Rich Hribar

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Quarterback Notebook

Thursday, August 10, 2017

With preseason games finally being played, fantasy drafts are right around the corner. So far we’ve covered the fantasy impact from teams turning the reins over to rookie quarterbacksgame scripts and play callingscoring and efficiency per offensive possessionproduction and usage in the red zone, and top-down views of the tight end, running back and wide receiver positions for fantasy. Our final positional notebook concludes with a look at quarterbacks in fantasy.


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Replication and Replaceability

Fantasy football is a game with market-like principles inherently built in and even if the actual game of football is consistently evolving, playing fantasy football principally remains the same. Your specialized home league may have unique scoring and starting roster requirements, but the overarching ways to play fantasy football on any major site are primarily the same. The crux of those leagues forces you start at least two running backs and at least two to three wide receivers with just one player at the remaining positions. Because you must start multiple players at those other positions, the supply of those positions is in higher demand than the positions that require you to play one weekly and because those players inherently score more points, you need to have more of them on your roster. They are a necessity.


Therefore, running backs and wide receivers are integrally expensive to begin with. Adding in injury assessment and flex positions only compound that demand for those other positions. In turn, this supply and demand for those positions also creates a surplus on the positions that require less investment during the draft and creates availability for those positions after the draft and into the season. Namely the quarterback position.  Quarterbacks are the most replaceable commodity in fantasy football because the position inherently accrues a baseline of double digit points no matter how poor their game is from a reality aspect.


Weekly Average Percentage of Scoring Compared to the Top Player Over the Past 5 Years

2 88.55% 81.46% 84.84% 86.59% 87.10% 81.31% 83.75%
3 81.02% 74.50% 76.68% 78.62% 80.65% 72.73% 72.92%
4 75.90% 68.87% 71.72% 72.83% 74.73% 61.62% 66.06%
5 71.69% 64.57% 67.35% 67.75% 70.16% 57.58% 61.01%
6 68.07% 59.27% 63.85% 64.13% 67.20% 53.54% 56.68%
7 64.46% 58.94% 61.22% 60.87% 64.25% 48.99% 52.71%
8 61.75% 53.64% 58.31% 58.70% 61.83% 45.45% 49.46%
9 59.34% 53.31% 55.98% 58.33% 60.22% 41.41% 46.57%
10 57.53% 49.34% 53.64% 55.07% 58.06% 37.88% 44.04%
11 55.42% 47.02% 51.31% 51.81% 55.65% 37.37% 41.88%
12 53.61% 45.03% 49.27% 51.09% 54.30% 35.86% 39.71%
13 51.51% 44.70% 47.52% 49.64% 52.69% 35.35% 37.91%
14 49.70% 42.05% 45.77% 47.10% 51.34% 32.32% 36.10%
15 47.89% 41.06% 44.31% 46.38% 50.00% 29.80% 34.66%
16 45.78% 38.74% 42.86% 44.57% 48.66% 28.28% 32.85%
17 43.67% 37.75% 41.40% 43.12% 47.58% 27.27% 31.41%
18 42.17% 34.77% 39.94% 42.39% 46.51% 25.76% 29.96%
19 40.36% 34.44% 38.78% 40.58% 45.16% 23.23% 28.52%
20 38.55% 33.77% 37.61% 38.77% 43.82% 22.73% 27.44%
21 36.45% 33.44% 36.44% 38.04% 43.01% 21.21% 25.99%
22 34.04% 32.12% 35.28% 37.32% 42.20% 19.70% 24.55%
23 31.93% 28.81% 34.11% 35.87% 40.86% 19.19% 23.10%
24 29.52% 28.48% 32.94% 35.51% 40.05% 17.17% 22.02%


The way to absorb this is that over each week of the past five NFL seasons, the QB2 on average scored 88.6 percent of the points posted by the QB1 and so on for each position. The average baseline for the quarterback position in 12 team leagues scores on average 53.6 percent (17.8 points) of the QB1, which is by far the highest of all the baselines for any position. When you factor in the amount of players playing the other positions compared to quarterbacks in real and fantasy, that aspect of reproducing scoring down the line within the position is exploitable from a fantasy stance.


On a weekly level, it’s also a lot easier to find to find those players at the quarterback position providing those starting weeks regularly. Circling back to something we looked at in the tight end post --looking at “starting” weeks over the past five seasons--here is a breakdown of those starting weeks provided in a season by individual players and the amount of those weeks they reproduced in an individual season. 



This is why taking your quarterback later and later in drafts has become a normality for fantasy.  Many quarterbacks find the main stage several weeks during the season. 50.7 percent of the quarterbacks to have at least one starting week over the past five years went on to have five or more during that given season. The number of quarterbacks producing starting weeks remains above all other positions through seven or more such weeks before falling below the consistently elite running backs and wide receivers for players to post starting weeks for half of the season or more. That boasts well for the truly elite quarterbacks within a season providing a positional advantage, but that advantage is marginalized by the roster requirements and performances for the other positions and by the fact that more quarterbacks are viable on weekly level not only on teams, but also on league waivers. In 2016, we had 10 different quarterbacks post eight or more starting scoring weeks and 14 different quarterbacks yielded seven or more on the season. 


