I wrote The Late Round Quarterback because I wanted to share a secret.
It started last October. I needed a little spark to my every day work, so I opened up a Word document and just started writing. Chapter headlines turned to actual content, and the white space in my document became crammed with tables and charts.
Around March, I decided to dedicate some serious time to this document. Every night after work, I’d sit and write, analyzing historical fantasy data. I made sure I was as detailed as possible.
While I wrote it, I had a clear understanding that I was no professional writer or statistician. I have a Marketing degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and I am big into web and graphic design. I work at a marketing agency during the day. That’s it.
I just love being creative.
There’s a side to me though that loves looking at numbers – stats, to be exact. I remember collecting baseball and hockey cards growing up, and just looking at the statistics on the back of each card on an almost daily basis. Kind of weird, sure, but sports have always been my number one passion.
Why not do something about it?
I had it. I saw myself combining all the little things I enjoyed doing into one. After winning fantasy leagues year after year, I realized that I had the right strategy; a strategy that went against common, newfound logic with fantasy football.
Drafting a quarterback late isn’t anything new. During the late 90’s and into the turn of the century, it was actually commonplace for knowledgeable fantasy owners. The reason it’s been lost in the typical fantasy way of thinking is because of the recent trend in pass-first offenses.
Math, however, tells us to still get a quarterback late. And that’s what the book is all about.
When the Word document turned e-book launched in late June, my secret was officially distributed. People could find a real, logical way of winning fantasy football. It’s worked for me because it factors in real facts. You don’t have to simply “get lucky”.
Is it working halfway through 2012? See for yourself.
THE RECENCY EFFECT
Through the first three semesters of his college career, Donnie had a 1.25 GPA. He’d never failed a class, but he had gotten his fair share of poor grades. During his fourth semester, he decided to take easier classes, in addition to studying harder. He pulled off a 3.5 semester GPA, making his parents proud.
Should we expect Donnie to get another 3.5 GPA at the start of his Junior year of college?
No, and why would we? He’s already shown us that he’s not a very good student. After just one semester, I wouldn’t want to bank on anything like that happening again. I’m sure we’d all feel this way, too. We wouldn’t want to make brash decisions after seeing such a small sample of something.
Then explain to me why you chose a quarterback in the first round of this year’s fantasy draft?
The short answer to this explanation rests within what is known as the recency effect. This effect can be defined as: The phenomenon that when people are asked to recall in any order the items on a list, those that come at the end of the list are more likely to be recalled than the others.
Last season was the first time we saw four quarterbacks outscore their peers, or other quarterbacks, by 100 or more standard fantasy points. In fact, that’s never happened with three quarterbacks in a single season.
So how does that tie into the recency effect? Well, it happened last season – the most recent season. It caused many experts and fantasy owners to draft quarterbacks in the first round of this year’s draft. People failed to realize that, while the NFL is now a clear pass-first league, it wasn’t as if the mediocre quarterbacks were staying consistent.
A PASS-FIRST LEAGUE NOT JUST FOR THE ELITES
Just to show what I mean, take this stat as an example: In 2003, there were 2 quarterbacks who threw for over 4,000 yards. In 2011, last season, this number was 10. And, in 2012, 15 quarterbacks are on pace for 4,000 yards.
The trend is to throw the ball more, sure, but fantasy football is about gaining advantages at the positions that make up your lineup. And when more people are doing something, there’s less of a need to get that person. Things become devalued.
Aaron Rodgers could score 1,000 points, but if 14 other quarterbacks scored 999 points, Aaron Rodgers value to the fantasy football world becomes extraneous.
A NOTE ON REPLACEABILITY
Fantasy football is a weekly game. Looking at averages doesn’t always help, but it surely gives an idea of how things are trending and working. This is important, because most leagues slot just one quarterback in a particular lineup. Therefore, there are only about 10-16 quarterbacks being started per week, depending on how many teams are in your league, making the position replaceable.
