Fantasy Football: Predicting the Top 10 Quarterbacks
This is Part IV of the Predicting the Top 10 series. This time we’re examining quarterbacks.
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According to Wikipedia, in theories of competition in economics, barriers to entry are obstacles that make it difficult to enter a given market.
A kid down the street opens up a lemonade stand. I can just as easily open up one too. The structure of the stand will be a little different and the taste of the lemonade will be unique, but both stands will be making good old fashioned lemonade.
Another kid sets up a computer repair stand. He’s worked with computers all his life and knows where motherboards go and gigabyte this and gigabyte that. I could try and replicate the business, but all I’d be able to do is locate the power button and ask gigabyte who?
The quarterback position is the hardest to project, but the easiest to evaluate. There are so many unquantifiable variables. Just read this scouting report on Jamarcus Russell. He’s big, strong, and has a cannon for an arm. That’s great, but how does he read coverages? Is he a student of the game? Does he have grasp of offensive principles? We all know how the Jamarcus experiment went. Head coach Dennis Allen didn’t feel comfortable starting him because he couldn’t get a handle on the offense. Then when he played, you could just see it…or not see IT.
We all know the story of Tom Brady; sixth-round pick to Super Bowl hero.
There are significant barriers to entry for the NFL quarterback position. You can’t just pull some guy, who was bagging groceries, off the street and have him lead the team to a Super Bowl victory.
Don’t worry. I had Kurt Warner in my mind. That just accentuates the barrier to entry aspect. Arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time had a difficult time even getting a chance to prove his mettle.
Why am I babbling about all of this? Out of all the positions, the quarterback position should be the most predictable according to ADP. We all have a sense of who’s good and who’s not. Injuries and freak things happen, so the percentage will never be perfect, but I envision a high predictability rate.
Below is a chart that shows the predictive percentage of the final top 10 quarterbacks from preseason ADP.
(Historical ADP data courtesy of MyFantasyLeague.com. Historical fantasy points data courtesy of footballguys.com. Data is for standard scoring.)
Interesting. I would’ve thought most of the years would be greater than 70%. It’s definitely more predictive than for running backs and wide receivers though.
Come take a journey with me to see if we can ascertain any nuggets of information that may shed light on the findings.
PAST 10 YEARS
- Daunte Culpepper – Missed nine games due to injury. Had a career year in 2004 (39 touchdowns).
- Donovan McNabb – Missed seven games due to injury. Had a career year in 2004 (31 touchdowns) and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
- Marc Bulger – Missed eight games due to injury. Missed two games in 2004, one game in 2003, and nine games in 2002.
- Brett Favre – Threw a career high 29 interceptions. Lost linemen, Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, in free agency. Injuries ravaged the skill positions (Javon Walker, Ahman Green, and Bubba Franks).
- Carson Palmer – ADP #11. Third year in the league. Became the starter in 2004 and played well.
- Eli Manning – ADP #25 – Second year in the league. As with most quarterbacks, struggled his rookie year (first start was 11/21/2004).
- Drew Bledsoe – ADP #28 – Released by the Bills in 2004, Bledsoe reunited with Bill Parcells in Dallas.
- Drew Brees – ADP #13 – Drafting of Phillip Rivers by the Chargers in 2004 muddled the air a bit in San Diego.
- Matt Hasselbeck – Missed four games due to injury. Led Seahawks to Super Bowl in 2005. Lost All-Pro lineman, Steve Hutchinson, in free agency. Shaun Alexander broke down.
- Eli Manning – Finished #11 QB. Stats very close to 2005.
- Donovan McNabb – Missed six games due to injury.
- Jeff Garcia – This was an interesting situation. Garcia was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason to back up Donovan McNabb, who missed seven games the prior year. Fantasy drafters were split right down the middle, placing their bets on who would win the job for Andy Reid’s explosive West Coast offense. McNabb’s ADP was #6 QB and Garcia’s ADP was #7 QB. McNabb started 10 games and Garcia started six but played in eight.
- Jake Delhomme – Missed three games due to injury.
- Daunte Culpepper – Missed 12 games due to injury. Was traded to the Dolphins. Missed nine games in 2005, two games in 2003, and five games in 2001.
- Drew Brees – ADP #16 – Signed with the New Orleans Saints. First year with Sean Payton. Suffered a shoulder injury in 2005, which was one of the reasons why Nick Saban chose Daunte Culpepper over him in Miami. Finished as the #2 QB.
- Michael Vick – ADP #13 – Always about health for Vick. Became the first quarterback in the modern era to rush for over 1,000 yards.
