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Fantasy Football: Examining QB Quality Starts

Aug 15, 2015

Aaron Rodgers registered the most quality starts of any QB in 2014

Aaron Rodgers and other top QBs left owners wanting more when it counted most in 2014

A quality start in fantasy football should be determined by being a top scoring player at your position in any given week, independent of the overall numbers for that given season. Unlike winning a matchup 75 to 74 even though you would have lost to any other team that week, or losing 169-168 when you have the second highest score of your league, it is different for individual scoring. The goal is landing enough times in the top percentile to give fantasy owners a chance to win. The player doesn’t have to be the best, just better than most of the field. Scoring 15.6 might be enough to be a QB10 this week, but not scratch the top 20 next week. It all depends on what’s happening week to week.

Conventional wisdom says if you have higher scoring players, you will win most matchups. Conventional wisdom also says that in order to win, you’ll need players scoring in the top half of the top scorers to set yourself up for victory. Most leagues will have anywhere between 10 to 14 teams, which means there are five to seven matchups each week. For the sake of not saying “five to seven” throughout the article, I will default to 14 teams, or seven weekly matchups.

We will explore quarterbacks below to determine who ended up at the top the most and who ended up as a quality starter the most times. We will then relate it to their final ranking. For quarterbacks, I will extend quality to a top 10 for two reasons. One, there are less QBs to choose from every week as opposed to other position players and the chance for an outlier is much higher. Attrition and randomness also are variables taken into consideration with this model. For example, Week 1 featured Jake Locker (QB39) and Derek Anderson (QB42) in the top 10. Josh McCown (QB27) and Geno Smith (QB26) were in the top 10 in Week 2, and Austin Davis (QB30) and Drew Stanton (QB32) finished in the top 10 in Week 3.  All in all, 38 quarterbacks finished as top 10 scorers between Weeks 1 and 16, but the season’s top 15 scorers accounted for 110 of those 160 starts.

Below are the average scores from QB1 to QB10 between Week 1 and Week 16. The graph will also show the highest and lowest scores for each rank and the week it happened.

Rank Avg. High Week Low Week
QB1 33.88 44.8 8 27.2 15
QB2 29.15 34.2 8 22 15
QB3 26.38 30.7 6 21.6 15
QB4 24.71 29.4 6 21.1 15
QB5 23.31 27.9 14 19.1 2
QB6 22.33 26.5 14 18.9 2
QB7 21.20 26.3 14 16.5 15
QB8 20.23 24.6 6 16 15
QB9 19.78 24.2 14 15.9 15
QB10 19.03 23.5 14 15.6 15

It’s interesting to see that Week 15 featured eight of the lowest outputs for QB1 through QB4 and QB7 through QB10. In the week where most leagues have their semifinals, they were not getting help from the quarterback position. The help they did get came from a lot of unlikely sources. The four highest scorers in 2014 were nowhere to be found in Week 15, which as we will see a few charts down, was a theme during the 2014 fantasy playoffs.

Rank Quality starts in Week 15 Points  2014 Rank
1 Drew Brees 27.2 QB5
2 Eli Manning 22 QB11
3 Alex Smith 21.6 QB25
4 Matt Ryan 21.1 QB13
5 Tony Romo 20.5 QB8
6 Tom Brady 19.3 QB6
7 Derek Anderson 16.5 QB31
8 Robert Griffin III 16 QB35
9 Ryan Tannehill 15.9 QB10
10 Teddy Bridgewater 15.6 QB17

In fact, four of the six worst quality starts came in Week 15:

Week Rank Player Points
11 8 Ryan Tannehill 16.8
11 9 Zach Mettenberger 16.5
15 7 Derek Anderson 16.5
15 8 Robert Griffin III 16
15 9 Ryan Tannehill 15.9
11 10 Drew Stanton 15.8
10 10 Matt Ryan 15.7
15 10 Teddy Bridgewater 15.6

Quality Starts – 2014 Season (Week 1 through Week 16)

We will use standard scoring as the guideline along with FantasyPros week-to-week scoring leader tool to determine the top scorers and their frequency and consistency at the top of the scoreboard week in and week out. This data reflects Week 1 through Week 16 as most fantasy seasons are completed on Week 16. The chart will also show how many of their quality starts led to QB1 numbers, QB2-QB5 numbers, and QB6-QB10 numbers. We will also go into detail on how many of the top scorers had starts that netted the quarterback QB11-QB16 weeks, and weeks in which they were QB17 or worse:

