Drew Brees has been a regular football and fantasy football staple for 14 years. Before last season, he had not finished lower than 6th in fantasy points since arriving in New Orleans for the 2006 season. He routinely led the league in pass attempts and yards and was among the leaders in touchdown passes.
Last year, he was still very efficient, leading the league in yards per attempt. The Saints rebounded as the offense shifted to a far more balanced approach, as the team ran the ball effectively with the emergence of Alvin Kamara to go with Mark Ingram. Brees (536 pass attempts) threw under 600 passes for the first time since 2009. The Saints had as many rushing touchdowns as passing touchdowns, as Brees threw the fewest for him since 2003–the year before his breakout with the Chargers.
And so for the first time in a long time, while Brees was still playing well, he was not a fantasy force. He finished 11th in overall points at QB, and that was due to playing every game. By points per game, he was 15th. The increased reliance on the running game and reduction in his passing workload likely helped him as he turned 38. But it nevertheless was a downturn in his volume.
I’m working on my Fantasy Football projections right now–digging into every team and projecting based on recent results, age of the QB, and what similar teams have done. And I am pretty sure that I’m going to be lower on Brees than others. It looks like he is still going with an average draft position of around the 6th or 7th QB. That’s likely because of his proven track record and relative safety of always being in the mix.
But to expect him to finish there, you have to expect that any potential age-related decline, or simply having a year like last year, is less likely than Brees rebounding in his touchdown and volume totals and returning toward the Drew Brees of 2006-2016. Now, it’s not unreasonable to expect some bounce back in the TD distribution. But I think that possibility is more than counteracted by the downside risks.
Here’s a list of the most similar seasons to Drew Brees for QBs who were age 37 or older:
Tom Brady and Brees from last year are on the list. That leaves 15 others. Two retired (Elway after 1998, Simms after 1993). Most of those other follow-up seasons ranged from mediocre to injured and/or bad. Tom Brady after the 2015 season is the only one to finish in the Top 10 the next year (Brady would have also been there for the 2016 season but for the suspension). John Elway won a Super Bowl, though that should be the recipe for Brees as he relied on a great running game to reduce his volume (and he missed games with injury in his last year).
It’s tempting to think that QBs can play longer–and I think they can–but there is still a limit. We’ve just seen Peyton Manning appear to age overnight at age 39. Brett Favre did the same back in 2010 after playing in every game forever. Carson Palmer hung it up after last season. I’m not saying that Drew Brees or Tom Brady will collapse. I am saying that when it comes to fantasy projections, it’s foolhardy not to include that in the range of outcomes in the projections. Neither is probably going to be on my teams because of the relative market value, because both are going near the top of their position. Compare that to Philip Rivers, who finished higher than Brees last year, is two years younger, but is going 16th at QB, as an example of an older quarterback presenting value. I’m not an age absolutist but the risk has to be balanced against the reward.