The case for waiting on a fantasy quarterback

Fantasy-relevant RBs and WRs aren't offering more production than they did a decade ago — QBs are a different story.

| 4 weeks ago
Aaron Rodgers

(Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

The case for waiting on a fantasy quarterback


(“Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat” is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and aids in our preparation for the 2017 fantasy season.)

Barring even more changes aimed at making things easier for offensive players, it feels like we’ve hit a reasonable ceiling on individual fantasy football numbers. For example, even as offensive levels league-wide have risen, the fantasy leader at each position in the last decade came in 2013 or earlier, and the overall trends have held reasonably steady.

In other words, the highest fantasy scores in the last decade for each position are:

  • Quarterback: Peyton Manning, 2013, 422 fantasy points
  • Running back (standard): Chris Johnson, 2009, 348 fantasy points
  • Wide receiver (standard): Randy Moss, 2007, 286 fantasy points
  • Tight end (standard): Rob Gronkowski, 2013, 218 fantasy points

You aren’t likely to draft a 2017 quarterback who will get you 450 points, or a running back who will get you 350, or … you get the idea. The ceiling is established.

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Long story short, even as offensive levels have risen (passing yards per game are up about 50 yards, while rushing yards are down by a negligible amount), the top guys at each position are doing about the same.

It stands to reason, then, that the increases in offense come further down the line. The No. 10 guy at each position must be scoring more, or the No. 20. Only … not really.

The No. 10 running back in 2007 scored 188 fantasy points; in 2016 it was 195. No. 20 was 152 in 2007, 155 in 2016. 30th, 40th, it stays about the same. (And, lest you think ’07 or ’16 were outliers in otherwise noticeable trends … well, they aren’t.) At receiver, the 10th-, 20th-, and 30th-place receivers were all comparable, as well. There’s a noticeable different at tight end (No. 20 in 2007 scored 53 fantasy points compared to 73 last year), but who is owning the No. 20 fantasy tight end with any regularity?

No, overall, there are only two areas where the increase in offense is very visible. The first is at the dregs of the position at wide receiver — the No. 40 receiver has gotten significantly better, going from 97 fantasy points in 2007 to 112 in 2016.

The chart below shows the number of wide receivers who have reached each 25-fantasy-point level in a season. Note that through the 125-point mark, most everything holds steady, year-to-year, before things spike lower down.

Number of wide receivers at each threshold of fantasy points
  2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
275 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
250 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
225 2 0 0 0 1 1 2 4 3 0
200 5 2 2 2 4 5 6 6 6 3
175 9 6 9 6 8 10 11 12 9 6
150 15 13 16 16 16 18 17 17 18 10
125 26 25 25 25 24 27 26 28 29 29
100 38 38 37 42 43 43 41 47 44 50
75 64 52 63 62 60 62 61 61 59 64
50 78 80 83 83 86 83 91 89 87 91
25 109 107 111 116 120 119 116 116 120 123

The second area where you can see the impact of increased scoring is, logically, at quarterback. Yes, the top of the heap at QB still has a ceiling. The No. 1 quarterback scored 398 fantasy points in 2007, 397 in 2011, 397 in 2015, and 385 last year. But the No. 10 QB has risen by 51 points in a decade. Even more dramatically, the No. 20 has skyrocketed (130 in 2007, 240 in 2016).

Here’s the quarterback version of that wide receiver chart above, the number of guys who have crossed each 50-point threshold in the last 10 years. Note the numbers jump at every level, save the very top and the very bottom.

Number of quarterbacks at each threshold of fantasy points
  2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
350 1 0 0 0 4 1 2 2 1 1
300 1 1 2 2 5 7 2 6 7 5
250 7 7 9 8 10 13 15 17 17 18
200 13 14 18 19 18 22 20 20 24 25
150 19 24 21 26 24 27 26 26 26 28
100 27 30 26 29 32 31 37 31 32 30
50 42 36 36 41 40 36 42 42 37 39

This is why, despite the highest ceiling of any position, you don’t take Aaron Rodgers (or Cam Newton, or Top QB of the Year) first overall. But whereas a decade ago, it made some sense to pounce on the third, fourth quarterback, just to make sure you got strong production, even that is a dodgy strategy now.

Sharps have been saying over the last few years to either be the first player in your fantasy league to draft a quarterback, or the last. And while that might be on the extreme side in some cases, it has merit. The top quarterbacks aren’t doing any more than they have been for a long time. But the lower tiers? They’re rising up to join them.

| Fantasy Editor

Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus. He has previously appeared at SB Nation.

  • evo34

    Appreciate the data. An alternate take: we’re about to lose a ton of “top 10″-type QBs due to age (next 1-2 seasons), and I’m not convinced the younger guys are going to fill in. On average, this will flatten the QB curve even more. But for an individual QB stud — if one arises — it will be prudent to bid the farm on him. I.e., QB is starting to look more and more like TE, for 1-QB leagues.