Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between Quarterbacks (2018 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 8, 2018

Aaron Rodgers has hit top-12 numbers in 63.4 percent of his NFL starts, while just five quarterbacks hit more than 50 percent in 2017

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since the original Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between has been published, but here we are, just about a month from the start of the regular season. When I started this series, it was intended to put completely untarnished numbers out there that every fantasy football enthusiast could understand and put to use.

You might be someone who has taken the summer months off to spend time with friends and family, or you might be the type of diehard who craves information all year-round. Whatever your cup of tea is, I promise that this will be of great use to you during your fantasy drafts.

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When I hear someone say, “Player X recorded five WR1 performances last year,” it kind of drives me nuts. Why? It’s almost as bad as drawing year-end totals as a reason to rank a player as high as you do. That doesn’t give you the actual picture of a player’s performance because things change from week-to-week and we cannot control that variance.

To put this on display, the average top-12 running back performance in 2017 was 11.5 PPR points. For example, Wayne Gallman scored 13.0 PPR points in Week 4, but was not awarded an RB2 performance because it just happened to be a higher-scoring week among fantasy running backs. Should Gallman not be awarded an RB2 performance? The player’s performance should not be graded on a curve, because we have no control on predicting what that curve is for any particular week. Our goal as analysts is to predict who will have RB2 performances in any given week, which stood at 11.5 PPR points in 2017. Meanwhile, there are situations like that of Kareem Hunt, who finished with just 10.1 PPR points in Week 9, but was awarded an RB2 performance by most standards. That should not happen.

The numbers vary from year-to-year, which is where the research comes into play. While the RB2 number was 11.5 PPR points in 2017, it was just 11.3 PPR points back in 2015. Every position is different, but know that I’ve gone through each year, each position, and each player, charting how many top-12, top-24, top-36 performances they’ve had according to that year’s stats. Not just that, though, as I’ve added boom and bust categories, which showcases their ceiling and floor on a week-to-week basis. This research is done on PPR leagues because it’s the format that presents the most consistently, which makes it the most predictable.

The number to achieve boom or bust status varies per position, as some have it harder than others. With quarterback, the number to “boom” wound up on 26.0 because it would have amounted to roughly 350 passing yards and three touchdowns. That number can obviously be accomplished in a variety of different ways, but again, we just want them to reach that number. A “bust” on the other hand amounted to 13.9 fantasy points or less, which would mean they failed to throw for 250 yards and a touchdown, or somewhere in that region. Below, you can find the chart with the parameters for each position.

Position Boom Bust
QB 26.0 13.9 or less
RB 25.0 6.9 or less
WR 25.0 7.9 or less
TE 20.0 6.9 or less

Just to give you an idea as to some of the things you’ll find inside, here’s an example: Christian McCaffrey finished as an RB2 or better in 56.3 percent of his games and is being drafted as the No. 11 running back, while Duke Johnson finished as an RB2 or better in 62.5 percent of his games, but is being drafted as the No. 35 running back. Things change, sure, but did they change enough to make up for this gap? I’ll leave that up to you.

So, for the second time, welcome to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between. We’ll be doing quarterbacks today, with the other positions being released throughout the rest of the week. You’ll be able to find the links below once they go live.

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends

Quarterbacks

Top-5

ADP Player Games Att/gm Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % BOOM % BUST %
1 Aaron Rodgers 7 34.0 42.9% 71.4% 85.7% 0.0% 14.3%
2 Deshaun Watson 7 29.1 57.1% 71.4% 71.4% 42.9% 14.3%
3 Tom Brady 16 36.3 18.8% 50.0% 75.0% 12.5% 25.0%
4 Russell Wilson 16 34.6 50.0% 68.8% 81.3% 31.3% 18.8%
5 Carson Wentz 13 33.8 46.2% 69.2% 92.3% 23.1% 7.7%

When taking a top-five quarterback, you’d better be getting a sure thing, because you’re drafting a position that’s easily replaceable in standard leagues. So, when you see monster numbers here, you shouldn’t be alarmed. What was the most shocking of it all, however, is that Tom Brady may not belong in this tier anymore. Despite averaging more pass attempts than any other quarterback in this tier, his 50 percent top-12 percentage is extremely lacking, and that’s the one that’s typically most predictive. On top of that, he wasn’t giving many top-five performances, and busted 25 percent of the time. It’s not great when you spend a top-50 pick (Brady’s current ADP is 49) on a quarterback to get almost nothing out of him in 4-of-16 games.