- Jon Kitna – ADP #26 – Signed with the Detroit Lions. Played decently in Super Bowl XL (2006) after Carson Palmer went down with an injury.
- Brett Favre – ADP #21 – Will he retire? Won’t he retire? I had repressed that period of time from my brain too. My brain is angry with my brain. The 2005 version of Favre was terrible, as he threw 29 interceptions with 20 touchdowns.
- Phillip Rivers – ADP #22 – Third year in the league. Became the unquestioned starter.
- Ben Roethlisberger – ADP #17 – Third year in the league. Missed one game in 2006, four in 2005, and two in 2004. Didn’t have a great year but ended as the #10 QB: 3,513 yards, 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, and two rushing touchdowns.
- Marc Bulger – Missed four games due to injury. Signed a six-year, $62.5 million contract extension before the season. Multiple injuries on the offensive line. Threw more interceptions more than touchdowns for the first time in career. Extensive injury history.
- Donovan McNabb – Missed two games due to injury.
- Vince Young – Missed one game due to injury in 2007 and one game in 2006. Won NFL Rookie of the Year in 2006. Lower TD total (both passing and rushing) and increased INT total.
- Phillip Rivers – Took over the reins from Drew Brees in 2006. Norv Turner took over as head coach of the Chargers in 2007. Rivers had a decent 2007 but threw more interceptions than in 2006. Finished as the #15 QB.
- Derek Anderson – Was not drafted in fantasy. The epitome of a “broken clock is right twice a day.” The Browns had a quarterback “battle” with Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, and Derek Anderson as the “combatants.” Anderson finished with 3,787 yards, 29 touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns, and 19 interceptions.
- Ben Roethlisberger – ADP #13 – First year for offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Tossed 32 touchdowns and increased ypa from 7.49 to 7.81.
- Brett Favre – ADP #16 – First year for offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. Favre was 37 years old and coming off a terrible 2006 campaign.
- Kurt Warner – Was not drafted in fantasy. Matt Leinart was the starter, until he showed the world that he was Matt Leinart.
- Tom Brady – Missed 15 games due to injury. Coming off historic 50 TD season. The New York Giants defeated the Patriots in the Super Bowl to prohibit them from executing the perfect season.
- Carson Palmer – Missed 12 games due to injury.
- Ben Roethlisberger – Touchdown total dipped from 32 in 2007 to 17 in 2008. Lost lineman Alan Faneca. Steelers signed Roethlisberger to an eight-year, $102 million contract. The Steelers defense led the league in almost every defensive category. Had not attempted more than 469 passes in any season up to that point.
- Derek Anderson – Missed six games due to injury. Coming off a career year in which he threw 29 touchdowns.
- Matt Hasselbeck – Missed nine games due to injury. Coming off a career year in which he threw 28 touchdowns.
- Aaron Rodgers – ADP #18 – Favre finally retired. Rodgers became the starter.
- Kurt Warner – ADP #21 – Matt Leinart was named the starter, but coach Ken Whisenhunt said that there was a possibility that Warner could start.
- Phillip Rivers – ADP #14 – Played the AFC Championship game the prior year with a torn ACL, which required surgery. His first two years starting were decent but not earth shattering. Finished 2008 with 34 touchdowns.
- Matt Cassel – Was not drafted in fantasy – Replaced Tom Brady.
- David Garrard – ADP #13 – After backing up Byron Leftwich for years, Garrard was given the keys to the team in 2007. He entered 2008 as the unquestioned starter. The rushing stats boosted his fantasy value.
- Kurt Warner – Missed one game due to injury. Finished as the #12 QB.
- Donovan McNabb – Missed two games due to injury. Finished as the #13 QB.
- Matt Ryan – Missed two games due to injury. Second year in the league.
- Jay Cutler – Finished as the #11 QB.
- Matt Schaub – ADP #11 – Coming off consecutive years in which he missed five games each due to injury.
- Brett Favre – ADP #17 – Signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
- Ben Roethlisberger – ADP #13 – Coming off a Super Bowl victory the prior year. Only threw 17 touchdowns during the regular season though.
- Eli Manning – ADP #14 – Since entering the league, Manning had been about as exciting as watching paint dry. He was going to play 16 games, throw for 3,250 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. His floor was established. 2009 marked the time when Eli took that next step up: 4,000 yards and 25+ touchdowns.
- Tony Romo – Missed 10 games due to injury.
- Joe Flacco – Finished as the #12 QB.
- Brett Favre – Final season in the NFL. Missed three games due to injury.
- Kevin Kolb – Became the starter after sitting on the bench his first three years in the league. Donovan McNabb was traded to the Redskins. Missed nine games due to injury.
