Fantasy Football Quarterback Draft Strategy
When you buy a car do you just go to a dealership and pick the one you like the best? No, there is usually a lot of research that goes into the big purchase before you even arrive at the shop. Which makes are the most reliable? What have other owners said about the car? Is it worth it to go for a cheaper model or will you get a better return on investment in the long run if you spend more?
Drafting a fantasy quarterback is no different. It’s important to know how each “make” has performed in recent years, before deciding how high of a draft pick you want to spend. For our purposes, the “make” will be fantasy quarterback tiers: high-end QB1 (QB1–6), low-end QB1 (QB7–12), and QB2 (QB13–20).
I wanted to know how the median score of these tiers have performed in recent years, and if the data can tell us when to pull the trigger on a quarterback in our drafts. Below is what I found.
Fantasy Quarterback Total Points
|High-End QB1 (QB1–6)||Low-End QB1 (QB7–12)||QB2 (QB13–20)|
The above table shows the median fantasy points scored for each tier of quarterbacks over the past six years. Obviously, the higher the tier, the more points they score. That doesn’t tell us anything. What does tell us something is each individual column.
High-end QB1 scoring has significantly fallen off since 2011, and even 2012. Low-end QB1 scoring has held fairly steady, but QB2 scoring has gradually increased since 2011. Scoring for the position dropped off from 2015 to 2016, but all three tiers shared a drop.
Look at this data in the form of a graph:
What matters here is the gap between each tier has mostly shrunk since 2011 and 2012, in particular, the gap between the low-end QB1 and QB2 tiers.
Fantasy Quarterback Points Per Week
|High-End QB1 (QB1–6)||Low-End QB1 (QB7–12)||QB2 (QB13–20)|
Changing the tables from total points to fantasy points per week for each tier is even more telling. Median high-end QB1s have gone from 20+ points per week in 2011 and 2012 to fewer than 20 points per week in three of the past four years. At the same time, QB2s have scored over 15 points per week for three straight seasons, while the low-end QB1 tier has seen only a slight increase.
Look at the difference in points per week between the median quarterback in each tier.
|Low-end QB1 vs. High-end QB1||QB2 vs. Low-end QB1|
What does this mean? Don’t draft a low-end QB1, considering you can get close to the same production multiple rounds later from the QB2 tier. The difference last season shrunk to less than one point per week. Drafting a high-end QB1 could be a viable strategy, too, if the price is right, as the gap between the median high-end QB1 and low-end QB1 has increased two of the past three years.
How do we know all this will happen again? We don't know, but TJ Hernandez studied year-to-year correlations for quarterbacks on the same team in consecutive seasons and found fantasy points per game has one of the higher correlations among fantasy quarterback statistics.
So, let’s look at the best candidates to draft by tier.
High-End QB1s: The Elite
Not surprisingly, all of the top-five quarterbacks in fantasy points per game last year are being drafted as the first five quarterbacks in 2017, according to average draft position (ADP)—Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Andrew Luck.
Over the past two seasons, though, only half of the prior year’s top-six scoring quarterbacks finished as a top-12 quarterback. Scary.
If you’re going to pull the trigger on a top-tier quarterback you want a safe one. Andrew Luck has questions with his shoulder and Matt Ryan lost his elite offensive coordinator after a historic season that could suffer from some regression.
That leaves Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. In most home redraft leagues, these quarterbacks will go in the first three or four rounds, unlike expert mock drafts where they slip anywhere between rounds three and six.
Of the three, I prefer Brees, who is a round cheaper than the other two. Brees is also the only quarterback to finish in top 12 of fantasy quarterback scoring every season since 2011, and he’s actually finished top-six each of those years, with four top-three finishes. He has 10 consecutive seasons of 28+ touchdown passes. The next closest quarterback is Philip Rivers with four straight seasons of 28+ touchdown passes.
Russell Wilson is an interesting case. He’s the sixth quarterback off the board in drafts, despite finishing as the fantasy QB11 last year. At face value, you’d normally pass, but Wilson played all of 2016 hurt behind the worst offensive line in the NFL. The line is still bad, but Wilson did have back-to-back top-three seasons prior to his abnormal 2016 result. However, I still think he’s being priced closer to his ceiling than floor.
Low-End QB1s: Meh
As discussed above, I mostly have no interest in this tier. The value relative to the other tiers in recent years isn’t there. To use the car analogy again, I’d rather spend more for better reliability or less for almost the same production.
This tier by current ADP includes Cam Newton, Dak Prescott, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Ben Roethlisberger, and Kirk Cousins. The real question becomes can any of these players produce upward mobility into the high-end QB1 tier?
I think two can, and one already has. Newton has four top-five seasons since 2011, but there’s high risk with him coming off shoulder surgery, a career-low in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards, and speculation that a reduced rushing role will continue. However, Mariota is priced one round later and John Paulsen projects him to be a top-five quarterback this season. Through the first 14 weeks of last season, Mariota was fantasy's QB5.
QB2s: AKA the ValueMart
In this tier, we find quarterbacks with ADPs in round nine or later. I’ve found myself targeting many signal-callers in this tier.
For starters, two quarterbacks have four top-12 seasons on their resume since 2011: Philip Rivers (ADP of 9.09) and Matthew Stafford (ADP of 9.08). There are only eight other passers who can boast such a claim: Brees, Rodgers, Newton, Brady, Romo, Ryan, Wilson, Luck. Solid company.
Many 4for4 staff members also love Andy Dalton this year in the 11th round, considering possible positive red zone touchdown regression and two top-12 fantasy seasons on his resume.
Lastly, Tyrod Taylor was QB8 last season, but is QB16 in ADP.
The Bottom Line
- Since 2011, the median fantasy points per week for high-end QB1s has fallen significantly.
- Since 2011, the median fantasy points per week for QB2s has risen significantly.
- It’s probably best to avoid low-end QB1s at their ADP. Not enough value.
- If you do opt to invest in a high-end QB1, target those with the highest floor and less risk.