Quarterback By Committee
By Chase Stuart
August 15th, 2011

We've been doing quarterback-by-committee articles for a long time here at Footballguys. From 2004 to 2009, I wrote that article every season. I took last year off - although Clayton Gray put out his fantastic QBBC article - but am back with some interesting ideas for 2011.

This is one of the more unique years at the position. Michael Vick had one of the most impressive fantasy seasons - on a per game basis - in NFL history. Aaron Rodgers, the second-most mobile of the stud quarterbacks, has ranked 1st or 2nd for three straight seasons. And then there are the four fantastic pocket passers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. In my opinion, Tony Romo absolutely belongs in that group, although his ADP as of this writing is a bit behind that quartet. That's what happens when you miss most of the previous season with injury.

After those seven quarterbacks, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub and Josh Freeman form the next tier. Then you've got young and unproven quarterbacks like Sam Bradford and Matt Stafford to weigh against steady but less sexy veterans Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler. What do you do? Where do you turn? If you decide to hold off on quarterback until the Big 7 are gone, what's the best move?

As long as Tony Romo is still underrated - and being drafted closer to Matt Ryan than Peyton Manning - I'd say target Romo. He's just as likely to finish in the top three, in my view, as anyone after Vick and Rodgers. If you can get Romo a round and a half after the last of the big four - typically this means the start of the fifth round is the point when Romo becomes a steal - draft him there and start celebrating. Otherwise, the first six rounds of your draft should be used to assemble a wealth of talent at running back, wide receiver, and if the draft unfolds in such a way, tight end. By going the QBBC route, you can save those high picks in your draft and still get solid fantasy production by grabbing two QBs who face bad defenses nearly every week of the year. That's what the QBBC system is all about.

The first key, of course, is to rank the defenses. I always start by adjusting last season's data on defenses for strength of schedule. I started with the adjusted FP rankings for each defense listed in the Rearview QB article. Then, with special thanks to Sigmund Bloom and Jene Bramel, I've adjusted each team's situation based on what's happened since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV. Projecting defenses is tricky, so I've mostly grouped them in tiers. The accompanying table shows each team's defense's 2011 projected rating, along with its 2010 rankings of the defenses in adjusted fantasy points allowed, the value above/below average the defense was in 2010, and the number of pass attempts the defense saw last year.

2010 Proj
Team Defense
2010 Rank
2010 Value
2010 Adj
3.5
Green Bay Packers
1
3.9
527
3.5
Chicago Bears
2
3.7
582
3.5
Pittsburgh Steelers
4
3.0
593
3.5
New York Jets
13
0.3
531
3.0
New Orleans Saints
7
2.5
494
2.0
Indianapolis Colts
10
1.7
535
2.0
Philadelphia Eagles
23
-1.4
536
1.5
Baltimore Ravens
6
2.6
596
1.5
Cleveland Browns
11
1.1
507
1.0
Cincinnati Bengals
3
3.4
514
1.0
Minnesota Vikings
5
2.9
529
1.0
San Diego Chargers
8
2.4
488
1.0
Carolina Panthers
9
2.0
526
1.0
Miami Dolphins
12
1.1
502
1.0
New York Giants
16
0.0
539
0.5
Detroit Lions
15
0.1
518
0.0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
17
-0.4
521
0.0
Atlanta Falcons
21
-1.1
560
0.0
New England Patriots
24
-1.5
611
-0.5
Buffalo Bills
14
0.2
473
-1.0
Kansas City Chiefs
18
-0.5
581
-1.0
St. Louis Rams
20
-0.7
570
-1.0
Tennessee Titans
22
-1.1
625
-2.0
Washington Redskins
25
-1.5
578
-2.0
Jacksonville Jaguars
26
-1.6
506
-2.0
Dallas Cowboys
29
-2.7
540
-2.0
Denver Broncos
30
-3.1
502
-3.0
Houston Texans
32
-5.3
547
-4.0
Arizona Cardinals
19
-0.6
533
-4.0
Oakland Raiders
27
-2.2
470
-4.0
San Francisco 49ers
28
-2.5
550
-4.0
Seattle Seahawks
31
-4.9
585

