Fantasy Football: Assessing early round risk

M. Vick

We’re definitely in the ‘draft strategy’ portion of the fantasy football season, so let’s discuss the idea of picking a QB early. Given the relative depth at the position, I would only take a QB in the first few rounds if the player offers tremendous value and/or there is no one available at RB/WR/TE that I like that specific draft spot. I’d rather have Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan or Josh Freeman in the 6th/7th (or Eli Manning in the 8th) than go QB early and deal with RB/WR leftovers in the middle rounds.

Those proponents of drafting a QB early often argue that the top QBs offer very little risk, and the early rounds are not a time to make risky picks. But do the numbers back that up?

I compiled data (ADP and actual finish in standard scoring formats) from the last four seasons to see how dependable QBs were compared to RBs and WRs. I left TEs out of the discussion because we’re really just talking about the first four rounds, and the only TE likely to go by the 4th is Antonio Gates. Each position is separated into groups of six (#1-#6, #7-#12, etc.). First, the average games played by each subset.

Pos 1-6 7-12 13-18 19-24 25-30
QB 14.0 14.2 13.0 12.0 -
RB 14.1 13.6 12.3 12.7 13.7
WR 15.2 14.2 14.3 14.0 15.3

Interestingly, the top 12 QBs are a bit more dependable than the top 12 RBs, but not by much. The top 6 WRs are far and away the most dependable of the three positions, but the 7-12 group fell back to earth. Now let’s look at the percentage of picks that played 13+ games. I’m counting 12 or fewer games as a failure to stay healthy, and 13+ games as a relative success.

Pos 1-6 7-12 13-18 19-24 25-30
QB 83% 83% 71% 50% -
RB 75% 67% 67% 71% 83%
WR 96% 79% 79% 83% 96%

QBs have the edge over RBs here, and rather significantly (+12% for the top 12 at each position). But is this actually an argument to pick QBs early? Doesn’t injury at the RB position suggest that owners should draft RBs early and often so that they can withstand the inevitable games missed at the position? One thing to note here is that the QB6-QB12 group is just as dependable as the elite QB group, so waiting until half the league has drafted a QB probably isn’t going to hurt your QB1 games played.

Again, the elite WRs have been excellent over the last four years in terms of playing 13+ games. Now let’s look at ADP minus actual finish, on average.

Pos 1-6 7-12 13-18 19-24 25-30
QB -8.0 -6.3 -6.0 -2.0 -2.8
RB -10.2 -13.3 -14.5 -13.2 -12.6
WR -12.0 -15.2 -11.5 -19.5 -4.9

So the top 6 QBs on average will drop eight spots in the rankings, injuries included. As for the big difference between QBs and RBs in the 7-24 range, there are simply more RBs than QBs so there’s going to be more variability. Let’s take injuries out of the equation and only look at players that played 13+ games.

Pos 1-6 7-12 13-18 19-24 25-30
QB -2.8 -1.5 0.5 8.4 -
RB -6.6 -4.3 -0.1 -4.3 -6.3
WR -8.3 -8.5 -7.2 -12.9 -1.6

Things get a little tighter here at the QB position. Basically, if your guy plays a full season, the chances that he finishes near his draft position are pretty good. As expected, RBs and WRs have more variability, but again, there’s more competition at the position.

It’s interesting that the backs in the RB7-RB12 group have been more likely to finish around their draft position than the elite RBs. But note that the RB7-RB12 group is more likely to miss 4+ games, so on the whole, the elite RBs have a lower average drop in rank when injuries are included.



Did you skip here without reading the rest of piece? Shame on you.

In short, this study isn’t going to change my draft strategy significantly. Yes, the top QBs are more likely to play 13+ games and finish near their ADP, but that only underlines the need to give myself the best options at RB. Eli Manning may not have the game-breaking ability of an Aaron Rodgers, but the difference between the two projects to be less than between the RBs or WRs at the same draft positions. In other words, would you rather have Mike Wallace and Eli Manning or Aaron Rodgers and Julio Jones/Big Mike Williams? I’ll take the former.

I still may pull the trigger on Rodgers or Vick in the 3rd , or grab Brady, P. Manning, Brees, Rivers, Roethlisberger or Romo in the 5th, but unless that kind of value emerges on draft day, I’m going to stick with my usual plan of loading up on RBs, WRs and a TE in the first five rounds and draft my QB later.

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