As for the others, they’re all in line with each other, though Aaron Rodgers failed to record a single game over 26.0 fantasy points in 2017. The rest of his numbers are superb, and you also have to keep in mind that his four-attempt game against the Vikings when he was knocked out in the first quarter negatively affect his numbers. Since taking over as the starter in 2008, here’s the reason Rodgers should without question be the top quarterback off the board.

Player YEAR QB5 % QB12 % QB18 % Boom % Bust %
Aaron Rodgers 2017 42.9% 71.4% 85.7% 0.0% 14.3%
2016 43.8% 68.8% 87.5% 43.8% 12.5%
2015 18.8% 37.5% 68.8% 12.5% 31.3%
2014 62.5% 68.8% 75.0% 37.5% 18.8%
2013 11.1% 44.4% 77.8% 11.1% 22.2%
2012 50.0% 56.3% 68.8% 31.3% 25.0%
2011 66.7% 93.3% 100.0% 40.0% 0.0%
2010 40.0% 53.3% 73.3% 40.0% 26.7%
2009 31.3% 81.3% 81.3% 18.8% 6.3%
2008 25.0% 56.3% 75.0% 6.3% 25.0%
2008-2017 Totals 40.1% 63.4% 78.9% 26.1% 18.3%

His consistency over a 10-year period is unrivaled, as you can compare him side-by-side with anyone in the game and he’s going to come out on top. Since 2011, his top-12 percentage is 63.2 percent, while the closest to him in that time is a tie between Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, who averaged 58.6 percent over that time.

I won’t say that Deshaun Watson‘s numbers aren’t impressive, because they are, but Russell Wilson went toe-to-toe with him here and he didn’t need a 9.3 percent touchdown rate to do it. In fact, Wilson’s 6.1 percent touchdown rate was the third-lowest of his career. Knowing that Wilson has a proven history with 96 games under his belt, he’s the better choice of the two. Carson Wentz also had an enormous touchdown rate last year, but was extremely consistent with what he was doing, finishing as a top-18 quarterback in 12-of-13 games. His touchdown rate will come back down to earth, so seeing him down at No. 5 is a fair draft position.

6-12 Range

ADP Player Games Att/gm Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % BOOM % BUST %
6 Cam Newton 16 30.8 25.0% 50.0% 62.5% 25.0% 37.5%
7 Drew Brees 16 33.5 0.0% 37.5% 81.3% 0.0% 18.8%
8 Kirk Cousins 16 33.8 31.3% 43.8% 56.3% 25.0% 43.8%
9 Jimmy Garoppolo 6 29.7 0.0% 33.3% 66.7% 0.0% 33.3%
10 Andrew Luck DNP
11 Matthew Stafford 16 35.3 12.5% 43.8% 75.0% 12.5% 25.0%
12 Ben Roethlisberger 15 37.4 20.0% 46.7% 73.3% 20.0% 26.7%

Drafters have caught on to the tendencies of quarterbacks who fall out of the top-five, which is that none of them finished as a top-12 quarterback more than 50 percent of the time. There are a lot of drafters who fall in love with Cam Newton because he’s finished as a top-four fantasy quarterback in 4-of-6 seasons, but the road there has been extremely bumpy. To put the inconsistency on display, here are his career numbers:

Player YEAR QB5 % QB12 % QB18 % Boom % Bust %
Cam Newton 2017 25.0% 50.0% 62.5% 25.0% 37.5%
2016 13.3% 40.0% 53.3% 13.3% 46.7%
2015 43.8% 62.5% 81.3% 43.8% 12.5%
2014 14.3% 42.9% 42.9% 14.3% 35.7%
2013 31.3% 43.8% 75.0% 31.3% 25.0%
2012 31.3% 50.0% 62.5% 25.0% 31.3%
2011 56.3% 75.0% 87.5% 37.5% 12.5%