They key to the QBBC philosophy is to identify which defenses should rank in the bottom quarter of the league when it comes to stopping quarterbacks. Arizona (losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Adrian Wilson has injury issues, with Kolb the offense should keep teams in games more), Oakland (losing Nnamdi Asomugha, should face significantly more pass attempts this year), San Francisco (Nate Clements, Takeo Spikes, Travis LaBoy and Manny Lawson are all gone) and Seattle (miserable last year) all look to be fantastic matchups this season. Houston, Denver, Dallas, Jacksonville and Washington were fantasy gold for opposing quarterbacks last season. While those teams all have some reason for optimism, I'd still be excited to have my quarterback go against those teams. Once we rank the defenses, it's easy to then figure out which QB pairings work based on schedule. When the QB is home, his opponents gets a -0.3 adjustment; when the QB is on the road, thee adjustment is 0.3 in the other direction. So home for Seattle is a game where you expect the QB to score 4.3 points better than average, while playing at San Diego means you'll project your QB to fall 1.3 points below average.

But remember; only a small number of the 32 starting QBs really work as QBs. The table below lists the approximate order in which the quarterbacks on all 32 teams are being drafted:

Rank
Quarterback
Team
1
Aaron Rodgers
GB
2
Michael Vick
PHI
3
Drew Brees
NO
4
Tom Brady
NE
5
Peyton Manning
IND
6
Philip Rivers
SD
7
Tony Romo
DAL
8
Matt Schaub
HOU
9
Matt Ryan
ATL
10
Ben Roethlisberger
PIT
11
Josh Freeman
TB
12
Eli Manning
NYG
13
Joe Flacco
BAL
14
Matthew Stafford
DET
15
Sam Bradford
STL
16
Jay Cutler
CHI
17
Matt Cassel
KC
18
Kevin Kolb
ARI
19
Mark Sanchez
NYJ
20
Orton/Tebow
DEN
21
Donovan McNabb
MIN
22
Ryan Fitzpatrick
BUF
23
Cam Newton
CAR
24
David Garrard
JAX
25
Jason Campbell
OAK
26
Colt McCoy
CLE
27
Matt Hasselbeck
TEN
28
Tarvaris Jackson
SEA
29
Henne/Orton?
MIA
30
Andy Dalton
CIN
31
Alex Smith
SF
32
Beck/Grossman
WAS

Finding the right QBBC pairing requires you to channel your inner Goldilocks. The first 7 quarterbacks are too good to be QBBC candidates. With the possible exception of Tarvaris Jackson, who might be able to put up enough production with his legs, I think the bottom 9 quarterbacks are too bad to be QBBC candidates. Most don't have a firm grip on their jobs, and for the ones that do, their fantasy prospects for 2011 are still pretty dim.

Eliminating those 16 quarterbacks gets rid of half the league. It pains me to say it because they were incredibly productive last year, but I'm scratching Orton/Tebow off my list of viable QBBC candidates. As of now, we just don't have clarity on how that situation will play out. The Den Team QB will be productive, but you can't draft that. That leaves us with only 15 quarterbacks who are "just right" for QBBC.

But keep in mind that all of those situations aren't created equally. A Schaub/Fitzpatrick committee isn't a true committee: you'd end up essentially treating Schaub as a stud QB and plugging him into your lineup every week. So let's break those fifteen guys into three tiers:

  • High-end QBBC candidates: Schaub, Ryan, Roethlisberger, Freeman
  • Average QBBC candidates: Eli Manning, Flacco, Stafford, Bradford, Cutler, Cassel, Kolb
  • Low-end QBBC candidates: Sanchez, Newton, McNabb, Fitzpatrick
  • Because of the Schaub/Fitzpatrick issue, you should generally avoid pairing a High-end QB with a Low-end QB (but we'll still examine what to do in this situation if you miss out on all the players in the "average" tier). Further, when considering pairing quarterbacks from different tiers (i.e., a High-end QB with an Average QB or an Average QB with a Low-end QB), we will make sure that the schedules don't play out so that we're playing the QB in the lower tier more frequently than the QB in the higher tier. SOS matters, but who wants to play their 14th round QB more frequently than their 9th round QB?

