Statistically Significant: Fantasy Points Per Dropback


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Statistically Significant: Fantasy Points Per Dropback

In fantasy football, you want to chase volume. Efficiency tends to regress to the mean.

Everyone knows this, and we hear it constantly! The players with the most targets, rush attempts, and weighted opportunities or expected fantasy points are generally the same year after year, and those players tend to score the most fantasy points. All of this is broadly true, but one position constitutes a major exception to this heuristic.

For QBs, we need to flip the above thinking on its head. The main volume stats (pass attempts and dropbacks) aren’t nearly as predictive as what the QB does with the volume.

Fantasy points per dropback (FP/DB) is the best and most predictive fantasy metric we have at the QB position. It’s a simple but deathly effective stat; it counts everything good (fantasy points) and divides them among the most granular units of volume.

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2023 FP/DB Leaders

> In this chart, you’re looking at the 2023 leaders by Fantasy Points per Dropback. You can find this in the Advanced Passing section of the Fantasy Points Data Suite. I’ve filtered the table to only include players with 100 or more dropbacks, and hidden about four dozen other columns of information for optimal screenshot viewing.

Unsurprisingly, the metric favors hyper-mobile QBs like Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, and Justin Fields — mostly because fantasy scoring does as well. A rushing yard is worth 2.5x as much as a passing yard, while a rushing TD is worth 1.5x as much as a passing TD; an observation leading to what Rich Hribar long ago dubbed the Konami Code. Additionally, the ability to turn a would-be throwaway or sack into a positive play via scrambling is infinitely valuable in both fantasy and real football, a skill that the league’s best hyper-mobile QBs bring to the table.

Let’s dive into a few of the more surprising names on the list, and analyze their outlooks for 2024.

Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers FP/DB Rank: 3rd-best, FPG Rank: 8th-best, 2024 ADP: QB13

So long as he’s in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Purdy will always be the efficiency poster child. He produced 0.59 FP/DB on 189 dropbacks as a rookie (6th-best), which ought to have been a strong clue to his second-year success. And well, that’s probably an understatement; Purdy just had the best season in NFL history by yards per attempt, and it’s like none of you even care.

While there are plenty of minds I respect who aren’t entirely sold on Purdy, it’s tougher to make the case that he’s #actuallybad via the numbers than you might expect, even if we’re using charted “eye-test” types of metrics. As a promise to the reader, I will not invoke EPA at any point in this aside — we already know Purdy was incredible this season if evaluating only by the quantitative results, and that’s not the argument I’m interested in having here.

Our team of film-watchers at Fantasy Points Data evaluates whether every pass is ”Turnover Worthy” (likely to be intercepted, regardless of result) or a “Hero Throw” (an extraordinary throw that maximizes the result of the play). Purdy admittedly puts the ball in danger more than average, but he’s squarely within solid-to-great NFL starter territory here, alongside players like Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa.

It also isn’t the case that Purdy capitalizes on easy throws or can be fairly labeled a “screen merchant” or “game manager” — zeroing in only on pass attempts traveling 20+ yards downfield, none of Purdy’s 47 such throws in the regular season were deemed turnover-worthy. Just 48.2% of Purdy’s total passing yardage occurred after the catch (28th-most of 42 qualifying QBs). Nearly twice as many of Patrick Mahomes’ fantasy points came on screens (11.7% to 6.4%).

Purdy somewhat falters where he’s often accused of making his living — on plays where Shanahan’s offense works perfectly, getting the receiver targeted on the first read a step or more of separation. Purdy’s accuracy on these well-schemed throws ranked 4th-worst in 2023. However, 40.0% of his yardage on these attempts came after the catch (5th-most), and he led the NFL with 12.8 YPA on them as well. This is where the perception that Purdy is carried by receiving talent and scheme likely comes from.

The above “Shanahan effect” seems to be, in part, what causes Purdy to be such an outlier — it’s pretty clear that QBs as inaccurate as he is aren’t “supposed” to be so efficient. Moving away from first reads and simply examining all throws, Purdy looks like a severe anomaly.

However, accuracy isn’t the only trait that matters at QB. Purdy is one of the best in the league in the face of pressure from opposing pass rushes, even in metrics that remove the effect of YAC entirely. He was top-7 in completion percentage over expected (CPOE, adjusted for target depth) and was sacked at the 4th-lowest rate when pressured. Purdy performs his job admirably in these difficult spots before the ball ever gets into Deebo Samuel’s hands.

Purdy’s poise under pressure is what leads to his league-best efficiency in those spots, not Shanahan’s system or his receivers’ ability to generate yards after the catch. He led all QBs in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (an adjusted YPA metric that also penalizes sacks and interceptions) despite receiving a merely average percentage of yards after the catch in these situations.