- Michael Vick – Was not drafted in fantasy – Second year of the Michael Vick rejuvenation tour. Vick got his chance after Kevin Kolb got injured.
- Eli Manning – ADP #14 – Continued to progress as he crossed 30 touchdowns for the first time.
- Josh Freeman – ADP #32 – Second year in the league. Played as a rookie and had his struggles. Unquestioned starter entering the 2010 season.
- Matt Ryan – ADP #11 – Third year in the league. Missed two games in 2009. First two years showed that he belonged in the league.
- Michael Vick – Missed three games due to injury. Missed four games in 2010, four games in 2009, one in 2005, one in 2004, 11 in 2003, one in 2002, and eight in 2001. Still finished as the #11 QB.
- Peyton Manning – Missed the whole season due to injury.
- Matt Schaub – Missed six games due to injury. Coming off career year in which he threw for 29 touchdowns.
- Ben Roethlisberger – Missed one game due to injury. Missed four in 2010, one in 2009, one in 2007, one in 2006, four in 2005, and two in 2004. Finished as the #13 QB.
- Cam Newton – ADP #24 – Rookie year. 4,051 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 706 rushing yards, and 14 rushing touchdowns.
- Matthew Stafford – ADP #11 – Third year in the league. Missed 13 games in 2010 and six in 2009. Threw for 5,038 yards with 41 touchdowns to finish as the #5 QB.
- Eli Manning – ADP #13 – Ho hum. Every year he gets drafted as either the #13 or #14 quarterback. Every year he ends of replacing someone in the top 10. When’s a brother gonna get some love? Eli threw for a career high 4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns, and a 8.38 ypa. His previous ypa high was 7.90.
- Mark Sanchez – ADP #18 – Third year in the league. Was named team captain prior to the 2011 season. Sanchez was a game manager his first two years with the Jets, as the team boasted a great defense and solid running game.
- Eli Manning – Finished as the #14 QB. Coming off a career year in which he threw for 4,933 yards. Of course, after drafters finally show Eli some love, he settles in right at the #14 spot. Hilarious.
- Michael Vick – Missed six games due to injury. Shocking.
- Robert Griffin III – ADP #12 – Rookie year. #2 pick in the NFL Draft.
- Andrew Luck – ADP #16 – Rookie year. #1 pick in the NFL Draft.
- Aaron Rodgers – Missed seven games due to injury.
- Colin Kaepernick – Finished as the #11 QB. Supplanted Alex Smith as the starter in 2012.
- Robert Griffin III – Missed three games due to injury. League figured out the read-option. As a result, the rushing touchdown total plummeted from seven to zero.
- Tom Brady – Finished as the #13 QB. Lost Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker to free agency. Aaron Hernandez was released. After three consecutive seasons with 30+ touchdowns, finished 2013 with 25.
- Andy Dalton – ADP #15 – Finished as the #3 QB. Third year in the league. Third year playing with A.J. Green. Increased every statistical passing category from his rookie season to year two.
- Phillip Rivers – ADP #23 – Norv Turner out. Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt in. Had a poor 2013, so was named the Comeback Player of the Year.
- Ben Roethlisberger – ADP #16 – Missed three games in 2012, one in 2011, four in 2010, one in 2009, one in 2007, one in 2006, four in 2005, and two in 2004. Now that is an injury history. Le’Veon Bell was drafted in the 2013 NFL Draft.
- Russell Wilson – ADP #11 – Second year in the league. Coming off a Super Bowl victory. Seahawks a run-oriented offense.
- Matthew Stafford – First year for head coach Jim Caldwell. Calvin Johnson missed three games and was ineffective in many of the games that he did play. Finished as the #15 QB with only 22 touchdown passes. People keep thinking about his 2011 season in which he threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. He attempted 663 passes that year and 727 the following year. In 2014, Stafford attempted 602 passes.
- Nick Foles – Missed eight games due to injury. Coming off a career year in which he threw 27 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions.
- Cam Newton – Missed two games due to injury. When he did play, injuries hampered his play. Rushing touchdowns have trended down every year since his rookie campaign: 14 in 2011, 8 in 2012, 6 in 2013, and 5 in 2014.
- Colin Kaepernick – A strange season for the 49ers. There was dissention in the locker room, which ultimately led to the 49ers moving on from Jim Harbaugh. The offense became very conservative and did not incorporate as much read-option, spread principles that had allowed Kaepernick to be successful.
- Russell Wilson – ADP #11 – Third year in the league. Stats from rookie season and year two are almost identical across the board. Coming off Super Bowl loss. Seahawks still a run-heavy team.
