Fantasy Feedback: Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler Signs 1-year $10M deal with Dolphins

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the 34-year-old Cutler would be coming out of retirement to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill as the Dolphins starting quarterback. The contract is worth fully guaranteed to pay Cutler $10M and is incentive laded and could land Cutler an additional $3M.

Cutler played his first preseason game as a member of the Dolphins on August 17. He went 3-6 for 24 yards during his two series of action at Hard Rock Stadium. He showed a flash of his talents on one play where he rolled right to avoid pressure and completed a back shoulder throw to receiver DeVante Parker, however, the play was called back because of holding. At least, for now, Cutler looks like he will be able to successfully fill in for Tannehill who damaged his ACL during training camp in early August.

Fantasy Implications

Let’s face it, Jay Cutler has been a career-long underachiever. He was can’t miss prospect coming out of Vanderbilt that was described as a “Cut Above the Rest.” His arm was among the leagues’ best since he first stepped on to an NFL field. Many compared him to Brett Favre due to his gunslinger-like mentality. However, a more fitting comparison would be that of Jeff George (I know I am dating myself kids, but it’s good to learn something once in ahwile).

Former Cardinals and Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was the first to make the comparison between Cutler and George after Cutler took Plummer’s starting job in Denver. ““He’s a great quarterback, don’t get me wrong,” Plummer said. “I’m not saying anything to disrespect him. I think he’s a hell of a player. But Jeff George was a hell of a player. There’s a lot of guys who have been great players.”

The comparison is eerily similar not just by the numbers but due to the fact that they both had/have rocket arms, are both from Indiana, both had trouble with their head coaches, both players had their best statistical seasons in years where their teams missed the playoffs, and both guys are just not very likable.

But, I digress, you aren’t reading for nostalgia and comparison to players of yesteryear, you are reading because you want to know what this signing means for your fantasy team and/or strategy.

Gase during the first half of a game against the Buffalo Bills, (Wilfredo Lee)

The good news is, Miami’s head coach is Adam Gase, and the one coach that Cutler got a long with was Gase. In Cutler’s last season with him in Chicago, he threw for 3,659 yards and 21 touchdowns in 15 games. His 7.6 yards per attempt was the highest mark of his career, it was his second most accurate passing season, and his 92.3 QB rating was a career-best.

The most impressive part of Cutler’s solid 2015 was that he put up those numbers with his number one receiver Alshon Jeffery out of commission for seven games and Eddie Royal was the team’s second-best receiver. Matt Forte was also banged up all season long and had arguably the worst season of his career up until that point.

On paper, the cast around Cutler is substantially better in Miami this season. Jay Ajayi is looking to prove himself as one of the elite running backs in the NFL and is projected to be a possible top-five fantasy running back in some circles. However, the ability to lean on the running game may be troublesome for the Dolphins as Pro Football Focus has them currently ranked as the 26th offensive line unit in the NFL. Laremy Tunsil is moving to left tackle and Jermon Bushrod is moving to guard after being the fourth lowest-graded tackle last year. This problem is actually a plus for Cutler’s fantasy value. If the Dolphins struggle running the ball this will translate to Gase getting every last throw Cutler has left in that 34-year-old arm this season.

When looking at who will be catching passes from the almost broadcaster we like what we see. Jarvis Landry has been labeled as a fantasy downgrade across the fantasy industry since Cutler’s signing. I ask why? Reasoning such as Landry “was always Tannehill’s security blanket” is just silly. There is a reason why Landry has eclipsed 1,100 receiving yards the last two seasons. Just because Tannehill liked to throw to him Cutler won’t? He has great hands, runs good routes, is electric in space and led the NFL in receiving yards out of the slot in 2016. These things won’t change and if anything, Cutler will latch on to the fact that he has a guy he can count on in key situations. Don’t forget that he likes to play favorites (Brandon Marshall) and I believe Landry is more of a candidate to be his favorite than DeVante Parker or Kenny Stills even though he isn’t the same type of receiver he has favorited in the past.

I think Landry will lead the Dolphins in targets again this season, but we know that Jay Cutler likes to let it fly and Parker will be the beneficiary of Cutler’s 8th ranked air yards average from a year ago. (air yards subtract YAC to give you a total of how far the ball traveled in the air on a quarterback’s completions). Parker is the closest thing to Alshon Jeffery that the Dolphins have to offer and Cutler saw the similarity right away. “I think he’s kind of a faster Alshon [Jeffery],” Cutler said “He’s got a lot of range, back shoulder and over the top. He’s got great hands. Then, he can burn you up if you’re flat-footed.”

Parker has continued to improve and is poised to have his best season yet. Cutler is just what the doctor ordered. The Dolphins will trade consistent decision making for arm strength going from Tannehill to Cutler. There will be frustrations, but give and take is a must with a guy like him.

We can’t forget Kenny Stills is the third receiver and he too possesses big play potential. While Stills may not be a consistent fantasy play week in and week out, it wouldn’t be surprising for Stills to have a game or two with over 100 receiving yards.

Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano make up a very interesting tight end 1-2 punch. We can’t forget that Thomas was regarded as one of the top tight ends in the NFL just a few years ago. In Cutler and Gase’s last year together their offense targeted tight ends 24% of the time. Last year, 302 of the Dolphins 433 pass attempts happened with at 1 tight end on the field. At the very least this tells us that when the Dolphins throw they most often include a tight end. Expect that trend to continue.

Fantasy Feedback

Cutler as a member of the Chicago Bears in 2015, (CC).

I currently have Cutler ranked at #15 in my quarterback rankings. That is higher than the rest of the fantasy industry collectively but for the reasons I mentioned, I think Cutler will excel in the familiar Dolphins’ offense. Due to the possibility that the Dolphins may throw the ball more this season gives me a reason to believe that he is on the fringe of being a one-quarterback league fantasy starter. In 2015 the Bears threw the ball 523 times, last season the Dolphins threw the ball 477 times, Gase will be more comfortable letting Cutler sling it than he was with Tannehill. Cutler was the 26th overall fantasy player in standard scoring leagues in 2015 and I expect similar results. He is definitely a great option in two-quarterback/super flex leagues.

Cutler is currently QB25 and is being drafted on average at pick 218 in drafts across major outlets right now. I expect this to rise, but I expect that you will be able to draft Cutler very late in your draft, especially if it is standard formatting with one quarterback. I believe he is underrated and he could be a ticket to the perfect bye week replacement for your top quarterback and in two quarterback leagues a sneaky QB2 that could contribute to a playoff run for your team.

Jarvis Landry’s ADP has dropped since the end of July in standard formats from an early 5th rounder into the 6th round. I ranked Landry as my #22 WR in June and I have not dropped him in my rankings. If anything I think his value increases in the Dolphins new situation. Drafting Landry in the 5th round is still a viable decision and one that I think will pay you dividends.

Parker’s ADP spiked drastically after the Dolphins last preseason game. This makes sense as people have recency bias after watching Cutler go to Parker a number of times in that game. This situation definitely benefits Parker and I expect his current ADP of 102 to continue to rise for the rest of the preseason. If you can get Parker after round 8 I think he can return value for this season.

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