What do all these charts mean? Purdy isn’t a very accurate passer, and he likely doesn’t maximize the benefit he could be getting from when his receivers get open on the first read. But he is great at both limiting negative plays and delivering difficult completions when pressured, leading to league-best efficiency in those situations when the scheme and receiver talent can’t help him as much.

As with many things in life, the truth of how good Purdy is lies somewhere between the extremes of opinion you’ll find online and in media. He makes easy plays look ugly while avoiding the pitfalls lesser QBs often stumble into when faced with adversity. He has a unique combination of traits and defects that seems to break NFL fans’ collective brains, blessing us with a never-ending discourse. Overall, I’d be comfortable ranking him somewhere around Kirk Cousins in terms of real-life ability — comfortably above average, but nowhere near elite.

Almost nothing I just said matters at all for fantasy football. The cap hits of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle each balloon in 2024, but Purdy’s incredibly low salary and the Super Bowl run mean it’s all but a guarantee the front office finds a way to keep this offense intact, and Shanahan certainly isn’t going anywhere either.

It’s reasonable to expect some efficiency regression, but that’s already priced into Purdy’s QB13 ADP. It’s fair to question whether Purdy has the upside ever to be a high-end QB1 (and whether selecting passers who lack that in their range of outcomes is a good use of your draft capital), but I see no reason Purdy won’t be outproducing “better” QBs for years to come.

Jake Browning, QB, Cincinnati Bengals FP/DB Rank: 6th-best, FPG Rank: 20th-best, 2024 ADP: QB45

Browning is a major surprise here, ranking 6th-best and well ahead of Joe Burrow, who ranked just 35th (in fairness, Burrow was playing visibly injured for much of his abbreviated season). Browning’s solid performance means he likely won’t get a chance to play elsewhere next year, as the Bengals can easily retain him due to his exclusive rights free agent status. This wasn’t even a case of Ja’Marr Chase propelling Browning to an efficient showing. Chase was responsible for only 24.8% of the Bengals’ receiving yards (WR31) in Browning’s starts.

On the other hand, 18.9% of Browning's yards came on passes at or behind the line of scrimmage (2nd-most, min. 250 dropbacks), so there’s an argument all of his receivers made him look good via yards after the catch. Browning probably isn’t a future star in the league nor a fantasy difference-maker, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he were given a chance to start somewhere once again.

I’ll be interested to see what former Bengals OC Brian Callahan can do with Will Levis in Tennessee, who had the highest aDOT of 33 qualifying QBs (10.5) compared to Browning having the lowest (6.3). Hopefully, he’ll embrace Levis’ gunslinging tendencies and compliment them with some of the shallower concepts he employed with Browning to take the pressure off.

Jordan Love, QB, Green Bay Packers FP/DB Rank: 8th-best, FPG Rank: 7th-best, 2024 ADP: QB11

Love was another one of 2023’s big surprises, finishing as the QB7 by FPG in his first year as a starter and even outperforming Aaron Rodgers’ 2022 production. One could argue Matt LaFleur’s offense made it easy on him — Love had the league’s 6th-highest first-read throw rate (73.2%). The Packers’ offensive line allowed pressure (adjusted for time-to-throw) at the NFL's lowest (best) rate and posted the 2nd-best score in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate. Considering all QBs average just 0.33 FP/DB when pressured but 0.51 FP/DB when the pocket is clean, Love would have been expected to have the 3rd-best FP/DB in the league based only on his pressure rate (though he overperformed expectation by 0.07 FP/DB).

Love certainly made the most of a young and inexperienced WR corps, which should only improve as Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks enter Year 2. Perhaps Christian Watson could even get healthy after working with a hamstring specialist, adding another vertical element to the offense. And his receivers already got open downfield at the 4th-highest rate last season, a reflection of LaFleur’s Shanahan-esque affinity for scheming his players open.

With four of the Packers’ five starters along the offensive line already locked up for 2024, the playcalling to remain elite, and the receivers ascending, Love is shaping up as a workable back-end QB1 fantasy selection in 2024. Like Purdy, he’s simply missing the mobility needed to ever catapult him into high-end QB1 territory.

Joe Flacco, QB, Cleveland Browns FP/DB Rank: 9th-best, FPG Rank: 3rd-best, 2024 ADP: QB39

It’s a genuine travesty that Flacco hasn’t been in any team’s Week 1 plans the past few years, as he’s been nothing short of elite for fantasy at every opportunity. Flacco has averaged an unreal 43.1 pass attempts per game in ten regular-season starts since 2021; for context, Kirk Cousins averaged 38.9 attempts per game in 2023, the next most after Flacco. With the Browns this season, Flacco was +16% more efficient by FP/DB — after signing with the team mid-season — than teammate Deshaun Watson. Fantasy football will be worse off without Flacco.

