If Aaron Rodgers falls to Round 6 in a standard draft, I’ll nab him. If Drew Brees somehow ended up in the fifth, I wouldn’t hesitate to get him either. However, 99.9% of the time, they don’t.
The late-round quarterback strategy is often misunderstood. If it were simply about drafting a quarterback late, my teams would lack the flexibility needed to be successful in fantasy. No, it’s not about finding a gem in the 10th or 11th round. It’s about drafting for value.
I use historical average draft position data and mesh it with the principles of Value Based Drafting to make my draft decisions. (Spoiler alert: A concept surrounding this will be found in 2013’s version of The Late Round Quarterback). Typically, the ADP of the last starting signal caller selected drops much lower than running back or receiver, allowing an owner to obtain value by drafting said quarterback. That word – value – is what The Late Round Quarterback derives from.
The value of a quarterback can be easily explained with simple supply and demand principles. I wrote about this on Rotoworld.com, and believe it’s the most elementary way of explaining the true value of a quarterback. You start one signal caller in a standard league (demand) and there are 32 of them starting each week (supply). Because you know every quarterback will throw the ball, each of them are serviceable, more or less, in a given week.
When the demand changes, the value of a quarterback clearly does as well. In two-quarterback leagues, for instance, the demand doubles, forcing owners to put higher price tags on quarterbacks. As a result, a first-round selection of a quarterback becomes commonplace.
I’ve been partaking in one of the Fantasy Football Magic Man’s (Micah James) two-quarterback mock drafts, and noticed the above trend. Instead of a standard early-round running back route, owners went with signal callers. They did it early and often, too.
As my 8th overall selection approached, I had to make a choice: Do I go after a passer, or go with a traditional, single-quarterback league route? Being the author of The Late Round Quarterback, many would simply assume I’d go with the latter. I did, but for a different reason than a pure value based selection: 2013 is different.
We saw an obvious gap between the upper-tiered quarterbacks and the rest of the position in 2011, as five of them – Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton – each outscored the rest of the position by a substaintial amount of fantasy points. But after the influx of young talent in 2012 and the “back to Earth” numbers elite quarterbacks posted, the gap closed, and quarterbacks became less valuable. Essentially, it went back to the way quarterbacks had historically been valued in fantasy.
Now, the reason I pushed my literature when I did was because fantasy owners and experts swore by an early-round quarterback strategy at the beginning of the 2012 season. And it, really, was based on one fantasy football season. That single season was also littered with shortened camps, an unusual pre-season and less overall time for teams to prepare.
It’s important to mention this because the psychology of a fantasy owner has shifted. The typical manager now looks at the pass-first NFL as one where elite quarterbacks post absurd fantasy numbers, but in truth, all quarterbacks are getting better. That’s why the relative value of a passer shouldn’t be changing as drastically as mainstream articles have said they should.
Last season, if I were drafting in a two-quarterback league, Aaron Rodgers would have, almost without a flinch, be my top rated player. The NFL is different than it was a year ago, though. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have all proven their worth. Joe Flacco’s performance down the stretch of the 2012 season sheds optimism to many entering 2013. Ryan Tannehill’s new weapons on offense should make him a decent breakout candidate, and Michael Vick, after missing a good chunk of the 2012 season, is now supposed to lead the high-powered Chip Kelly offense in Philadelphia.
There’s not only a lot of quarterback depth in 2013, but there’s an incredible amount of upside. And you can’t say the same about the running back position.
Ask yourself: Why are you drafting a running back early in standard leagues? The answer, quite simply, is because the demand outweighs the supply. By quite a bit, too. You may think you can find serviceable running backs off the wire throughout the season, but trusting someone like Isaac Redman in a given week has its incredible disadvantages.
You see, running backs have a much lower floor that quarterbacks, and because of this, they’re less predictable. In 2012, there were 93 different running backs that finished with a top-24 weekly rank, excluding Week 17. The number appears astonishing, but when you dig into it, you’d see that only 35 of them did it four or more times. Why? Because it’s hard to repeat the feat as a running back, unless, of course, you’re a consistent starter.
It’s the same type of story for wideouts. A ton of them – almost 100 – finished in the top-24 last season at least once. But only 46 did it four or more times. And the elite ones – the Megatrons and Brandon Marshalls of the world – definitely did it more often than the rest of the position.
