A Look Back at Quarterbacks in 2018

A Look Back at Quarterbacks in 2018

By TJ Hernandez (Director of DFS), last update Apr 15, 2019

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

Follow TJ Hernandez on Twitter: @TJHernandez.

Quarterback Draft Trends

In recent years, even the most casual fantasy footballers have taken note of how devalued the quarterback position has become in standard, one-quarterback leagues. We need to look no further than ADP trends1 to see that drafters are simply waiting longer now than in years past to pull the trigger on a signal caller.

Top-12 QB ADP, 2013–2018
  2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
QB1 19.1 13.0 11.2 22.7 18.9 26.6
QB2 20.3 18.0 16.5 28.7 29.7 41.4
QB3 32.1 19.9 44.3 40.8 42.0 48.5
QB4 41.9 39.9 48.6 42.2 51.5 53.3
QB5 43.2 41.4 55.4 59.2 58.9 62.5
QB6 49.4 59.7 57.3 62.7 67.9 72.4
QB7 56.5 66.4 67.1 71.4 71.5 74.7
QB8 61.3 69.7 79.1 80.6 75.8 86.9
QB9 63.8 73.0 79.2 85.9 76.8 88.1
QB10 65.8 86.1 81.1 96.4 78.0 96.8
QB11 74.2 87.2 86.5 100.7 84.0 98.4
QB12 74.5 90.2 86.7 103.0 91.2 105.2

Last season marked the only time in the last six years (and maybe ever if you do a deep enough data dig) that the first quarterback taken off the board had an ADP outside the first two rounds in 12-team leagues. Every quarterback in the 2–12 range was taken roughly a full round later in 2018 compared to the corresponding positional ADP in 2013—last season the final quarterback drafted as a starter didn’t come off the board until almost the 10th round.

This trend is a testament to how deep the position has become and how much sharper fantasy football players are than just a couple years ago. Expect signal callers to continue to be available on the cheap until standard scoring or positional requirements change.

With all that being said, there’s still an argument to be made that drafters are overvaluing the position, especially at the very top.

Quarterback Return on Investment

The greatest argument for spending any significant draft capital on the quarterback position is that they are relatively safe—the position is so protected that injury rates are generally low and few players bust so badly at the position that they become unusable on a weekly basis. Still, it’s not often that quarterbacks are living up to their asking price. The following table compares quarterback’s positional ADP to their end-of-season2 ranking over the last six seasons.

QB ADP vs Average End-of-Season Fantasy Rank, 2013–2018
QB ADP Avg End-of-Season Rank
1 17.2
2 3.3
3 5.2
4 13.2
5 8.0
6 20.5
7 14.3
8 7.0
9 17.7
10 17.2
11 17.0
12 12.3

While the second and third quarterbacks off the board have been relatively safe picks, reaching for the first quarterback in a draft has returned disastrous results in recent seasons—over the last six years, only two quarterbacks with the top ADP at their position have finished as a top-five fantasy quarterback. This could simply be a function of variance over a relatively small sample size but just as likely is the fact that fantasy football drafters are overvaluing outlier seasons and expecting similar results the following year (see Newton, Cam; 2016). 

Even when drafters have realized their expected return on investment, such as drafting the second quarterback, it doesn’t account for the fact that quarterback scoring is so flat. Last season, for example, the difference between the QB2 and QB10 was just 2.2 fantasy points per game. The benefit of landing a reliable quarterback in the third or fourth round pales in comparison to the edge gained by drafting a potential stud positional player.

Taking a different point of view, consider where the top-12 fantasy quarterbacks were drafted in 2018.

Top-12 QB ADP, 2018
Player 2018 Pos. Rank Fantasy Points FP/Game Pos ADP
Patrick Mahomes 1 397.7 26.5 16
Matt Ryan 2 321.6 21.4 14
Ben Roethlisberger 3 319.1 21.3 13
Deshaun Watson 4 309.7 20.6 2
Aaron Rodgers 5 305.5 20.4 1
Drew Brees 6 302.0 20.1 7
Andrew Luck 7 299.8 20.0 9
Russell Wilson 8 288.5 19.2 3
Jared Goff 9 280.4 18.7 15
Cam Newton 10 278.6 19.9 5
Philip Rivers 11 268.0 17.9 12
Kirk Cousins 12 266.1 17.7 8

What jumps off the page is the fact that the top three fantasy passers from last season were all drafted outside the top 12 but the trend of finding starter-caliber fantasy quarterbacks late in drafts is not unique to last season. Of the 72 quarterbacks to finish in the top 12 over the past six seasons, 40 were drafted with a positional ADP of 12 or higher while 32 were drafted as backups or went undrafted altogether. Wait on the position.

