Fantasy Streaming: Quarterback Mining

Pat Thorman draws some distinctions between a few late round quarterback streaming options.

| 4 years ago

Pat Thorman draws some distinctions between a few late round quarterback streaming options.

Fantasy Streaming: Quarterback Mining

A considerable amount of virtual ink has been spilled this offseason to demonstrate the merits of streaming quarterbacks and tight ends. By now most fantasy footballers who have been exposed to the Gospel according to Stream generally fall into one of two divergent camps.

Some believe it to be a nice statistical trick, but are hesitant to attempt it when the lights come on and the mock drafts cease. Others are excited to build their draft strategy around the theory, and cannot wait to see how their rosters shape up after putting it into practice.

Ironically, the true believers that make up the second group would do well to take a lesson from the doubters.

While it would be ideal if drafters could simply wait to select a pair of passers with an average draft position (ADP) of 19th and 20th at their position, start them only against bottom-half fantasy quarterback defenses, and reap the reward of point totals that approximate 91.7 percent of the top tier’s average – that is not what the table below promises.

QB Group (by Point Total)

PPG vs. top ½ QB defenses

PPG vs. bottom ½ QB defenses

QB 1 – QB 10

19.8 average PPG

21.6 average PPG

QB 11 – QB 20

13.1 average PPG

19.0 average PPG

QB 21 – QB 30

12.9 average PPG

16.4 average PPG

*- Week 17 fantasy point totals are not included

First off, the second tier mentioned above is from a post-season snapshot of point totals, and not a pre-season list ranked by ADP. For example, three quarterbacks whose ADP fell in the 11-20 range before the 2012 season wound up in the third tier by season’s end. This may seem intuitive but, judging from some feedback, not everyone grasps that point. The good news is that four passers with ADPs in the third tier wound up finishing in tier two.

Also worth mentioning is that the 19.0 points per game number that the second tier posted against bottom-half quarterback defenses was an average. So it stands to reason that a portion of the second tier was bringing that figure down. In fact, half of the tier two passers averaged less than 19.0 points per game against bottom-half quarterback defenses.

The main point of this seemingly contradictory takedown of a strategy that has been touted on multiple occasions is that practitioners of this method must do their homework and be extremely active in its execution to have a real chance of success. You can’t just stream your helmet out on the field and assume you’ll win.

With that in mind, a more thorough examination of the unwashed masses below what has become a commonly accepted line of fantasy quarterback demarcation (QB12) is in order. Differentiating between streaming candidates is an inexact science because even if one looks appealing, there will be weeks when you absolutely want him on your bench, and vice versa. Below are two options worthy of more attention, and one who is being overdrafted.

Philip Rivers (2013 ADP = 158th; 22nd QB)

Recency bias makes it easy to scoff at the prospect of streaming Rivers as your fantasy quarterback. He was awful last year, finishing as the 19th fantasy passer after being drafted as the 11th. However, much of the blame lies at the feet of his offensive scheme and blockers. His 42 passes thrown away led the league (by 12), and his 50 sacks ranked second (by one). PFF QB Rating takes drops and throwaways into account, and Rivers finished a more typical 11th in that metric.

Luckily for Rivers, Norv Turner and his ill-suited downfield passing game are gone, and have been replaced by Mike McCoy. You may remember McCoy as the incredibly adaptable coordinator who coaxed career years out of Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. He will tailor an offense that minimizes Rivers’ time in the pocket, from where he posted the third-best quarterback rating in 2012 (109.6) when he got rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less.

Rivers had finished as the ninth-, fifth-, ninth- and fourth-highest scoring fantasy quarterback in the previous four seasons. Unfortunately, last season he faced pressure on the third-highest percentage of dropbacks (38.2 percent), and was the only pocket passer in the top seven on that list. He did cut down on his interceptions as the year went on, posting a nine-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio over his last six games, after putting up a 17-to-14 mark in San Diego’s first 10 contests.

The Chargers have certainly improved their porous offensive line, although it remains a work in progress. They also will feature a now-healthy Vincent Brown, who has drawn early raves, along with 2012 breakout receiver Danario Alexander. Perhaps most importantly, in Danny Woodhead they have imported a poor man’s Darren Sproles – who will give Rivers an outlet option that he has not enjoyed since, well, Darren Sproles was his outlet option. With a schedule that strongly favors him as a streaming candidate, it may also contribute to Rivers’ re-emergence as a viable overall fantasy option.

