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Rearview QB

Which quarterbacks faced the easiest schedules last year?  Which ones had to deal with the toughest defenses?

For the eighth straight season, I'm advising fantasy football owners about a good starting point for their 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 off-season changes and personal preferences. But a more accurate starting point for your projections is a normalized version of last year's stats (for a different view on a starting point for your quarterback projections, see this article.)

The first adjustment is to use adjusted games (and not total games), which provide 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 quarterback 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, in the case of Tom Brady or Joe Flacco, 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 2013; 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 2013 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 4 point per passing/rushing TD, 1 point per 20 yards passing, -1 per INT, 1 point for every 10 yards rushing and 6 points for every rushing TD. The league average QB scored 19.30 FP/G in 2012.

QuarterbackFPAdj GFP/AdjGFP RkFP/Adj G Rk
Drew Brees 418 15.9 26.4 1 1
Aaron Rodgers 401 15.9 25.3 2 2
Tom Brady 397 15.7 25.2 3 3
Robert Griffin III 359 14.6 24.6 7 4
Colin Kaepernick 199 8.3 24 26 5
Cam Newton 380 15.9 23.8 4 6
Peyton Manning 371 15.7 23.6 5 7
Matt Ryan 370 15.9 23.2 6 8
Tony Romo 349 15.8 22 8 9
Matthew Stafford 348 15.8 22 10 10
Andrew Luck 348 16 21.8 9 11
Michael Vick 195 9.2 21.3 27 12
Ben Roethlisberger 268 12.6 21.3 21 13
Russell Wilson 323 15.6 20.7 11 14
Kevin Kolb 103 5.1 20.5 35 15
Carson Palmer 285 14 20.3 16 16
Andy Dalton 311 15.5 20 12 17
Josh Freeman 308 15.9 19.4 13 18
Joe Flacco 289 15 19.3 15 19
Alex Smith 147 7.7 19.1 31 20
Chad Henne 150 8.1 18.5 30 21
Eli Manning 289 15.7 18.4 14 22
Jake Locker 173 9.9 17.5 29 23
Matt Schaub 276 15.8 17.4 18 24
Ryan Fitzpatrick 276 15.9 17.3 17 25
Sam Bradford 275 15.9 17.3 19 26
Philip Rivers 273 16 17.1 20 27
Nick Foles 114 6.8 16.8 34 28
Jay Cutler 237 14.2 16.7 23 29
Matt Hasselbeck 95 6.1 15.7 36 30
Ryan Tannehill 233 15.2 15.3 24 31
Christian Ponder 244 16 15.3 22 32
Brandon Weeden 219 14.4 15.2 25 33
Matt Cassel 122 8.1 15.2 32 34
Blaine Gabbert 119 7.9 15 33 35
Mark Sanchez 181 14 12.9 28 36
John Skelton 56 4.6 12.2 38 37
Brady Quinn 64 7.9 8 37 38
Ryan Lindley 31 5 6.3 39 39

Looking at partial games helps to isolate performance versus playing time.  Colin Kaepernick ranked 5th in Fp/Adj G, slightly higher than his current ADP of QB8 (of course, if he still had Michael Crabtree, he might be closer to QB5).  Robert Griffin III is a player who can be an elite quarterback when healthy, even though he ranked "only" 7th in fantasy points.  You might remember 2012 as a disaster on all levels for the Eagles, but Michael Vick was actually in the top 12 in FP/Adj G. Through nine weeks last season, Vick ranked 11th among quarterbacks in both fantasy points and fantasy points per game (he suffered a concussion in week 10 and missed most of the rest of the season). Similarly, Ben Roethlisberger was a much more productive player when he was on the field than his final fantasy rank indicates.

On the other hand, Andy Dalton finished as QB12, but that's only because five of the 16 quarterbacks ahead of him in FP/Adj G missed time. Similarly, Josh Freeman (13th in fantasy points, 18th in FP/Adj G) and Eli Manning (14th/22nd) rode good health -- and not great fantasy production -- to borderline QB1 numbers. There are reasons to like Dalton (adding Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard), Freeman (second year in Mike Sullivan's system, the return of Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks), and Manning (a healthy Hakeem Nicks and poor yards-after-the-catch numbers by his receivers in 2012) this year, but your baseline for them should be their ranks on an adjusted game basis, not their end-of-season totals.

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, and no one had a more difficult schedule than Ryan Lindley last year.

