Josh McCown Fantasy 2014
Every fantasy football season a few unheralded backups rise from the ashes to help clever owners. In 2013, one of those players was Bears’ quarterback Josh McCown.
When the Chicago Bears lost Jay Cutler to several injuries during the regular season, many assumed they had lost all hope. Josh McCown was the number two quarterback, and many assumed he would be a liability. The drop off from Cutler to McCown would be steep. At least it was supposed to be.
To that point, McCown had never put forth anything resembling consistent good play. He flamed out as the starter in Arizona, after being a third round pick in 2002. He played in nine games for the Raiders in 2007, but was again unimpressive before disappearing. He bounced the league—with stops in Detroit, Carolina and Chicago—before spending the 2012 season out of the NFL and coaching high school football.
Having McCown as the top backup quarterback was a questionable choice by the Bears. Assuming he would be a competent spot starter was unthinkable.
Instead of falling flat on his face, McCown put together a very impressive statistical season. The 34-year old veteran completed 66 percent of his passes and amassed 1,829 yards. Even more impressive, McCown hurled 13 touchdowns, and only threw one interception.
McCown played so well, that there was serious public debate about whether he should return to the bench. More than a few analysts believed the journeymen quarterback should overtake Jay Cutler for the starting job. Still, head coach Marc Trestman decided to reinsert the ultra-talented Cutler into the starting lineup, as soon as he was healthy.
McCown played the role of the good soldier, said the Bears were Cutler’s team, and accepted his backup role. But, the competitor in McCown certainly yearned for a chance at a full-time starting gig. Thus, the free agent passer did not re-sign with Chicago when his contract expired last week.
Signing with Tampa Bay
Josh McCown 2013 Stats
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Josh McCown to a two-year deal worth at least $10 million. Soon after, new Bucs’ head coach Lovie Smith announced that McCown was the presumptive starting quarterback.
Fantasy owners who benefited from McCown’s great work in 2013 are intrigued now that he’s a starter. Those who missed out on McCown might be even more interested. Waiting to take a quarterback is a popular strategy in the fantasy community. Many owners will consider drafting McCown later on in hopes of landing the productive passer from last season.
However, it would be wise to temper expectations. Despite the impressive 13 to one touchdown to interception ratio, and 109 quarterback rating, McCown wasn’t as good as he seemed. The statistics painted a mirage, while the tape revealed a flawed passer.
McCown showed several negative traits on film. He doesn’t drive the ball well down the field, and doesn’t posses a strong arm. More than a few of his passes floated the longer they traveled in the air. Also, despite a wonderful completion percentage, McCown wasn’t all that accurate. His ball placement was questionable, and he didn’t often put it in a spot where only his receiver could make the play.
The veteran wasn’t the game manager his stats would lead you to believe he was. McCown took ill-advised risks by throwing the ball into coverage. In the Bears’ win over the Cowboys there were several passes that should have been interceptions. He was very lucky the defenders failed to make plays on the ball.
So why did Josh McCown look so good live, and put forth great stats and fantasy numbers? There is a two-part answer.
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Former CFL coach Marc Trestman lived up to his reputation as a quarterback guru. The erratic Jay Cutler was having his best season under the “quarterback whisper” before his injury. Trestman is an offensive genius that knows how to make things easy on his quarterbacks. He plays to their strengths, doesn’t bog them down with a complex scheme, and fuels them with confidence. Trestman proved again in 2013 that he is the master tutor for the position and his system is a perfect vehicle for success.
Josh McCown won’t be bringing his former coach with him to Tampa Bay. The Bucs’ newly minted offensive coordinator, Jeff Tedford, does come with a solid reputation. Praise followed his hiring, and he was the first choice of Love Smith. But Tedford is no Trestman. Even if he is a good offensive mind, he will be hard pressed to replicate the Bears’ head coach’s output.
McCown might be a better quarterback for having worked with Marc Trestman. But he will struggle to succeed without him around. Without the “quarterback whisper” to scheme things up, the burden will fall more on McCown’s ability as a passer. Something he showed is very limited.
There is also the matter of McCown’s old supporting cast in Chicago. The journeymen passer had the benefit of working with three monstrous targets in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett.
Jeffery and Marshall in particular bailed out McCown on his poorly thrown passes. The Bears’ elite duo at wide receiver both have enormous catch radiuses, and dominate at the catch point. When McCown tossed a fifty-fifty—or worse—ball his man came down with it. Jeffery and Marshall frequently snared passes away from defenders. Combine that with Matt Forte’s excellent ability as a receiver out of the backfield, and it was easy for McCown to look good.
While the Bucs’ starting combination at wide receiver of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams is solid, it doesn’t compare to the Chicago’s. Jackson and Williams will not win at the catch point with consistency, like McCown’s weapons from last season did. Some of the risky passes you saw from him in 2013 are bound to go the other way this season. He also will not have a tight end of Bennett’s caliber. Tim Wright is still developing, and Brandon Myers is average at best.
The Buccaneer’s do have a deep and impressive stable of running backs. A healthy Doug Martin and Mike James will team with Bobby Rainey to provide a sustaining rushing attack. McCown should enjoy some solid looks off play action. That is only a small part of the quarterbacking equation, however.
Last but not least, do not forget about the presence of Mike Glennon. The second year quarterback quietly had a solid rookie season. Glennon didn’t produce many dominant fantasy performances. Instead, he was a much better real-life football player. As a third round rookie, Glennon did well amidst a sinking ship in Tampa Bay.
Lovie Smith seems to have shut the door on any sort of quarterback competition; which is a big mistake. Glennon showed enough promise to at least entertain the idea he could be a starting quarterback. Smith has always struggled to get things right at the most important position in sports. It looks like he is in the midst of another signal caller error.
While this staff might not believe in Mike Glennon, if McCown fails the younger player could reemerge. Things with McCown could go bad in a hurry, and patience might be short. Tampa Bay has spent big money in free agency, assembling a talented roster. If the veteran struggles, as expected, the pressure to see if Glennon can do better might force Lovie Smith’s hand.
Josh McCown’s Fantasy Value
Inevitable statistical regression, a lesser situation and the presence of a young quarterback all add up to make Josh McCown a risky proposition. Perhaps he takes a giant step forward, but at almost 35 years old, that’s hard to count on.
Viewing him as a viable starting fantasy option is a bad idea. McCown should not be ranked in anyone’s top 12 quarterbacks. He will more likely be a QB2, and a pretty low-end one at that. You would be wise in seeking greater upside with your backup.
Josh McCown does not have the tools or the tape to be a starting NFL quarterback. Just because the Bucs are making a mistake in anointing him as one, doesn’t mean fantasy owners shouldn’t do the same. Let someone else look at his impressive numbers and draft him this certain fantasy bust.
Matt is an NFL writer and analyst. A lover of all things music, sociology, and television shows, and love to talk about those in addition to football. I also own a number of stupid theories about life you probably will not be interested in, but I will trick you into listening to.