What exactly does that mean? Well, let’s take the upcoming Week 9 as an example. Imagine you’ve drafted a guy like Jay Cutler at quarterback, and your other quarterback who you play the matchup game with, Alex Smith, is on a bye. You don’t feel great about starting Cutler, so you head to the waiver wire to see who’s available. The names on the wire include: Blaine Gabbert, Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Matt Hasselbeck. Yuck.
But here’s the deal. We view each of these players as awful fantasy plays, but realistically, given the inherent abilities of quarterbacks in fantasy football, they’re not completely worthless.
Let’s say you picked up Gabbert this week against Detroit. ESPN, while their projections are usually terrible, has Blaine Gabbert scoring 9.4 fantasy points against the Lions. That’s the equivalent of 139 yards and a touchdown.
Can Blaine do better than that? Certainly. Upon further investigation, Gabbert actually has double-digit fantasy performances against every weak to mediocre defense he’s faced. Could he do worse? Sure, but we know that, given it’s a pass-favorable league, the chance of any quarterback completely flopping in a given week is smaller than other positions.
Replaceability. You can always find points in free agency at the quarterback position.
Let’s hit the wire for running backs and wide receivers now. Do you trust Cedric Peerman against Denver? Do you want to bank on Jamie Harper scoring a touchdown? I mean, it could happen – but we’re playing the probability game here.
How about Donald Jones against Houston? Donnie Avery against Miami? Or how about the awful Greg Little against division foe Baltimore?
You may be thinking, “Well, I’d trust Greg Little over Blaine Gabbert.” I can’t fault you for that logic. After all, even elite receivers have games where they only get 2 to 3 fantasy points (see Cruz, Victor: Week 8).
The issue with the logic is that the likelihood of Greg Little finishing as a “starter” in your league – or the top 20-30 at his position – is just as likely as Gabbert finishing as a starter in his.
In 12-team leagues, a starter-type finish at quarterback would result in a top-12 performance in a given week. At running back and receiver, for argument sake, this number would be top-24, as you start at least two backs and receivers at the position.
In 2012, Blaine Gabbert finished 10th in Week 1, and 9th in Week 8. Greg Little, on the other hand, has ranked 23rd in Week 2, and 15th in Week 7. They both have had two startable performances.
But guys, we’re talking about Blaine Gabbert, a player that is the joke of plenty of Sunday tweets – compared to a receiver that was, at the beginning of the season, the number one target on his team.
If you haven’t exactly comprehended this idea of replacability, think of it this way:
Each week, the 12th ranked quarterback scores around 17 to 19 standard fantasy points. And typically, the 20th ranked quarterback is still scoring double-digit fantasy points. The 20th ranked quarterback would be considered eight spots outside of being a starter.
At wide receiver, the typical 24th ranked receiver is scoring 8 to 10 fantasy points in any given week. If we were to move down this list even further, we’d notice that the 40th ranked receiver, 16 spots outside of being a starter, is putting up around 4 or 5 points per week.
Note: I’m using 16 spots because, as noted above, we start at least double the amount of wide receivers as we do quarterbacks in a typical fantasy lineup.
The type of advantage an opponent can gain when your wide receiver gives you forty yards is massive, especially if said opponent loaded up on wide receivers and running backs and was able to play the matchup game. The advantage you’d yield by starting an elite quarterback to a non-starter at the position, typically, is much smaller. And the reason is simple: replaceability.
It’s a weekly game. Did you know that if Team A started Andrew Luck every week this season, and Team B started Aaron Rodgers each week, Team A would actually be gaining an edge at the quarterback position 4 out of 7 weeks in 2012? And do you really think Team A would be starting Andrew Luck in his first ever NFL matchup against Chicago?
Quarterbacks are replacable.
A LOOK AT POINT VALUES
Value Based Drafting is a term coined to show that “the value of a player is determined not by the number of points he scores, but by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position.”
Check out my article from last week for an overview of Value Based Drafting and how to use it during the season.
