News & Analysis

Player Showdown: Ben Roethlisberger or Matthew Stafford?

(All offseason, Michael Moore will be looking at some specific draft conundrums facing drafters in an effort to determine which player should be the preference. Track the whole series here.)

There are two quarterbacks in the low-end QB1 tier that have nearly identical stats over the last five years. QB A has averaged 4,244 yards and 27.6 passing touchdowns with a 65.6 percent completion percentage. QB B has averaged 4,388 passing yards, 27.2 passing touchdowns and a 63.4 percent completion percentage. Both are veterans and have seen, on the surface, very little change when it comes their respective teams this offseason, making the choice between them even more difficult. The quarterbacks in question — Ben Roethlisberger (QB A) and Matthew Stafford (QB B) — will both be available after that top-tier of quarterbacks meaning you’re going to have a pretty full roster by the time you choose either one of them. This means they could be the last piece to a loaded roster and your championship puzzle. But which one should you pick when you’re on the clock?

The players

We start with Stafford, who has been one of the more consistent (read: boring) fantasy quarterbacks. He threw for 4,446 yards and 29 touchdowns last season, both of which were eerily consistent with what he’s done in past seasons, as mentioned above. In fact, over the last four years he hasn’t throw for fewer than 4,257 yards or more than 4,446 while the number of interceptions has ranged from 10 13. He’s been a fantasy QB1 in six of his last seven seasons and, quite possibly, one of the more underrated fantasy players in recent memory.

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger has been both exciting and frustrating. As mentioned above, his averages closely mirror Stafford’s, but with much more variance. Since 2013, when Roethlisberger was gifted Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown was firmly entrenched as his top target, Big Ben has thrown for both 3,900 and 4,900 yards. He threw for nine interceptions one year and 16 in another. One big cause of this variance is because Roethlisberger has, without fail, managed to miss at least a game or two during the season most of his career. For example, while Stafford hasn’t missed a game since 2010, Roethlisberger has missed a total of 15, or closer to two per season. In 2017, he managed to miss only one game on his way to throwing for 4,200 yards, 28 touchdowns, and a top-10 fantasy finish.

Additions and subtractions

For Stafford, the Lions spent their first-round pick on the offensive line — a unit that ranked a decent 19th in pass-blocking — selecting center Frank Ragnow. Stafford will also see some changes in the backfield. Passing-down back Theo Riddick is still there, but Detroit made a concerted effort to upgrade the run game this offseason. First was signing free agent LeGarrette Blount, who, despite turning 30 last year, still churned out 4.4 yards per carry in Philadelphia. The Lions also spent a second-round pick on running back Kerryon Johnson. It remains to be seen if this emphasis on running backs translates to the actual play calling. Of course, it wasn’t long ago that the Lions spent a second-round pick on a running back, selecting Ameer Abdullah in 2015. Yet, the Lions have finished 30th, 31st, and 31st in rush attempts since his selection.

Speaking of play-calling, perhaps the most significant personnel change for Stafford was the one that didn’t happen. While Detroit hired a new head coach in Matt Patricia, they retained offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, owner of the best name in football and also an offense that finished in the top-10 in pass attempts in all three years he’s been in Detroit. That’s good news for Stafford and will help ensure another QB1 season along with the returns of receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones.

Roethlisberger’s offseason was the opposite of Stafford’s in many ways. The offense is back together, including quite possibly the best running back and wide receiver in the game in Bell and Brown. He’ll also have promising young receiver Juju Smith-Schuster over the rookie-year jitters and able to contribute right away. Pittsburgh will also be able to plug in second-round pick James Washington into the role made famous by Martavis Bryant after he was shipped off.

However, Roethlisberger no longer has offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who had been in Pittsburgh since 2012, and that could be a problem. Before Haley, Roethlisberger averaged 20.6 passing touchdowns per season. After Haley’s arrival he averaged 27.3. Roethlisberger has also averaged at least 250 passing yards per game in each season with Haley, something he only did in three of his previous eight seasons before. The man taking over for Haley, Randy Fichtner, has been Roethlisberger’s quarterbacks coach since 2010 so it won’t be as if Big Ben has to adapt to new coaches but there is the fear of the unknown as Fichtner's only offensive coordinator experience was in the college ranks.

Best case/worst case

Best case for Stafford: After upping his passing total by about 100 yards last year, his second under Cooter, Stafford does it again and throws for 4,500 yards. He also matches the touchdown increase he saw last year, when he added five touchdowns to his previous total, and throws for 34 touchdowns in 2018. Both numbers equate to a top-five fantasy finish.

Worst case for Stafford: The Lions’ offseason emphasis on the run shows in their play-calling and they finish in the top half of the league in rush attempts while the bottom half of pass attempts. He throws for only 4,200 yards and 20 touchdowns, his lowest totals in both in five years and outside the QB1 conversation.

Best case for Roethlisberger: Big Ben plays all 16 games for the first time since 2014 and matches those 2014 totals with nearly 5,000 passing yards and 32 touchdowns, finishing as a top-five fantasy quarterback.

Worst case for Roethlisberger: I don’t usually include possible injuries into these projections but it’s a necessity with Roethlisberger. It’s entirely possible he misses a month due to injury and, depending on when those four games are missed, can account for 25 percent of the fantasy season, if not more. When he last missed that much time, he failed to eclipse 4,000 passing yards or more than 21 touchdowns to finish as a low-end QB2.

The decision

Matthew Stafford. If Roethlisberger were guaranteed 16 games, he would be my choice. He has the better weapons and the higher ceiling. However, when you miss games as consistently as Roethlisberger that has to be taken into account. Especially when a player like Stafford never misses. Statistically, they are very similar but Stafford is a better bet to see more action.

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