Garcia went from WR Terrell Owens, WR Tai Streets and TE Jed Weaver to WR Dennis Northcutt, WR Antonio Bryant and WR Andre' Davis
  • Brett Favre went from WR Donald Driver, WR Greg Jennings and WR James Jones to WR Jerricho Cotchery, WR Laveranues Coles and TE Dustin Keller
  • Jay Cutler went from WR Brandon Marshall, WR Eddie Royal, and TE Tony Scheffler to WR Devin Hester, WR Earl Bennett and TE Greg Olsen
  • For me, McNabb falls under this list. That means it's reasonable to expect some downgrade from his previous numbers. But his current ADP reflects that, of course. That leads me to believe he's being properly valued as of mid-June.

    Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to stuart@footballguys.com.