Quarterback
By Jeff Pasquino
July 20th, 2010

There are some fantasy football players that believe that the lineup you pick can lose you a game just as much as it can win a contest. Having a player give you a consistent performance week after week can be considered more valuable than a player who goes off every third week and then takes two weeks off between those fantastic performances. Consistency has a value, and it does not take much of a leap to understand that players that you can rely on for solid games when you need them (such as in your postseason) are a huge advantage.

Baseball has a term called "Quality Starts" for pitchers, which is a statistic that represents how often a starting pitcher will put up a good (not great, just good) performance in a given game. The bar is set neither high nor low (six innings pitched, three earned runs or fewer) so as to gauge a decent performance. The theory behind it is that if your pitcher gives you a Quality Start, your team has a fighting chance to win a given game.

So now we need to translate this to football. What is "quality" for each position? How do we define a "Quality Start" for quarterbacks or running backs or any other position? Looking back at the 2009 season, I decided to take the #12 QB for the year (Donovan McNabb, 287.55 fantasy points) and take that fantasy total and divide it by 16 for a per game average. Now a case can be made to argue against doing this. I did not account for missed games or a per-start performance metric, but I believe that the numbers will get averaged out by doing this method. Also, taking QB12 seems a bit arbitrary, but then again the Top 10-13 QBs are all within about 10 points of one another, but an even better reason is that if you are looking for a bare minimum of quality, the 12th QB should be the "worst starter" in your fantasy league.

So now we move on to the next question - one of quantifying the quality. At what point do we decide whether or not a quarterback has given us a quality performance? Here is where it gets a bit murky, but looking at the distribution of QB performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 12th QB average and adding or subtracting a percentage gives us a good range for a QB Quality Start.

Using the QB Quality Start range, we can also define a bad performance or an excellent performance as either falling below or exceeding the Quality Start range. Table 1 gives us the fantasy points that it takes to fall in each of the three areas:

QB Start Type
Fantasy Points
Bad Start
0 to 13.4
Quality Start
13.5 to 22.4
Excellent Start
22.5+

Table 1: QB Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges

We have one more issue in this study, and that is we need to sift through all the quarterbacks and only look at QBs that started an NFL game. That means if Donovan McNabb started Week 1 last year but gets hurt, McNabb is subject to the study (in Week 1) and Kevin Kolb is not. That's an important distinction, as several QBs had great games in relief yet they should not get counted. Before we decide on a fantasy lineup, we usually only know the starters for each week, not who might come in if there is an injury.

Pouring over the games week by week, we find 512 starting QB games spread across 56 NFL quarterbacks from 2009. Table 2 shows us the breakdown of all 512 starts and how many of each type of start resulted for each:

Quarterback
Type Of Start
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Aaron Rodgers - GBP
10
5
1
16
Matt Schaub - HOU
6
9
1
16
Peyton Manning - IND
8
6
2
16
Brett Favre - MIN
7
6
3
16
Tony Romo - DAL
7
7
2
16
Tom Brady - NEP
7
4
5
16
Philip Rivers - SDC
6
8
2
16
Eli Manning - NYG
5
7
4
16
Jay Cutler - CHI
5
6
5
16
David Garrard - JAC
3
9
4
16
Jason Campbell - WAS
4
8
4
16
Joe Flacco - BAL
3
6
7
16
Carson Palmer - CIN
3
8
5
16
Drew Brees - NOS
8
5
2
15
Ben Roethlisberger - PIT
8
3
4
15
Kurt Warner - ARI
5
8
2
15
Kyle Orton - DEN
2
10
3
15
Matt Cassel - KCC
3
4
8
15
Mark Sanchez - NYJ
2
2
11
15
Donovan McNabb - PHI
6
5
3
14
Matt Ryan - ATL
3
7
4
14
Matt Hasselbeck - SEA
2
5
7
14
Chad Henne - MIA
1
4
8
13
Jake Delhomme - CAR
0
5
6
11
Alex Smith - SFO
2
6
2
10
Matthew Stafford - DET
1
4
5
10
Vince Young - TEN
2
5
3
10
Josh Freeman - TBB
1
4
4
9
Brady Quinn - CLE
2
2
5
9
JaMarcus Russell - OAK
0
1
8
9
Ryan Fitzpatrick - BUF
1
2
5
8
Marc Bulger - STL
1
1
6
8
Trent Edwards - BUF
0
2
5
7
Derek Anderson - CLE
1
0
6
7
Kerry Collins - TEN
1
2
3
6
Shaun Hill - SFO
0
4
2
6
Matt Moore - CAR
1
2
2
5
Daunte Culpepper - DET
0
2
3
5
Bruce Gradkowski - OAK
1
2
1
4
Kyle Boller - STL
0
1
3
4
Josh Johnson - TBB
0
1
3
4
Keith Null - STL
0
0
4
4
Byron Leftwich - TBB
1
1
1
3
Charlie Frye - OAK
0
1
2
3
Chad Pennington - MIA
0
0
3
3
Seneca Wallace - SEA
1
1
0
2
Kevin Kolb - PHI
2
0
0
2
Chris Redman - ATL
0
2
0
2
Brodie Croyle - KCC
0
1
0
1
Dennis Dixon - PIT
0
1
0
1
Matt Leinart - ARI
0
0
1
1
Drew Stanton - DET
0
0
1
1
Kellen Clemens - NYJ
0
0
1
1
Brian Brohm - BUF
0
0
1
1
Mark Brunell - NOS
0
0
1
1
Chris Simms - DEN
0
0
1
1
Totals
132
195
185
512

Table 2: 2009 QB Start Types By Player Sorted By Total Starts

That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that 195 of 512 starts fall in the middle - "Quality Starts" - and about the same number are in the Bad Start category. In years’ past, the three categories were more balanced – (157-211-144 in 2008, 158-186-168 in 2007). The difference has to be that the higher score needed for an Excellent Start in 2009. In Table 1 we saw that Excellent Starts required over 22.5 points, whereas in both 2008 and 2007 the line was just over 20 points. So aside from 2009 being slightly skewed away from Excellent Starts, the three year average of the study shows that in general our distribution is normal and that our baseline point range does make sense.

