Rearview Quarterback
By Chase Stuart
August 14th, 2011

For the sixth year in a row, I'm going to write about the best starting point for your quarterback projections/rankings. My Rearview QB article analyzes the production of every quarterback from the prior season after adjusting his performance for partial games played and strength of schedule. If you're a first time reader, here's my argument in a nutshell: using last year's regular end-of-year data is the lazy man's method. When analyzing a quarterback, many look at a passer's total fantasy points or fantasy points per game average from the prior season and then tweak the numbers based on offseason changes and personal preferences. But a more accurate starting point for your projections is a normalized version of last year's stats.

First, prognosticators should use adjusted games (and not total games) to give a more precise picture of how often the quarterback played. Second, you should adjust for strength of schedule, because a quarterback who faced a really hard schedule should get a boost relative to those who played easy opponents most weeks.

Let me be clear on something: this should be merely the starting point for your QB projections. If you think a particular player carries significant injury risk, or is going to face a hard schedule again, feel free to downgrade him after making these adjustments. (And it should go without saying that if you think a quarterback will improve or decline - or his supporting case will improve or decline - you must factor that in as well.) But those are all subjective questions that everyone answers differently; this analysis is meant to be objective. The point isn't to ignore whether a quarterback is injury prone or has a really hard or easy strength of schedule in 2011; the point is to delay that analysis. First we see how the player performed on the field last year, controlling for strength of schedule and missed time; then you factor in whatever variables you like when projecting the 2011 season. The important thing to consider is that ignoring partial games and strength of schedule is a surefire way to misjudge a player's actual ability level. There's a big difference between a player who scored 280 fantasy points against an easy schedule while playing every game than a quarterback with 280 FPs against the league's toughest schedule while missing 3.6 games.

Adjusted games are calculated by taking each quarterback's pass plus rush attempts in a game and dividing them by all of the team's passing and rushing attempts by quarterbacks in that game. Below is a list of how each quarterback ranked in fantasy points per adjusted game, with a minimum of four adjusted games. The scoring system used is 5 point per passing/rushing TD, 1 point per 20 yards passing, -2 per INT, 1 point for every 10 yards rushing and 6 points for every rushing TD. The league average QB scored 18.73 FP/G in 2010.

Rk
Quarterback
ADJG
FP
FP/ADJ
1
Michael Vick
10.9
365.5
33.4
2
Aaron Rodgers
14.1
373.7
26.4
3
Tom Brady
15.2
376.0
24.7
4
Tony Romo
5.2
125.1
24.2
5
Philip Rivers
15.7
364.7
23.2
6
Peyton Manning
16.0
367.8
23.0
7
Ben Roethlisberger
11.8
264.6
22.4
8
Drew Brees
15.9
351.7
22.1
9
David Garrard
12.8
278.7
21.7
10
Kyle Orton
12.7
274.4
21.6
11
Jon Kitna
9.3
195.3
20.9
12
Josh Freeman
15.5
322.0
20.8
13
Shaun Hill
9.8
202.6
20.7
14
Matt Ryan
15.8
319.5
20.2
15
Ryan Fitzpatrick
13.0
261.7
20.1
16
Matt Schaub
16.0
317.3
19.8
17
Eli Manning
15.9
312.1
19.6
18
Matt Cassel
14.8
289.3
19.5
19
Jay Cutler
14.4
275.9
19.1
20
Joe Flacco
16.0
300.5
18.8
21
Vince Young
6.4
119.3
18.8
22
Carson Palmer
15.9
293.5
18.4
23
Jason Campbell
11.2
196.5
17.5
24
Alex Smith
10.0
174.5
17.5
25
Donovan McNabb
12.8
224.0
17.5
26
Kerry Collins
8.3
145.3
17.4
27
Kevin Kolb
5.1
87.8
17.4
28
Mark Sanchez
15.0
252.1
16.8
29
Troy Smith
5.6
93.9
16.7
30
Matt Hasselbeck
12.5
199.9
16.0
31
Sam Bradford
16.0
247.9
15.5
32
Bruce Gradkowski
4.4
68.1
15.5
33
Chad Henne
14.0
209.1
15.0
34
Colt McCoy
8.0
110.4
13.8
35
Derek Anderson
9.3
120.8
13.0
36
Brett Favre
11.1
143.3
13.0
37
Matt Moore
4.0
50.4
12.7
38
Jake Delhomme
4.6
39.4
8.5
39
Jimmy Clausen
10.7
80.6
7.5

