Rearview QB
By Chase Stuart
August 10th, 2012

For the seventh year in a row, I'm going to write about a good 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 projects to have a really hard or easy schedule in 2012; 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 2012 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 quarterback who produced 300 fantasy points against an easy schedule while playing every game than a quarterback with 300 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 all 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 19.45 FP/G in 2011.

Rk
Quarterback
AdjG
FP
FP/AdjG
1
Aaron Rodgers
14.6
488.6
33.5
2
Drew Brees
15.8
490.4
31.0
3
Tom Brady
15.9
461.7
29.1
4
Matthew Stafford
15.9
432.7
27.2
5
Cam Newton
15.9
431.7
27.1
6
Tony Romo
14.7
354.8
24.1
7
Michael Vick
12.5
292.1
23.4
8
Matt Ryan
15.0
350.3
23.4
9
Eli Manning
16.0
366.0
22.9
10
Philip Rivers
15.8
335.8
21.2
11
Tim Tebow
11.6
235.1
20.3
12
Matt Schaub
9.9
199.9
20.1
13
Mark Sanchez
15.9
314.0
19.7
14
Ben Roethlisberger
14.8
287.9
19.5
15
Carson Palmer
9.5
178.6
18.7
16
Jason Campbell
5.4
98.5
18.4
17
Ryan Fitzpatrick
15.8
286.4
18.1
18
John Skelton
7.5
135.5
18.1
19
Christian Ponder
8.5
153.6
18.0
20
Josh Freeman
14.6
263.0
18.0
21
Jay Cutler
10.0
178.6
17.9
22
Andy Dalton
15.3
265.1
17.3
23
Matt Hasselbeck
14.4
245.8
17.1
24
Joe Flacco
15.9
271.0
17.0
25
Kevin Kolb
7.9
133.3
16.8
26
Alex Smith
15.7
262.4
16.7
27
Matt Moore
12.5
206.7
16.6
28
Rex Grossman
12.6
204.5
16.3
29
Colt McCoy
13.0
206.1
15.9
30
Kyle Orton
7.5
116.2
15.6
31
Tarvaris Jackson
14.4
215.6
15.0
32
Matt Cassel
8.8
127.7
14.6
33
Dan Orlovsky
5.7
82.6
14.5
34
Donovan McNabb
5.5
79.2
14.4
35
Curtis Painter
7.6
99.8
13.2
36
TJ Yates
4.7
62.2
13.2
37
Sam Bradford
9.9
128.5
13.0
38
Blaine Gabbert
13.9
158.5
11.4
39
Tyler Palko
4.2
37.6
8.9

Looking at partial games helps to isolate performance versus playing time. Aaron Rodgers finished second in fantasy points, but he was a full 2.5 FP/AdjG ahead of Drew Brees. Michael Vick missed some time, but he was very good when healthy. He's a risk to stay on the field, but not to produce.

Mark Sanchez actually ranked as the 10th best fantasy quarterback last season, but his new teammate was more productive on a per-adjusted game basis. Carson Palmer and Matt Schaub both played in 10 games last season, and may not be on the radar of your average fantasy player. Both look like high upside QB2 options in 2012.

But before digging too deep into the analysis, we need to take a look at each quarterback's strength of schedule. A positive number indicates a hard schedule.

Quarterback
SOS
Andy Dalton
1.8
John Skelton
1.6
Joe Flacco
1.5
Tarvaris Jackson
1.3
Tyler Palko
1.2
Ben Roethlisberger
1.1
Colt McCoy
1.0
Alex Smith
1.0
Dan Orlovsky
0.9
Matt Hasselbeck
0.9
Michael Vick
0.8
Sam Bradford
0.7
Blaine Gabbert
0.6
Kevin Kolb
0.6
Matt Schaub
0.5
Jason Campbell
0.0
Eli Manning
0.0
Tom Brady
0.0
Curtis Painter
0.0
Tony Romo
-0.1
Josh Freeman
-0.2
Drew Brees
-0.3
Cam Newton
-0.3
TJ Yates
-0.4
Rex Grossman
-0.4
Matt Ryan
-0.5
Donovan McNabb
-0.5
Matt Moore
-0.6
Philip Rivers
-0.7
Ryan Fitzpatrick
-0.8
Tim Tebow
-0.9
Aaron Rodgers
-0.9
Mark Sanchez
-1.1
Matthew Stafford
-1.1
Carson Palmer
-1.2
Christian Ponder
-1.6
Jay Cutler
-1.7
Matt Cassel
-2.3
Kyle Orton
-2.5

