JJ Zachariason

Draft Analysis

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Quarterbacks & Fantasy Value

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Guest writer JJ Zachariason authored The Late Round Quarterback in 2012. A link to his book can be found here. JJ is also on Twitter.

Drafting a quarterback late in fantasy football is no novel idea. Back when it was ordinary for a guy like LaDainian Tomlinson to score over 15 touchdowns in a season, plenty of fantasy owners swore by the late-round quarterback philosophy. It was clear that obtaining stud running backs – players who would score an obscene amount of fantasy points on 30-plus touches each week – was the way to approach the early rounds of a draft.

That was 2004. That was when five quarterbacks would throw for over 4,000 yards in a season, and when it was excessive to see over 40 passes by a signal caller in a game. Things are different nowadays. The spread offense is everywhere, and quarterbacks are posting numbers we'd only hope to accomplish on our Xbox. As a result, mainstream fantasy experts promise that this spike in quarterback efficiency should dictate the way we approach our August drafts.

I’m here to tell you that this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

The movement was in full force entering the 2012 season. Because of outrageous, top-heavy passing numbers witnessed in 2011, we were told that it was a necessity to have an "elite" quarterback in our fantasy lineup. The league was moving to a pass-first one, and it’d be wrong to fall behind this supposed trend. Everyone wanted us to be early-round quarterback hipsters.

The problem with this logic was that fantasy football league structures weren’t changing. We were still starting a single quarterback in a typical lineup, and the majority of that lineup was littered with slots for running backs and receivers. The greater need for standout running backs and receivers still existed, and a pass-happy NFL wasn’t going to change that fact.

Really, the idea behind the late-round quarterback philosophy has nothing to do with any NFL offensive tendency. Rather, it has everything to do with basic economic principles baked in logic and simple math. It has to do with value.

Defined as “relative worth”, value helps identify which player – and more importantly which position – is the most important to fantasy football. You should rarely concern yourself with how one position scores against another. That’s not the way you create the most valuable team. The way you create the most valuable team is by having the highest positive fantasy point differential at each position in a lineup compared to your opponent.

You can wait to draft a quarterback given the inherent demand of the position in a standard fantasy lineup. In a 12-team league, there are just 12 quarterbacks started per week. In that same league, there could easily be up to 30 running backs or receivers used. You need more runners and pass catchers than you do quarterbacks.

The counterargument here is that, because elite passers are throwing the ball so effectively in today’s NFL, people believe they need to reach in order to obtain someone that is far and away the best at his position. Regardless of that position's lineup need, if a player puts a Herculean effort in each week, like Aaron Rodgers did in 2011, then he should be highly regarded no matter the position he plays.

But that’s just not true. While Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are slinging the ball like they’re using a controller, so is Tony Romo. So is Peyton Manning again. So is Ben Roethlisberger. Andrew Luck. Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick. And those latter guys bring difference-making rushing points to the table.

"Elite" quarterbacks aren’t the only ones getting better from a numbers perspective. And we saw the impact in 2012. The go-to, top-notch quarterbacks still finished as the highest-ranked players, but given the outstanding rookie class and overall depth at the position, these top passers were replaceable. They just weren’t that much better than the other guys at their position.

In other words, they didn’t inject your fantasy lineup with much value.

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