Best-Ball Notebook: Quarterbacks

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Best-Ball Notebook: Quarterbacks

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Over the last few years, there has been a growing debate within the fantasy community about how to fix QB scoring. It’s clear a change is needed. Running quarterbacks have broken the standard scoring system used in most leagues while QBs that can’t scramble, like Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo, are automatically at a disadvantage unless they throw for 35 touchdowns.

Superflex and 2-QB leagues sort of remedy the supply side of the problem at the position -- there are at least 25 startable quarterbacks every week -- but in best-ball, the surplus of depth works in everyone’s favor. Since you don’t have to set a weekly lineup and everyone has access to a deep player pool, building your QB corps is the easiest position to strategize in best-ball leagues.

How many QBs should you take?

In BestBall10 leagues, you have to fill 20 roster spots and start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 FLEX (RB/WR/TE), and 1 D/ST every week. The format forces everyone into basically just two options for roster construction. This year, 98% of the team’s drafted in Fanball’s BB10s have taken 2 or 3 quarterbacks.

Whether or not you roll with 2 or 3 quarterbacks on your squad is a matter of team-building philosophy. Knowing optimal roster construction is one of the biggest edges you will have over your opponents and at quarterback specifically, all you need to apply is a bit of common sense. Obviously you don’t want to hang yourself out to dry and only have two QBs with the same bye week, like Kyler Murray and Drew Lock (Week 8). While that’s an easy mistake to avoid, some other pitfalls aren’t so straightforward.

For example, if you draft Lamar Jackson in the third round -- you’re banking on him being your team’s top-scoring quarterback almost every week. Since your opponents in this range are all likely going to be drafting running backs and wide receivers, the opportunity cost of drafting a QB in Round 3 is, very likely, worse RB/WR depth than your leaguemates. However, after you take Jackson, the next quarterback you take should always be in the late-rounds. Why spend two premium picks on QB?

I’m just not sure spending up at quarterback -- even if it’s Jackson or for Patrick Mahomes -- is optimal this year. Instead, I find myself defaulting to a mid/late-round quarterback strategy in most leagues because drafters are overconfident on who the best fantasy QBs are going to be, the late-rounds are always full of upside, and the math for 2-3 mid/late-round QBs makes sense. The last few years have been proof that a mid/late-round QB strategy works extremely well.

ADP is still inefficient

Over the last two years, exactly 50% of the quarterbacks that were among the first eight QBs taken in drafts actually finished top-8 in fantasy points per game.

Unlike running backs, who rely on volume, quarterbacks rely on efficiency (or rushing) to score their fantasy points. And since efficiency is fairly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis -- even Mahomes fails in great matchups from time to time -- we get a fairly wide range of outcomes for passers on any given week in fantasy football.

This plot of the top-24 quarterbacks in average draft position vs. their actual finish (in fantasy points per game) shows just valuable a mid/late-round QB strategy has been over the last two seasons:

This graph shows two things. First, early-round QB drafters aren’t very good at picking which quarterbacks are actually going to be best. 2020 will definitely test that theory, though. It would be a shock if Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson finish outside of the top-5 QBs -- but Mahomes and Jackson’s greatness still doesn’t take away from the second and more important point. The sweet spot for QBs over the last two years is between QB5 and QB15 in ADP as 15 of the 22 quarterbacks (68%) taken in this range have either met or exceeded their fantasy output based on their draft slot.

Mahomes and Jackson both finished as the No. 1 scoring quarterback while being taken outside of the top-12 in positional ADP in back-to-back years, but the success stories don’t stop with those two. Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, and Matthew Stafford all smashed their late-round ADP last season, Ben Roethlisberger was one of the best values in 2018 drafts, and Jameis Winston out-performed his late-round ADP in back-to-back seasons.

2020 is setting up as another perfect year for those who wait on quarterback and draft for value. Granted, best-ball drafters aren’t making any egregious mistakes at quarterback in the early-rounds this year -- Mahomes and Jackson are usually the only two QBs that go in the first four rounds and usually after 25 overall -- but the QB pool is looking deeper than ever this season.

Which stats explain QB scoring?

Before I get into the actual player analysis, it’s important to know which stats should you be looking at to help inform your QB decisions. To get a better understanding of how QBs actually score their fantasy points, I correlated a few of the most important QB stats -- like pass attempts and touchdowns -- to determine how positively or negatively they correspond to actual points.

