Fantasy Football: Taking a Quarterback Early
Your foot has started tapping on the floor in anticipation. You’re starting to grasp your pencil a little bit harder, and all of a sudden the room is getting smaller. You rub the portion of your head by your temples and your forehead as if it is going to somehow trigger a reaction that will give clarity on what you’re about to do.
You’ve played the scenario in your head a million times before, yet somehow you feel like you have just been handed a $100 bill that you refuse to accept. It’s moments away and you are hoping, no, praying that someone in front of you will make it easier on you, and just take Aaron Rodgers off the draft board so that you don’t have to.
One more person to go, and he’s still there. You close your eyes and listen for the sweet sound of death as the owner takes his next running back. The preparation that you’ve done means nothing now, and you’re looking for reasons NOT to take him.
But why do you feel like this? Because everyone does, and I am no different. All you want to know is, “Should I take my quarterback this early?” So, sit down and go through this journey with me, as I tell you why you should or should not take a quarterback early.
When choosing between Andre Ellington and Jonathan Stewart, it’s not exactly the best decision that you’ll ever have in your life. It was prior to the start of the 2015 season and I really didn’t mind either running back, but also didn’t love them. Ellington showed glimpses of what could be a solid RB2, but had dealt with a multitude of injuries, and Stewart had never been a picture of perfect health. The other player in their range was Joseph Randle (yep, that guy).
The question stared at me right in the face. Are you really NOT going to put Aaron Rodgers above that tier of players? I was so taken back by this. I did not want to take a quarterback this early, yet somehow, I couldn’t justify in my head taking someone like Ellington or Stewart over him.
I let out a sigh. My wife reached over and said, “What’s wrong, M?” I told her that I was in a hard place and that I wanted to ask her a question. Before I tell you what I asked her, I feel the need to tell you that she is an above average fantasy football player that knows more than most (she is always around me, listening), and will give me an honest opinion if I ask for it.
That was essentially the question at hand, and for some odd reason, I felt unprepared to answer it. She then asked the most logical question, “What do your projections say?” I told her I hadn’t added them or anything, but that I was looking at first glance. She wanted me to explain to her what I felt and why I felt it.
I went to my projections and took Rodgers’ projected totals and divided them by 16. Then I went through and did the same thing for all other players that were even in the remote areas of these players I was deciding on, which was RB15-RB20. Now I do understand that you can’t just assume he’ll average his projected total divided by 16, but it’s a good starting tool.
After I went through countless “what if” scenarios, I came to the realization that the team with Rodgers always came out on top. It wasn’t by much, either. Just one to three points per week. But that’s not what the point of this article is. Fantasy football is always about playing the odds. So how can we measure the odds in this particular situation? We need to take emotion out of it and look at pure, untarnished, untainted numbers.
Taking a break from my story, let’s take a look at the process…
If we look at every single week from the 2016 season, compiling what the average was for top-five, top-12, or even top-18 weeks, it gives us a better understanding of what it takes to be a top-five quarterback on a weekly basis, because looking at points per game has so much volatility baked into it.
It just so happens that Rodgers himself finished as the No. 1 fantasy quarterback in 2016 and averaged 23.8 fantasy points per game. Funny, because the average top-five performance took 24.0 points in 2016. In order to finish as a top-12 quarterback, the average total was 18.1 fantasy points.
Rodgers finished 11 of 16 games with more than 18.1 fantasy points, and seven of those games included more than 26 fantasy points. We’re talking about nearly a 70 percent chance that he gets you a top-12 performance every week. It’s also important to note that Rodgers got off to a brutal start in 2016, which included three of the first five games with less than 18 fantasy points.
Going back to look at the quarterbacks that are taken later in drafts, I went to the ones that were drafted in the 9-12 range. That way, we aren’t going the “stream your quarterback” route, but rather waiting to get a back end QB1.
Of the four quarterbacks that were drafted in that range, there were 63 total games in which we will be judging them on. There were 24 of the 63 possible games in which they provided 18.1 or more fantasy points, and just seven of 63 games where they totaled 24.0 points (what it took to be a top-five QB in 2016). We knew they would be worse than Rodgers, right?
Here’s the kicker: There were 24 games in which those quarterbacks “busted,” which by my standard is 13.9 or less fantasy points. Rodgers has “busted” just 25 times in his 135 career games since becoming the Packers starter, with five of them coming in 2015 as he dealt with massive injuries to his pass catchers.
Recapping the whole waiting on a quarterback idea, those guys averaged a top-five performance just 11.1 percent of the time, and a top-12 performance just 38 percent of the time, while Rodgers averaged a top-five performance 44 percent of the time, and was a top-12 quarterback nearly 70 percent of the time. Those are odds that are nearly impossible to beat at ANY position, at any draft spot. But we aren’t talking any position, we are talking about running backs taken in the 15-20 range.
