When Should You Draft Your Quarterback?

May 23, 2017
When Should You Draft Your Quarterback?

Usually, when I’m not playing or writing about fantasy sports, I read things that could make me better at fantasy sports.

“Investors in particular seek information scarcity. The challenge is to distinguish between what is truly scarce information and what is not. One means to do this is to reverse engineer market expectations — in other words, figure out what the market already thinks.“ — Michael J. Mauboussin

QB is easily the most important real-life position in football. However, I’m old enough to remember when the casual player lacked understanding of position scarcity and opportunity cost in fantasy football. Unfortunately, for sharp players, the benefit of waiting on QB is also no longer truly scarce information.

Have Drafters Finally Adjusted Their Strategy at QB?

QB is the most predictable position week-to-week and probably one of the least important in fantasy. People are starting to realize the opportunity cost of forgoing alternative positions, namely RBs and WRs, in the early rounds.

The following chart displays the top-five QB’s Average Draft Position (ADP) in each of the past four seasons:

2017-05-20 04.15.36 pm.png

It was not uncommon to reach for a top-five QB in the first three rounds of the draft just two seasons ago in MFL10s. On average, top-five QBs were drafted a round and a half sooner in 2014 than they are today.

Given the supply and demand nature of fantasy football, and common MFL10 roster construction, the herd seems to be trending in the right direction. Let’s dig a bit deeper.

When are QBs Usually Drafted?

The lack of QBs drafted in the early rounds is not a new revelation, but there could be value in knowing exactly when QBs are typically drafted.

The following chart displays how many QBs (using individual player ADPs) have been drafted in each round over the same four season sample as above:

2017-05-20 04.15.11 pm.png

Again, even just two years ago people were reaching for top-tier QB options in MFL10s much earlier than they typically do today. It’s clear that in each of the past two seasons the meat of the QB drafting takes place in two runs -- rounds 10-15 and again during rounds 17-19. This is a pretty big step for the general public relative to how spread out ADP used to be, even across premium picks early on.

Intuitively, it makes sense that the demand for the quarterback position is inherently low in the early rounds. -- from a roster construction standpoint, you’re starting far more RBs and WRs. That said, most of the field has gotten it right by drafting two or three options at the QB position.

Late-Round QB -- Not Sneaky, But Probably Optimal

There is a ton of value in foregoing QB early because it allows usable players at the position to plummet. No other position has as much consistency and upside in the later rounds.

Let’s take a look at 2016 QB fantasy points per game relative to positional ADP:

2017-05-20 04.49.53 pm.png

We see from the graphic above that early-round QBs typically score well over 18 PPG, but similar production can often be found from QBs with a positional ADP in the late teens and sometimes beyond. In contrast, RBs and WRs drafted early typically have a much higher expected value than those drafted late.

RBs and WRs typically see a standard deviation1 that moves with ADP, while QBs often don't. To put that same point in more actionable terms, the difference in standard deviation between the top QBs and worst QBs is stretched across far more rounds than the same at WR or RB. For example, why pass on Terrelle Pryor in the 4th for Aaron Rodgers, when you can grab someone like Tyrod Taylor instead of Sterling Shepard around the 11th.

To bring this point home, let’s take a look at a similar chart where round replaces positional ADP from above:

2017-05-20 04.55.40 pm.png

Again, QBs typically put up better numbers than other positions and, as a whole, are much more consistent across draft position. Not only that, but standard deviation increases at QB with lower-end options.

That last point is part of what makes the late-round QB strategy in MFL10s so valuable. By using a committee approach and taking shots on later round options with more variance, you expose yourself to this depth of consistency but also save premium picks for positions with less consistency.

Remaining fluid with your strategy is important if certain players fall well below their ADP but if you want to get exposure to elite options at QB, the best time to do so is early in draft season before most of the novices start to make their way into drafts and shift QB ADP up.

Judging by the last two diagrams, there’s not a ton of merit in reaching for a QB even in the mid rounds -- their production does not change much until late in drafts and that’s where market value and opportunity cost come in.

Market Value and Opportunity Cost

When thinking about a strategy such as Value Over Replacement or Value Based Drafting (VBD), one must not forget about things like market value (supply and demand) and opportunity cost.

Market value is the highest estimated price that a buyer would pay and a seller would accept -- in fantasy, that is simply a player's average draft position. Opportunity cost is a benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else.

VBD is useful in regards to its general premise — that you should compare point differentials within positions, not across them -- but drafters should always remember to weight projections alongside the market value (ADP) of a player and consider the opportunity cost of each pick, as well.

In regards to MFL10s, yearly projections are still very important but -- unlike traditional redraft leagues -- we are especially interested in usable weeks each player provides for our team, and yearly projections might not capture positional, or individual player, variance.

By implementing a late-round QB strategy, we are waiting to invest in replaceable assets (QB) in order to achieve more benefit early at positions that matter more relative to their opportunity cost.

The Bottom Line

  • Just because the benefit of waiting on QB is no longer truly scarce information, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

  • QB is the most predictable position week-to-week and probably one of the least important in fantasy.

  • The difference between the top QBs and worst QBs is stretched across far more rounds than the same at WR or RB.

  • The best time to get exposure to elite options at QB is early in draft season before most of the novices start to make their way into drafts.

  • Consider the opportunity cost of forgoing other positions in the early rounds if you do reach for an elite QB.

  • Market value matters -- no other position provides the consistency and upside of QBs in the later rounds.


1. Standard deviation is a number used to show how a group of measurements is spread out from the average (mean), or expected value. A low standard deviation means the majority of measurements very close to the average. A high standard deviation means that they are further spread out from the mean. The low standard deviation across the quarterback position year-to-year is very important relative to other positions.

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