    With 15 quarterbacks as potential committee members, there are 105 possible combinations. But we can rule out two groups: we don't want to draft two of the High-end QBs, as spending two relatively early picks on quarterbacks defeats the point of QBBC. We also don't want two low-end QBs, as even if their schedules combine favorably, you're going to be losing too many points at the position when you play teams with Stud QBs. That eliminates 12 of the 105 combinations. Let's break down the remaining 93 QBBC options. Note that if the schedules average 30 or points or more above average, those two players have a great combined schedule; 20 or points or more above average is a good schedule, and anything under 18 points or more above average is a below-average schedule combination. (Note that below average means below average of all 496 combinations of schedule pairings: almost every schedule combination will be "above average" relative to just having one QB every week.)

    High-end QB With Average QB (28)

    By definition, the majority of combinations will yield average or below average schedules; the combinations in this category are no different. Eighteen of the 28 combinations with a high-end QB and an average QB yield just average or worse schedules. In the two rightmost columns, I've listed how many times you would start each quarterback. Note that the numbers add up to more than 16 when certain weeks exist when both QBs have the same SOS. Consider the number of starts in the two right columns as the maximum number of times you'd want to start that quarterback:

    Team1
    Team2
    Grade
    Tm1Starts
    Tm2Starts
    Hou
    NYG
    17.9
    6
    11
    Atl
    Bal
    17.5
    7
    9
    Det
    Pit
    17.5
    7
    10
    Atl
    NYG
    17.4
    8
    10
    Ari
    TB
    17.1
    11
    8
    Det
    TB
    17.1
    8
    8
    Ari
    Atl
    15.2
    11
    5
    Det
    Hou
    15.1
    9
    7
    KC
    TB
    14.2
    8
    8
    Atl
    KC
    13.6
    8
    8
    Bal
    Hou
    13.3
    10
    7
    NYG
    TB
    12.6
    11
    7
    Atl
    StL
    12.4
    6
    10
    Hou
    KC
    12.1
    7
    9
    Chi
    Hou
    8.3
    10
    6
    Atl
    Det
    8.1
    8
    9
    Chi
    TB
    1.3
    11
    7
    Atl
    Chi
    -1.9
    9
    10

    With those 18 options out of the way, let's look at the remaining ten combinations:

    Team1
    Team2
    Grade
    Tm1Starts
    Tm2Starts
    Pit
    StL
    35.1
    9
    7
    Ari
    Pit
    33.6
    7
    10
    Bal
    Pit
    27.7
    6
    10
    NYG
    Pit
    26.4
    8
    9
    StL
    TB
    25.1
    9
    8
    Chi
    Pit
    22.8
    7
    9
    KC
    Pit
    22.2
    7
    10
    Hou
    StL
    21.0
    8
    11
    Ari
    Hou
    20.5
    9
    7
    Bal
    TB
    18.6
    9
    7

    The bottom three combinations are ones you'll want to avoid: there, the "Average" QB is getting more starts than the "High-end" QB. Here, the top three combinations really stand out.

