Think Differently - Quarterbacks
By Jeff Pasquino
August 18th, 2010

There used to be several rules of thumb for fantasy football - an unwritten rulebook if you will. "Always draft RB-RB" was one truism for years, but the advent of Running Back By Committee (RBBC) changed all of that. The addition of PPR boosted WRs, and now with contests like the FFPC and the Footballguys' Players Championship boosting tight end PPR to 1.5 points per catch and everything changes. Gone are the days where you can just set your draft for two running backs to open up your fantasy draft. Teams can and do win by going WR/WR or WR/TE out of the box.

So what should fantasy players do with all of these new rules? Should they abandon all prior rules of thumb and start drafting differently? Not necessarily.

By looking at some interesting data from prior seasons we can help to learn a little more about both ourselves as fantasy football fans and also about the game itself. While no information gives a complete picture, by reviewing and understanding a little more about our favorite pastime then we can make better decisions with new information. Whether you choose to adhere to the new advice or if you would rather ignore that data is up to you - but either way an informed fantasy player is a better fantasy player.

With that in mind - I now challenge you to think differently about quarterbacks.

While looking over last year's performances for quarterbacks across the NFL, I noticed something very interesting. All of the top quarterbacks (at least according to the 2009 ADP) played nearly every contest last season. Only two quarterbacks that had a Top 12 ADP (Matt Ryan and Donovan McNabb) missed two starts last year. That's it - all the others started 15 or 16 games in 2009. That is remarkable considering that 56 different quarterbacks logged at least one start last year. The real context to note is that all but 10 teams had their main starting quarterback start at least 14 games last season. Here are the 10 franchises that failed to achieve that level of QB starter stability:

Team
Main Starting QB
# Of Starts
Mia
Chad Henne
13
Car
Jake Delhomme
11
Det
Matthew Stafford
10
SF
Alex Smith
10
Ten
Vince Young
10
Cle
Brady Quinn
9
Oak
JaMarcus Russell
9
TB
Josh Freeman
9
Buf
Ryan Fitzpatrick
8
StL
Marc Bulger
8

Table 1: Bottom 10 Teams - Leading Quarterback Starters

Notice anything? Well, as I mentioned before - the top starters all seemed to stay relatively healthy. The 10 QBs in Table 1 above are all from modest or bad offenses.

The NFL has put in place several rule changes over the past few seasons to both protect the quarterback and to also give him more opportunity to be successful. Ever since the injury to Tom Brady in Week 1 back in 2008 the league has done everything that it can to protect their marquee players while in the pocket. A few years earlier rule changes that removed defensive contact after five yards beyond the line of scrimmage gave big tight ends and wideouts cleaner releases and more room to run and get open, making passing offenses even more dynamic. All of those changes made stud quarterbacks more likely to put up bigger numbers and less likely to lose time to injuries. Look no further than Brett Favre from 2009, who had a career year in his 19th NFL season. That right there tells you how far the pendulum has swung towards a strong passing attack.

So here are the main questions for this year as I see them when it comes to drafting quarterbacks:

  1. Do I draft one early, gunning for a Top 5 guy like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?
  2. Do I wait until the dust clears a little and go hard after the Top 6-9 guys like Tony Romo or Matt Schaub?
  3. Do I consider going for a committee approach, hammering away at the QB11-15 guys and look for a solid pairing?
  4. When do I take my backup QB if I do not do #3?

These are all solid questions, and while there is never a truly wrong answer or approach to picking your own fantasy team, when push comes to shove and you are on the clock during your own draft you have to make up your mind. QBBC? Stud QB? Someone in-between?

Based on Table 1 you can see that stud QBs were virtually indestructible last year. The Top 10-15 guys almost never missed a game, and as long as they lived up to their hype from the preseason projections then they were sure bets. Just look at the NFL playoff teams from last year - the NFC teams were all led by Pro Bowl quarterbacks while the AFC was not far behind once you gave the Jets' Mark Sanchez a rookie pass. I would be willing to say that most fantasy leagues went in a similar fashion - teams with strong quarterbacks did well and were in the playoffs or just missed.

So here is my recommendation - do not wait too long to get your starter this season. Be the 5th-8th team to grab your starter and either grab the last guy in your "stud QB" tier or grab the best QB in the next tier that you feel has stud QB upside. That puts the limelight squarely on guys like Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Matt Schaub and Kevin Kolb for me (and now Brett Favre). Any one of these five can challenge teams that have Brees or Rodgers or Peyton Manning as their starter in a one-game playoff contest. Waiting for a quarterback and taking two to form a committee is a losing proposition in most league formats for me.

What is wrong with QBBC? One reason is that you usually do not have a stud as one of your committee guys. Look at the QBs in the 10-15 range on the ADP list and find a guy who is very likely to post 300 yards and three touchdowns for you in a given week when you might need it most. I really like Joe Flacco but the odds of him topping 300 yards or throwing for three scores is rather low. That hurts when you have to face the "Brees team" in your league.

The inevitable counter-argument to taking a QB in the first 5-6 rounds is that you are missing out on WR, TE or RB value. That is a good argument most years, but with RBBC dominating the NFL and TE depth at an all-time high, moving back one round to take your first TE or your third RB really is not that big of an issue this year. With starting tailbacks available as deep as Round 10, RB3 and RB4 can be found in Rounds 7 and beyond. Similar comments can be made about starting tight ends. Taking a QB somewhat earlier than you normally would in previous years is not a bad strategy at all this year.

One last comment about quarterbacks before I leave this topic - in leagues where you either can start two (QB-flex or "SuperFlex" leagues) or have to start two quarterbacks, do not wait too long to lock up your second (and likely third) quarterbacks. After 19-20 QBs are picked the pickings get a little thin, so let other teams scramble and pick over the QB20+ guys. Lock up your quarterback situation early and that will also give you a side benefit of not wasting more than two roster spots on that position.

The other concern in these quarterback intensive leagues goes back to Table 1 as we bring this discussion full circle. With so many starters only missing 1-2 games if any, the waiver wires are going to be littered with marginal players at best. If you hope to pick up a quarterback during the season that can give you a spot start then you might be in dire straits - and this might explain why you struggled in 2009. In these types of leagues you will have to invest more in the quarterback position during your draft so that you have the depth that your team will need for a full season.

Today is 2010, not 2001. The NFL has changed over the years, particularly on offense. Teams used to rely heavily on the ground game that starred a feature back and threw the ball out of an established run attack. All of that has gone away with the advent of Running Back by Committee (RBBC) which now has two semi-starters in most NFL backfields. The passing game got a boost from that approach as teams threw more to establish the pass and open up the run, but rule changes that protected the quarterback and reduced contact in the secondary by the defense really opened up passing offenses. The game has changed, and so has fantasy football as a result. Things change, so change with them and challenge yourself to think differently.

As always, questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.

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