Fantasy Quarterback Drafting: Know Your Role
Selecting a quarterback late in fantasy drafts is all the rage. It’s a simple case of supply outpacing demand and applying downward pressure on the price of a widely available asset. You don’t have to be Warren Buffett to comprehend that brain buster.
The Late Round Quarterback philosophy has quickly gained on such common practices as the Last Round Kicker and avoiding Darren McFadden like the plague. There is no shortage of evidence in support of this approach, or to aid in a fantasy foray into the glamorous life of a bonafide Quarterback Streamer.
Yet this jet-setting, high-maintenance lifestyle does not suit everyone. Perhaps you don’t have time to stay active enough to make the strategy effective. Perhaps you don’t like mustaches. There’s no judgment here. Not everyone can pull it off, and you are not doomed to last place if you don’t stream quarterbacks. As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
We may not know multiple cat-skinning methods, but 2013 league champions who selected Peyton Manning first prove that it’s true. Further supporting that, one side effect of the Late Round Quarterback (LRQB) revolution is that the average draft position (ADP) of passers are falling. The graph below shows the ADP (Y-axis) of the top 16 quarterbacks over the last three seasons. Sixteen were chosen to get a handful of streaming candidates in the sample.
ADP data courtesy of myfantasyleague.com
There is no end in sight for the quarterback ADP slump. It is becoming more accepted that wide receivers and not running backs are the best foundation upon which to build modern-day rosters, especially in PPR and dynasty leagues. More wideouts climbing draft boards means passers will continue to feel an ADP squeeze.
Early 2014 data is already bearing this out, with the top 12 passers being selected an average of nearly 10 picks later (9.68) than they were in 2013. Only one quarterback slot (QB12) has an earlier current ADP than it did a year ago (93.7 versus 97.4). This actually erodes the advantage of drafters who prefer to wait on picking their signal callers, while simultaneously setting a potential trap for those with an itchy trigger finger.
At what point should your quarterback be chosen? Of course the answer is maddeningly vague. It depends.
It depends on league structure. It depends on league mates. But most of all, it depends on you.
The majority of fantasy players fit into one of three categories when it comes to quarterbacks. The first two are at opposite ends of the spectrum and were touched on above. Quarterback streamers and those who draft the position early are easy to identify. Members of the last profile, which is presumably the largest and most varied, simply let things play out. They seek the optimal time to select a passer based on value and adjust on the fly.
Lying to yourself about where you reside compromises your team’s chances, if not at the draft itself, then during the weekly in-season grind.
Only you know if you will put forth the effort necessary to make streaming worth the commitment. Or if you enjoy seat-of-your-pants passer picking, it’s crucial to arm yourself beforehand with current ADP trends and value targets.
Lastly, you may want a quarterback to lock into your starting lineup, set, and forget. Although a more hands-on approach improves your chances, drafting like a quarterback streamer and then not following through on a weekly basis will cause more harm than grabbing one early. If it best fits your roster management capacity, it’s not the end of the world. The LRQB movement has helped even you, but understanding how to accept this gift is crucial.
The New Normal
Speaking in general ADP terms, and without getting into specific players, quarterbacks in the last third of the first tier (QB9-QB12) are being drafted in the seventh and eighth rounds of 12-team leagues (ADP 83-94). At that point we are getting into the third tier of running backs and the fourth tier of wideouts. That also begins the back half of the first tight end tier, which stretches into the ninth round. Let’s leave tight ends for another day since they can be approached from many angles, including streaming.
The table below examines the last five years, which were selected to capture a recent snapshot of an increasingly pass-heavy league. The five-year average fantasy points scored (PPR) at each position is listed, broken down by tier. The standard deviation of points scored within each tier is noted so we get a feel for how homogeneous scoring is for each group.
|Position||Tier (12 Players)||5-yr Avg Points (PPR)||Tier Standard Deviation|
The opportunity cost of bypassing a third tier running back or fourth tier wideout appears reduced when viewed through the lens of standard deviation, which is markedly reduced for those groups. If you miss out on one from the front of the tier, and later wind up with one at the end of it, their five-year fantasy point averages are similar. Again, we are not speaking of specific players, and clearly owners’ scouting skills vary widely.
This appears to be a sweet spot for approaching quarterbacks from a value perspective. Every draft is unique, and adjustments based on how a particular draft is unfolding are obviously necessary. But owners who fit this profile can be confident that running back and receiver scoring will plateau before they miss out on a first tier passer.
On the other hand, fantasy scoring within the top quarterback tier diverges significantly. The average of the bottom third passers in the first tier is 269.8 fantasy points scored over the last five years. The top third of that tier has averaged 346.3 points. Over a 16-week fantasy season that is a difference of nearly five points per game. It is the best argument, other than the need for a maintenance-free roster, for selecting one of the top handful of passers. The issue, as always, is opportunity cost.
Just two years ago, the top five quarterbacks were off the board before the middle of the second round. Drafting a top four passer now will cost a pick in the early third to middle of the fourth round, on average. That equates to the end of the first running back tier and beginning of the second. For receivers, it comes at the same cost.
Receivers in that area (overall ADP ~26–42) have scored an average of 242.2 points over the last five seasons, while running backs in that range have averaged 225.5 points during the same timeframe. Waiting one more round to draft a running back would put you in the neighborhood of rushers who averaged 208.7 points over the last five years. For receivers, the average is 214.7 points.
While picking an early round quarterback is not as pricey as it used to be in ADP terms (thank you, LRQB), it still carries a hefty scoring opportunity cost. Habitually selecting one in the first two rounds is now a potentially crushing misstep. If you must grab one of these passers, avoid the trap of doing it too early.
Streamers know how widely quarterback scoring swings based on matchups. No position in fantasy is more vulnerable to playing a tough defense. A high standard deviation figure for the second tier of passers illustrates how quality remains after the top 12 for hyperactive owners. Keeping a close watch on weekly matchups also helps mitigate wild scoring swings, which are too often overlooked when examining seasonal point totals.
ADPs were spawned early in the offseason by the most diehard of degenerates. As more casual owners begin drafting, quarterback ADPs should rise. Knowing the league in which you are competing is vital, and goes back to the “it depends” caveat.
Using current ADP data in conjunction with past fantasy scoring averages is tricky. Players in preseason ADP tiers are not guaranteed to wind up in the same tiers based on points. The information was used to illustrate general trends and the value of identifying with quarterback drafting profiles.
2-QB or Superflex leagues were ignored. Excellent resources exist for participants in those highly strategic formats. Scarcity is at the heart of the LRQB philosophy. 1-QB leagues devalue passers relative to other positions that require multiple weekly starters, a crucial concept to keep in mind during roster construction.
After many years of falling into the quarterback streamer category, I anticipate landing between that and the group that drafts by the seat of their pants. My comfort with streaming as a fallback plan will remove angst over making sure that I grab one of the undervalued top tier quarterbacks. This is the recommended approach for anyone confident that they can execute the strategy for a full season.
Long Story Short
Knowing which quarterback drafting profile suits you will help with more than just your draft plan. It’s part of realistically knowing yourself as a fantasy player. Nothing is more important to your overall success than identifying and executing a personalized full-season operations plan.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman
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