RkQuarterbackSOS
1 Ryan Lindley 1.4
2 Michael Vick 1.2
3 John Skelton 0.7
4 Tony Romo 0.6
5 Sam Bradford 0.5
6 Russell Wilson 0.5
7 Robert Griffin III 0.5
8 Colin Kaepernick 0.5
9 Andy Dalton 0.5
10 Carson Palmer 0.4
11 Matthew Stafford 0.4
12 Eli Manning 0.4
13 Drew Brees 0.4
14 Brandon Weeden 0.3
15 Philip Rivers 0.3
16 Alex Smith 0.3
17 Matt Cassel 0.2
18 Tom Brady 0.1
19 Cam Newton 0.1
20 Joe Flacco 0.1
21 Christian Ponder 0.1
22 Josh Freeman 0.1
23 Nick Foles 0.0
24 Ben Roethlisberger 0.0
25 Aaron Rodgers -0.1
26 Peyton Manning -0.2
27 Brady Quinn -0.3
28 Ryan Fitzpatrick -0.3
29 Matt Ryan -0.3
30 Jay Cutler -0.3
31 Matt Hasselbeck -0.4
32 Blaine Gabbert -0.6
33 Ryan Tannehill -0.8
34 Mark Sanchez -0.8
35 Matt Schaub -1.0
36 Jake Locker -1.1
37 Andrew Luck -1.3
38 Kevin Kolb -1.7
39 Chad Henne -2.0

The AFC South had it very easy -- Schaub, Locker, Luck, and Henne had four of the five easiest schedules. Conversely, the NFC West was brutal -- Lindley, Skelton, Bradford, Wilson, and Kaepernick had four of the eight hardest schedules. And now we've got another reason to like Vick, if he can actually win the Eagles starting job: his better-than-expected Adj FP/G average looks even better once you adjust for strength of schedule.  

Note that these strength of schedule ratings are themselves adjusted, so Lindley's schedule doesn't look hard because the defenses he played allowed didn't allow many fantasy points to opposing QBs because of games against Lindley. 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:

RkNameFPAdj GFP/AdjGSOSAdj FP/Adj G
1 Drew Brees 418 15.9 26.4 0.4 26.7
2 Tom Brady 397 15.7 25.2 0.1 25.4
3 Aaron Rodgers 401 15.9 25.3 -0.1 25.2
4 Robert Griffin III 359 14.6 24.6 0.5 25
5 Colin Kaepernick 199 8.3 24 0.5 24.5
6 Cam Newton 380 15.9 23.8 0.1 23.9
7 Peyton Manning 371 15.7 23.6 -0.2 23.4
8 Matt Ryan 370 15.9 23.2 -0.3 22.9
9 Tony Romo 349 15.8 22 0.6 22.6
10 Michael Vick 195 9.2 21.3 1.2 22.5
11 Matthew Stafford 348 15.8 22 0.4 22.4
12 Ben Roethlisberger 268 12.6 21.3 0 21.2
13 Russell Wilson 323 15.6 20.7 0.5 21.2
14 Carson Palmer 285 14 20.3 0.4 20.7
15 Andy Dalton 311 15.5 20 0.5 20.5
16 Andrew Luck 348 16 21.8 -1.3 20.4
17 Josh Freeman 308 15.9 19.4 0.1 19.4
18 Joe Flacco 289 15 19.3 0.1 19.4
19 Alex Smith 147 7.7 19.1 0.3 19.3
20 Kevin Kolb 103 5.1 20.5 -1.7 18.8
21 Eli Manning 289 15.7 18.4 0.4 18.8
22 Sam Bradford 275 15.9 17.3 0.5 17.8
23 Philip Rivers 273 16 17.1 0.3 17.4
24 Ryan Fitzpatrick 276 15.9 17.3 -0.3 17
25 Nick Foles 114 6.8 16.8 0 16.8
26 Chad Henne 150 8.1 18.5 -2 16.4
27 Jake Locker 173 9.9 17.5 -1.1 16.4
28 Matt Schaub 276 15.8 17.4 -1 16.4
29 Jay Cutler 237 14.2 16.7 -0.3 16.3
30 Brandon Weeden 219 14.4 15.2 0.3 15.5
31 Matt Cassel 122 8.1 15.2 0.2 15.4
32 Christian Ponder 244 16 15.3 0.1 15.3
33 Matt Hasselbeck 95 6.1 15.7 -0.4 15.3
34 Ryan Tannehill 233 15.2 15.3 -0.8 14.5
35 Blaine Gabbert 119 7.9 15 -0.6 14.4
36 John Skelton 56 4.6 12.2 0.7 13
37 Mark Sanchez 181 14 12.9 -0.8 12.1
38 Brady Quinn 64 7.9 8 -0.3 7.8
39 Ryan Lindley 31 5 6.3 1.4 7.7
  • Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers were the top three quarterbacks last year, and they remain that way after these adjustments.  But Griffin and Kaepernick were not far behind, at least after adjusting for strength of schedule and games played.  Those players, along with Cam Newton, because of the fantasy value their legs add,can be top-five quarterbacks in any given week.
  • If Chip Kelly brings a high-tempo offense to Philadelphia, Vick is a fantasy steal at his current ADP. He played poorly last year -- some of that due to a tough schedule -- but still was a useful fantasy player when healthy. He has an ADP of QB18, but that will likely spike if he wins the starting job. He could be a useful player to draft late and trade if he gets off to a hot start.
  • Andrew Luck's a fantasy quarterback I'm avoiding. He ranked just 16th in Adj FP/Adj G, and that's despite throwing 627 pass attempts. The flip side is that many quarterbacks make big leaps between years one and two, and I would expect the same from a star prospect like Luck. But with an ADP of QB10, it seems like fantasy owners are already baking that into his draft value.
  • Colin Kaepernick averaged 25.0 Adj FP/Adj G last year, and that's not including his incredible playoff performance. And while Matt Ryan was at 22.9 Adj FP/Adj G,he still is being drafted a round or two earlier than the 49ers young star. Some of that is due to Ryan having a longer track record and a higher floor, but I'd prefer waiting a round or two and grabbing Kaepernick or Griffin then spending an earlier pick on Ryan. But as always, know your scoring system: if you receive 6 points per passing touchdown instead of 4, that makes Ryan more valuable relative to rushing quarterbacks than a 4-points-per-touchdown system.