The AFC North had it tough last year, with Dalton, Flacco and Roethlisberger having some of the hardest fantasy schedules in 2011. They played the NFC West, and as a result, John Skelton, Tarvaris Jackson and Alex Smith also had schedules that were at least 1.0 FP/G harder than average. On the other hand, quarterbacks in the AFC West and NFC North whose teams also played each other had some of the easiest schedules. Stafford and Rodgers were able to put up great numbers in at least small part thanks to easy schedules, while it appears that players like Cassel, Ponder and Orton would have looked even worse with an average schedule in 2011. Note that these strength of schedule ratings are themselves adjusted, so Rodgers' schedule doesn't look easy because the defenses he played allowed a lot of fantasy points to opposing QBs -- and the reason those defenses have bad numbers is because they played Rodgers and Stafford. Rather, the adjustments to the defenses and the quarterbacks are both iterated hundreds of times until the results converge, eliminating this issue.

The table below shows how each quarterback ranked in Adjusted Fantasy Points per Adjusted Game:

Rk
Quarterback
AdjG
FP
FP/AdjG
SOS
adjFP/adjG
1
Aaron Rodgers
14.6
488.6
33.5
-0.9
32.6
2
Drew Brees
15.8
490.4
31.0
-0.3
30.8
3
Tom Brady
15.9
461.7
29.1
0.0
29.1
4
Cam Newton
15.9
431.7
27.1
-0.3
26.8
5
Matthew Stafford
15.9
432.7
27.2
-1.1
26.1
6
Michael Vick
12.5
292.1
23.4
0.8
24.2
7
Tony Romo
14.7
354.8
24.1
-0.1
24.0
8
Matt Ryan
15.0
350.3
23.4
-0.5
22.9
9
Eli Manning
16.0
366.0
22.9
0.0
22.9
10
Ben Roethlisberger
14.8
287.9
19.5
1.1
20.6
11
Matt Schaub
9.9
199.9
20.1
0.5
20.6
12
Philip Rivers
15.8
335.8
21.2
-0.7
20.5
13
John Skelton
7.5
135.5
18.1
1.6
19.7
14
Tim Tebow
11.6
235.1
20.3
-0.9
19.4
15
Andy Dalton
15.3
265.1
17.3
1.8
19.2
16
Mark Sanchez
15.9
314.0
19.7
-1.1
18.6
17
Joe Flacco
15.9
271.0
17.0
1.5
18.6
18
Jason Campbell
5.4
98.5
18.4
0.0
18.4
19
Matt Hasselbeck
14.4
245.8
17.1
0.9
18.0
20
Josh Freeman
14.6
263.0
18.0
-0.2
17.7
21
Alex Smith
15.7
262.4
16.7
1.0
17.7
22
Carson Palmer
9.5
178.6
18.7
-1.2
17.6
23
Kevin Kolb
7.9
133.3
16.8
0.6
17.4
24
Ryan Fitzpatrick
15.8
286.4
18.1
-0.8
17.3
25
Colt McCoy
13.0
206.1
15.9
1.0
16.9
26
Christian Ponder
8.5
153.6
18.0
-1.6
16.4
27
Tarvaris Jackson
14.4
215.6
15.0
1.3
16.3
28
Jay Cutler
10.0
178.6
17.9
-1.7
16.2
29
Matt Moore
12.5
206.7
16.6
-0.6
16.0
30
Rex Grossman
12.6
204.5
16.3
-0.4
15.8
31
Dan Orlovsky
5.7
82.6
14.5
0.9
15.4
32
Donovan McNabb
5.5
79.2
14.4
-0.5
13.9
33
Sam Bradford
9.9
128.5
13.0
0.7
13.7
34
Curtis Painter
7.6
99.8
13.2
0.0
13.2
35
Kyle Orton
7.5
116.2
15.6
-2.5
13.1
36
TJ Yates
4.7
62.2
13.2
-0.4
12.8
37
Matt Cassel
8.8
127.7
14.6
-2.3
12.3
38
Blaine Gabbert
13.9
158.5
11.4
0.6
12.0
39
Tyler Palko
4.2
37.6
8.9
1.2
10.1
  • The Big 3 of Rodgers, Brady and Brees unsurprisingly top this list. And while Brees was slightly better than Brady last year, the addition of Brandon Lloyd in New England and the losses of Sean Payton and Robert Meachem in New Orleans can explain why Brady is being drafted ahead of Brees in 2012.

  • The next mini-tier, according to average draft position data, consists of just Matt Stafford and Cam Newton. I'm not sure either appeal to me at their price a late second round pick but Stafford in particular seems overrated. His numbers last season were built on a mind-boggling 663 pass attempts last season, and he's likely to see that number drop by at least 10% in 2012. Even when he led the league in pass attempts in 2011, he was still far behind Rodgers, Brady and Brees as a fantasy player.

