Dynasty Mythbusters: Ben Roethlisberger and Mark Sanchez

Jacob Feldman


Another week is now in the rear view mirror and the injuries to fantasy starters continue to pile up. When you add in aging veterans who are in rapid decline there is opportunity for a lot of young players to step on up to the plate and show what they are made of. Some of them look like the stars of tomorrow, but we know from the past that most of them are just a flash in the pan. Of course the tricky part is figuring out who are those special exceptions. That is where I come in. For those of you unfamiliar with the mythbuster series, the goal of the article is to analyze certain trends, potential breakouts or just downright bad play in an attempt to predict what we can expect in the future.

Am I always right? Definitely not. But I did suggest that you sell, sell, sell on Trent Richardson very early in the season last year (before it was a trendy thing to say!) when you could get top five running back prices for him, and ignore the week one “breakouts” of Jerome Simpson and Leonard Hankerson just to name a few.

The fantasy community as a whole tends to have a very strong tendency to overreact to small sample sizes. This is especially true when it comes to early season production. After all, it is only natural after months and months of buildup, thinking your team is great, to get disappointed when your stud disappoints. Don’t go trading them for pennies on the dollar. They will be back. It works in the opposite direction as well. We all like the feeling of grabbing that virtual unknown and watching them turn into the next Jimmy Graham. The problem is the vast majority of the time they don’t pan out and trading your first round pick or an every week starter away for him would be a major mistake.

Through this series, I’ll do my best to focus on players who are likely to be talked up as potential waiver additions or who are end of the bench guys on most rosters who you might be able to snag with a reasonable trade offer.

This week I’m going to take a look at a pair of quarterbacks. One a long term starter who has been nothing short of record setting over the last few weeks and the other a disgraced starter who seems to have a second chance on a high powered offense. Does the former belong in the elite discussion? Will the latter redeem themselves and be worthy of a fantasy spot? Let’s take a look!

Ben Roethlisberger, QB PIT
Week 7+8 totals: 65 completions on 86 attempts (75.6% completion rate) for 862 yards and 12 touchdowns
Season totals: 68.3% completion rate, 2720 yards passing, 22 touchdowns, three interceptions

You would be very hard pressed to find any quarterback who had a better two week span than the one Big Ben has had over the last two weeks. Over a 75 percent completion rate is enough for most quarterbacks to be pretty thrilled. When you toss in 862 yards and 12 touchdowns to go with zero interceptions in two wins over playoff teams you are starting to talk about two week span quarterbacks dream about, but never think they will reach. We’re talking Madden Football-type numbers with his current pace. We all know he’s going to slow down a little bit, but the last two weeks have many wondering if he needs to be considered as a quarterback who belongs in the near-elite tier behind the likes of Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.

The Good: Ben’s performance over the last few weeks has been nothing short of historic and something we are very unlikely to see again for many years if not decades. But what has been the cause of this sudden breakout performance by the 32-year old signal caller?

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One of the biggest reasons is the emergence of some weapons on the Steelers offense. While Antonio Brown is a beast (and has been for a while now with 25 straight games of 5+ receptions AND 50+ yards), he can’t do everything himself. Le’Veon Bell is an even better pass catcher this year than he was last year and the Steelers are starting to use him in the screen game with great success – he already has more catches through nine games than he had all of last season. Heath Miller is also still there as a reliable safety blanket over the middle of the field.

What has changed is the sudden emergence of what the Steelers have been severely lacking since Plaxico Burress left town almost a decade ago – a big receiver. While Martavis Bryant’s ten catches for 167 yards these last three weeks doesn’t leap off the page as game changing, his five touchdowns over that span definitely do! His size seems to have been the missing piece which has taken the Steelers’ defense from good to great these last few weeks.

The other big piece which has allowed for a breakout few weeks from Ben has been his defense. For decades, the Steelers have been known for their defense. Between injuries and aging talent just not being replaced, the once fearsome defense is now very average if not below average across the board. The days where the Steelers could run the ball 30 times and win games 17-14 seem to be in the rear view mirror. In fact, they have held only one team under 19 points and that was the Jaguars. If the Steelers are going to win with their current defense, they need to be approaching 30 points a game, which means they need to be throwing the ball. The good news about the defense is they have generated two turnovers a game for the last two weeks, giving Ben even more opportunities.

The Bad: Anytime a player “breaks out,” one of the first things I look at is past performance. Are there signs that this was coming? Were there flashes prior to this? Is there a long history of mediocrity leading up to this? These are all questions I ask because if something deviates an extreme amount from the established pattern, assuming there is one, it is most likely an outlier and not the start of a new trend. When it comes to a player who is 32 years old and in their 11th season, there is an awful lot of data to look back on. I started by looking back at the last five seasons prior to this one to see his touchdown totals per game. Here is what I found if I exclude the last two weeks.

Touchdowns 0 1 2 3 4 5
Frequency 9 32 18 14 3 1


While we would see a similar type of progression with most quarterbacks, the truly elite or near elite passers have more than 23 percent of their games with 3 or more touchdowns and average more than 1.65 touchdowns per game. Granted, these are very different Steelers than in past years, but the history is still a major concern if we are expecting Big Ben to suddenly jump into or approach the realm of the elite quarterbacks because there is such a long history of him being a merely average fantasy quarterback.

The Ugly Truth: Projecting Ben into the future is a very difficult task. He has a very long history of being an average fantasy quarterback (though an extremely good real life one) but the current Steelers are a very different team than the Steelers of years past. They have the best offensive weapons they have had in years including one of the best receivers in the league, one of the better pass catching running backs and a big receiver. They also have one of the worst defenses they have had in years requiring them to throw the ball and put up a lot of points to win. The question is which one of these factors will win out?