With that, let’s take a look and which quarterbacks overperformed in 2018 and who failed to live up to expectations, hopefully teasing out some lessons from the collective groups.

2018’s Most Undervalued Quarterbacks

Best QB Finishes Relative to ADP, 2018
Player 2018 Pos. Rank Fantasy Points FP/Game Pos ADP
Patrick Mahomes 1 397.7 26.5 16
Matt Ryan 2 321.6 21.4 14
Ben Roethlisberger 3 319.1 21.3 13

The cream started at the bottom last season with each of the top three fantasy quarterbacks drafted outside the top 12 and finishing at least 10 spots higher than their respective ADPs. Patrick Mahomes was the obvious star of the group, posting the best fantasy season ever at his position for an incredible 10th-round asking price. The pause for drafters surrounding Mahomes was his inexperience but more emphasis should have been put on the fact that the second-year quarterback was taking over an offense that turned Alex Smith into fantasy’s QB2 just a season earlier. 

Ben Roethlisberger has been a serviceable fringe QB1 throughout most of his career but he cleared 300 fantasy points for just the second time ever in 2018. The prospect of losing LeVeon Bell clearly gave drafters some trepidation around this offense as a whole, but the ascension of JuJu Smith-Schuster catapulted Big Ben’s value throughout the season and led to Pittsburgh becoming one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league. 

Matt Ryan has had three different offensive coordinators over the last five seasons and he struggled in the first year of each of the last two transitions. The Falcons quarterback made a huge leap in year two with Kyle Shanahan and might be something that we should have expected in his second season with Steve Sarkisian. After posting a 3.8% touchdown rate in 2017 (career average 4.8%), Ryan swung the pendulum in the other direction last season, scoring a touchdown on 5.8% of his passes. He didn’t show up as a regression candidate last season based on red zone expected value but negative outlier seasons such as Ryan’s 2017 are ones we should seek out when searching for quarterback value in fantasy drafts. 

2018’s Most Overvalued Quarterbacks

Worst QB Finishes Relative to ADP, 2018
Player 2018 Pos. Rank Fantasy Points FP/Game Pos ADP
Carson Wentz 21 190.7 17.3 6
Matthew Stafford 20 193.7 12.9 10
Tom Brady 13 254.3 17.0 4

Of the three quarterbacks to be drafted as fantasy starters last season and play at least 10 games, none were a bigger disappointment relative to ADP than Carson Wentz. Even when healthy, Wentz was only on pace to finish as the QB15 based on fantasy points per game. After a scorching hot 2017, Wentz’s regression shouldn’t have come as a major surprise. His 2017 touchdown rate was simply unsustainable and the Eagles weren’t an offense that was moving the ball efficiently enough to justify such high scoring rates.

Some might point to a philosophical shift in play-calling as the reason for Matthew Stafford’s drop in fantasy production—Detroit ranked 17th in passing rate in neutral game script after ranking in the top six in each of the previous two seasons—but the Lions quarterback threw just 10 fewer passes in 2018 than in 2017. In fact, it was a major dip in efficiency that led to Stafford’s struggles. His 3.8% touchdown rate was his lowest mark since 2014 and his 6.7 adjusted yards per attempt were his worst since 2012. If the Lions continue to face negative game script in an offense that wants to run more, volume might not be enough to buoy Stafford’s fantasy value moving forward. 

Tom Brady was a fringe QB1 and his underachievement was more a function of owners drafting for name value than Brady having some precipitous drop. After finishing as the QB7 in 2017, Brady was being taken as the QB4 in 2018 drafts. Those who reached for Brady were disappointed by an offense that ranked fifth in neutral game script passing rate in 2017 but 13th last year. 

Key Takeaways

With how deep the quarterback position is in standard fantasy football leagues, it’s clear that waiting on the position in drafts is the savvy move and 2018 reiterated that sentiment. A more subtle lesson is the fact that regression must be built into fantasy projections, especially for those performers who achieve at a rate that is clearly unsustainable. 

While it’s often difficult to quantify precisely how play calling impacts fantasy production, it is a factor that should be considered when analyzing players’ stocks. A shift in philosophy can potentially cause growing pains for even experienced quarterbacks but once a player adjusts to a new system, they could prove to be great values, such as Matt Ryan in recent years. 

Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images


1. ADP data is for August drafts from MyFantasyLeague.com

2. End-of-season fantasy points for Weeks 1–16 from the 4for4 Fantasy Points Browser

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