by Dan Trader (@RotoNostra)
“(Diabolical laugh)…You have no powers here, Gandalf the Grey!” – Théoden
I find it funny, or ironic, whichever, while I realize I’m not the first fantasy philosopher to make the observation, the one specific position spanning all team sports that arguably has the most meaningful and significant impact on the game in which it’s played is also simultaneously perhaps the least important contributor from the perspective of its fantasy counterpart. I understand it may be common knowledge but what’s possibly more interesting is that, especially when considering the leagues’ pass-happy evolution, the “new” NFL might be additionally reinforcing that exact sentiment.
Historically, starting quarterbacks are not only known as the faces of their respective franchises, but also ubiquitously synonymous with the game in general. It’s true that any organization that actually wants to be competitive needs a decent starting quarterback, but outside of two-QB and dynasty leagues, they’re merely disposable commodities in fantasy.
If this past off-season doesn’t shed light on the dire and drastic importance of this position to all NFL franchises then I’m really not sure if anything can pull you from a perpetual state of shade. The NFL community recently witnessed two organizations go all-in like John Malkovich in Rounders and possibly bankrupt their foreseeable futures on just the slightest possibility of landing their franchise quarterback, even though both Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are further from a sure-thing than a recurring Game of Thrones character. Yet regardless of their value in real life, when you take a closer look, it seems obvious how insignificant their contributions are in typical, standard fantasy leagues when considering the grand scheme of your roster.
Understandably, the general fantasy football collective is commonly reactionary to previous player performances, but the reaction towards quarterbacks is egregiously irrational in regards to projected rankings, and is clearly and directly linked to their average draft positions in the following season. For instance, in standard 12-team leagues in 2013, after being drafted on average towards the back-end of the third round, Peyton Manning finished first on the season with a legendary 497 fantasy points. The following year in 2014, Manning was drafted, on average, considerably higher in the middle of the first round, and finished far below fantasy expectations in fourth place with 390 points.
That same year, Andrew Luck’s ADP was 4.11 and ended up finishing the top fantasy-scoring QB with 443 points. The following season in 2015, Luck’s ADP ominously rose to 1.10 and by season’s end, Luck had only placed in the top-six twice (weeks 6 & 7) and didn’t even crack the top-24 for the year due to injury.
Currently in 2016, after his explosive 2015 campaign, Cam Newton will undoubtedly get drafted in similar fashion. But what needs to be accentuated is that while those QBs may have led many to titles over the past few years, the only reason that’s true at all is because of the value at which those players were obtained in combination with the strength of their roster, hence Cam Newton in the end of the 10th round last season, Luck near the fifth round in the year prior, or Peyton Manning during his 2013 warlock crusade at a bargain you couldn’t beat at a gypsy flea market.
To put things a little further in perspective, if you’re in a 12-team league, your quarterback would outperform 50% of your competitors at their QB spot with a weekly top-six outing. In 2013, there were 32 separate weekly top-six fantasy QBs throughout the regular season and 16 during the fantasy playoffs. In 2014, there were 29 during the fantasy regular season and 14 in the postseason. In 2015, the results were similar again with 32 different QBs who scored top-six performances from week to week over the course of the regular season and 13 during the playoffs. As you can see, a revolving door of top performing quarterbacks is as reliable and consistent as a visit from a loan shark who’s willing to squeeze blood from a stone until a debt is recovered.
That’s only examining the top-six; the average total point difference between the sixth and seventh placed quarterbacks from 2013-2015 is only 13 points. And furthermore, the total gaps in point production and margins between the top-six players are moderately irrelevant in recent seasons, especially when comparing the bottom four players. In 2013, the difference between third and sixth place was 18 points; 17 in 2014; and 25 in 2015. That’s a pretty tight window with a 20 point average difference over the last three years.
To expand a little, you’re obviously at an advantage from a QB standpoint if you have the top-scorer by years end, but if you paid a first or second round pick for him then you’re doing your opponents a favor, similar to if not even more so than the Rams and Eagles helped the rest of the league this year by causing game-changing talent to drop to every team who drafted after them.
The chances of correctly predicting and drafting the top-scoring QB in the first round or two are against you also, even if you target the most perennially popular and successful NFL quarterbacks. Last year, of the top-10 scoring QBs of the season, the earliest one was drafted was the fifth round on average (Drew Brees) and Cam Newton finished first with an ADP of 10.08.
Ordinarily I’d tell you that every point matters over the course of the season, and they definitely do, but in this case, those points can easily be made up from your big-play positions. Everyone knows you only start one QB in standard leagues, but it’s important to really understand why they’re expendable, because it further stresses the significance of drafting depth and talent at the premier spots (RB and WR) while waiting until the later rounds on a QB, if not passing altogether and deciding to stream (hit the waiver wire and play the matchups) every week.
If the previous data didn’t paint a pretty enough picture for how easy it is to stream a QB each week, it gets better. In 2013, only five signal callers threw in excess of 30 touchdowns while 11 passed for 25 or more. In 2014, the number grew to nine QBs who passed for 30 or more scores and 13 threw for 25+. But more recently in 2015, there were an unprecedented 11 quarterbacks who threw for 30 or more touchdowns while an incredible 14 players scored a minimum of 25.
Even though I feel the numbers favor it, I’m not telling you it's a necessity to stream a QB every week. The main purpose of this article is to illustrate the importance of not wasting your picks and obtaining value at the position by interpreting some data at our disposals. If having a big-name, dependable, weekly starter at QB provides you with a better sense of security when examining your team then do your thing, because I know many players who target the more popular men under center who also always seem to be in contention. But in my opinion, when it’s difficult enough to most efficiently select your squad from a professional landscape that functions and thrives on unpredictability and volatility, it’s better to have as many opportunities early-on in your draft to obtain talent at more important positions. Regardless on where you stand, hopefully now you’re at least slightly enlightened as to why I and many others would always prefer to hold off on pulling the trigger when choosing your fantasy team’s gunslinger.
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More by Dan Trader:
Debunking Fantasy Myths: Always Draft a Running Back Early