Russell Wilson, QB, Denver Broncos FP/DB Rank: 10th-best, FPG Rank: 14th-best, 2024 ADP: QB30

It’s nice that Sean Payton managed to get Wilson back to his comfort zone of being relatively efficient on low volume, but unless the Broncos significantly upgrade their weaponry or he’s traded to a dream situation, it’s difficult to imagine him returning to fantasy difference-maker status in his late 30s — if he doesn’t retire, that is.

Wilson did just average 5.3 rushing attempts per game, his best mark since 2017, but that got him back merely into high-end QB2 territory. He bounced back nicely from his career-low 3.3% touchdown rate in 2022 but averaged just 204.7 passing YPG (26th), his worst mark since his rookie season. As an aside, Wilson also still tends to hold onto the ball for far longer than his offensive line can hold up.

C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans FP/DB Rank: 11th-best, FPG Rank: 9th-best, 2024 ADP: QB5

Stroud put together a historically great rookie season, averaging 273.9 passing YPG, 2nd-best behind only Justin Herbert's rookie campaign. The news that OC Bobby Slowik is staying in Houston is a massive boon — after all, it probably means something that the top-3 QBs by YPA in 2023 (Purdy, Tua Tagovailoa, and Stroud) all had play-callers from the Shanahan coaching tree.

Praising his OC is not to diminish Stroud's accomplishments. On throws of 20 or more yards downfield, he impressively finished with the 4th-best adjusted completion percentage (56.4%) and the 7th-best accuracy rate.

Much has been made of Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s historically efficient sophomore season at Ohio State, but it’s interesting that as soon as his QB made the move to Houston, Nico Collins’ YPRR nearly doubled, going from 35th-best to 2nd-best. Round 3 rookie Tank Dell averaged 23.7 FPG in his last four games prior to getting injured, an impressive feat for a player weighing only 165 pounds. It might be the case that Stroud is just incredible at elevating the talent around him; Smith-Njigba, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson would all surely love to have their old QB back.

All that said, I will have trouble selecting a whole lot of Stroud in 2024 if his ADP remains up at QB5. Players we’ve already discussed, — Purdy, Love, and Burrow — all have similar things going for them at later ADPs, along with similar histories of production and efficiency.

Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals FP/DB Rank: 12th-best, FPG Rank: 10th-best, 2024 ADP: QB12

Murray made this list after returning mid-season from an ACL tear, with his top weapons being an injured and ineffective Marquise Brown and a TE who started the season behind Zach Ertz on the depth chart. Not to throw shade at Trey McBride, but if the Cardinals select Marvin Harrison Jr. or Malik Nabers as is widely expected, Murray has a great chance to return to the top-5 fantasy QB status he enjoyed from 2020-21. An increase from his career-low 5.5 rush attempts per game is all but assured; he’d averaged roughly 27% more rushing YPG and 22% more rush attempts per game over his career before the ACL tear, marks he could inch back toward in his second season removed from injury.

Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts FP/DB Rank: 1st, FPG Rank: 12th-best, 2024 ADP: QB6

I have to apologize for tricking you, the reader, by burying what should have been the lede to this article. Perhaps the most exciting bet across all of fantasy football in 2024 blows out the field in this article’s titular metric, and I set my original filter at two dropbacks more than he recorded. He can be our secret, OK?

If he’d hit my minimum threshold, Richardson’s 0.76 FP/DB would have been the best mark by any QB over the past three seasons, better than the career years of fantasy titans like Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen. Not since Lamar Jackson’s legendary 2019 season have we witnessed such efficiency.

There may be no better example of a player who can turn a sack into a positive gain as I described — Richardson posted the second-best pressure-to-sack ratio of any Power 5 QB during his final college season, one of the stickiest college-to-pros metrics out there.

Richardson played only 10 full quarters of football in his rookie season, but he backed up the hype in his limited showing, averaging 29.9 fantasy points, 54.4 rushing yards, and 6.8 designed rush attempts per four full quarters. If those were his per-game numbers, all three would have ranked best at the position last year, and 29.9 FPG would have been the best ever.

Add in that Richardson gets to play under young QB whisperer Shane Steichen, and so long as he makes expected progress in his return from shoulder surgery, I see no reason to leave any 2024 seasonal draft without him. I’ll happily ensure he tops my QB exposures at his current QB6 Underdog ADP, but he’ll be significantly cheaper in the vast majority of normal redraft leagues — where he’ll have arguably the best upside of any QB in years. Forget “early-round QB” and “late-round QB” — I’ll be implementing the “whichever-round-I-can-get-Richardson QB” strategy this year.

Ryan is a young marketing professional who takes a data-based approach to every one of his interests. He uses the skills gained from his economics degree and liberal arts education to weave and contextualize the stories the numbers indicate. At Fantasy Points, Ryan hopes to play a part in pushing analysis in the fantasy football industry forward.