- Ben Roethlisberger – ADP #17 – Offense opened up as Roethlisberger and Haley got on the same page in 2013. He threw for a career high 584 times. The Roethlisberger-to-Antonio Brown connection really solidified in 2013.
- Eli Manning – ADP #22 – Terrible year in 2013, in which he threw only 18 touchdowns with 27 interceptions. Drafted God…I mean OBJ aka Odell Beckham Jr. in the 2014 NFL Draft.
- Ryan Tannehill – ADP #20 – Third year in the league. First year for offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. The Chip Kelly principles that he learned while working in Philadelphia were perfectly suited for Ryan Tannehill.
DECIPHERING THE DATA
Below is a chart showing characteristics for the disappointments.
|REASON||# OF TIMES|
|COMING OFF CAREER YEAR||6|
|INJURY TO SKILL POSITION PLAYER||3|
|LOST SUPER BOWL PRIOR YEAR||4|
|FINISHED JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 10||9|
|LOWER TD TOTAL||3|
The injuries are the main reason of course. All we can focus on are the quarterbacks that have an injury history. With that said, the way the league is protecting quarterbacks now, the number of injuries should decrease in future years. The two characteristics I want to focus on are 1) Coming off a career year and 2) Lost Super Bowl prior year. As all the disclaimers say on CNBC, past performance is not indicative of future performance. A fantasy football cliché is; don’t pay for last year’s stats. It’s human nature though. The Super Bowl is the last game of the year so that game will always be in the consciousness of drafters.
Below is a chart showing characteristics for the replacements.
|REASON||# OF TIMES|
|BECAME STARTER PRIOR YEAR||3|
|BECAME STARTER SAME YEAR||4|
|COMING OFF POOR YEAR||3|
|NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR||4|
|NOT DRAFTED IN FANTASY||4|
With the sophistication of the game at the lower levels, quarterbacks are coming into the league more prepared than in the past. It’s not unheard of for them to make an immediate impact. Never discount a starting quarterback. A change in offensive coordinators is huge. The flip side to not paying for last year’s stats is looking for bounce-back candidates.
- Andrew Luck
- Aaron Rodgers
- Russell Wilson
- Peyton Manning
- Drew Brees
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Matt Ryan
- Tony Romo
- Cam Newton
- Matthew Stafford
Since the average percentage for the past 10 years is 60% prediction rate, I will take out four and replace them with four currently outside of the top 10 ADP.
- Russell Wilson
LOST LINEMAN: Center Max Unger was traded to the Saints. That is going to have an effect on both the run and pass game for the Seahawks. If the offense cannot run the ball effectively, then that means more third down and long scenarios. Although the Seahawks received Jimmy Graham in the Unger trade, the team is still not built to pass when one-dimensional. If the preseason is any indication, Wilson could be running for his life. LOST SUPER BOWL PRIOR YEAR: This is probably just a coincidence, but there could be something to it. Inflated value from drafters because the Super Bowl is the last game of the year. Getting to the Super Bowl requires playing more games. Outside responsibilities from Super Bowl celebrity may infringe upon offseason workouts. There could be a myriad of reasons, so I’m just throwing out some of them. RUNNING QB: Much of Wilson’s value comes from the rushing stats he provides. After hovering in the 500-yard range his first two years in the league, he spiked to 849 last year with six touchdowns. That’s going to be tough to replicate. If he does approach that number, then he becomes more susceptible to injury. Wilson just signed a huge contract extension before the season, so the team may not want to risk their investment now. LOWER TD TOTAL: Ties in with the above.
- Peyton Manning
INJURY HISTORY: The neck surgery that caused him to miss all of 2011. Manning is 39 years old and has said that he can’t feel his fingertips. His arm definitely looks Pennington-esque now. LOST LINEMAN: Left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season. Starting guard from last year, Manny Ramirez, is now in Detroit. Orlando Franklin left for San Diego. Will Montgomery went to Chicago. LOWER TD TOTAL: Gary Kubiak is the new head coach of the Denver Broncos. He is implementing his zone-blocking scheme, which should shift some of the focus to the running game. The passing attempts won’t be in the 600 range, as it was for the past three years. It will now probably be in the lower-to-mid 500 range. The touchdown total could come down to the 30 range.