  • Another reason not to reach on Stafford? Vick and Romo don't project as significantly worse, and can be had three full rounds later. Vick in particular is an enticing option. He averaged more AdjFP/AdjG in 2010 than Rodgers averaged in 2011. And while he regressed somewhat last year, he was still an excellent passer. The big reason his fantasy value sank was that his rushing touchdowns dropped from 9 to 1, and I'd expect that number to settle on middle ground this year. There's obvious injury risk, but he has the most upside of any quarterback outside of the Big 3 and can be had several rounds later.

  • If Vick's injury history scares you, Matt Ryan appears to be the best value among the top 12 fantasy quarterbacks. If your choice is Eli Manning at the end of the fourth or Matt Ryan at the end of the sixth, Ryan looks to be a much better value to me.

  • Jay Cutler, at least based on the numbers above, appears to be overrated. I understand the addition of Brandon Marshall, but Cutler was not much of a fantasy factor last year. He had an extremely easy schedule, and three of his best four games came against bottom-five defenses. Matt Schaub looks to have more upside and a higher floor for roughly the same price. Schaub seemed overrated to me last year as QB8, but as QB14, he's a much better option.

  • Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco could be value plays if their schedule lightens up. Both are improving quarterbacks who faced extremely difficult schedules last year, but ranked higher in AdjFP/AdjG than their ADP is for this season.

  • Team Defenses

    Which defenses were the toughest for opposing quarterbacks in 2011? The two stingiest defenses for opposing quarterbacks both have Rex Ryan ties. Minnesota had the worst fantasy defense based on the raw numbers, but the Vikings had a brutal schedule. After adjusting for the strength of the opposing quarterbacks, the Patriots fall to #32.

    Rk
    Team
    FP
    FP/G
    SOS
    AdjFP/G
    1
    New York Jets
    237.3
    14.8
    0.1
    14.7
    2
    Baltimore Ravens
    210.0
    13.1
    -1.8
    14.9
    3
    Pittsburgh Steelers
    215.5
    13.5
    -2.0
    15.5
    4
    Houston Texans
    243.4
    15.2
    -0.7
    15.9
    5
    St. Louis Rams
    279.4
    17.5
    1.0
    16.5
    6
    Cleveland Browns
    234.6
    14.7
    -2.0
    16.6
    7
    Chicago Bears
    310.8
    19.4
    2.7
    16.8
    8
    Jacksonville Jaguars
    274.3
    17.1
    -0.1
    17.2
    9
    Seattle Seahawks
    257.4
    16.1
    -1.2
    17.3
    10
    Kansas City Chiefs
    286.4
    17.9
    0.4
    17.5
    11
    San Francisco 49ers
    281.5
    17.6
    -0.4
    18.0
    12
    Washington Redskins
    312.9
    19.6
    1.2
    18.3
    13
    Atlanta Falcons
    324.7
    20.3
    1.5
    18.8
    14
    Tennessee Titans
    290.2
    18.1
    -1.0
    19.1
    15
    Philadelphia Eagles
    306.3
    19.1
    -0.4
    19.6
    16
    Dallas Cowboys
    324.3
    20.3
    0.4
    19.9
    17
    Arizona Cardinals
    304.5
    19.0
    -0.9
    19.9
    18
    Miami Dolphins
    333.3
    20.8
    0.8
    20.0
    19
    Cincinnati Bengals
    281.0
    17.6
    -2.8
    20.3
    20
    Buffalo Bills
    337.4
    21.1
    0.5
    20.6
    21
    Indianapolis Colts
    326.4
    20.4
    -0.2
    20.6
    22
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    371.8
    23.2
    2.4
    20.8
    23
    Detroit Lions
    345.5
    21.6
    0.5
    21.1
    24
    New Orleans Saints
    354.0
    22.1
    0.9
    21.2
    25
    Carolina Panthers
    348.6
    21.8
    0.5
    21.3
    26
    New York Giants
    359.0
    22.4
    1.0
    21.5
    27
    Denver Broncos
    345.8
    21.6
    -0.1
    21.8
    28
    Green Bay Packers
    361.0
    22.6
    0.3
    22.3
    29
    San Diego Chargers
    342.7
    21.4
    -1.0
    22.4
    30
    Minnesota Vikings
    402.4
    25.1
    2.3
    22.9
    31
    Oakland Raiders
    375.9
    23.5
    -0.3
    23.8
    32
    New England Patriots
    379.9
    23.7
    -1.6
    25.3

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

    © 2012 Footballguys - All Rights Reserved