Narrative Street: Should you invest in ‘garbage time’?

Blake Bortles is the poster boy for a fantasy option putting up numbers late in a blowout. PFF Fantasy writer Tyler Loechner investigates that narrative.

| 4 weeks ago
(Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

(Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Narrative Street: Should you invest in ‘garbage time’?


Let me start with a confession. I won a home league fantasy championship with Blake Bortles as my quarterback in the 2015 season. It’s kind of a dirty secret, but I know I’m not alone.

Bortles (hilariously) finished that year as the No. 4 fantasy quarterback, thanks largely to his “garbage time” production — e.g. fantasy points scored when the real game was already out of reach. It went like this: The Jaguars — being terrible — would be so far behind by the time the game reached the fourth quarter that they would be slinging it deep downfield in a desperate effort to either A) actually mount a comeback or B) make the final score make the game look more competitive than it really was.

The narrative: QBs and receivers rack up fantasy points if they are losing late in the game.

Fantasy footballers quickly learned not to freak out about Bortles’ putrid fantasy scores until the clock literally read 00:00. We embraced garbage time instead of shying away from it. We ironically loved Bortles as a fantasy option because he was so bad.

But was that actually a smart move? Or did we just get lucky during the 2015 season with Bortles? In general, just how much can we rely on desperation production? Let’s find out.

The research

We don’t need research to know that the overall gist of the narrative is true. If you have a quarterback or receiver and their team is losing, and they are passing the ball more because they are losing, then the additional opportunities are obviously a positive for your fantasy team. Opportunity is never bad.

But that’s the boring way to approach the “garbage time” discussion. So to give this narrative some more oomph, I wanted to look at the quality of garbage time opportunity versus opportunity in a more competitive game.

I looked at all games from the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons and calculated the score margin in the fourth quarter. I then looked at all passes thrown in the fourth quarterback while the offensive team was either losing (by any amount), or winning by up to 8 points. This provided me with the full gamut of game situations — from one-score leads, to one-score deficits, to full-on blowouts. This way, we could compare garbage-time production (three-score deficits or larger) to more competitive games.

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Tyler Loechner is a lead writer at PFF Fantasy. He has played fantasy football since 1999 and has been a part of the PFF Fantasy staff since 2010. Tyler was also previously a fantasy football featured columnist at Bleacher Report.

  • Mark Erickson

    Makes sense. It seems in most garbage time scenarios the team that’s playing from behind adopts a no-huddle, short pass attack (especially if it’s a mediocre QB that struggles with intermediate and deep passing accuracy). This is largely in part to defenses playing up top to prevent the hail-mary, quick-6 that might set things up for a huge upset, which in turn makes the shallow underneath routes wide open. The product is a dink-and-dunk strategy that gets the offense to the red zone, in which the scoring is decided by how good or bad both units on the field are and how much or how little they care about one getting punched in. A rather ridiculous statement, I concede that, but we’re talking garbage time here.