Fantasy Football Doubletake: Do You Want Jay Cutler or Matthew Stafford in 2014?


Sep 29, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback

Matthew Stafford

(9) stands on the sidelines during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

In the latest edition of Fantasy Football Doubletake, NFL Spin Zone editor Joe Soriano and I set out to answer one question:

Would you rather have Jay Cutler or Matthew Stafford as your fantasy quarterback in 2014?

Joe:  The Matthew Stafford vs. Jay Cutler debate is a pretty classic one, especially since both quarterbacks have interesting similarities. They are blessed with ridiculous arm talent, play in the same division, and have been slapped with the under-achiever tags at points during their career. But in fantasy football, either one of them could prove to be a great value in your fantasy draft, depending on what the rest of your league thinks of them. I actually ended up bagging Stafford on the cheap last year even though I used to be down on him, because his value was simply too good (I never pay premium for QBs). If you are one of those people who likes to wait a bit for a QB, then the hype train might be too high on Stafford for that to happen. But since there’s this annoying stigma that Cutler isn’t a real leader and is overrated (he was also injured last year), Cutler could end up being the better value. Based on the numbers I’m looking at, Cutler’s ADP is the 15th QB taken in fantasy drafts, whereas Stafford is in the top five.

Who I would rather have all depends on draft day value, and that clearly points to Cutler when looking at ADP numbers. He’s lower in most fantasy rankings, but he has just about the same kind of upside Stafford does. Who is the better fantasy quarterback overall? Well, it’s Stafford, but it probably isn’t as big of a difference as the rankings suggest.

This upcoming season, Stafford will be helped greatly by both better coaching and better players. Eric Ebron is raw and comes into the league with drop questions, but he’s a dynamic mis-match maker who can open things up. Golden Tate is the real prize, though, because he has a chance to emerge as a top-notch receiver next to Megatron after being limited by a lack of volume of targets in Detroit. Tate consistently averaged just over nine yards per target on the Seattle Seahawks, he led the league in YAC per reception last year, he can win just about anywhere on the field (deep, short, middle, inside, outside), and he has some of the steadiest hands in the league. Johnson and Tate will work in a symbiotic relationship as the No. 1 and 2 receivers in the Lions offense, but the main beneficiary will be Stafford.

Not only that, but Stafford will have much better coaching with QB guru Jim Caldwell leading the staff, the innovative Joe Lombardi as his offensive coordinator, and notable QBs coach Jim Bob Cooter. The TE trio of Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew, and Joseph Fauria (especially Ebron) will be used creatively, and I’m sure the staff has big plans for the RB trio of Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, and the agile Theo Riddick. Armed with better receivers, better coaching, better technique, better footwork, and more experience, Stafford looks poised to cut down on his mistakes next year.

There are a lot of ridiculous things said about Jay Cutler, but probably the most ridiculous misconception (beyond the overplayed character bits which, if true, are honestly irrelevant in the long run) is that the Bears would have been better off with Josh McCown. You want an old QB who was probably a flash-in-the-pan over a guy with top ten upside under Marc Trestman? Yeah, good one. Real good. McCown’s a nice player, but he’s not a guy you build a team around.

Anyway, Cutler took more shots beyond 15 yards downfield last year and still had a higher completion percentage than Stafford, leading him to also finish with more yards per attempt and a better QB Rating than Stafford. But Stafford also averaged more yards per completion and way more yards per game. Cutler had a higher TD%, but he also had a higher INT%.

The funny thing, though, is that the stats at the Pro Football Focus (aside from their overall rating, which gives Stafford the lead), have Cutler tabbed as the significantly better quarterback in 2013. He was nine rankings higher than Stafford in their adjusted QB rating, nine spots higher in accuracy percentage (completion percentage that takes out stuff out of the QB’s control like drops and batted passes), eight rankings higher in accuracy on deep throws, and nine slots higher when under pressure. That’s consistently and significantly better than Stafford’s numbers, and it makes me wonder why there’s such a disparity in their rankings.

Both players have the same room for improvement, because while Stafford is younger, has new coaches, and new targets, Cutler will have more experience under Trestman, who established himself as a wizard after helping Cutler and turning McCown into a high-performing QB. Cutler also has an even better WR duo than Johnson-Tate in the ridiculous Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery tandem, and he also has Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte out of the backfield, and Marquess Wilson.

I agree with most people that Stafford has more upside and should be the better QB next season, but I think the difference won’t end up being big, especially when you consider both quarterbacks average draft positions. They are pitted against each other so often in arguments that it’s strange to think more people have Stafford rated much higher than Cutler, when Cutler was the more efficient quarterback (though by a hair) last year. It’s a difficult choice and a matter of preference, but I prefer to choose the QB who is undervalued. I bought low on Stafford last year, but it’s time to buy low on Cutler this year, if that’s how things shake out in your draft.

J.P.: I have a unique perspective on this in that I play in a dynasty auction league where we start two quarterbacks and have both on my team. As a result, I’ve been glued to both of their each and every snap for the past couple of seasons. Heading into 2014, I’ll pay Stafford $53 of my $300 team cap, while I’ll only pay Cutler $4. These salaries are indicitive of how the rest of my league perceived their value back when each was drafted or acquired. Stafford’s high price reflects the bidding war I got into in order to win him in auction. Cutler’s pricetag reflects the fact that he was acquired as a free agent — as none of the eight teams in our league acquired him in one of the annual auctions.

Historically, Stafford’s fantasy value has been linked to Calvin Johnson‘s abilities and the fact that whoever the receiver is on the opposite side of the field will only draw single coverage because of the threat Johnson poses. Cutler, in addition to the negative public perception, never had a truly elite collection of weapons all around him until 2013. When that did finally happen, injuries made the 2013 fantasy season a wash for Cutler owners.

In terms of their physical abilities, I think Cutler and Stafford pretty close. Stafford may have the edge in arm strength, but — and I rarely say this about him — I feel like Cutler has a slight edge from the neck up.

Back to the weapons around each, I like what Cutler is surrounded by a little more than what Stafford has at his disposal. Matt Forte is better all around than Reggie Bush, Martellus Bennett is a better tight end than anyone Detroit will line up and while Megatron is still great, I’d argue we’ve seen his best. On the flip side, Alshon Jeffery is on the rise and Brandon Marshall is quite simply just better than Golden Tate — whom I feel might be slightly overrated heading into 2014.

And again, in terms of value, you’ll have to shoot for Stafford earlier than Cutler in snake drafts and pay more for Stafford in auction drafts — even if their stats should end up being about the same. With that in mind, I’d advise anyone in position to acquire either to hold off and draft a solid one or two RB/WRs and grab Cutler later or cheaper than spring big and early for Stafford. You are likely to end up with a much more complete team for doing so.

Long story short: Jay Cutler is the better value for your fantasy football team in 2014.