StatCorrelation
Dropbacks0.86
Pass Attempts0.84
Passer Rating0.62
Passing FP/Dropback0.62
Rush Attempts0.55
Pass TD%0.54
YPA0.49
Completion%0.45
aDOT0.14
Pass INT%-0.36

The results were pretty straight-forward with volume (dropbacks and pass attempts) being the main two drivers of fantasy scoring followed by four efficiency metrics (passer rating, passing fantasy points per dropback, TD%, YPA, and completions) as the top-8 metrics that matter.

For reference, I subtracted out every quarterbacks rushing totals to determine just their passing fantasy points per dropback and, it is, by far, the best efficiency metric we have to evaluate quarterbacks. Since every passer gets similar volume every week -- between 25-35 attempts -- the gap between finishing QB8 and QB18 is often just a few fantasy points every game. Also note that touchdown rate (TDs divided by attempts) and yards per attempt are both in the same neighborhood as rush attempts.

If you’re deciding between two quarterbacks who you expect to have similar efficiency, always default to the one who runs.

QB Tiers

Tier 1
Tier 2
Tier 3
Tier 4
Tier 5
Tier 6
Tier 7

Note: These tiers are based on our season projections.

QBs to target

Dak Prescott (Round 6-7) -- Even though I would never do this in a typical redraft league, I’ve found myself drafting Prescott quite a bit in best-ball when the running back pool dries up or my WR/TE targets aren’t on the board. Prescott is usually taken over 30 picks later than Mahomes and Jackson and even though his ceiling isn’t as high as those two, Prescott has an amazing floor and is probably one of the safest picks you can make within his ADP range. If Prescott does bust, it’ll only be because of an injury. Over his first four seasons, Prescott has finished as the QB6, QB10, QB10, and QB2 in fantasy points per game and arguably has the NFL’s best supporting cast. Prescott’s rushing upside is still underrated, too. Over the last two years, Prescott ranks 4th among all QBs in red-zone carries (33) behind Lamar Jackson (65), Josh Allen (43), and Deshaun Watson (37). Prescott has quietly averaged nearly 20 rushing yards per game over his career, too.

Kyler Murray (Round 6-7) -- On a team level, the Cardinals should be incredibly fantasy-friendly. Last year, HC Kliff Kingsbury leaned pass-heavy and ran an extremely fast-paced attack despite having a rookie QB and below-average surrounding talent. Arizona called pass on 59% of their plays (15th) and ranked 4th in pace (seconds in between snaps) when the game was within a score (+/- 7 points). Now, Murray has DeAndre Hopkins, and his addition will allow Kingsbury to run the 4-WR offense he had to mostly scrap last year because Arizona didn’t have the personnel. Murray just posted the fourth-most fantasy points by a rookie QB all-time, finished second behind Lamar Jackson in rushing yards at QB, and cleared 18 fantasy points in 11-of-16 games last year. I prefer Dak to Murray by a decent margin, but Murray is starting to slip into the late-6th/early-7th round in BB10s and on Underdog.

Josh Allen (Round 8-9) -- Allen is one of my favorite values in fantasy this year regardless of position. Most drafters are simply underrating how big Stefon Diggs’ addition is for Buffalo, mainly because it will allow OC Brian Daboll to run a significantly better version of the attack the Bills were trending towards. Daboll increased the Bills 3-WR usage as the season progressed last season, using 11-personnel on 77% of plays in Weeks 9-17 (2nd-most) after having 3-WRs on the field on just 60% of plays in Weeks 1-8 (17th). Now, the Bills have one of the NFL’s best pure route runners in Diggs, one of the best deep threats in John Brown, and Cole Beasley running out of the slot. Last year, Allen had one of the best floor/ceiling combinations among all quarterbacks, clearing 17.5 fantasy points in 13-of-15 starts. Allen’s fantasy appeal is tied to his rushing upside -- he leads the Bills in carries inside of the 10-yard line over the last two years (and has scored 13 TDs on these rushes) -- and only Lamar Jackson (81.6) has averaged more yards on the ground than Allen (40.8) among quarterbacks in this span. Allen will never be one of the most efficient passers in the league because of how aggressive he plays and because his accuracy comes and goes, but I’d argue Allen’s playing style actually helps his fantasy outlook. As PFF’s Ian Hartitz noted, Allen almost never checks the ball down and is always looking to push downfield or scramble if no one is open. Allen will be my main QB target in every seasonal league in 2020.