  • Pittsburgh and St. Louis is a fantastic combination. The downside is you will have to spend higher picks than the average QBBC fan likes to use, but you'll get two quarterbacks with a lot of potential and a very easy schedule. Roethlisberger ranked sixth in FP/G last season while Sam Bradford should be more productive playing under Josh McDaniel. The last six and seven of the last eight opponents this duo faces come against NFC West teams.
  • Week 1 - STL v. PHI
  • Week 2 - PIT v. SEA
  • Week 3 - STL v. BAL (or Pit @ Ind)
  • Week 4 - PIT v. @HOU (or STL v. Was)
  • Week 5 - PIT v. TEN
  • Week 6 - PIT v. JAC
  • Week 7 - PIT v. @ARI
  • Week 8 - PIT v. NEP
  • Week 9 - STL @ARI
  • Week 10 - PIT @CIN
  • Week 11 - STL v. SEA
  • Week 12 - STL v. ARI
  • Week 13 - STL @SFO
  • Week 14 - STL @SEA
  • Week 15 - PIT @SFO
  • Week 16 - PIT v. STL
  • For similar reasons, Arizona and Pittsburgh form a great combination. If you would rather spend an 11th or 12th round pick on your QB2 instead of a 9th round spot, take Kolb instead of Bradford. I also like Baltimore and Pittsburgh as a combination, because I think Lee Evans could help Flacco have a breakout season. That said, although the combinations work out very well, you still have two weeks where you're going against the Steelers or the Ravens defense. But outside of those two games, look at this schedule. They get 8 games against the NFC West, two more against Houston and Cincinnati, and one each against the Titans and Browns. If you can stomach the high picks on Roethlisberger and Flacco, they could be fabulous in those 14 games.
  • Two Average QBs (21)

    Eight of these combinations have don't bring about great combined schedules:

    Team1
    Team2
    Grade
    Tm1Starts
    Tm2Starts
    Chi
    StL
    17.6
    6
    11
    Bal
    KC
    17.0
    9
    7
    Det
    NYG
    17.0
    9
    8
    Chi
    KC
    16.1
    7
    10
    Ari
    KC
    14.9
    11
    7
    Chi
    Det
    14.6
    9
    8
    Bal
    Det
    14.5
    8
    9
    Det
    KC
    12.0
    9
    9

    What about the remaining thirteen? These guys form the bulk of the tried-and-true strategy of being the last to grab your QB1 and one of the first to grab your QB2:

    Team1
    Team2
    Grade
    Tm1Starts
    Tm2Starts
    NYG
    StL
    33.5
    9
    8
    Ari
    Bal
    29.2
    10
    6
    Ari
    NYG
    29.0
    9
    7
    Bal
    NYG
    29.0
    9
    8
    Det
    StL
    27.5
    7
    9
    Ari
    Det
    24.8
    9
    7
    KC
    StL
    23.6
    7
    9
    Bal
    StL
    22.8
    9
    10
    Bal
    Chi
    20.6
    9
    8
    Ari
    Chi
    19.5
    9
    8
    KC
    NYG
    18.5
    6
    11
    Chi
    NYG
    18.4
    7
    11
    Ari
    StL
    18.3
    7
    9

    Bradford and Eli Manning have a fantastic schedule pairing. Manning makes vanilla look bland, but he's still capable of great numbers against weak defenses. He put up over 25 FPs last year in both games against Dallas, along with games against Houston, Seattle and Philadelphia, all teams which ranked in the bottom 10 against quarterbacks in 2010. Pairing these two guys makes a lot of sense. This is an incredibly attractive schedule for the first fifteen weeks:

    Week
    Starter
    Opponent
    1
    NYG
    @WAS
    2
    NYG
    STL
    3
    StL
    BAL
    4
    NYG
    @ARI
    5
    NYG
    SEA
    6
    NYG
    BUF
    7
    StL
    @DAL
    8
    NYG
    MIA
    9
    StL
    @ARI
    10
    NYG
    @SFO
    11
    StL
    SEA
    12
    StL
    ARI
    13
    StL
    @SFO
    14
    StL
    @SEA
    15
    NYG
    WAS
    16
    NYG
    @NYJ

    The downside comes during most fantasy championships, when the Giants play the Jets and the Rams play the Steelers. Based on how often you start which quarterback, after the Manning/Bradford combo, Flacco/Manning and Stafford/Bradford would by me next two choices. I'd take them over the combinations with Kolb because, well, you can probably figure that one out yourself.

