QB Consistency RatingsWednesday, February 17, 2016
One of the most misleading pieces of information used by essentially everyone, including myself, in the fantasy football community is a player’s end of season ranking. Carson Palmer was the “fifth-best” quarterback. Todd Gurley was the “seventh-best” running back. Doug Baldwin was the “ninth-best” wide receiver. We use these designations because they are easily attained and understood, but in a weekly game like fantasy football they are often misleading.
We can better understand how a player performed week to week by looking at how often they posted starter-level games. Some analysts do this by looking at weekly finishes, which is a valuable method with plenty of strengths. I prefer to use statistical benchmarks to judge weekly performances because it helps remove variability from the equation.
A player may finish a given week inside the top 10 simply because it was a bad week while another player may finish outside the top 10 in a higher-scoring week despite posting a reasonable score. Does that mean the player who finished in the top 10 had a better game? I do not think so. The performance of a player as compared to others at the same position is important, which is why the weekly-finish method of analysis is valid and useful, but the benchmark method gives a better overview of week-to-week performance.
For quarterbacks, the performance benchmarks over the last three seasons based on a standard scoring system of one point per 25 passing yards and four points per passing touchdown are 27 points for a top-three or “elite” performance, 19.1 points for a top-10 or “QB1” performance, and 16 points for a top-15 or “passable” performance.
The aforementioned Carson Palmer offers a great place to start analyzing this information. While Palmer’s season was universally praised and Aaron Rodgers was seen as a disappointment from a fantasy perspective, the week-to-week performances of the two quarterbacks paint a different picture. Rodgers ended with more elite performances than Palmer and posted QB1 numbers just as often. Palmer was less likely to post a “dud” week, but Rodgers still put up respectable numbers most of the time in what was clearly a down year. With his “bad” season almost certain to be magnified this summer, it is possible Rodgers offers great value next draft season.
Several quarterbacks benefited from hot finishes, but none was more notable than Russell Wilson. Wilson had zero elite performances in his first 10 games and offered just three QB1 weeks over that span, but he turned it on with three elite games in a row and six-straight QB1 performances in the final six weeks. It was a spectacular, league-winning finish, but it is fair to question if that level of fantasy success will continue, especially since Wilson flashed moments of fantasy brilliance in 2014 as well. The answer is it should. The retirement of Marshawn Lynch means Wilson will continue to be the engine of the offense moving forward, and it would be foolish for Seattle to dramatically change an attack which was hitting on all cylinders down the stretch. Wilson should be a top-five quarterback selection next season.
Kirk Cousins’ overall numbers are not as spectacular as Wilson’s, but he also finished strong. Cousins posted a QB1-level performance in less than half of his starts overall, but his numbers with both DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed healthy were considerably better. After Jackson returned to the lineup Week 9, Cousins notched three elite performances in 10 games. He also posted QB1 numbers in five of those contests and was well on his way to a sixth before being removed from the blowout in Dallas Week 17. It is possible Cousins was simply on a hot run and teams will be better prepared for the Washington offense after an offseason of film study. It is also unlikely he will again score five times on the ground. Still, it is not unreasonable to think Cousins will continue to return back-end QB1 value as long as the offense is healthy.
Matthew Stafford had an even better finish than Cousins, posting five QB1 games in his last eight and throwing 19 touchdowns to two interceptions over that span. The promotion of OC Jim Bob Cooter deserves much of the credit for Stafford's strong finish, but the schedule also played a role. Only one of his QB1 games came against a team in the top 15 of Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA rankings during his hot run, and that was a thrashing of a banged-up Philadelphia secondary which struggled down the stretch. His three non-QB1 games came against teams ranked in the top 10 of DVOA. An offseason in Cooter’s offense should do Stafford a world of good, but he will be hard-pressed to recreate his second-half performance next season, especially with Calvin Johnson set to retire.
Despite finishing deep down the overall list, both Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger performed at an elite level week to week. Only Cam Newton and Tom Brady posted better QB1 percentages than the AFC North pair, and Dalton would have a better QB1 percentage than Brady if the game he suffered his thumb injury is removed from the equation. The elite-game percentage of each player was disappointing, but both should be considered solid QB1s next season.
The big-name rookies both had solid seasons. The pair each posted at least one elite week and finished as a QB1 about a third of the time. Both relied on their legs to put up big fantasy days, with Jameis Winston scoring six rushing touchdowns overall and Marcus Mariota punctuating one of his two elite days with an 87-yard touchdown jaunt. Mariota’s rushing stats are repeatable and should improve, but Winston has never been viewed as a serious rushing threat. His touchdowns will likely end up being a mirage, and unless his passing stats take a serious step forward, it is possible Winston scores fewer fantasy points next season.
Teddy Bridgewater scored fewer fantasy points than any other quarterback who started 16 games, and he was outscored by seven quarterbacks who missed at least one start. Bridgewater was only a passable starter in 37.5 percent of his starts and scored single-digit fantasy points in six games. Unless the offense drastically changes, Bridgewater should not be drafted next year.
One of the more interesting seasons from a weekly perspective came from Josh McCown, who posted QB1 numbers in half of his starts and dud performances in the other half. Considering Johnny Manziel failed to record any QB1 performances and Austin Davis could not even crack eight fantasy points in his two starts, McCown getting something out of the offense even half the time was quite an accomplishment. McCown should not be overlooked if he opens next season as new coach Hue Jackson’s starter, although Cleveland will do everything in their power to ensure that is not the case.