Matt Ryan (Round 9-10) -- Perennially underrated, I’ve spent all summer buying Ryan in dynasty leagues and drafting him as much as possible in seasonal leagues. Ryan is simply one of the most underrated fantasy QBs in recent memory. I’m sure this will come as a shock to many, but Ryan has finished as a QB1 (top-12) in 65% of his starts over the last two seasons -- which is more often than Deshaun Watson (61%) and not too far behind the elites. Mahomes and Jackson have both finished as QB1’s in 73% of their games in their starts. Ryan has finished 3rd in pass attempts in back-to-back seasons and the Falcons project to be one of the NFL’s most fantasy-friendly teams again thanks to their leaky defense and pass-first attack. In OC Dirk Koetter’s return last year, Atlanta was the most pass-heavy team when leading (58%) and the third-most pass-heavy team in the league when the game was within a score (63%) and when trailing (75%). Sometimes fantasy isn’t sexy, but don’t make this hard. Just draft Matt Ryan.

Daniel Jones (Round 11) -- Last year, Jones was the QB15 in fantasy points per game despite never making a start with Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, and Golden Tate all on the field. You have to hunt for big-spiked week potential in best-ball leagues and Jones has it. Last year, Jones scored 25 or more fantasy points four times in just 12 starts -- joining Cam Newton, Robert Griffin, Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Andrew Luck, and Deshaun Watson as the only QBs to put up 25+ points more than three times as a rookie. Danny Dimes also has underrated rushing upside after clearing 20 yards on the ground seven times last season. Plus, all of Jones’ stacking options are all relatively cheap with Evan Engram going in Round 7 while all of the Giants receivers come off the board in Round 9-12.

Jared Goff (Round 12-13) -- After finishing as the QB10 in fantasy points per game in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Goff cratered to QB20 last year. His fall from the top tier was largely driven by unlucky touchdown variance, though. In those 2017-18 seasons, Goff’s touchdown rate was 5.8% but it fell all the way down to 3.5% last year -- which tied Kyle Allen for the fourth-worst rate. Not only is Goff due for his touchdown rate to normalize back to the 4.5-6% range, but there is a real chance Goff leads the NFL in pass attempts once again. Goff’s pass attempts per game have risen in three-straight years (31.8 > 35.0 > 39.1) and that trend may continue if the Rams find themselves in more negative game scripts in 2020. Los Angeles led the league in pass rate when trailing by both a field goal (78%) and by 7 or more points (83%) last season. After winning 11, 13, and 9 games over the last three years, the Rams 2020 win total on DraftKings Sportsbook sits at 8. (Added 8/30).

Ben Roethlisberger (Round 12-13) -- Back in 2018 when Roethlisberger was healthy, the Steelers were the most pass-heavy team when the game was within a score (66.4%) and when trailing (81.5%). Big Ben’s health is an obvious concern, but it’s not like you have to pay the iron price to figure out whether or not he can recapture an elite fantasy ceiling. Before his elbow fell apart last year, Roethlisberger had previously finished top-10 in fantasy points per game in four of his 5 previous seasons. If you draft JuJu Smith-Schuster or Diontae Johnson, make sure you target Big Ben late for the stack.

Ryan Tannehill (Round 13-14) -- Tannehill just posted the second-most passing fantasy points per dropback over the last three seasons -- only Mahomes’ 2018 was better -- and no one wants to draft him. I can’t make sense of it. Sure, Tannehill will regress. There is no way he can sustain 9.6 yards per attempt (best in NFL) or a 7.7% touchdown rate (second-best) because he’s not Russell Wilson, but I also don’t think we should expect his efficiency to just fall to below-average levels. Outside of losing G Jack Conklin, the Titans are running the same exact offensive ecosystem that worked so well in 2019, and Tannehill now has a full offseason to prepare with OC Arthur Smith. Plus, after clearing 20 yards or scoring a touchdown on the ground in 6-of-13 starts last year, Tannehill has underrated rushing upside to boot. The only concern is that the Titans are extremely run-heavy -- they called a run on 50% of plays when the game was within a score last year (second-highest rate) -- but I think we can safely project the Titans to throw a little bit more in 2020. In theory, you don’t give a QB a four-year extension worth up to nearly $120M to only let him manage games.

Jimmy Garoppolo (Round 13-14) -- Since joining the 49ers, Jimmy GQ has finished as a QB1 (top-12) in weekly output in 38% of his starts -- which is exactly how often Aaron Rodgers finished top-12 last season. In 2019 alone, Garoppolo had four games with 25 or more fantasy points. So did Rodgers. While Garoppolo is basically free (162 overall ADP), Rodgers goes in Round 10 (116 overall). Sometimes finding arbitrage isn’t hard. If the 49ers find themselves trailing just a little bit more often in 2020 after winning 13 games last season and leading on 71% of their offensive plays (4th-highest rate), Garoppolo will absolutely crush his late-round ADP. Plus, he’s easy to stack with George Kittle and/or Brandon Aiyuk late.

