We’ve all heard it: “Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees should be drafted because they’ve been more consistent than any of the running backs in the NFL over the last few seasons.”
Matthew Berry talked to this point in his Draft Day Manifesto, and many others have followed suit. When you see Rodgers, Brady and Brees finish as elite quarterbacks year in and year out, you feel more comfortable drafting them because you “know what you’re getting”.
The problem with this logic is that a player’s ranking does not equate to a player’s value. You don’t win fantasy football by having the highest ranked players at each position. You win fantasy football by scoring the most points as a team. And because of this, we can see that Drew Brees and Tom Brady actually aren’t any more valuable than elite running backs, and Aaron Rodgers really isn’t all that much better than them either.
Rankings Since 2009
To elaborate, let’s take a look at how the elite quarterbacks (Rodgers, Brady, Brees) have ranked over the last three seasons. In addition, let’s do the same for the elite running backs (Johnson, Peterson, Jones-Drew, Rice).
As you can see, the quarterbacks have consistently ranked higher than the running backs over the last 3 years. Remember, though; we’re starting 10 quarterbacks in a 10-team standard league, and at least 20 running backs in said league. Therefore, ranks are a little difficult to compare, considering the number of total players being started at each position varies so greatly.
Aside: I’ve heard a lot of backlash regarding my analysis of comparing the 1st to 20th running back, as opposed to looking at the 1st to 10th (RB1) and then the 11th to 20th (RB2). The reason you cannot do the latter is because that assumes we cannot own two RB1s on our team. We all know our RB2 spot could hold a running back that is pre-season ranked in the top-10, especially if others draft non-running back positions early in the draft.
I’ve talked about consistency when it comes to rank. Quarterbacks, albeit barely, come out on top of that argument. But what I haven’t fully explained is that we can’t simply look at rank consistency. We should be more concerned with point variances and value.
Value Based Drafting
Here’s an example of what I mean: Last year, we saw Aaron Rodgers score 144 points more than the 10th ranked quarterback. Why is the 10th ranked quarterback significant? Because, in a 10-team league, that’s the worst fantasy league starter at the position (given each team starts just one quarterback). If you’re in a 12-team league, you should look at the point spread to the 12th quarterback, and so on.
Make sense? Good.
This, from a high, linear level, is the idea of Value-Based Drafting (VBD). Using VBD, we are able to find how valuable a player is by looking at how he performs against his peers at his position. We’re not worried about how Aaron Rodgers does against Ray Rice. We’re worried about how Aaron Rodgers does against Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, and Ben Roethlisberger.
As I said, many see value in Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady because they consistently finish as top quarterbacks. But looking at rank isn’t the way we should determine value. The way we determine value, as I showed above, is by looking at point differential, or variances, by position. That’s what value based drafting is all about.
I can tell you, very confidently, that Aaron Rodgers will finish as a top-3 quarterback. He’s been the best quarterback two of the last three seasons, and he finished second the year that he wasn’t the best. We definitely can’t say that about any other player in fantasy football.
But fantasy managers don’t analyze this idea any further. While he’s been stellar at ranking at his position, it wasn’t until last season where he was over 100 points better than the worst fantasy starter at his position.
Let me elaborate. Since 2009, here’s how Rodgers, Brady, and Brees have finished compared to the 10th ranked (worst starter) quarterback at the position (I call this “point variance”):
What this table shows us is value. On average since 2009, Aaron Rodgers has outscored the worst starter in a standard 10-team league by 101.9 points per season. Tom Brady’s averaged 67.3 points better, and Brees has been 75.4 points better.
Let’s see how this compares to top running backs (remember, this is a comparison of how they ranked versus the worst starting running back in a 10-team league):
Interestingly enough, since 2009, all 4 elite running backs have outscored their peers by more points than Tom Brady and Drew Brees did theirs.
On the flip side – yes, Aaron Rodgers “wins”. He’s outscored his peers by more points, on average, than any other player. He’s been the most valuable player in fantasy football since 2009. But before you go ahead and crown Rodgers your go-to, no doubt first overall pick, let’s take a look at what this means.
Rank vs. Value
The analysis shows that Ray Rice has scored 96.8 points more than his peers – each season on average – over the last 3 years. For Rodgers, this number has been 101.9. Rodgers, however, has finished as the 1st, 2nd and 1st ranked quarterback over these seasons. Ray Rice has finished as the 4th, 11th, and 1st ranked running back.
Why is that important? Because it shows that there is less room for error at the quarterback position. In order for a quarterback to truly be valuable, he must finish as a top quarterback.
Think about it. While Ray Rice had a season, 2010, where he finished as a mediocre starter (ranked 11), he’s still been nearly as valuable as Rodgers has. When Rice was ranked 11th, he scored 53.4 more points than the worst starting running back in a 10-team league. And Rodgers, ranking 2nd at quarterback that same year, outscored the worst starting quarterback by just 65.4 points. That’s 12 more points than an 11th ranked running back, and Rodgers finished 2nd.
This is value. This is what I mean when I say that drafting a quarterback early is just as risky as drafting a running back early. If you’re getting Rodgers with the first overall pick in the draft, you not only need him to finish as a top quarterback to keep his value, but you need him to keep up his record breaking pace.
And while I’m not telling you to draft the running backs above, I’m simply showing that value doesn’t come with rank. When you know the average life span of a running back is shorter than that of a quarterback, you would expect to see more turnover from year to year. That’s why we see players like Arian Foster jump to the top all of the time in fantasy rankings.
The reason I brought this data forth is to show that looking at pure rankings to conclude that a player is “far and away the most consistent in the league” is not the best way to determine value. As I’ve shown, there are four running backs that have been more valuable than Brady and Brees over the last three seasons. And even with Rodgers playing out of this world at quarterback, he’s still been barely better than Chris Johnson and Ray Rice. We have to always remember that there are less quarterbacks started in a league. And to that point, the margin for error for those elite quarterbacks is quite small.
Value is what wins fantasy leagues. Looking at rankings to determine value won’t bring home a championship.