JJ Zachariason

Fantasy Football U.

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When to Draft a Quarterback

Friday, August 18, 2017

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 (Quarterback Strategy) of the new Rotoworld fantasy football draft strategy book "Fantasy Football U: Expert Tips on How to Dominate Your Draft".

QBs Don’t Matter (Except They Do)

- JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB)


The thing about quarterbacks in fantasy football is that they don’t really matter.

I know that can be tough to hear. They’re field generals on the actual gridiron, and every fantasy football owner wants, in some way, the fake game of football to reflect the real one.

But that’s not how things work. That is, if you want to win.

Even before the recent influx of talented quarterbacks, the game of fantasy football has dictated that you wait to draft the position. Yes, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are more than likely going to finish as top fantasy signal-callers this year, and that predictable knowledge seems to give fantasy owners a nice security blanket during a draft.


That’s ignoring the bigger picture, though.


Editor's Note: You can now buy the e-book or paperback on Amazon.


Quarterback Replaceability

Jerry has five apples, and he’s trying to sell all of them. But only four people really want an apple.

To sell them, then, Jerry is forced to lower the price per apple in order to entice a buyer who may not really want an apple. At a lower cost, the apple, to a newer consumer, becomes part of a purchasing consideration set.

A dude wants an apple when the apple is cheaper.

This, my friends, is the simplest supply and demand analogy I could come up with.

The relationship between supply and demand is the driving force in a free market. Generally, when the number of available products (supply) decreases, then the desire for a product increases (demand), resulting in higher prices. And when there’s an excess supply of a product, it’s usually the result of lower demand, which can lower costs.

I promise this is still a fantasy football book.

In a traditional fantasy football lineup, owners are starting one quarterback, at least two running backs, at least two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker, and one defense.

To put this another way, the demand for running backs and wide receivers is much greater than the demand for the other positions. You’re starting more of them, so the desire -- the need -- to obtain those players is greater.

As a result, their costs rise.

This is precisely why we see the early rounds of fantasy drafts dominated by wideouts and running backs.

For instance, when looking at average draft position (ADP) data (via MyFantasyLeague.com), you can see that the cost of the worst hypothetical starters in a 12-team league -- that is, the 24th-ranked running back, the 24th-ranked wide receiver and the 12th-ranked quarterback -- are much greater at wide receiver and running back than they are for quarterback.

Over the last seven seasons, the 24th running back has, on average, left draft boards at pick 68 in PPR leagues. The 24th receiver has been drafted at around pick 61.

At quarterback, the last theoretical starter has usually been selected at pick 87.

Why? Supply and demand.

But the decline in average cost for this final start-worthy quarterback in drafts has also been due to -- as noted at the top -- the arrival of some seriously good gunslingers.

There’s a larger supply of usable quarterbacks these days, driving down prices. That’s why, in 2010, the 12th quarterback left draft boards at pick 80. Last year, the average cost for that same quarterback was pick 102. This arrival of talent has made the position super replaceable. For example, in 2012, there were two quarterbacks with at least 11 QB1 performances. In 2016, no quarterback hit that mark.

Analyzing fantasy football in this manner is important because the game is played on a weekly basis, not a yearly one. You can look at year-end totals and draw conclusions that way, but this gives us a better picture of the week-to-week replaceability of the position.

And that replaceability has grown over the last half decade.

During the past two seasons, we haven’t seen a ton of elite quarterback play at the position. Had there been elite play, we would’ve seen more players in the “At Least 13” or “At Least 12” buckets. Instead, the quarterback numbers are grouped closer together. The position has been replaceable.

And, really, that’s how it’s been since the 2012 season, when the world was introduced to Andrew Luck. And Russell Wilson. And Kirk Cousins. And, since then, Tyrod Taylor. And Jameis Winston. And Marcus Mariota. And Derek Carr. And Dak Prescott.

You get the idea. There are a lot of good players at the position, which means that there’s more Replaceability.

Also, when you compare top-12 quarterback performances to top-24 outings from running backs and wide receivers -- and we’re looking at top-24 here because almost all 12-team leagues are starting at least two wideouts and two running backs -- you can see how the position shows less diversity in performance from player to player. And less variety means less eliteness (shoutout to Joe Flacco).

For example, since 2012 we’ve seen 3.60 quarterbacks hit 10 or more usable, top-12 weeks per year. And we’ve seen 18.20 wide receivers have seven or more top-24 performances. (This excludes Week 17.) The thing that jumps out most is how ridiculously valuable top running backs can be. If you happen to have the running back who’s far and away better than the rest of the position, you’re gaining a significant edge in fantasy football. The main issue is obtaining that running back.

But, at quarterback, the top performances are scrunched together, especially when you consider the number of overall starters at the position in a typical 12-team league.

Usable Weeks Per Year at Quarterback, Running Back, and Wide Receiver Since 2012




Just to clarify, this is saying that a little over 100 percent of all quarterback starters in a 12-team league over the last five seasons have provided at least seven top-12 performances. Meanwhile, the 100 percent mark is reached at running back and wide receiver at the “At Least 6” usable performances bucket.

At a high level, what this means is that everyone in your 12-team league will have a quarterback who is more usable than a running back or wide receiver.

Furthermore, the edge that you obtain by owning a top quarterback isn’t as strong as it is with a running back or wide receiver. (Note: There’s no comparison to tight ends throughout this simply because tight ends share similar demand to quarterbacks in fantasy football.)

We already talked about how elite (there’s that word again) running backs provide a huge advantage in fake football, but considering how few wide receivers are actually giving you 10, 11, or 12 usable weeks compared to the baseline starter at the position, you can see how owning one of those players can create a large advantage. All the while, a solid four out of 12 teams in your league will have a quarterback next season who offers 10 or more usable weeks.

In other words, that quarterbacks are really good in today’s game actually means that they’ve become less important in fantasy football. Because -- and you can should say this in an Oprah Winfrey voice -- you get a quarterback. And you get a quarterback. And you get a quarterback. And you get a quarterback.

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