One thing that VBD doesn’t really take into consideration is the round in which a particular player, or position, is taken in during a draft. You may yield a higher point difference between best quarterback to the worst starter in a league, but the supposed worst starter in a league was more than likely drafted in a double-digit round during your fantasy draft. Hence, The Late Round Quarterback.
I’ve done far too much analysis on value over the last five months to get deep into it now. The articles linked above will provide a solid foundation and background to the topic. What I want to do here is show how the idea is working in 2012.
As I mentioned earlier, fantasy football is a weekly game. Aaron Rodgers may be outscoring Andrew Luck, but Andrew Luck is giving owners an advantage over Rodgers 4 out of 7 weeks of the fantasy season. Clearly there are many, many other factors that go into winning a fantasy matchup. You could be 8-0 with Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback right now because, during the weeks that Aaron Rodgers hasn’t performed, your other positions have. That’s the “luck” side to the fake sport.
But I’m all about mitigating risk, and lowering your dependency on luck (no, not Andrew Luck. You should be depending on him a lot). Because time spent and length of this article is important, I won’t go week by week to show you why drafting a quarterback late and playing matchups is a better way to manage your fantasy team. You can buy my book (or wait until next year) to see that. I’ll just look at average points per game for this analysis.
Drew Brees is currently leading all fantasy signal callers in average points per week, given standard scoring. He’s posting 23.1 fantasy points per week. Andy Dalton, the 12th ranked player at the position, is posting 15.8 fantasy points per week. If all things remained constant, where you would never be able to replace your quarterback in your lineup, the hypothetical best advantage a team has over another is 7.3 points per week.
What’s important to note here is that, even if you move all the way down to the 20th ranked quarterback, Tony Romo, the Drew Brees owner is scoring 9.3 points more per week. Keep this in mind as we move to the other positions.
At running back, Arian Foster is far and away the best at the position, posting 18.5 points per week. Andre Brown, the back with the 24th best average, is scoring 7.5 points each week. That’s an 11-point difference.
But fine, I get it. Arian Foster is somewhat of an outlier. Let’s use Ray Rice instead. He’s scoring 14.8 each time he hits the field, which is still 7.3 points better than Andre Brown.
If we were to move to the 40th ranked running back – the equivalent rank to Tony Romo’s at quarterback since we’re starting more lineups in our lineup – we get to Kendall Hunter. The 49ers backup running back is scoring 4.6 points per week, or 10.2 less than Rice, and an astounding 13.9 points less than Arian Foster.
At receiver, AJ Green is scoring 15.2 points per week, while the worst starter in a 12-team league, Steve Johsnon, is posting 9. That’s a 6.2-point difference. And while this is less than the difference from Brees to Dalton, we must keep in mind the replaceability factor. And not only that, when we look at averages for wide receivers, we see natural skews in the data. There are skews because there are often games where a team’s second or third wide receiver gets a huge gain for a touchdown, catapulting themselves into a much higher weekly average.
A perfect example of this is with Titus Young. Prior to last week, he had scored 2.4, 1.1, 13.5, 1.7, 0.6, and 8.1 fantasy points. Last week, Young scored just five points less in one game than he did the entire rest of the season, with a 22-point performance. He went from having a 4.6 to a 7.1 points per week average.
It happens the most, by far, at the wide receiver position. Could you say the same about running backs? Sure, but the consistency with running backs typically is a direct result from the number of carries a back is getting. And the top backs – the ones you feel confident starting each week – are the ones that are getting consistent touches. That’s why it’s difficult to find a running back receiving a lot of carries very low in the position’s rankings.
All in all, you can look at average points scored per week, or total points scored at season’s end, but just keep in mind how a big performance can skew weekly data. It’s less likely to happen with quarterbacks because they touch the ball each and every play. Not only that, but quarterbacks are more predictable on a week-by-week basis.