Taking opinion of a player completely out of it, I went back and looked at the running backs who were drafted in that range last year. Before giving you their names, I’m going to give you the pure numbers.
We are going to look at the running back position the same way that we looked at the quarterback position. The averaged top-12 finish for running backs was 17.5 PPR points, while it took 11.5 PPR points to finish as a top-24 running back.
But we aren’t drafting an RB1 in this slot, right? We would settle for top-24 in this particular area of the draft, so let’s look there. Of the six running backs drafted in that range, there was 96 possible games to be played. The players drafted in this range played 79 games as running backs tend to miss a lot more time than any other position.
Of the 79 games they played, those running backs totaled top-24 numbers 49 percent of the time. I’d also like to note that just one running back accounted for about 40 percent of those performances (Demarco Murray). But that’s part of it. Who knows, you can be drafting 2017’s version of Murray in that range this year. Those same running backs totaled RB3/Flex numbers in 68 percent of the games (was just 7.6 PPR points to qualify).
Now that we know what the running backs you’d be drafting over Rodgers did, let’s take a look at those who were drafted in the range of the quarterbacks drafted in the 9-12 territory, because if you took Rodgers, you’ll need a running back or wide receiver later in the draft while others are selecting quarterbacks. Now because QB9-QB12 is a bigger range, we had a slightly bigger sample size. The running backs in this range were drafted as the RB32-RB40.
Of those running backs, there were 144 total games possible, though they played just 106 of them. Again, the running back position is naturally going to have more games missed than the quarterback position. But of those 106 games, they totaled top-24 performances in 37 percent of the games. They naturally trailed the running backs drafted around Rodgers, but is the 12 percent increase worth it to pass on Rodgers?
You could say that when you draft Rodgers in the third-round, you just want a serviceable running back who can post solid RB3/flex type numbers, because you have your consistency and upside with Rodgers. The running backs drafted in this range totaled RB3/flex numbers 66 percent of the time, nearly identical to those drafted in the Rodgers territory.
Recapping what happened in my research, here’s what it looks like on a graph (I also included wide receivers drafted in those areas):
Now keep in mind that this only works with certain quarterbacks, because you need to rely on them for the production that you’re paying for. There are just three quarterbacks who you should feel this comfortable with, and they are Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady. They’ve proven year-in and year-out that they’re consistent top-five quarterbacks. I’d say Andrew Luck, but his shoulder could pose some question marks.
Now, back to my story…
After much deliberation, I decided that if Rodgers fell to me at the three-four turn in the draft and he was the best player on my board, I would take him.
I’m in the room, and the situation plays out exactly how I thought it would.
I had taken Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones at the first turn, because I couldn’t pass them up for a running back like Demarco Murray or Justin Forsett. I was now sitting there feeling even more stressed because I knew there was a possibility that I wouldn’t even get one of my top 15 running backs with the No. 36 and No. 37 picks.
We are back to the situation at the start of my journey. My foot was tapping, I was gripping my pencil harder, and the room was getting smaller. Did I mention that I was drafting in a room of experts, and that it was being broadcasted live on Sirius XM radio?
It came to my pick. Alfred Morris, the No. 15 running back on my board was there, along with Ellington, Stewart, Randle, and you guessed it… Rodgers. I took Morris at No. 36, as if it would somehow make me feel better not taking a quarterback in the first three rounds. Why do we feel this way? Because society tells us that we should.
You know what, forget society. A wise person once told me to get as many elite players as possible, regardless of position. That is exactly why I took Calvin and Julio with my last two picks. So I am able to add another elite player, and actually, the best at his position with the 37th pick?
I said confidently, “Aaron Rodgers.” The “oohs” and “ahhs” were there, but I was confident that I had made the best selection, because I knew the odds. The best part of this story is that while everyone else was drafting their late-round quarterbacks, I selected Devonta Freeman at the end of the seventh round (who wound up being the RB1 in 2015). Oddly enough, I still didn’t win that league, but I was a playoff team.
Anyone can sit there and tell you that a draft strategy that works for them. I’m not that guy. I’m not going to tell you which one is best for you, but I feel like I can tell you this. If your top quarterback is there on the board in the third or fourth round, and you want him, take him. Don’t worry about what the others think. You know why? Because you have one less thing to worry about every single week, and you know that your guy is going to produce like you thought he would 70 percent of the time.
Anyone can try to debunk this theory, but in the end, any draft strategy works if you draft the right players. My job is to give you the best odds to get those players.