Which defenses were the toughest for opposing quarterbacks in 2012? The Steelers, Cardinals, and Bears had the toughest defenses for fantasy quarterbacks last season.  In addition, the Giants had the most difficult schedule (i.e., facing a lot of elite quarterbacks) while the Colts defense had the easiest (i.e., facing lots of weak quarterbacks). Much talk was made about New England's improved defense, but after adjusting for the strength of the opposing quarterbacks, the Patriots fall to #32. Part of that was because Tom Brady tends to make opposing quarterbacks throw lots of passes, but in fantasy football, those count, too. Against Kaepernick, Manning, Wilson, Luck, and Flacco -- the only above-average quarterbacks the Patriots defense faced -- they allowed 27.9 FP/G.

RkTeamFP AllFP/GSOSAdj FP/G
1 Pittsburgh Steelers 231.5 14.5 -0.2 14.7
2 Arizona Cardinals 241.7 15.1 0.4 14.7
3 Chicago Bears 252.5 15.8 0.2 15.5
4 Seattle Seahawks 240.9 15.1 -0.6 15.6
5 Atlanta Falcons 283 17.7 1.5 16.1
6 Baltimore Ravens 269.6 16.9 0 16.8
7 San Francisco 49ers 264.7 16.5 -0.5 17
8 Carolina Panthers 290.3 18.1 0.9 17.2
9 New York Jets 258.1 16.1 -1.2 17.3
10 Denver Broncos 275.3 17.2 -0.3 17.5
11 Dallas Cowboys 302.4 18.9 1.3 17.6
12 Cincinnati Bengals 270.3 16.9 -0.9 17.8
13 New York Giants 342.7 21.4 2.8 18.6
14 Kansas City Chiefs 326.8 20.4 1.1 19.3
15 St. Louis Rams 310.2 19.4 0 19.4
16 San Diego Chargers 322 20.1 0.5 19.6
17 Miami Dolphins 309.7 19.4 -0.4 19.8
18 Green Bay Packers 300.3 18.8 -1 19.8
19 Philadelphia Eagles 357.4 22.3 2.2 20.2
20 Houston Texans 316.9 19.8 -0.9 20.7
21 Cleveland Browns 327.5 20.5 -0.3 20.7
22 Jacksonville Jaguars 320.7 20 -0.8 20.8
23 Detroit Lions 320.4 20 -1 21
24 Indianapolis Colts 297.1 18.6 -2.7 21.2
25 Washington Redskins 351.5 22 0.6 21.3
26 Oakland Raiders 337 21.1 -0.4 21.5
27 New Orleans Saints 391.3 24.5 2.4 22.1
28 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 378.1 23.6 1.5 22.1
29 Tennessee Titans 339 21.2 -1 22.2
30 Minnesota Vikings 359.3 22.5 0.1 22.4
31 Buffalo Bills 343 21.4 -1.8 23.2
32 New England Patriots 352.5 22 -1.7 23.7

More from Chase Stuart:

Running Back Workload Part II - July 18
Running Back Workload - July 11
Running Back Fantasy Production in Wins and Losses - July 7
Quarterback By Committee 2014 - June 19
Rearview QB - June 5
A Starting Point for 2014 Running Back Projections - May 27
How to Project Receiving Yards In 2014 - May 14
Cross-Team Running Back Handcuffs - August 28
Search our Stats: A Guide to the Data Dominator, Historical Data Dominator, and Game Log Dominator - August 14
Running Back Production By Quarter - August 14