As usual, looking at partial games really helps to isolate performance versus playing time. Tony Romo was great when he played last year, and the Dallas offense was so strong that even Jon Kitna was a startable fantasy quarterback. In 14.5 games, Romo and Kitna scored 320 points, a 22.1 FP/AdjG average that matches Drew Brees' production from a year ago. And that's with Kitna taking the majority of those snaps and a rookie Dez Bryant (who also missed some games). Romo was a top-five quarterback last year when he was on the field, which bodes well for his changes to be a top-five fantasy QB in 2011 if he can stay healthy.

The Detroit Lions quarterback situation could be fantasy gold, but we'll get to them later. But it's worth recognizing that Shaun Hill was quite a bit above average as a fantasy quarterback last year, with 20.7 FP/AdjG average in 9.8 games. Meanwhile, Stafford averaged 26.2 FP/AdjG in 2.4 adjusted games. Both quarterbacks produced those numbers against tougher than average schedules, too.

Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Matt Schaub all stayed healthy last season, but none were very productive. All finished in the top 12 in fantasy points, but that was more because of the playing time they received rather than their production per game. Matt Ryan was a rich man's version of those guys, ranking just 14th in FP/AdjG.

Sam Bradford. He currently has an ADP of QB14, which reflects the disorder at the position for half of the teams in the league than Bradford's production. Bradford ranked third in the NFL in pass attempts last season, making his anemic production even worse. Some view him as an exciting sleeper this year, but I can't join that group after seeing how ineffective he was against a weak schedule (more to come).

With the partial games analysis out of the way, we need to take a look at each quarterback's strength of schedule. A positive number indicates a hard schedule.

Quarterback
SOS
Tom Brady
1.8
Colt McCoy
1.5
Carson Palmer
1.3
Ben Roethlisberger
1.2
Ryan Fitzpatrick
1.0
Chad Henne
1.0
Brett Favre
0.9
Mark Sanchez
0.8
Matt Ryan
0.8
Shaun Hill
0.7
Joe Flacco
0.6
Jimmy Clausen
0.5
Jake Delhomme
0.5
Josh Freeman
0.4
Aaron Rodgers
0.4
Jon Kitna
0.4
Jay Cutler
0.2
Drew Brees
0.2
Michael Vick
0.0
Donovan McNabb
-0.1
Matt Hasselbeck
-0.2
Troy Smith
-0.2
Tony Romo
-0.3
Kerry Collins
-0.4
Matt Moore
-0.5
Matt Schaub
-0.5
Kyle Orton
-0.6
Eli Manning
-0.6
Bruce Gradkowski
-0.7
Jason Campbell
-0.8
David Garrard
-0.9
Alex Smith
-1.0
Vince Young
-1.0
Sam Bradford
-1.1
Derek Anderson
-1.2
Peyton Manning
-1.4
Matt Cassel
-1.5
Kevin Kolb
-1.5
Philip Rivers
-1.5

Tom Brady, for the second year in a row, had one of the most difficult schedules to conquer. So did the AFC North trio of McCoy, Palmer and Roethlisberger. AFC West quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Philip Rivers put up big fantasy numbers but against light defenses. But let's put these two lists together and show the 2010 rearview rankings in adjusted fantasy points per adjusted game.