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Yardage and Touchdowns


A year ago, I wrote a post highlighting that yards per attempt have a relationship with touchdown rate and are telltale sign for spotting passing touchdown fortune. In that post, notable players that were expected to have a decrease in passing scores in 2016 were Cam Newton, Blake Bortles and Russell Wilson while suggesting buying an increase for Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston and Ben Roethlisberger (as well as Teddy Bridgewater, RIP) based on being less fortunate in the touchdown department than their efficiency passing suggested. This year, the highlighted players look like this…



There weren’t as many significant overachievers last year as there were in 2015, but there are a few things to touch on from that group.

Ryan went full circle from being a clear-cut passer to expecting a bounce back to being one from which we’re expecting regression.  He threw for a career-high 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns on just 535 attempts, the lowest mark since his second season in the league in 2009. Ryan’s 9.3 yards per attempt mark ranked fourth in NFL history and his adjusted yards per attempt (which incorporates touchdowns and interceptions) of 10.1 yards was also the fourth best mark in league history. Ryan threw a touchdown on 7.1 percent of his passes, which is surely going to come back to earth as his previous career-best rate was 5.2 percent. While Ryan is due regression to his career mean, you don’t have to run and hide completely as his mean has consistently proven to be a top-10 fantasy quarterback as he’s finished as the QB8 or higher in five of the past seven seasons.


Mariota ranked just 28th in the league in attempts (30.1) and completions (18.4) per game while 27th in passing yardage per game (228.4 yards), but was a consistently high-scoring fantasy producer because had the fourth highest touchdown rate in the league, throwing a touchdown once every 17.4 pass attempts. Since entering the league, only Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck and Tom Brady have better touchdown rates than the 5.5 percent rate Mariota has posted, so maybe this is just the beginning of the next quarterback to join that pantheon of passers. We’ve seen highly efficient/low volume passers have setbacks early in their careers for fantasy purposes, but the added weapons that Tennessee has accrued this offseason don’t make it easy to be scared off from Mariota, either. Still, it’s hard to see Tennessee shifting completely to a pass-first team, leaving Mariota reliant on maintaining efficiency in the touchdown department. That gives him a lower floor than is suggested by his average cost in drafts, but his ceiling has proven to be one of the highest in the league over his early career.


It’s hard to suggest that Rivers overachieved last year given his fantasy season in totality combined with his decimated surrounding skill players on offense, but here we are. Rivers played with many second and third stringers on offense a year ago and still delivered 33 touchdown passes. His touchdown rate of 5.7 percent spiked to his highest total since 2013 and was the second-highest mark of his past seven seasons.  Rivers has thrown at least 26 touchdown passes in nine consecutive seasons and, like Mariota, his surrounding situation is dramatically improved from a year ago. There are ancillary reasons to pause on selecting Rivers such as the brutal opening half of his schedule, but a recoil in touchdown rate is not as pressing.


What we’re here for though is the quarterbacks that we can expect more out of in 2017. That list starts with Russell Wilson. Despite his 7.7 yards per attempt being near his career output, Wilson threw a touchdown on just 3.8 percent of his pass attempts in 2016 after throwing for a score on 6.1 percent of his passes previously in his career. Wilson got healthier as the season wore on in 2016 in the form of mobility and his passing followed suit as his health was restored. Over the first seven games of the season, Wilson had thrown just five touchdowns before passing for 16 touchdowns over final nine games. With health on his side as well as one of the lightest potential schedules per Warren Sharp, Wilson is the primary quarterback from the top of the position that I’m monitoring in drafts when looking at a relatively earlier round signal caller. 


Andy Dalton posted a career-low 3.2 touchdown rate despite historical marks in yards per attempt suggesting he should’ve thrown another seven touchdown passes given the amount of attempts he had. He still averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt and threw for 262.9 yards per game, both of which were good for the second-best marks of his career behind his incredible 2015 output. Dalton did that with essentially his best three receivers missing most of the season. A.J. Green basically missed eight games, Tyler Eifert another eight and Giovani Bernard seven. Dalton’s poor fortune in terms of touchdown passes related to yardage may have been tied back into all those injuries. With the Bengals coming into the season healthy and the added rookie playmakers in John Ross and Joe Mixon, I expect Dalton to be one of the better fantasy values within the position in 2017.


Kirk Cousins had his second straight top-10 scoring season last year as he finished as the QB5 in overall output. Despite that success, Cousins was even a little bit unlucky as he ranked third in the NFL in passing yards (4,917) and yards per attempt (8.1) but just 19th in touchdown rate as he threw a touchdown just once every 24.2 pass attempts. The departure of two receivers he had a comfort level with is a minor concern, but Washington still has a strong stable of passing weaponry at Cousins’ disposal that is as good on paper as just about any team in the league and Washington is a team that is still best suited to throw the ball over leaning on their run game.  Cousins should push for the league-lead in passing yardage again in 2017, so any uptick in touchdown output should solidify him in repeating top-5 potential within the position and his draft cost is nowhere near that.


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Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
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