Fantasy football can be paradoxical in that the “most important” stats to owners can often be the least useful. As an example, let’s look at quarterback stats. Touchdowns thrown and passing yards are obviously the king and prince of the fantasy football quarterback world, but their value is not nearly as significant as a quarterback’s rushing yards.
Wait, what!? When formulating pre-draft quarterback rankings, many owners rigorously study touchdowns and passing yards. A quick glance might be thrown toward rushing statistics, but why spend so much time on a stat that doesn’t pay off like The Big Two?
Well, two reasons. First, rushing yards represent an opportunity for owners to leverage superior knowledge into a competitive advantage. Whereas passing yards and touchdowns are already factored heavily into consensus rankings, quarterback rushing yards are often weighted too lightly or bypassed altogether. Ultimately, this means you don’t need to be as accurate in your rushing yardage projections as your passing projections in order to garner value.
Secondly, quarterback rushing yards and touchdowns are the most predictable stats in all of fantasy football. Check out the graph below showing the relationship between quarterback rushing yards-per-game in Year Y and Year Y+1.
The 0.80 strength of correlation among year-to-year quarterback rushing numbers is amazing. While I have long dismissed the importance of week-to-week consistency, season-to-season consistency is vital to fantasy owners. By limiting volatility, owners can be more confident in their projections, weighting outliers more heavily than with less consistent statistics.
That idea seems to be backed up by fantasy results over the last decade. Since 2001, the final ranking of quarterbacks who rushed for at least 15 yards-per-game in the previous season jumped 3.9 spots compared to their pre-season ranking. Further, quarterbacks who totaled 15+ rushing yards-per-game in the previous season improved upon their pre-season fantasy ranking 58.4% of the time.
So while Cam Newton might seem like a risky pick in 2012, the consistency of quarterback rushing statistics and their underutilization in the fantasy football market makes him more of a value selection than what appears at first glance.