 Rank Player Points 2014 Rank Games QS QS% QB1 QB2-QB5 QB6-QB10 QB11-QB16 Playoff QS Weeks of QB17 or Worse
1 Andrew Luck 336 QB1 15 12 80% 1 5 6 2 1 1
2 Aaron Rodgers 329.7 QB2 15 10 67% 3 4 3 2 1 3
3 Russell Wilson 319.2 QB3 15 10 67% 3 3 4 1 2 4
4 Peyton Manning 304.3 QB4 15 10 67% 0 6 4 2 0 3
5 Drew Brees 293.8 QB5 15 8 53% 2 2 4 5 1 2
6 Tom Brady 274.2 QB8 15 7 47% 0 3 4 3 1 5
7 Philip Rivers 259.9 QB10 15 7 47% 0 4 3 1 1 7
8 Tony Romo 248.4 QB12 14 7 50% 0 4 3 2 2 6
9 Jay Cutler 245.5 QB13 14 7 50% 0 2 5 4 1 3
10 Ryan Tannehill 266.6 QB9 15 6 40% 0 4 2 2 2 7
11 Eli Manning 250.3 QB11 15 6 40% 1 5 0 2 2 7
12 B. Roethlisberger 289.2 QB6 15 5 33% 2 1 2 3 1 7
13 Matt Ryan 277 QB7 15 5 33% 1 3 1 6 2 4
14 Joe Flacco 241.8 QB14 15 5 33% 0 1 4 4 1 6
15 Matthew Stafford 229.4 QB15 15 5 33% 0 2 3 2 1 8
16 Cam Newton 229.2 QB16 13 5 38% 2 1 2 1 2 10
17 T. Bridgewater 167.5 QB22 12 4 33% 0 0 4 2 2 6
18 Andy Dalton 209.9 QB19 15 3 20% 0 1 2 5 1 7
19 Ryan Fitzpatrick 180.2 QB21 12 3 25% 1 0 2 1 0 8
20 Josh McCown 119.7 QB27 10 3 30% 0 2 1 0 0 n/a
21 Mark Sanchez 119.6 QB28 8 3 38% 0 1 2 n/a 1 n/a
22 Carson Palmer 103.6 QB31 6 3 50% 0 1 2 n/a 0 n/a
23 Kirk Cousins 88.5 QB35 6 3 50% 0 1 2 n/a 0 n/a
24 Colin Kaepernick 228.2 QB17 15 2 13% 0 2 0 6 1 7
25 Alex Smith 222.7 QB18 15 2 13% 0 1 1 5 1 9
26 Kyle Orton 167.4 QB23 11 2 18% 0 1 1 5 1 4
27 Nick Foles 119.3 QB29 8 2 25% 0 1 1 n/a 0 n/a
28 Austin Davis 107.5 QB30 10 2 20% 0 1 1 0 0 n/a
29 Drew Stanton 94.9 QB32 9 2 22% 0 0 2 n/a 0 n/a
30 Zach Mettenberger 71 QB38 7 2 29% 0 0 2 n/a 0 n/a
31 Derek Anderson 50.4 QB42 6 2 33% 0 0 2 n/a 1 n/a
32 Derek Carr 184.7 QB20 15 1 7% 0 0 1 3 0 11
33 Brian Hoyer 156.9 QB25 14 1 7% 0 1 0 3 0 n/a
34 Geno Smith 124.7 QB26 13 1 8% 0 0 1 2 0 n/a
35 Robert Griffin III 87.2 QB36 9 1 11% 0 0 1 n/a 1 n/a
36 Jake Locker 63.9 QB39 7 1 14% 0 1 0 n/a 0 n/a
37 Colt McCoy 63 QB40 5 1 20% 0 1 0 n/a 0 n/a
38 Michael Vick 43.4 QB43 10 1 10% 0 0 1 n/a 0 n/a