This idea is the reason that you should expect top wide receivers and running backs to create larger point discrepancies once the season is over. Big performances will begin to fade once more games are played. Considering there is less differentiation from week to week with a given quarterback (since you know he’ll be touching the ball), we’d expect top running backs and wide receivers to only become better with value as the season progresses.
WHAT ABOUT ADP?
When doing a mid-season report like this, one thing that can’t be disputed is the average draft position of the top players at each position. It shows you how consistent – without factoring in point totals – a position is playing from pre-season rank to in-season result.
At quarterback, we’re seeing the typical Brees, Rodgers and Brady at the top of the average points per week rankings. But RGIII, the second best fantasy quarterback, was an 8th round draft selection. And Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford, two early-round quarterbacks, are barely startable thus far.
Overall, 5 of the top 12 quarterbacks (Griffin III, Roethlisberger, Freeman, Luck, Dalton) could have more than likely been selected in the 7th round or later of a standard 12-team league. And, in many leagues, players like Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning were drafted late as well.
With running backs, we’re seeing more consistency. Realistically, the only running backs that you would’ve drafted late who are performing like true fantasy starters are Alfred Morris, CJ Spiller and Andre Brown. And remember the example I used with Titus Young? The same could be said about someone like Brown. What he’s done may not be sustainable.
The wide receiver position isn’t much different than the running back one. Reggie Wayne, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Mike Williams and Andre Roberts are the only players who were drafted late in drafts (Wayne is border-line, but I’ll add him to appease those who want him included) that are now in the top-24 of their position.
So now, let me now ask this question: Do you trust Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, RGIII and Josh Freeman to keep this up, or would you rather put your faith in Andre Brown, CJ spiller, James Jones and Mike Williams?
Don’t be silly.
PLAYING THE PROBABILITY GAME
The response to this type of analysis is typically, “Well, I got Rodgers is the first round, and there are plenty of players that were drafted in rounds 3 and 4 who are outperforming first rounders.”
Yes, that’s completely true. Willis McGahee, for instance, is outplaying Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson – two first round picks.
The issue here, however, is that the people making these statements aren’t understanding general probability. While you may have selected the right 3rd round running back, there are plenty of people who did not. And not only that, what if I, a late-round quarterback strategist, continued to select running backs in the early-rounds because I knew they were valuable?
For instance, you may have drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round and Doug Martin in the late second. Then, at the turn, you got AJ Green. In the fourth round, you selected Willis McGahee. Great work.
But what if I selected Darren McFadden in round one, and turned that around with Steven Jackson. But then, in round 3, I got Victor Cruz, followed by a Stevan Ridley? In Round 5, I kept building my running back empire and selected Frank Gore. I continued this idea until Round 8, where I selected RGIII.
Rounds 1 and 2 were pathetic, but I made up for it with two solid running backs in rounds 4 and 5. Could you imagine the kind of value I would’ve gotten if those first two rounds didn’t flop (this isn’t admitting Darren McFadden is a flop, for the record)?
This is what I mean by mitigating risk. People drafting quarterbacks early believe they’re obtaining the best value because of consistency. They know how their quarterback will perform. But little do they realize that they’re actually handcuffing themselves, relying heavily on players like BenJarvus Green-Ellis to come through as a starting running back. Your RB2 is the equivalent to my RB3, and this helps me tremendously throughout the season when injuries and bye weeks occur. We’re seeing this during 2012.
Grading the strategy
This season is no different than the majority we’ve seen. Yes, there’s a little more consistency at running back and receiver than usual, but at the same time, there’s a littlelesswith first-round selections. But that doesn’t mean those first round selections weren’t the right picks to make. You mitigated risk by stockpiling the valuable positions.
There will be people who find exceptions. It’s inevitable when you analyze something like fantasy football – a game that is partially based on chance. There will be plenty of success stories with first-round quarterbacks, just as there will be massive failures with late-round ones. It happens. It’s fantasy football. The reason we all enjoy it is because we get to choose our own path to greatness.
I just think my path is best.