Are successful fantasy QBs and winning NFL QBs the same?
As a standalone stat, wins don’t come close to telling the whole story when evaluating a quarterback. But, not surprisingly, top fantasy quarterbacks do tend to lead their teams to successful seasons. That’s confirmed when sampling the last 10 seasons and looking at the record of the top 12 fantasy quarterbacks.
Over the last 10 seasons, the top fantasy quarterbacks have led their teams to a cumulative winning percentage over 59 percent, with six of those 10 seasons over 60 percent. On the flip side, 2016 was not one of those seasons, as the top-12 fantasy quarterbacks only won half their games, the lowest cumulative winning percentage since 2008.
Here’s a look at those 12 quarterbacks:
So what happened? For six straight seasons, quarterbacks won at least 59.4 percent until 2015, when it dropped to 56, then dropped again to 50 percent in 2016. Should 2016 be considered an outlier or the beginning of a trend? And should you defer to quarterbacks on teams that have a better outlook than others? Below are a few quarterbacks that, either directly or indirectly, contributed to the relatively low quarterback winning percentage in 2016 while proving that winning quarterbacks make better fantasy quarterbacks.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
One quarterback that failed to miss the top-12 cut in 2016 was Brady. A top-12 fantasy quarterback in seven of the last 10 seasons, Brady’s record over those seven seasons is an incredible 89-23, winning close to 80 percent of his games. In other words, he alone has helped keep the overall record aloft. But Brady was suspended four games in 2016, making it extremely difficult to put up the same numbers over 16 games that his fellow quarterbacks could. However, if you look at the top fantasy quarterbacks from Week 5 on (after Brady’s suspension was complete), Brady was the second-highest-scoring. He finished the season with over 3,500 passing yards and 28 touchdowns in just three-quarters of a typical season. If Brady were to play all 16 games, there’s no doubt that he and the Patriots’ 14-2 record would have knocked Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ 6-9-1 record out of the top 12.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Carr is another quarterback who could have turned this list around. He just missed the top-12, finishing 13th and just three points behind 12th-place finisher Dalton after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. If not for Carr breaking his leg in Week 16, he would have most certainly shot up to around eighth among fantasy quarterbacks. Meanwhile, his Raiders won 12 games, the most for the franchise since the year 2000. If Carr did finish eighth, he would have moved quarterbacks on mainly losing teams such as Tyrod Taylor (8-8), Blake Bortles (3-13), Philip Rivers (5-11) and the previously mentioned Dalton (6-9-1) down the list.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars/Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
There have been a half-dozen cases of players finishing as a top-12 fantasy quarterback despite their team’s losing record in back-to-back seasons. Examples range from perennial studs like Drew Brees to long-forgotten players like David Garrard. But no two successful fantasy quarterbacks have compiled a worse record over two seasons than Bortles (8-24) and Rivers (9-23) have over the last two, dragging down the cumulative winning percentages of fantasy quarterbacks.
Let’s start with Bortles, who threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns (not to mention over 350 rushing yards) to be fantasy’s ninth-best quarterback in 2016. Yet, the Jaguars finished with a 3-13 record, contributing mightily to the lower winning percentage for quarterbacks. Of course, Bortles and the Jags did something similar the year before when Bortles had an even better season statistically, throwing for over 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns but leading Jacksonville to just five wins.
But while Bortles has never led a winning team in his three-year career, Rivers has, which makes his recent turn more frustrating. Before 2015, Rivers Chargers’ never lost more than nine games in a season. Then 2015 happened. Statistically, Rivers passed for a career-high 4,793 yards and 29 touchdowns yet the Chargers finished 4-12, their worst record since 2003. They improved only one game in 2016 to 5-11 despite Rivers throwing for over 4,000 yards for the eighth time and slinging 33 touchdowns.
Final verdict: The Bortles-Rivers two-year stink fest has really dragged down top fantasy quarterbacks’ winning percentage, but their cases should be viewed as anomalies. If Brady and Carr had played full 16-game schedules, Rivers wouldn’t even be in the top-12 this year. He’s earned a long leash after several seasons leading the Chargers to a plus-.500 record and filling the stat book. But he’ll also turn 36 this season, which means there won’t be many more seasons for him in the NFL anyway. For Bortles, he won’t be a starting quarterback much longer if he doesn’t start winning, which means he’ll either contribute more wins to the top fantasy quarterbacks or be left off the list.
Later on, I’m going to look at whether fantasy running backs and receivers can thrive on bad NFL teams, but for quarterbacks, fantasy success does connect with on-field success. Be sure to glance at the preseason over/unders to get a better idea of which teams could be winning next season.