Now, as you can see, he offers as much upside as anyone in the game, but knowing when it will happen is the issue. Newton’s inconsistency is the reason you shouldn’t reach for him in drafts, as he’s finished as a top-12 quarterback (QB1) just 48.1 percent of the time. If you can correctly predict someone to stream at quarterback 50 percent of the time, you’d finish with a better percentage than Newton. With that being said, you aren’t going to get the massive weekly upside that he offers, as his boom rate is second to only Aaron Rodgers since 2011 (Rodgers – 28.4 percent, Newton – 27.5 percent).

One of the most mind-boggling stats from this chart is that Drew Brees didn’t tally a single top-five performance and had top-12 performances just 37.5 percent of the time. Coming into 2017, Brees hadn’t had a top-five percentage lower than 25.0 percent since 2010 and didn’t have a top-12 percentage lower than 43.8 percent since 2005. His pass attempts dipped a whole lot in 2017 and was likely the culprit of his dip. Is it the beginning of the end and was Sean Payton preparing for it? By adding more pass-catchers to the offense, my guess is that they felt they were lacking the personnel to throw the ball 600-plus times, like usual. Brees’ floor was as good as anyone’s in football while finishing top-18 81.3 percent of the time, though you expect more when investing a high pick on a quarterback. Seeing him go at No. 7 is enough a of a discount for me to hope he gets some of that upside back.

How many people have you heard say Matthew Stafford continually finishes as a QB1, he’s the easy late-round pick? Not so fast with the whole QB1 talk. Even though he’s technically “finished” as a QB1 in six of the last seven seasons, he’s not consistently a top-12 option. There’s been just one season where he’s finished as a top-12 option more than 50 percent of the time. In fact, he’s gotten over the 43.8 percent mark just twice. I’m not saying that Stafford is a bad quarterback, just making a point that he’s a streaming option rather than an every-week QB1. If you’re playing the streaming game, Ben Roethlisberger offers more upside on a weekly basis. I’m not going to comment on Jimmy Garoppolo going above both of them because it makes very little sense. In fact, there’s multiple quarterbacks in the next tier who should be going ahead of him.

13-20 Range

ADP Player Games Att/gm Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % BOOM % BUST %
13 Jared Goff 15 31.8 26.7% 46.7% 66.7% 13.3% 33.3%
14 Matt Ryan 16 33.1 0.0% 18.8% 75.0% 0.0% 31.3%
15 Patrick Mahomes 1 35.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 100.0%
16 Philip Rivers 16 35.9 12.5% 50.0% 81.3% 12.5% 18.8%
17 Dak Prescott 16 30.6 31.3% 37.5% 62.5% 25.0% 43.8%
18 Derek Carr 15 34.3 6.7% 26.7% 46.7% 6.7% 60.0%
19 Marcus Mariota 15 30.2 0.0% 33.3% 60.0% 0.0% 40.0%
20 Alex Smith 15 33.7 33.3% 53.3% 73.3% 26.7% 26.7%

I’ve got one name for you – Alex Smith. While I’m not suggesting that his stat line in 2017 is repeated while in Washington, but seeing his percentages should make you realize just how good he was last year. His top-five percentage ranked sixth, top-12 percentage ranked fifth, and top-18 percentage ranked ninth. Him finishing as the No. 4 quarterback last year was not a result of just one or two big performances. Seeing him being drafted behind Derek Carr is laughable. Seriously, I’m laughing as I look at it. Going to play for Jay Gruden should create a spike in Smith’s pass attempts, but it’d be pretty impressive if he could get close to last year’s numbers.