Rk
Quarterback
AdjG
FP
FP/AdjG
SOS
adjFP/adjG
1
Michael Vick
10.9
365.5
33.4
0.0
33.4
2
Aaron Rodgers
14.1
373.7
26.4
0.4
26.8
3
Tom Brady
15.2
376.0
24.7
1.8
26.5
4
Tony Romo
5.2
125.1
24.2
-0.3
23.9
5
Ben Roethlisberger
11.8
264.6
22.4
1.2
23.6
6
Drew Brees
15.9
351.7
22.1
0.2
22.3
7
Philip Rivers
15.7
364.7
23.2
-1.5
21.6
8
Peyton Manning
16.0
367.8
23.0
-1.4
21.5
9
Shaun Hill
9.8
202.6
20.7
0.7
21.4
10
Jon Kitna
9.3
195.3
20.9
0.4
21.3
11
Josh Freeman
15.5
322.0
20.8
0.4
21.2
12
Ryan Fitzpatrick
13.0
261.7
20.1
1.0
21.1
13
Kyle Orton
12.7
274.4
21.6
-0.6
21.1
14
Matt Ryan
15.8
319.5
20.2
0.8
20.9
15
David Garrard
12.8
278.7
21.7
-0.9
20.8
16
Carson Palmer
15.9
293.5
18.4
1.3
19.7
17
Joe Flacco
16.0
300.5
18.8
0.6
19.4
18
Jay Cutler
14.4
275.9
19.1
0.2
19.4
19
Matt Schaub
16.0
317.3
19.8
-0.5
19.3
20
Eli Manning
15.9
312.1
19.6
-0.6
19.0
21
Matt Cassel
14.8
289.3
19.5
-1.5
18.0
22
Vince Young
6.4
119.3
18.8
-1.0
17.7
23
Mark Sanchez
15.0
252.1
16.8
0.8
17.6
24
Donovan McNabb
12.8
224.0
17.5
-0.1
17.4
25
Kerry Collins
8.3
145.3
17.4
-0.4
17.1
26
Jason Campbell
11.2
196.5
17.5
-0.8
16.7
27
Alex Smith
10.0
174.5
17.5
-1.0
16.5
28
Troy Smith
5.6
93.9
16.7
-0.2
16.5
29
Chad Henne
14.0
209.1
15.0
1.0
15.9
30
Kevin Kolb
5.1
87.8
17.4
-1.5
15.9
31
Matt Hasselbeck
12.5
199.9
16.0
-0.2
15.8
32
Colt McCoy
8.0
110.4
13.8
1.5
15.3
33
Bruce Gradkowski
4.4
68.1
15.5
-0.7
14.8
34
Sam Bradford
16.0
247.9
15.5
-1.1
14.4
36
Brett Favre
11.1
143.3
13.0
0.9
13.9
37
Matt Moore
4.0
50.4
12.7
-0.5
12.3
38
Derek Anderson
9.3
120.8
13.0
-1.2
11.8
39
Jake Delhomme
4.6
39.4
8.5
0.5
9.0
40
Jimmy Clausen
10.7
80.6
7.5
0.5
8.1
  • It's hard to overstate how good Vick was last year. When he played, he was the most valuable player in fantasy football, and it wasn't particularly close. I like to guard against chasing last year's stats, but even a significant regression by Vick wouldn't necessarily stop him from being the #1 QB in fantasy football this year.
  • Current ADP indicates that Rodgers and Vick are in the top tier, with Brees, Brady, Manning and Rivers tightly packed in the tier below them. Romo bridges the gap between that quartet and Matt Schaub and Matt Ryan, but I think the fantasy marketplace is misreading the situation. Romo belongs in the tier right behind Rodgers and Vick. Roethlisberger appears underrated as well, although I don't think he has the high upside of a quarterback like Romo.
  • Matt Schaub is being drafted as QB8, but I think that's a case of fantasy players being enamored with his raw statistics from 2010. He played in 16 full games last season and ranked as QB9, but his production dipped significantly from 2009. If Arian Foster continues to have success on the ground, I don't see a lot of upside for Schaub.
  • The Kyle Orton/Tim Tebow debate in Denver is unresolved as of this date. But wherever Orton plays, he's worth considering for your roster: he averaged more AdjFP/AdjG than Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub or Eli Manning last year.
  • People are touting Sam Bradford as a sleeper, but he was miserable last year from an efficiency standpoint. Yes, Bradford took every snap for the Rams, so he ended up ranking as the 20th best fantasy quarterback. But he played a very easy schedule, and on a per-adjusted game basis, he was anything but impressive. While adding Josh McDaniels to the sidelines should help Bradford, he already ranked 3rd in pass attempts in 2009. I don't see much upside for Bradford just yet, at least not until the Rams give him a better group of targets.