I’ve long believed Roethlisberger was a much better quarterback than his fantasy stats have showed. His ability to extend plays while staying in the pocket, stand tall in the pocket and deliver the ball while taking a hit are second to none. While this leads to a lot of sacks and punishment which might shorten his career by a few years, it gives his receivers ample opportunity to get downfield or shake off even the best coverage. The problem for Ben is they just didn’t throw the ball enough. Take a look at his attempts per game over the last several seasons:

Year 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Weeks 1-7 2014 Weeks 8-9
Attempts per game 33.7 32.4 34.2 34.5 36.5 36 43

From 2009 to 2013, Ben’s attempts grew slightly, but with him averaging around 63 percent completion rate we are still just talking about roughly 22 completions a game – that isn’t enough to put him into the QB1 ranks. However, both his completion rate and his attempts have taken a step up this season, especially over the last two weeks due to the factors discussed above. With the increased opportunity and productivity with those opportunities, he looks to be turning into a true QB1.

Final Verdict: I don’t think Ben will ever be elite, but his play so far this year combined with the weapons at this disposal should place him firmly into the mid to low end QB1 discussion. If you own him, it is worth seeing if someone is willing to pay upper end QB1 prices for him or is willing to swap him for a younger QB1. If you don’t own him and can pick up Ben for QB2 prices and you were starting someone like Nick Foles, Ben could help you reach the playoffs for sure.

Mark Sanchez, QB PHI
Week 8 totals: 15 completions on 22 attempts for 202 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Speaking of Nick Foles, his broken collarbone is going to have him out for the majority (if not the entire) regular season. In steps the infamous perpetrator of the “butt fumble,” Mark Sanchez, into Chip Kelly’s high powered offense. Sanchez was a failure with the Jets, but that is par for the course for every quarterback the Jets have had in recent memory so I’m willing to give him at least a little bit of slack on that. In nearly three quarters worth of play, Sanchez looked at least capable. Considering how Nick Foles struggled this season, could Sanchez be the future?

The Good: Sometimes we don’t give backup quarterbacks quite enough credit when they come in off the bench and win a game in relief. The backup gets very limited if any opportunity to build chemistry with the starters and doesn’t get the snaps to learn the offensive system, so when they can come in without the practice and still perform it gets my attention. Sanchez wasn’t great, but it was definitely good enough to make me start to think there is some promise there. In fact, just for fun, let’s compare the very limited sample size of Sanchez’s to what Foles has done this year.

Player Completion Rate Yards Per Attempt TD to INT ratio
Foles 59.9% 6.93 1.3
Sanchez 68.2% 9.18 1.0


Before we go too much into the comparison, let me say that Foles has been pretty bad for most of this year. He’s been inaccurate, inconsistent and careless with the football. Everything which went right for him last year isn’t going his way this year including injuries to key players around him and just lucky breaks during games. With all of that in mind, Sanchez looked just as good on Sunday as Foles has looked through pretty much any stretch of this season.

The best news for Sanchez might be the weapons around him and the offensive line slowly getting healthy. They recently lost their right tackle, but two other key linemen who missed the start of the season are back or coming back. LeSean McCoy also seems to be coming back into form after an early season toe injury. When you add in Jeremy Maclin looking better than he ever looked pre-injury, you get quite the supporting cast for Sanchez and it looked like he was able to take advantage of the talent around him.

The Bad: Before we get too carried away with a very small sample size of three quarters, let’s keep in mind the four year sample size we have from his days starting for the Jets. Over that time, Sanchez was the proud owner of a 55% completion rate, a 6.5 yards per attempt on his passes, and a roughly 1 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. That’s even worse than what Foles has been doing this season. Granted, the offense of the Rex Ryan Jets pales in comparison to the Chip Kelly Eagles, but Sanchez doesn’t have the best history.

The Ugly Truth: Given the talent Sanchez has around him now is leaps and bounds ahead of anything he ever had as a Jet, I’m cautiously optimistic about his chances of success. While I don’t expect him to complete 68 percent of his passes or continue to have 9 yards per attempt moving forward, I think he can keep the offense running and keep all of the Eagles’ skill position players producing for the home stretch. Sanchez was over-drafted by the Jets in 2009, but that isn’t his fault. He does have talent it just isn’t at the level where he can make a bad team good like the Jets were hoping he could do.

The most interesting question to consider is if Sanchez is successful over the tail end of the season, what does that mean for Nick Foles? To me, if Sanchez is successful then it means the quarterback production is largely a product of the system Chip Kelly has installed. Sanchez has talent, but he isn’t a blue chip quarterback. He’s simply average in my eyes and if he produces it means much the same about Foles. My guess, based on the whispers coming out of Philly that the team is uncertain about an extension for Foles as he heads into the last year of his rookie deal next year, is that a lot of the top brass for the Eagles have the suspicion it is more the system than the player. If Sanchez is successful for a game or two, I would be selling Foles for whatever I could get because I doubt the Eagles will pay to keep him and he won’t produce the same elsewhere.

Final Verdict: I expect Sanchez to be a solid low end QB1 or high end QB2 level quarterback who has enough talent to keep Maclin and McCoy as solid producers going forward. He doesn’t have the talent to make guys like Zach Ertz, Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles consistent producers (then again Foles wasn’t doing this either) down the stretch, but they will all have their moments as well. If Sanchez performs better than expected, he could get a second chance as a franchise guy. He’s worth a shot, especially if you have extra blind bidding cash to spend.


jacob feldman