Image via matthew straubmuller/flickr

Image via matthew straubmuller/flickr

Only five quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown 45 or more touchdowns in a season and they’re all among the greatest to ever play the position:

  • Dan Marino, 1984
  • Peyton Manning, 2004, 2013
  • Tom Brady, 2007
  • Drew Brees, 2011
  • Aaron Rodgers, 2011

When you consider that esteemed group, the idea that Nick Foles could, theoretically, join them probably doesn’t sit right in your stomach. After all, he’s just Foles and they’re probably all Hall of Famers, but if you open your mind for a few minutes, I think what you’re about to read may prelude to the leading narrative of the 2014 fantasy football season.

In week six of the 2013 season Foles made his first start of the year and from that point forward authored one of the most ruthlessly efficient seasons in NFL history. How impressive was it? Consider the following table, which shows the QBs with the best TD rates in the NFL from week six and beyond.

Player
Att
Cmp%
Yds
TD
TD%
Nick Foles28764.1%2645248.4%
Peyton Manning46165.1%3593357.6%
Andy Dalton41160.6%3081286.8%
Aaron Rodgers13866.7%120596.5%
Russell Wilson28065.4%2360186.4%
Drew Brees44968.2%3440276.0%
Josh McCown22366.4%1821135.8%
Ben Roethlisberger42364.3%2960235.4%
Philip Rivers35567.3%2872195.4%
Colin Kaepernick28459.5%2228155.3%

It feels weird to say, but Foles’ TD rate leaves Manning and everyone else in the dust. You could argue that it would be unsustainable for Foles to maintain an eight percent TD rate for an entire season (even though he did it for 10 games last year), but I think it’s also a possibility that Chip Kelly’s offense continues to evolve and remains nearly unstoppable. More on that in a minute.

Projecting Foles’ 2014 TD total

Let’s do a little exercise that supposes a range of outcomes for Nick Foles’ 2014 season based on his 2013 TD Rate (8.4 percent) and passes attempted per game (29). Everyone assumes his TD Rate will regress, so I’ve included options one and two percent below his 2013 rate. As for pass attempts, I’ve included options for him throwing a little less, the same, or a little more.

Pass Att/G
TD Rate Big Regression (6.4%)
TD Rate Some Regression (7.4%)
TD Rate Same (8.4%)
26273135
29303439
32333843

If Foles can maintain his TD Rate and attempt a few more passes per game, the projection calls for 43 TDs, and that doesn’t even account for a few other favorable conditions. At worst, almost every projection calls for 30+ TDs, which is still a pretty good worst-case scenario. For perspective, Manning only surpassed 30 TDs once in the first six seasons of his career. Andrew Luck hasn’t thrown more than 25 TDs in either of his first two seasons.

But should we assume the worst? Should we even assume a regression? After all, Kelly’s offense has never been stopped and with a full year in the system I think Foles could be even better at executing it. For historical perspective, I’ve pulled the following list of QBs drafted in the top 100 who had the same coach and coordinator for consecutive seasons at the beginning of their career and how they fared across those two seasons. To be included in this list, a guy needed to have a 20+ TD season before his 25th birthday.

Player
Off Coord
Year N
Year N TD%
Year N+1
Year N+1 TD%
Change
Record
D CulpepperS Lewis20007.0%20013.8%-3.1%5 and 11
R WilsonD Bevell20126.6%20136.4%-0.2%13 and 3
R Griffin IIIK Shanahan20125.1%20133.5%-1.6%3 and 13
P ManningT Moore19984.5%19994.9%0.4%13 and 3
C NewtonR Chudzinski20114.1%20123.9%-0.2%7 and 9
A DaltonJ Gruden20113.9%20125.1%1.2%10 and 6
D McNabbR Dowhower19993.7%20003.7%0.0%11 and 5
M RyanM Mularkey20083.7%20094.9%1.2%9 and 7
J FreemanG Olson20093.4%20105.3%1.8%10 and 6
M SanchezB Schottenheimer20093.3%20103.4%0.1%11 and 5
J FlaccoC Cameron20083.3%20094.2%0.9%9 and 7
E ManningJ Hufnagel20043.0%20054.3%1.3%11 and 5
R TannehillM Sherman20122.5%20134.1%1.6%8 and 8

I know that’s a lot of numbers, but here’s the takeaway from this table: Unless the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles turn into a dumpster fire, it’s not unreasonable to expect Foles’ TD Rate to stay about the same as it was in 2013. Basically everyone on this list held steady or improved, with the two exceptions being guys who quarterbacked disastrous teams (or were the teams disastrous because the QBs were so bad?). Considering how things look in the NFC East, I’d have a hard time envisioning the Eagles going belly up, which means that maybe another year with an eight percent TD Rate is possible after all.

But Is It, Really?

If I’m looking for reasons to self-criticize, I would look at that last table and be concerned that most of the “N Season” TD rates were so much lower than Foles’ 2013 rate. To understand what it’s like to perform at a truly elite level, I’ve pulled a historical list of players who had a TD rate above seven percent on more than 300 passing attempts. From there, I looked at how they fared in their “N+1″ season (i.e. Foles’ 2014) to see if anyone can possibly maintain such a high level.

