After recent comments made by new Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in which he stated that QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green were the best QB-WR tandem in the league, the NFL Network broadcast their own list for the Top 5 QB-WR tandems in the NFL. If you are unable to watch the video, here is their list (No. 1 being the best):
1. Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford & Calvin Johnson
2. Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning & Demaryius Thomas
3. New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees & Jimmy Graham
4. Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo & Dez Bryant
5. Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler & Brandon Marshall
They also included a Twitter poll for the same topic and the results of that were Bryant/Romo, Stafford/Johnson and Manning/Thomas, respectively. Speaking of Twitter, you can follow me @mattkdelima.
The NFL Network's Top 5 is solid, even if they cheated a little by including Brees and Graham. The list though has some unique differences from what I would consider a fantasy-relevant QB-WR tandem list. With that in mind, let's break down FFToolbox's Top 3 QB-WR Fantasy Tandems, starting with a brief list of who didn't make the cut and why.
If we're going to discount Dalton because "anybody could be good when throwing it to Green," it only makes sense to apply the same logic to Stafford and Johnson. The former Georgia QB is a high-volume passer and his fantasy value weighs heavily on the fact that he just happens to throw it more than almost any other QB in any other era. Johnson's immense talent easily puts him in the conversation among the best receivers of all-time; the same simply can't be said about Stafford. Johnson is the best WR right now, yet the weight of Stafford sinks the duo below the Top 3.
Until last year, nobody really liked Cutler, did they? He was typically a good, but never-great fantasy backup. The sort of guy you reluctantly added when your starting QB was on a bye and you were content if he didn't have a meltdown game. The connection between Cutler and Marshall, to their credit, is definitely one of the best, not only right now, but in the history of the NFL. It's easy to see that this has more to do with Marshall, who has been arguably one of the most productive receivers of the last decade. Like the Lions, it is the quarterback who brings the group down. For example, look at what Josh McCown accomplished with Marshall in limited action last season.
On raw athleticism alone, Jones is incredible. It seems like he is so gifted that when he unleashes his ability on the unfortunate rules of physics, his body can only help but crack under its immense pressure. A full season from Jones could produce a Top 3 fantasy WR stat line. He has size, speed, strength and excellent hands. He is something straight out of Create-A-Player on Madden. On the other hand, Ryan is a walking and talking B+ grade. The implication being that he does everything well yet nothing like a truly elite QB. Ryan has never had a career-defining moment. No single play or drive or game we all remember. He has been good, sometimes even flirting with excellent. Unfortunately, the seven-year QB just has never been a must-have QB in fantasy football.
3. Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo & Dez Bryant
Bryant is one of the few receivers in the game who could reasonably overtake Calvin Johnson as the next "Best WR in the NFL" title when Megatron inevitably begins his decline in a couple years. After enduring some growing pains in 2010 (45-561-6) and showing flashes of brilliance in 2011 (63-928-9), this former Oklahoma State stud has been consistent and dominant in his last two seasons: averaging 92.5 receptions, 1,307.5 yards and 12.5 TDs per season over that span. Last season's stats are even more impressive when you factor in that the Cowboys really didn't produce much from the rest of their receiver group, which placed even more pressure on the former Oklahoma State receiver. Bryant, by himself, has to be considered a Top 5 WR. What places this tandem firmly at the bottom of this list though is Romo.
Since 2006, Romo has been the Cowboys' leader. Some may argue his effectiveness as a quarterback; however, there are no compelling arguments against Romo, the fantasy QB. He has passed for over 4,000 yards four times in his last six seasons (excluding an injury-shortened 2010). He ranks fifth all-time in passer rating, ahead of Tom Brady and Brees. His 208 career TD passes ranks 31st all-time. By the time he retires, he should be within the Top 15 in that category or even higher. The only reason Romo is not a more coveted fantasy QB is because of the inherent bias against the Cowboys and his shortcomings when it comes to what is seen as clutch QB play. Romo gets the nod over guys like Stafford, Cutler and Ryan because he's been very good for fantasy owners for a longer period of time while contributing more Top 10 fantasy QB seasons.
What's scary about this tandem is we haven't seen them at their best for a full season with this new look Packers' offense. Nelson had to compete with many other good to great receivers in the past. Only now is he the No. 1 receiver. The former Kansas State receiver is getting up there in age (29) and may have peaked back in 2011 when he caught 68 balls for 1,263 yards and 15 TDs. He and Rodgers could've blown up last season; however, the former Cal QB was forced out of action for nearly half the season. Nelson is the best deep threat on the team and offers more to fantasy owners in standard-scoring leagues than the PPR-minded Randall Cobb. A recent article in the Washington Post actually ranked Rodgers-Nelson as the best. The crux of the argument made by Neil Greenberg is that Rodgers' QB rating when passing to Nelson from 2011 to 2013 was the highest of any QB to WR tandem (143.9). While this is a valid way to inspect the numbers, it feels more technically true than relevant to fantasy owners.
Rodgers is an incredibly accurate QB and benefited for years with having a deep group of guys who each brought something unique to the table. Greg Jennings was an excellent possession receiver who could sometimes get a step behind defenders. Randall Cobb, at least when he is healthy, can be a dynamic short-yardage and intermediate route runner. James Jones, while a bit inconsistent, had enough size and strength to compete on tough 50/50 balls and in the red zone. Nelson, to his credit, is a mix of all these traits. According to the Football Outsiders, Nelson ranked second at his position in DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. While this sounds fancy, it is an advanced stat which measures a player's performance compared to other players while also adjusting for the quality of the defense. It sounds complicated and would require its own article to break down fully, for now though, you can find the link to the DYAR WR rankings here.
1. Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning & Demaryius Thomas
The greatness of Manning (or should I say, the regular season greatness of Manning) doesn't require many more words thrown at it. His success is well-documented. The hyperbole is unnecessary. Even then, are we really aware of what we are watching? Manning has already established two of the better QB-WR tandems in the NFL history between himself and Marvin Harrison and then later, Reggie Wayne. Both of those WRs are Hall of Fame bound (eventually). Now Manning is building the resume of a third receiver. It's obviously way too early to crown Thomas a possible Hall of Fame receiver, but look at his stat lines from the last two seasons.
2012: 141 targets, 94 receptions, 1,434 yards and 10 TDs
2013: 143 targets, 92 receptions, 1,430 yards and 14 TDs
Mind-blowing, isn't it? These guys are like machines. Manning is going to go down as one of the best quarterbacks of all-time and that's really saying something in this pass-happy era where even guys like Stafford and Rivers are among the most statistically-prolific QBs of all-time. Thomas turned 26 last December and should be right in the middle of his prime years. His best season may be right in front of him here in 2014 and that's what puts him at the top of the list. This tandem strikes the right balance with Manning's longevity and Thomas' youthful statistical peak on the horizon. The game's best QB ever and his most promising receiver, which is really saying something, has to combine to form the best fantasy football QB-WR tandem for 2014.