Matt Ryan was very much like Drew Brees in 2017, though Brees is now being drafted inside the top-eight, while Ryan has fallen into the QB2 conversation. Ryan isn’t going to return to the quarterback he was during the magical 2016 season, but he’s one of the highest-floor options available late in drafts. His bust rate since 2011 sits at just 27.7 percent. Philip Rivers falls into the same category as Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford, where they can be considered solid high-end streamers. Here’s the comparison to him and Stafford over the last three years, though you can get Rivers almost three rounds later:

Player QB5 % QB12 % QB18 % Boom % Bust %
Philip Rivers 14.6% 45.8% 70.8% 12.5% 22.9%
Matthew Stafford 14.6% 39.6% 70.8% 14.6% 29.2%

As you can see, Rivers is the one you should be drafting when you consider the cost of the two. If you want to take someone like Patrick Mahomes over them, I won’t fault you because there’s severe unknown there, while we know exactly who Rivers and Stafford are. The one you should not be drafting on this list is Derek Carr, who didn’t even perform as a top-18 quarterback half the time. Some will say it was due to injuries, but Carr’s bust rate for his career now stands at 53.2 percent. By comparison, Joe Flacco‘s bust rate for his career is 50.0 percent.

21-30 Range (The Rest)

ADP Player Games Att/gm Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % BOOM % BUST %
21 Mitch Trubisky 12 27.5 0.0% 16.7% 33.3% 0.0% 66.7%
22 Tyrod Taylor 15 28.0 13.3% 40.0% 60.0% 6.7% 40.0%
23 Baker Mayfield DNP
24 Eli Manning 15 38.1 13.3% 20.0% 26.7% 13.3% 73.3%
25 Jameis Winston 13 34.0 30.8% 46.2% 61.5% 7.7% 38.5%
26 Case Keenum 15 32.1 20.0% 40.0% 53.3% 13.3% 46.7%
27 Andy Dalton 16 31.0 6.3% 37.5% 50.0% 6.3% 50.0%
28 Blake Bortles 16 32.7 18.8% 37.5% 56.3% 6.3% 43.8%
29 Joe Flacco 16 34.3 0.0% 12.5% 43.8% 0.0% 56.3%
30 Ryan Tannehill DNP

This is obviously the area where most quarterbacks won’t be drafted in standard leagues, though I know there are a lot of you who play in 2QB leagues, so I’m not leaving you high and dry. The one player whose percentages stand out here is Jameis Winston, who posted the ninth-highest top-five percentage in the league. If we were to remove the games where he had to leave the game after throwing less than 15 passes, Winston’s rate would have been 36.3 percent, higher than Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins. His top-12 percentage is of someone who belongs in the high-end QB2 conversation, but his three-game suspension is what’s knocking him down draft boards. While he’s not likely to be drafted in standard leagues, I’d make it a point to grab him off the waiver wire after Week 2 before he becomes a hot commodity after Week 3.

This brings us to Blake Bortles, who has now finished as a top-15 fantasy quarterback in each of the last three seasons. When seeing his percentages here, you can understand why he falls in drafts. His 37.5-percent top-12 rate was the exact same as the one he posted in 2016, so he didn’t regress or anything. This is why you cannot look at year-end totals and trust what they tell you. I’m fine with Bortles as a back-end QB2 in 2QB leagues, but that’s about it.

TAKEAWAYS

Once you get outside the top-five quarterbacks, things start to look eerily similar between a lot of the quarterbacks. In fact, it might not even be the top-five, as Tom Brady appears to be sliding out of that territory, and who knows how much regression to expect for both Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz. That leaves us Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson at the top. If you want to snag one of those guys in the top five or six rounds, I’m good with that. If you think you’re being cute and waiting to snag the last QB1 available, you might as well wait longer than that, because there’s quarterbacks going as late as the QB20 spot who’ll give you just as much value as a low-end QB1 will give you. Here’s the stat you need to remember: There were just five quarterbacks who posted QB1 numbers more than half the time.

My personal favorite takeaways from the quarterbacks were that Philip Rivers is a much better value than Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr are laughably overvalued, and that Jameis Winston could take the leap into top-10 territory once he returns from suspension.


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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