But because there were so many talented signal callers in 2012, we saw more parity than most would expect. There were 38 quarterbacks (that’s six more than the number of starting quarterbacks in the NFL) who finished with a weekly top-12 ranking. And, surprisingly, 25 of them did it four or more times.
The high ceiling for quarterbacks allows them to be more predictable over multiple weeks in a fantasy season. There were 21 different signal callers who averaged – averaged - 30 or more pass attempts in 2012. In a 10-team, two-quarterback league like the one I’m mock drafting in, that’s more than what is needed to fulfill a lineup. In other words, the entier “demand” of the quarterback position can be filled with 30-plus attempts per game quarterbacks.
The more of a sample we have, the easier it becomes to predict a future event. If a running back receives four carries in a game but runs for 102 yards and a touchdown, are we to assume he’ll average over 25 yards per carry when he becomes a lead back? Of course not – the sample size of that gives us little to base a prediction off of. However, if that running back rushes for 20-plus carries over multiple games, can we begin to draw conclusions? Of course.
More attempts at quarterback means more opportunity. And when there’s more opportunity, both the ceiling and floor, in terms of fantasy output, of the position rises. But because a quarterback won’t be throwing the ball 70 or more times consistently week in and week out (Matthew Stafford led the league in pass attempts at just over 45 per game), the ceiling isn’t necessarily increasing at the same, consistent rate as the floor.
Aaron Rodgers may have a game like he did against Houston last season. Drew Brees could post a five touchdown performance, too. But, because more quarterbacks are throwing the ball more often, other signal callers are getting this type of opportunity. That’s where the concept of streaming comes into play.
Traditionally, streaming is using the waiver wire each week to fill gaps within a lineup. These gaps usually occur at positions with less demand; in standard leagues, they’re quarterbacks, tight ends, kickers and defenses. You play the best waiver wire option based on matchup rather than honest skill of the player, and hope that your newly acquired player can yield the same type of production as a high-end starter.
In two-quarterback leagues, streaming a quarterback isn’t really an option, as the waiver wire options become limited. But, instead of streaming, why can’t we draft three later-round quarterbacks and use a carousel to achieve top quarterback production?
As noted, 25 quarterbacks finished 2012 with four or more weeks of top-12 production. In two-quarterback league terms, these top-12 finishes would be equivalent to a top 50% week in a 12-team league. When you compare that to top-12 running backs and wide receivers, just 17 running backs and 22 receivers accomplished this feat.
So there’s more quarterbacks – albeit, just by a little – who perform at a top notch level on a week-to-week basis. The number is marginal, so why point it out? Well, we have, again, to keep in mind the idea of predictability.
Instead of throwing some numbers your way, let’s think about the Bryce Brown situation in Philadelphia last season. When LeSean McCoy went down to injury, fantasy owners hit the waiver wire for his backup, Bryce Brown. The following week, Brown received 19 carries against the Panthers and rushed for 178 yards and two scores. Did you start him? Maybe. If you didn’t, you certainly did the following week, where he posted over 30 fantasy points. And I’m sure you did after that, too, where Brown pulled in a measly 12 total yards.
Was his 1.2 point performance predictable? Not exactly. Any trend would say “start him” regardless of opponent (which was Tampa Bay, for the record). Part of the problem was that he received half the amount of carries as he did the week before (though he wasn’t incredibly effective). This is what happens with non-elite running backs and receivers. From week to week, the non-obvious starters won’t get the consistent load you need to know, with confidence, that they’re a good start.
You can certainly play “best matchup” with any position, but the reason it’s easiest with quarterbacks is because they’ve got all the opportunity in the world. I’ve said it many times, but you’re never going to see a hashtag on Twitter that says “#FreeManning” like you saw “#FreeSpiller” throughout the 2012 season. Quarterbacks are “free” each game, as they’ll have 30 or more opportunities to score fantasy points. At the end of the day, they’re the ones dictating the majority of NFL games.
What does this mean? Well, because the predictability of the quarterback position is more obvious, and because the position is deeper than it’s ever been, you may see a benefit in drafting three middle-of-the-road options instead of two high-end ones in two-quarterback leagues. Streaming isn’t just about the waiver wire – the concept can be used within a team as well.
As long as we continue to see development in young quarterbacks, this notion in two-quarterback leagues could yield fantasy success. Continue to stockpile the elite running back and wide receiver library, and let value fall to you. It’s that easy.