Kevin Kolb (2013 ADP = 292/Undrafted; 39th QB)

In one of many interesting training camp battles, Kolb will look to start over rookie E.J. Manuel. The first rounder is being selected toward the end of drafts, while Kolb scarcely generates any notice at all. Considering the weaponry upgrades that the Bills have made, not to mention the installation of a coach who will finally fully utilize the multi-talented C.J. Spiller, it is a competition worthy of increased attention. Signs point to Kolb having the upper hand, and despite prevailing opinion about the veteran, it is for good reason.

Kolb has moved on from a team with an offensive line situation that was about as bad as it gets, particularly early in the season when he was the piñata, err, starter. He will now be enjoying the excellent protection that the Buffalo line provides. They received a PFF pass blocking grade of +45.2 (fourth best) in 2012, which contrasts starkly with Arizona’s league-worst -56.3 mark.

Kolb was under siege so often last season while guiding the Cardinals to four of their five wins that his injuries were inevitable. He was last out of 38 passers (minimum 25 percent of snaps) in average time to sack, with just 2.28 seconds. While leading the league in the percentage of snaps under pressure (42.4 percent), he never had a fair shot.

It might come as a surprise that Kolb ranked as the 11th-best fantasy quarterback during the five weeks that he started. He threw eight touchdowns and just three interceptions while helping the otherwise disappointing Larry Fitzgerald to rank as the 14th-best fantasy wideout during that time.

Streamers could do far worse (cough, Sanchize) than make him their last selection in drafts while they wait for the training camp competition to sort itself out. A kicker can always be picked up before Week 1. At worst, he should be on everyone’s radar as a waiver wire add, since that is where he will reside in the majority of fantasy leagues.

Josh Freeman (2013 ADP = 154th; 21st QB)

A streamer’s worst nightmare involves starting a player who appears to perform better against weaker opponents, only to have him turn into a pumpkin at the most inopportune time. That is exactly what Freeman did last season, uncorking eight picks during the fantasy playoffs – including a true bed-wetter against the same pathetic Saints’ defense that he lit up in Week 7, during his best game of the season. Freeman was the fifth-most-intercepted passer in 2012, and his 39 picks since the start of 2011 lead the league.

His 54.8 completion percentage plunged 8 percent from his 2011 mark, and was “good” for 25th in the league. His accuracy percentage, taking into account drops and throwaways, ranked 26th – proving his scattershot numbers were no anomaly. More than barely aimed passes did him in, his pocket awareness was poor. He was second in passes batted down (17) and fifth in attempts where he was hit as he threw. According to his average depth of target numbers, he went from a dink-and-dunk passer in 2011, with an aDOT of 7.4 yards (last in the league), to a downfield thrower who ranked second in aDOT (10.7).

Perhaps Freeman dials back the deep passing in hopes that his accuracy returns to 2011 levels (62.8 percent), but that is not aligned with his fantasy owners’ goals. His PFF quarterback rating ranked him 23rd in 2012 (80.4), and was consistent with what he produced the season before (80.6). Plus, he still has never posted positive PFF grades when targeting portions of the field that are closer than 10 yards downfield. Other than running back Doug Martin, Freeman does not have high-quality pass-catching targets who will help him with his poor efficiency on short throws.

Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano is clearly running out of patience with his no-touch, high-risk passer whom he did not draft. He did, however, spend a 2013 third-round pick on Mike Glennon – who despite what Schiano has stated publicly, is a real threat to Freeman’s job if he slumps.

While Freeman did post a better points-per-game average against bottom-half fantasy quarterback defenses (+3.2 PPG), he was fortunate to play all but five contests against them. The NFC South faces the elite defenses of the NFC West this season, among a handful of other prospective schedule hurdles. In light of Tampa Bay’s quality additions to their embattled secondary, the need for high volume offensive output will diminish – along with Freeman’s already unreliable fantasy production.

All ADP data courtesy of


Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman


Pat Thorman is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and a Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner.

  • P.J.

    The only issue with streaming is knowing which defenses are top and bottom half respectively. As you have covered, this tend to change quite significantly between seasons.

  • Pat

    That’s definitely the rub. Best bet is to make sure one of your two (or so) streemees (word? Is now.) has seemingly decent matchups early while the good/bad Ds crystallize. Easier said than done, no doubt.

  • Ryan

    Interesting, I think another problem with the late round qb philosophy is that you only get 16 games during the season. The table above is based on 150 games averaged out. I imagine the distribution of the QB2 tier is much larger than the QB1. (Why don’t you put the standard deviations of this?). My point is that while it might be possible to get that 19 points, I think it would be difficult over 16 games playing matchups. Its just not enough games to get the averages to equal out.