QB
Year
Age
TD%
N+1 TD%
Split
Peyton Manning2004289.9%6.2%-3.7%
Aaron Rodgers2011289.0%7.1%-1.9%
Tom Brady2007308.7%hurthurt
Nick Foles2013248.7%tbdtbd
Dan Marino1984238.5%5.3%-3.2%
Peyton Manning2013378.3%tbdtbd
Kurt Warner1999288.2%6.1%-2.2%
Randall Cunningham1998358.0%4.0%-4.0%
Joe Montana1987317.8%4.5%-3.3%
Chris Chandler1998337.6%5.2%-2.4%
Steve Young1994337.6%4.5%-3.1%
Vince Ferragamo1980267.4%dnpdnp
Tom Brady2010337.3%6.4%-0.9%
Boomer Esiason1988277.2%6.2%-1.1%
Brett Favre1996277.2%6.8%-0.4%
Daunte Culpepper2004277.1%2.8%-4.3%
Philip Rivers2008277.1%5.8%-1.4%
Aaron Rodgers2012297.1%5.9%-1.2%
Dan Marino1986257.1%5.9%-1.2%
Drew Brees2011327.0%6.4%-0.6%
Average**2000297.8%5.4%-2.3%

Bad news, every single player who surpassed the seven percent TD rate saw a decrease in their rate the following season. Only Aaron Rodgers with his 2011 and 2012 was able to post consecutive seasons with above a seven percent rate, which is interesting for reasons you’ll see in a moment. So, maybe it’s out of reach for Foles to improve his TD rate, but as I previously mentioned, even a considerable drop in his TD rate still puts him on track to throw 30+ TDs. And there’s still more to like.

Is It Possible That The Eagles Receiving Corps Got Better?

Many people are fussing over the Eagles and Nick Foles losing DeSean Jackson, but let’s be perfectly clear: Kelly chose to cut Jackson because he thought it made his football team better. Obviously Kelly weighed the pros and cons of the Eagles offense without Jackson and concluded, “Yeah, we can be at least as good without him.” I think they can score more points without him and here’s why.

Take a look at the red zone effectiveness of the Eagles’ main receivers during their NFL careers:

WR
Car RZ Trgs
Car RZ TD
Career RZTD%
Zach Ertz6350.0%
Riley Cooper26934.6%
Jeremy Maclin541527.8%
Darren Sproles701724.3%
Brent Celek871921.8%
LeSean McCoy46919.6%
Jason Avant701115.7%
DeSean Jackson66913.6%

The Eagles eliminated the two worst red zone targets on their team and replaced them with Jeremy Maclin (for Jackson) and Jordan Matthews (for Jason Avant), both of whom are bigger than their predecessors. Need I remind you that bigger receivers score more TDs? After all, the name of the game is not to gain yards. No, friends, the name of the game is scoring points. You might even argue that a Zach Ertz overtaking Brent Celek is better for Foles’ red zone prowess, but we probably need a bigger sample to draw any definitive conclusions.

Will The Eagles Throw Enough?

One potential concern expressed by Shawn Siegele and others is whether the Eagles will be too good in 2014, to the extent that the second half of Eagles’ games will feature a relentless wave of LeSean McCoy and Chris Polk as they try to milk the clock and protect a lead. Obviously this scenario could be bad news, but I think there’s another side of this coin.

For starters, Rich Hribar has demonstrated that playing from a neutral or leading position is the ideal situation for maximizing QB production. In case you were wondering, Foles averaged a league-leading 30.1 fantasy points per game in contests the Eagles won. Moreover, consider that Vegas has set the Eagles win total at nine games this year, which means they’re expected to be a top eight team and play with plenty of leads.

Another piece of the puzzle that gives me room for optimism is that the Eagles were the fifth-most reluctant passing team once they got inside their opponent’s 25. The following table shows the most run-heavy teams inside the 25 from the time Foles became a starter. As you can see, even a small shift in play calling that results in more passing attempts in the scoring part of the field could mean a few extra TDs for Foles.

Team
G
Plays
Pass
Rush
Pass/G
%Pass
49ers1115456985.0936.4%
Bills1113452824.7338.8%
Panthers1115461935.5539.6%
Seahawks1113157745.1843.5%
Eagles1112557685.1845.6%
Rams1112557685.1845.6%
Jets1112859695.3646.1%
Bears1113466686.0049.3%

The Icing and The Advice

I mentioned that Aaron Rodgers (2011 and 2012) is the only QB to post consecutive seven percent TD rate seasons. If you check out the QB Similarity Scores app and create a projection for Foles based on the games he started (remove Weeks 2, 4, 5) the high-end projections for 2014 look like this, which includes both Rodgers seasons in question.

  • Aaron Rodgers, 2011:  45 TDs
  • Aaron Rodgers, 2012:  39 TDs
  • Daunte Culpepper, 2004:  39 TDs
  • Tom Brady, 2011:  39 TDs

Could Foles throw 45 TDs in 2014 and be the (fantasy football) MVP? I think so. Is it likely? Probably not, but the floor looks to be at least 30+ TDs. If that’s the case, Foles is probably someone you want on your fantasy team. As you’ll see below, his ADP has been in a steady slide since March 28–the day the Eagles cut Jackson– and has leveled off in the early sixth round. He’s typically the sixth QB drafted. Putting this price in context, only five players in 2013 and five players in 2012 threw for more than 30 TDs, so if you believe that 30 is Foles’ floor, you should feel confident drafting him among the top six QBs, with upside to burn. Basically, the market is currently pricing him based on his floor.

Nick Foles ADPThe million-dollar question here is whether or not Foles can cash in on increased system familiarity, better red zone receiving threats, and additional high-value pass attempts. If even a couple of those things come to fruition, Foles, the Eagles, and his fantasy football owners are in for a fun season in 2014.

Blaspheming about the Eagles QB is nothing new at RotoViz.  Be sure to read this one too: Has Nick Foles surpassed Andrew Luck?


Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a coach at RotoAcademy.  Continue this conversation with him on Twitter or Google+.

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