A case for taking your fantasy quarterback early
You’ve probably seen it by now, but the PFF Fantasy staff compiled a consensus of the top 101 overall fantasy players for 2016. When the results were released, I was forced to a hard realization. I am a quarterback guy. While I’ve never considered myself as such, my top three quarterbacks were all ranked ahead of the highest-rated quarterback by any other ranker. Late-round quarterback strategies have become the norm in fantasy football. While I understand the appeals of the strategy, I don’t believe in neglecting the position entirely for two reasons. First, quarterbacks score a lot of points, and second, I can predict which ones will be good.
First, the huge scores posted by quarterbacks can muddy the picture. A five-year average of our balanced scoring reveals the top quarterback scores about 398 fantasy points. That seems close to the 370 and 346 points posted by the second and third quarterbacks, but a drop larger than 20 points is pretty infrequent at other positions. Meanwhile, the sixth-best quarterback scored 86 fewer fantasy points than the top scorer. That’s a 21-percent drop. To lose the same amount of fantasy points at wide receiver, you would need to drop from the top scorer down to the 17th.
Perhaps more importantly, you can draft the top quarterback without an early draft slot. If you drafted exclusively according to our top 101 list, you would grab Cam Newton with the last pick of the third round. At that point, you would be drafting the 20th wide receiver or 14th running back. If you waited another round to address those positions, you would instead pick up the fourth quarterback, 25th wide receiver, or 18th running back. According to a five-year average of our balanced scoring, you just lost 68 season points at quarterback compared to only 11 and 18 at wide receiver and running back, respectively. That’s a palpable difference over the course of a fantasy season.
Identifying the right names
The previous paragraph is only compelling if you believe you are capable of drafting the top player available at their respective positions. Advocates of late-round quarterback strategy will note that no quarterback has led all others in back-to-back years since Drew Brees in 2010 and 2011. That is true. While I would love to have the top quarterback, I would accept top three. Obviously things did not go well for highly drafted fantasy quarterbacks in 2015. I’m nervously ignoring the year as an outlier given the strange events in Indianapolis and Green Bay. Excluding 2015, top three quarterbacks by preseason ADP (per Fantasy Football Calculator) have finished as top three players at their position 44 percent of the time going back through 2011. Additionally, top-three-drafted quarterbacks only finished outside the top five twice — Aaron Rodgers (2013) and Michael Vick (2011), who both missed significant time with injury.