    Average QB With Low-end QB (28)

    Do you really hate spending picks on QBs? This is about as far as you can punt the QB position; being the last one in your 12-team league to take your QB1, and waiting until another six or so are off the board before you take your QB2. Of the 28 possible combinations here, we can eliminate half of them based on them failing to produce particularly favorable schedules:

    Team1
    Team2
    Grade
    Tm1Starts
    Tm2Starts
    Bal
    Buf
    17.7
    7
    9
    Bal
    Car
    17.2
    8
    8
    Buf
    Chi
    17.1
    7
    10
    Ari
    NYJ
    14.9
    8
    9
    Buf
    NYG
    13.8
    7
    10
    KC
    Min
    13.8
    6
    10
    Buf
    Det
    13.4
    9
    7
    Ari
    Min
    12.5
    10
    8
    Car
    Chi
    12.2
    8
    8
    Car
    KC
    10.9
    8
    9
    Det
    Min
    10.3
    10
    8
    Buf
    KC
    9.4
    8
    8
    Chi
    NYJ
    9.2
    7
    11
    Car
    Det
    6.9
    10
    7

    Which pairing of average and low-end QBs has the best schedule? I've highlighted the combos in red where the "Average" member of the committee would only get to start eight games: you'll want to avoid those.

    Team1
    Team2
    Grade
    Tm1Starts
    Tm2Starts
    Buf
    StL
    31.6
    9
    8
    Car
    StL
    29.6
    9
    7
    NYJ
    StL
    27.2
    7
    9
    NYG
    NYJ
    27.1
    7
    9
    Bal
    NYJ
    26.4
    6
    10
    Ari
    Car
    25.0
    9
    7
    Det
    NYJ
    25.0
    6
    11
    Bal
    Min
    24.8
    9
    7
    Min
    NYG
    23.1
    7
    10
    Car
    NYG
    22.4
    9
    8
    Min
    StL
    20.9
    8
    10
    Ari
    Buf
    20.1
    9
    7
    KC
    NYJ
    19.6
    5
    11
    Chi
    Min
    18.6
    8
    8

    Bradford and Sanchez. Kolb and Newton. Flacco and McNabb. I can't say those are particularly exciting combinations, but they're form the backbone of the best plans if you punt the quarterback position. Sanchez is in his third year entering the same system, Newton should put up excellent numbers on the ground, and McNabb can be a decent stopgap for the weeks Flacco is off. I wouldn't go into my draft with this strategy, but with a little luck and a great supporting cast, any of these combos could conceivably do enough to you get into your championship game. If you plan to wait on QBs and then get caught holding the bag following a QB run, Kolb and Newton would be a decent upside combination that would give you a fighting chance.

    High-end QB With Low-end QB (16)

    Call this the modified-stud route. If you take one of the Big 7, you'll probably wait a bit on taking your second QB. Well, you can take one of the High-end QBs and then wait a bit before grabbing your backup, as long as the schedules work out. Unfortunately, the majority of the schedules don't work very well:

    Team1
    Team2
    Grade
    Tm1Starts
    Tm2Starts
    Car
    Hou
    14.7
    9
    7
    Atl
    Buf
    14.1
    9
    8
    Buf
    TB
    12.6
    10
    7
    Buf
    Hou
    12.5
    12
    7
    Car
    TB
    12.3
    9
    7
    Atl
    Car
    12.2
    6
    10
    Hou
    Min
    12.0
    8
    9
    Min
    TB
    11.2
    8
    9
    NYJ
    TB
    9.9
    11
    6
    Atl
    Min
    8.9
    7
    9
    Atl
    NYJ
    8.9
    5
    13

    Only five of these combos have schedules with 18.0 points over average:

    Team1
    Team2
    Grade
    Tm1Starts
    Tm2Starts
    NYJ
    Pit
    31.6
    8
    8
    Car
    Pit
    25.6
    6
    10
    Min
    Pit
    25.5
    7
    9
    Buf
    Pit
    23.6
    8
    9
    Hou
    NYJ
    18.6
    5
    11

    In both of the Jets combos, you have Sanchez starting at least half of the games; as a result, I'd kick those combos to the curb. That just leaves Roethlisberger as the main guy, and his schedule works very well with both Cam Newton and Donovan McNabb.