- Ben Roethlisberger
INJURY HISTORY: Although Ben has played in every game the last two years, he’s missed a ton of games in his career; three in 2012, one in 2011, four in 2010, one in 2009, one in 2006 & 2007, four in 2005, and two in 2004. COMING OFF CAREER YEAR: Where have we seen this story before? Oh wait! 2009 Roethlisberger. Cracked 4,000 yards for the first time and threw 26 touchdowns. Next year, missed four games and ended with 3,200 yards and 17 touchdowns. 2011, cracked 4,000 yards again with 21 touchdowns. Next year, missed three games and ended with 3,265 yards but with 26 touchdowns. Last year, Roethlisberger almost hit 5,000 yards (4,952) with 32 touchdowns. Things that make you go hmmmmmmmmm. LOST LINEMAN: Center Maurkice Pouncey is out until Week 11. That’s a huge blow to the offensive line. INJURY TO SKILL POSITION PLAYER: Not really an injury, but Martavis Bryant is suspended for four games. The Steelers offense didn’t explode until Bryant was in the lineup. In addition, Le’Veon Bell is out for the first two games.
- Cam Newton
INJURY HISTORY: Missed two games last year, but was affected most of the season. INJURY TO SKILL POSITION PLAYER: Losing his top wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, is going to be huge. Newton is not the most accurate passer, so the big frame and huge catch radius of Benjamin definitely helped. Rookie Devin Funchess is also bothered by an injury. RUNNING QB: Much of Newton’s value is derived from his rushing prowess. His rushing touchdowns have decreased every year since he’s come into the league. The cumulative effect of all those rushing attempts could be rearing its head now, like the body blows a boxer takes.
- Sam Bradford – ADP #15 QB
NEW TEAM: Traded from the Rams to the Eagles. INJURY CONCERN: Missed all of 2014, nine games in 2013, and six in 2011. NEW OC: Goes from Brian Schottenheimer – the most uncreative, uninventive, uninspired, unprolific, unimaginative, and impotent offensive coordinator in the game – to Chip Kelly – a creative, innovative, leading-edge, and original offensive mind.
- Teddy Bridgewater – ADP #16 QB
2ND YEAR: He performed well his rookie year. He has a year under his belt and should be more comfortable with everything that the NFL has to offer. OTHER: The return of Adrian Peterson. The threat of a dominant rushing game will open up everything in the passing game. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner loves to push the ball down the field. Mike Wallace has the speed to take the top off the defense and Charles Johnson can dominate in the air and over the middle. RUSHING YARDAGE: Bridgewater doesn’t run often, but when he does is very effective. Last year he ran for 209 yards on 47 attempts with one touchdown.
- Joe Flacco – ADP #17 QB
NEW OC: The Quarterback Whisperer (aka Marc Trestman) is now the Ravens offensive coordinator. All you need to know is that Jay Cutler finished as the #13 fantasy quarterback last year. He coaxed a career high 28 touchdowns out of Smoking Jay and the second highest yardage total (3,812). OTHER: Flacco finished as the #14 fantasy quarterback in 2014, so a rise into the top 10 is definitely within reach. The Ravens boast an excellent offensive line, a good pass-catching back in Justin Forsett, a rejuvenated Steve Smith Sr. (who will probably go balls to the wall as this is his last year), and some young, athletic pass catchers.
- Tyrod Taylor – ADP #32 QB
BECAME STARTER: Rex Ryan officially named Taylor as his starting quarterback. NEW TEAM: Was with the Baltimore Ravens for four years backing up Joe Flacco. Rex Ryan personally brought Taylor to the Bills. RUSHING YARDAGE: Taylor runs a 4.55-second 40-yard dash. He’s no Tim Tebow, as Taylor has decent accuracy. He’s been spot on in the preseason. I know its preseason and Blake Bortles looked like Joe Montana last year. The difference is that Taylor has been in the league for four years now. He’s been in a winning organization learning what it takes to be great. We all know the advantages that a running quarterback brings to the fantasy game. OTHER: With the stout defense that the Bills possess, there should be plenty of possessions and the Bills should rarely be one-dimensional. AND there are weapons galore; LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Charles Clay, Percy Harvin, and Robert Woods. Taylor can also do this:
The one thing that writing this series has shown me is that you can’t go chalk. When’s the last time a person won the March Madness pool by picking all the favorites? What should’ve been the most predictable position, quarterback, yielded a 60% prediction rate from preseason ADP.
As many in the fantasy community say, trust the process, not the results. S@!t happens. You get lucky. You get unlucky. You are right on a player. You are wrong on a player. We are all in the fantasy football fortune telling business, whether we like it or not.
Don’t just follow the herd. Think. Formulate reasons on why you like a certain player or hate a certain player. Have a process. With experience, that process will become more refined and hopefully will be able skew the odds in your favor.
I thank you all for taking this journey with me. You can contact me on Twitter about anything. I’ve also been known to take requests for article ideas. Good luck to all of you this season!