Teddy Bridgewater (Round 14 or later) -- Everyone loves the Panthers weapons and thinks new OC Joe Brady is going to build a great offense, but no one wants to draft Bridgewater. It’s a total blind spot. I’ve never been high on Bridgewater’s talent, but he’s being drafted as a No. 3 quarterback on a team we should expect to be a carnival. Carolina ranked 2nd in points allowed and was 25th in FootballOutsiders defensive DVOA metrics last year and just lost Luke Kuechly, Eric Reid, James Bradberry, and basically their entire defensive line (Addison/Irvin/Butler/McCoy/Poe). Two things are for sure: Carolina is going to give up a ton of points and run an up-tempo offense. That is a perfect recipe for fantasy goodness.

Gardner Minshew (Round 14 or later) -- Want to take a guess at who was No. 2 behind Lamar Jackson in rushing yards off of scrambles last year? That’s right. It was one Gardner Minshew II. Minshew’s rookie season has flown completely under the radar and I think it’s mostly because people are just biased towards the Jaguars. As someone who lived in Jacksonville for 10 years (and they are technically the only team I have somewhat of a rooting interest in)… I totally get it. But last year, Minshew finished as a QB1 in 46% of his starts while Kyler Murray did so in 44% of his games. Now, I am by no means saying Minshew will out-score Murray this year nor am I implying that the two are remotely comparable fantasy picks, but Minshew is undeniably a great value right now. And, the Jaguars win total is the lowest in the NFL (5.0), so they should have to throw a ton.

QBs to fade

Deshaun Watson -- This isn’t so much of a fade and more of a “beware.” Watson will have to carry Houston now more than ever since Texans’ oligarch Bill O’Brien replaced All-Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins with 30-year-old Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks, who has suffered five known concussions in six career seasons. Between Cooks and Will Fuller, the Texans have one of the most fragile supporting casts in the NFL now that Nuk is gone and Watson is still being drafted as if nothing has changed. Watson and Russell Wilson essentially have the same exact average draft position (around 75 overall) and Josh Allen usually goes 1-2 rounds after Watson.

Aaron Rodgers -- Fading Rodgers in fantasy has been a profitable idea for two years now as the once-great QB has basically become an expensive middling QB2 on a team in the middle of an identity change. All of the Packers offseason moves suggest that HC Matt LaFleur wants to lean more on the run, become more balanced, and take control away from Rodgers. And even with Rodgers doing whatever he wants offensively over the last two years, he’s not exactly been great efficiency-wise. If we combine the 2018-19 seasons and look at passers with 250 or more attempts in this span, Rodgers ranks 14th in passer rating, 22nd in touchdown rate, 25th in yards per pass attempt, and 31st in completion rate.

Tom Brady -- Over the last two years, Brady has finished as the QB15 in fantasy points per game in back-to-back seasons despite having some of the NFL’s worst surrounding weapons. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are inarguably one of the games best two duos, but going into his age-43 season, I’m not finding much value in Brady’s ADP. Daniel Jones, Baker Mayfield, Matthew Stafford, and Jared Goff all go off the board well after Brady is taken and all of those quarterbacks are within 10 points of him in our projections.

Sam Darnold -- Call it low-hanging fruit, but fading Adam Gase is never a bad idea. In Gase’s career without Peyton Manning, his offenses have ranked 21st > 24th > 25th > 31st > 32nd in yards per game (2015-19) and finished 23rd > 17th > 28th > 26th > > 31st in points per game. Lol. Darnold (182 overall ADP) is cheaper than Bridgewater (175), but I believe in the Panthers ecosystem and surrounding talent way more than the Jets.

TL;DR

  • If you spend big on an early-round quarterback, try to only take one more for the rest of the draft. If you wait, a shotgun approach of 3 quarterbacks works well. Let common sense be your guide.

  • ADP is inefficient. Over the last two years, exactly half of the quarterbacks that were among the first 8 quarterbacks taken in drafts actually finished top-8 at the position in fantasy points per game. The sweet spot for QBs over the last two years is between QB5 and QB15 in ADP.

  • Efficiency matters, but running quarterbacks are the true difference-makers.

  • Step 1: Draft Josh Allen everywhere. Step 2: Count currency.

Graham Barfield blends data and film together to create some of the most unique content in the fantasy football industry. Barfield is FantasyPoints’ Director of Analytics and formerly worked for the NFL Network, Fantasy Guru, and Rotoworld.

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