Fantasy Value in Today’s NFL – Quarterbacks and Running Backs

Josh Collacchi takes a look at fantasy value for quarterbacks and running backs in today's NFL.

| 3 years ago
dm_121127_nfl_charles_peyton_autograph

Fantasy Value in Today’s NFL – Quarterbacks and Running Backs


dm_121127_nfl_charles_peyton_autographFantasy football has changed over the last few years. That part is obvious. Fantasy owners in the 1980s would wake up before work on Monday and Tuesday mornings and get the box scores from the papers. Now, when a player scores a touchdown, it is updated immediately and automatically on our computers, cell phones, and tablets.

Technology is not the only thing that has changed in fantasy football in recent years. Strategy has been modified as well. There are strategies that a lot of players use, like drafting a running back in the first round, and strategies that a few people use, like choosing not to draft a quarterback or tight end, and stream that particular position each week.

But the most drastic change in fantasy football in the last few years has to be because of what historians and fantasy players like to call “today’s NFL.”

This is nothing new, as whatever the trends in contemporary times is synonymous. But, truly today’s version of the game we all know and love has become a league of pass-heavy offenses. What this does is raise the value of receivers in today’s game and in fantasy football. This is one of the many reasons that leagues you may be members of have added a wide receiver slot.

Let’s take a look at the trends in passing during the last few years. Here is a chart with data from Pro Football Reference showing the top 14 seasons in terms of passing yards a quarterback has ever had:

Rk Player (age) Yds Year Tm
1. Peyton Manning (37) 5,477 2013 DEN
2. Drew Brees (32) 5,476 2011 NOR
3. Tom Brady (34) 5,235 2011 NWE
4. Drew Brees (33) 5,177 2012 NOR
5. Drew Brees (34) 5,162 2013 NOR
6. Dan Marino+ (23) 5,084 1984 MIA
7. Drew Brees (29) 5,069 2008 NOR
8. Matthew Stafford (23) 5,038 2011 DET
9. Matthew Stafford (24) 4,967 2012 DET
10. Eli Manning (30) 4,933 2011 NYG
11. Tony Romo (32) 4,903 2012 DAL
12. Kurt Warner (30) 4,830 2001 STL
13. Tom Brady (35) 4,827 2012 NWE
14. Tom Brady (30) 4,806 2007 NWE

As you can see, 12 of the top 14 seasons in terms of passing yards have all come since 2007. In addition, the top five passing seasons in terms of yards have all come in the last three years. Is this a sign of elite quarterback play? Or is this the way of the league?

In another chart from Pro Football Reference, here are the top 19 seasons in terms of passing attempts in a year:

Rank Player (age) Att Year Teams
1. Matthew Stafford (24) 727 2012 DET
2. Drew Bledsoe (22) 691 1994 NWE
3. Peyton Manning (34) 679 2010 IND
4. Drew Brees (33) 670 2012 NOR
5. Matthew Stafford (23) 663 2011 DET
6. Peyton Manning (37) 659 2013 DEN
7. Drew Brees (31) 658 2010 NOR
8. Drew Brees (32) 657 2011 NOR
9. Warren Moon+ (35) 655 1991 HOU
10. Drew Brees (28) 652 2007 NOR
11. Matt Ryan (28) 651 2013 ATL
12. Drew Brees (34) 650 2013 NOR
13. Tony Romo (32) 648 2012 DAL
14. Tom Brady (35) 637 2012 NWE
15. Drew Bledsoe (23) 636 1995 NWE
16. Drew Brees (29) 635 2008 NOR
17. Matthew Stafford (25) 634 2013 DET
18. Tom Brady (36) 628 2013 NWE
19. Andrew Luck (23) 627 2012 IND

In the above chart, 16 of the top 19 seasons in terms of passing attempts have come in the last seven seasons, including seven of the top eight coming in the last four years. Now, this could just mean that there is a handful of offenses throwing the ball more. Is the entire league throwing more?

Chart from Andrew Powell-Morse via besttickets.com

Chart from Andrew Powell-Morse via besttickets.com

As the above chart shows, passing attempts per game (blue line) have increased almost exponentially since football began. As you can see in recent years, that number has never been higher.

Since the NFL has truly become a passing league, as many have dubbed it in the last few years, that means fantasy football is more passing oriented, correct?

Naturally when you see charts like the aforementioned, you instantly want to think that you need to take quarterbacks and wide receivers higher in your drafts. In essence it actually has the opposite effect.

Think about it. If more teams are throwing the ball, that means more fantasy quarterbacks are relevant and able to contribute fantasy points.

The data below is based on standard fantasy scoring:

  • In 2013, there were 16 quarterbacks that scored 225 fantasy points or more. All 16 had 238 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2012, there were 16 quarterbacks that scored 225 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2011, there were 11 quarterbacks that scored 225 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2010, there were 12 quarterbacks that scored 225 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2009, there were 10 quarterbacks that scored 225 fantasy points or more.

In the last two seasons, that is an additional four quarterbacks that scored 225 fantasy points in a season. What is so special about that? Sixteen quarterbacks with over 238 points (in 2013) means that in most leagues where there are 10-12 fantasy teams, each team is almost guaranteed to have a chance at drafting one of these players.

Now, let’s take a look at running backs in the last few seasons and their fantasy output.

  • In 2013, there were 18 running backs that scored 150 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2012, there were 19 running backs that scored 150 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2011, there were 22 running backs that scored 150 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2010, there were 20 running backs that scored 150 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2009, there were 18 running backs that scored 150 fantasy points or more.

That is not much of a change, as there are relatively the same amount running backs each year that score 150 fantasy points or more. But, here is the catch. Take a look at this next group of numbers.

  • In 2013, there were 8 running backs that scored 200 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2012, there were 10 running backs that scored 200 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2011, there were 6 running backs that scored 200 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2010, there were 12 running backs that scored 200 fantasy points or more.
  • In 2009, there were 7 running backs that scored 200 fantasy points or more.

Think about how low those numbers are for top-tier running backs. When looking at the data for 150 fantasy points or more, there are around 20 players who score 150 fantasy points. But there are only a handful of running backs who score 200 or more fantasy points. So what does that mean?

Keep in mind that in nearly every fantasy league you have to start two running backs. In a standard 12-team league, that means there are a minimum of 24 running backs being started every single week. In today’s NFL, there are only around 10 running backs who score 200 fantasy points or more, and only around 18 who score 150 or more. That is the definition of scarcity.

Ten of the top 23 ADP (average draft position) leaders on fftoolbox.com (using MyFantasyLeague ADP numbers) at the moment are running backs. Whereas there is just one quarterback.

While some may think it is time to start adding quarterbacks earlier because it’s a “passing league,” in actuality it means just the opposite. Quarterbacks become less valuable since there are more quarterbacks scoring more points. If there are only eight to 10 running backs who score 200 fantasy points in today’s NFL, you need to make sure you get at least one of them.

Stay tuned for the next piece of this column, where wide receivers will be dissected.



In addition to PFF, Josh writes for eDraft and ProFootballCentral. With any comments or questions, each him on Twitter @PFF_JCollacchi !

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