Notes on the noteworthy

  • Andrew Luck (12 QS)
    As expected, Luck had the most quality starts in 2014, with 80 percent of his starts in the first 16 weeks of the season netted him QB10 numbers. The problem was that out of his three non-quality starts, two came during Weeks 15 and 16, which are usually reserved for a league’s semifinals and finals. In fact his Week 14 was a QB10 week, meaning he continued to trend downward, falling out of the top scorers during the next two weeks. Luck may have led teams to regular season crowns and highest scoring player awards, but he let his owners down in the playoffs. With only one QB1 week, Luck did a great job of spreading out his points (second most among QBs) but his performances in Weeks 14 through 16 left a lot to be desired.
  • Aaron Rodgers (10 QS)
    Another model of consistency and another model of playoff disappointment. Rodgers was one of three quarterbacks with 10 quality starts but only one during fantasy playoffs. Week 14 saw him end up as QB4 but road games in Tampa and Buffalo put Rodgers on the outside looking in for quality starts in Weeks 15 and 16. Rodgers three other games where he was not a top 10 QB were road games in Seattle, Detroit, and Minnesota in Weeks one, three, and five. This may be a fluke, but it also may be a trend with home and road splits worth looking at moving forward. Still, Rodgers ended up as the highest scoring quarterback in fantasy in 2014, so he must be doing something right.
  • Russell Wilson (10 QS)
    Wilson was the only one out of the top seven in quality starts to deliver two QS during the playoffs, with top three point outputs in Weeks 14 and 16. Wilson gave fantasy owners 10 top 10 weeks, but also four weeks of QB17 or worse. Wilson finished tied with Rodgers for the most QB1 finishes in 2014 with three.
  • Peyton Manning (10 QS)
    Manning would be considered the biggest disappointment in the top tier. Manning started off the season with nine straight quality starts from Week one to Week 10. He fell out of the top 10 in Week 11 and was back one more time in Week 12 before falling out entirely for the rest of the fantasy season. Manning delivered some of the worst games of during his tenure with Denver in Weeks 13 through 16. Manning finished as QB20, QB31, QB15, and QB20 in the final four fantasy weeks, causing heartache and frustration for his owners who for the last year and 11 games had nothing to worry about. Manning also QB who finished in the top five in quality starts with no weeks as QB1.
  • Drew Brees (eight QS)
    Brees is fifth on the list but delivered his two worst performances in 2014 in Weeks 14 and 16. Sandwiched in between was a QB1 performance against Chicago. Brees had two QB1 performances in 2014 (the other coming in Week 12).
  • Tom Brady (seven QS)
    Brady probably cost you your first four games, got you back on track during the middle of your season, and went back to disappointing at the end of the year when he came back down to earth. It was a tale of three seasons for the Super Bowl MVP. Brady had his four worst games Weeks one through four, finishing QB17 or worse in all of them while averaging 9.4 points per game. Between Week five and Week 12, Brady had quality starts in six of his seven games, averaging 24.3 points per game including two 30+ point games. He came back down to the rest of the pack with only one more quality start the last four weeks of the fantasy season, netting one quality start the rest of the way in Week 15. He averaged 16.7 these last four weeks which may not have lost anyone any games, but definitely did not win any games either. Brady, like Manning, had no QB1 weeks during the season.
  • Tony Romo (seven QS)
    Romo, like Brady, also started off slow with sub-QB17 numbers in four of the first six weeks before bouncing back with seven total quality starts, including two of them in Week 15 and Week 16. Also like Brady, Romo did not have one QB1 week, but unlike him, was a model of consistency. From Week eight through Week 16, Romo had 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
  • Philip Rivers (seven QS)
    Rivers had a dream start to the season and a very pedestrian finish. Out of Rivers’ seven quality starts, five came in the first six games. He would not crack the top 10 again until Week 13. His only playoff quality start came in Week 16, so if a fantasy owner was lucky enough to advance to the championship with him as the signal caller (sub QB17 in Weeks 14 and 15), they were rewarded with a QB6 performance. No QB1 starts for Rivers in 2014. His highest finish was QB3 all the way back in Week 2.

News on the rest

  • Jay Cutler is the only player in the top 15 to be benched for performance and still finish as a top-tier scorer with seven quality starts. He actually got benched after his QB6 performance in Week 14.
  • Eli Manning and Ryan Tannehill actually had more games with QB17 or worse numbers (seven) than quality starts (six). However, two of their six QSs came during fantasy playoffs in Weeks 15 and 16. They both had sub-QB17 numbers in Weeks 13 and 14, so if you survived that, you may have found success late in the playoffs.
  • Cam Newton finished with only five quality starts, but two of them came in the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14 and 16.) He actually missed Week 15 due to injury, but his backup Derek Anderson actually got a quality start in his place. Anderson finished as QB42.
  • Ben Roethlisberger is the biggest enigma on this list. Big Ben finished with the sixth most fantasy points for quarterbacks in 2014 with 289.2 but 80.5 (or 27.2%) came in two games as a result of back to back six touchdown games in November. With only three other quality starts, including only one in the playoffs, Roethlisberger is the reason I found this topic to be interesting enough to spend hours and hours on. Removing those two games from his numbers and the Pittsburgh signal caller averages 16.0 fantasy points a game. His 10 games of sub-QB11 output (including seven of sub-QB17 output) makes you think twice about the quality of Roethlisberger over a full season.
  • Alex Smith had two quality starts and nine games as QB17 or worse in 15 games.  Only Derek Carr was worse with one quality start and 11 games of QB17 or worse.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick is the only other player to finish as a QB1 with his 39.3 point, six touchdown performance against Tennessee in Week 13.
  • Washington featured three different quarterbacks on this list, with Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy, and Kirk Cousins appearing. Jacksonville is the only team not to be represented.
  • There were just as many QS from the players who finished 11 through 20 as those who finished one through 10. Only Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger finished as top 10 scorers, but not top 10 in quality starts. In contrast, Tony Romo and Jay Cutler finished as top 10 in quality starts, but not 10 in scoring.

Playoff heartbreak

  • Out of the 30 possible quality starts opportunities in the fantasy playoffs, the top 10 QBs only managed a total of 12, including zero from Peyton Manning.
  • Buffalo defense held Peyton Manning to 2.7 points in Week 14 and Aaron Rodgers to 6.1 points in Week 15. This included zero touchdowns and four interceptions for the Bills defense.  It was the only time all season where neither threw for a touchdown pass. Andrew Luck scored 0.4 in Week 16 against the Dallas defense.

Conclusion

A quarterback may get you far, but the numbers show they might not get you all the way. After doing the research and looking at the trends (or lack thereof) I would recommend focusing on building your roster around a strong running back or wide receiver and focusing on finding value in quarterbacks through match-ups and weekly situations.

Michael Vincent is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MVtweetshere.

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