    Conclusion

    If you don't mind spending relatively early picks on your QBBC, you simply can't beat Roethlisberger and either Flacco or Bradford: with their schedules and their potential, you could get top-five production out of your QB spot. Generally Flacco gets drafted first, but if Bradford is selected before Flacco in your draft, know that you may end up with better production by grabbing the Ravens quarterback. If you lock up Roethlisberger, you could also choose to wait a little while and grab Kevin Kolb and expect strong results. If you miss out on Kolb, don't panic. Stock up on your other positions, and grab either Cam Newton or Donovan McNabb late. You'll end up playing Roethlisberger at least 9 or 10 times, and when you have to play McNabb and Newton, know that they face easy opponents.

    If you want to be the last man in your league to grab a QB - essentially holding off until the top 11 (the Big 7 plus Roethlisberger, Schaub, Ryan and Freeman) are off the board - but one of the first to take your backup QB, Manning and Bradford form a fantastic pair - just beware of week 16. You can always keep an eye on the waiver wire and/or trade Manning late in the season: after week 10, you only need to start him once (week 15). Alternatively, Flacco and Manning or Stafford and Bradford have schedules that pair up very well and give you upside for breakout seasons. Remember that the Detroit Team QB was top-10 last year, so Stafford could end up being a top-10 QB in 2011 if he just stays healthy.

    If you want to wait on grabbing QB and then wait on taking your backup, note that Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez, or Joe Flacco and Donovan McNabb, fit that strategy and have schedules that go well together. Sure, Bradford and Sanchez doesn't have the upside of Bradford and Stafford, and Flacco and McNabb isn't as likely to produce as Flacco and Eli Manning; but you can really load up at RB, WR and TE by going this route. And if everything falls apart and 15 QBs are off the board before you even take one, you could do worse than taking Kevin Kolb and Cameron Newton as your quarterbacks. Kevin Kolb should be in a lot of shootouts this year and Cam Newton could replicate Vince Young's rookie season (where he ranked as QB13). And, of course, they have an attractive combined schedule.

    The one sentence conclusion: Draft Roethlisberger, and pair him up with either Flacco (ADP QB13), Bradford (QB15), Kolb (QB18) or Newton (QB24), depending on your preference for when you like to draft your QB2; if you miss Big Ben, you can take (1) Eli Manning and pair him with Sam Bradford or Joe Flacco, or (2) Sam Bradford and then draft Matt Stafford; if all else fails, Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez, or Joe Flacco and Donovan McNabb, should leave you competitive if the rest of your roster is strong.

    Loose Ends

    Of course, drafts don't always work perfectly. The two guys you want go right before your pick. A huge run happens while you're picking at the turn. Still want to know which schedules pair up well? You can download this Excel file and see which schedules match up best overall.

    Only one?

    Maybe you only want to take one quarterback, because of your league size. Well, in that case, you still want to know which QBs face the toughest and easiest schedules. To no reader's surprise, Pittsburgh has the easiest schedule out there. Matt Ryan fans, for lots of reasons, buyer beware.

    Rank
    Team
    AvgSOS
    Rank
    Team
    AvgSOS
    1
    Pit
    11.8
    17
    Buf
    -1.7
    2
    Cle
    11.2
    18
    SD
    -1.7
    3
    SF
    10.3
    19
    Min
    -3.8
    4
    Phi
    9.2
    20
    Det
    -4.2
    5
    Dal
    7.8
    21
    Chi
    -4.7
    6
    NYJ
    7.8
    22
    Ten
    -5.7
    7
    Cin
    7.7
    23
    NO
    -5.8
    8
    Was
    7.3
    24
    Den
    -5.8
    9
    StL
    6.7
    25
    TB
    -6.2
    10
    Mia
    5.7
    26
    Oak
    -6.3
    11
    Ari
    5.2
    27
    NE
    -7.3
    12
    Sea
    4.3
    28
    GB
    -7.8
    13
    NYG
    4.2
    29
    Hou
    -7.8
    14
    Bal
    1.8
    30
    KC
    -9.7
    15
    Ind
    -0.2
    31
    Jac
    -10.3
    16
    Car
    -1.2
    32
    Atl
    -10.8

    Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to stuart@footballguys.com.

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