Two players not on the above list: Tim Tebow and Matt Stafford. But they should be on your lists: the table below shows you fantasy rankings by team quarterback, not individual quarterback (i.e., all the fantasy points scored by each team's quarterback are grouped together). The first column shows the raw fantasy point totals (by definition, all points are scored over 16.0 games) while the second column is adjusted for strength of schedule:

Team
FP
AdjFP
Philadelphia Eagles
453
446
Green Bay Packers
409
413
New England Patriots
384
412
Denver Broncos
385
372
New Orleans Saints
354
357
Dallas Cowboys
350
350
Detroit Lions
335
349
Indianapolis Colts
368
345
San Diego Chargers
365
340
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
331
338
Atlanta Falcons
320
333
Pittsburgh Steelers
310
324
Cincinnati Bengals
294
315
Baltimore Ravens
301
310
Houston Texans
317
309
Jacksonville Jaguars
319
302
New York Giants
312
302
Buffalo Bills
276
294
Washington Redskins
296
291
New York Jets
273
285
Chicago Bears
272
278
Kansas City Chiefs
292
272
Miami Dolphins
245
261
San Francisco 49ers
270
260
Oakland Raiders
266
252
Tennessee Titans
267
251
Seattle Seahawks
240
235
St. Louis Rams
248
230
Minnesota Vikings
216
227
Cleveland Browns
201
221
Arizona Cardinals
181
165
Carolina Panthers
143
150

Detroit QBs ranked 7th in Adjusted Fantasy Points on the season, and that was with Drew Stanton getting more playing time than Matthew Stafford. It blows my mind that Stafford and Bradford have similar ADPs. To me, Stafford has significantly more upside in 2011. He just needs to stay healthy and continue his play to be a top 10 QB, while Bradford needs to make serious strides (and, of course, stay healthy).

Tebow averaged 31.7 adjFP/adjG in 2011, but in only 3.3 adjusted games. Tebow's schedule was easy because his three full games coming against Houston (#32), Oakland (#27) and San Diego (#8); his unadjusted FP/adjG average was 33.3. That number is further inflated because his had partial games in favorable, red-zone situations. Still, in his three full starts he scored 84.5 points against an expected average (based on the quality of the defenses) of 61.3. Perhaps most importantly, the Broncos quarterbacks as a team scored the third most fantasy points last season, and only drop to #4 once you take strength of schedule into account. Whether it's Orton or Tebow, you should consider drafting the Denver quarterback.

Do we have time for one last shot at Sam Bradford? St. Louis quarterbacks, despite ranking in the top five in pass attempts the Rams ranked in the bottom five in adjusted fantasy points. He's going to need to make significant strides to have any fantasy value in standard leagues in 2011.

Team Defenses

Which defenses were the toughest for opposing quarterbacks in 2010? The two teams that met in the NFC Championship Game also sported stingy defenses during the regular season:

Team
FP/ADJ
SOS
adjFP/adjG
Green Bay Packers
14.9
0.1
14.8
Chicago Bears
15.8
0.7
15.0
Cincinnati Bengals
16.1
0.8
15.3
Pittsburgh Steelers
15.4
-0.3
15.8
Minnesota Vikings
18.5
2.7
15.8
Baltimore Ravens
16.6
0.4
16.2
New Orleans Saints
14.7
-1.5
16.2
San Diego Chargers
15.2
-1.1
16.3
Carolina Panthers
16.2
-0.5
16.7
Indianapolis Colts
18.9
1.8
17.0
Cleveland Browns
18.6
1.0
17.6
Miami Dolphins
17.8
0.2
17.6
New York Jets
19.2
0.8
18.4
Buffalo Bills
18.9
0.5
18.5
Detroit Lions
19.8
1.2
18.6
New York Giants
20.1
1.3
18.8
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
16.4
-2.7
19.1
Kansas City Chiefs
18.2
-1.0
19.2
Arizona Cardinals
17.5
-1.7
19.3
St. Louis Rams
18.1
-1.3
19.4
Atlanta Falcons
17.8
-2.0
19.8
Tennessee Titans
20.0
0.1
19.8
Philadelphia Eagles
20.6
0.4
20.1
New England Patriots
20.1
-0.1
20.2
Washington Redskins
21.8
1.5
20.2
Jacksonville Jaguars
21.4
1.1
20.3
Oakland Raiders
20.4
-0.5
20.9
San Francisco 49ers
20.1
-1.2
21.2
Dallas Cowboys
22.4
1.0
21.4
Denver Broncos
21.2
-0.6
21.8
Seattle Seahawks
22.0
-1.6
23.6
Houston Texans
24.6
0.6
24.0

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

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