Now, to dig deeper, let's look at the numbers distributed in two different ways. First, I need to define a valuable starting quarterback in this system. We want a QB that will win more fantasy games than lose them, so we want either "Quality" or "Excellent" starts. Using a simple formula of scoring each type of start, we can define the value of a given starting NFL quarterback. Here is the formula:

Starting NFL QB Value = Excellent Starts - Bad Starts

We neglect to look at Quality Starts because they neither win games nor lose them on average - they are just average QB performances. We only really care about how often he helps our team vs. how often he hurts it. Giving a "-1" value to bad starts and "+1" to excellent ones does this for us.

On with the results, sorted by value:

Quarterback
Type Of Start
Net Value
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Aaron Rodgers - GBP
10
5
1
16
9
Peyton Manning - IND
8
6
2
16
6
Drew Brees - NOS
8
5
2
15
6
Matt Schaub - HOU
6
9
1
16
5
Tony Romo - DAL
7
7
2
16
5
Brett Favre - MIN
7
6
3
16
4
Philip Rivers - SDC
6
8
2
16
4
Ben Roethlisberger - PIT
8
3
4
15
4
Kurt Warner - ARI
5
8
2
15
3
Donovan McNabb - PHI
6
5
3
14
3
Tom Brady - NEP
7
4
5
16
2
Kevin Kolb - PHI
2
0
0
2
2
Eli Manning - NYG
5
7
4
16
1
Seneca Wallace - SEA
1
1
0
2
1
Jay Cutler - CHI
5
6
5
16
0
Jason Campbell - WAS
4
8
4
16
0
Alex Smith - SFO
2
6
2
10
0
Bruce Gradkowski - OAK
1
2
1
4
0
Byron Leftwich - TBB
1
1
1
3
0
Chris Redman - ATL
0
2
0
2
0
Brodie Croyle - KCC
0
1
0
1
0
Dennis Dixon - PIT
0
1
0
1
0
David Garrard - JAC
3
9
4
16
-1
Kyle Orton - DEN
2
10
3
15
-1
Matt Ryan - ATL
3
7
4
14
-1
Vince Young - TEN
2
5
3
10
-1
Matt Moore - CAR
1
2
2
5
-1
Matt Leinart - ARI
0
0
1
1
-1
Drew Stanton - DET
0
0
1
1
-1
Kellen Clemens - NYJ
0
0
1
1
-1
Brian Brohm - BUF
0
0
1
1
-1
Mark Brunell - NOS
0
0
1
1
-1
Chris Simms - DEN
0
0
1
1
-1
Carson Palmer - CIN
3
8
5
16
-2
Kerry Collins - TEN
1
2
3
6
-2
Shaun Hill - SFO
0
4
2
6
-2
Charlie Frye - OAK
0
1
2
3
-2
Josh Freeman - TBB
1
4
4
9
-3
Brady Quinn - CLE
2
2
5
9
-3
Daunte Culpepper - DET
0
2
3
5
-3
Kyle Boller - STL
0
1
3
4
-3
Josh Johnson - TBB
0
1
3
4
-3
Chad Pennington - MIA
0
0
3
3
-3
Joe Flacco - BAL
3
6
7
16
-4
Matthew Stafford - DET
1
4
5
10
-4
Ryan Fitzpatrick - BUF
1
2
5
8
-4
Keith Null - STL
0
0
4
4
-4
Matt Cassel - KCC
3
4
8
15
-5
Matt Hasselbeck - SEA
2
5
7
14
-5
Marc Bulger - STL
1
1
6
8
-5
Trent Edwards - BUF
0
2
5
7
-5
Derek Anderson - CLE
1
0
6
7
-5
Jake Delhomme - CAR
0
5
6
11
-6
Chad Henne - MIA
1
4
8
13
-7
JaMarcus Russell - OAK
0
1
8
9
-8
Mark Sanchez - NYJ
2
2
11
15
-9

Table 3: 2009 QB Start Types Sorted By Value

This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. For one, is it any surprise that JaMarcus Russell is out of the league? Secondly, think twice about Matt Cassel for 2010. Also note that Eli Manning had a career year with over 4,000 yards and 27 touchdown passes – but he was barely worth more than Jay Cutler or Jason Campbell. Mercurial quarterbacks do not always help.

Lastly I will sift through it for you and get right to the heart of the matter with our final table. Here we have the results sorted by value for the Top 30 QBs on the 2010 ADP list.

Quarterback
Type Of Start
Net Value
ADP
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Aaron Rodgers - GBP
10
5
1
16
9
13
Peyton Manning - IND
8
6
2
16
6
21
Drew Brees - NOS
8
5
2
15
6
15
Matt Schaub - HOU
6
9
1
16
5
44
Tony Romo - DAL
7
7
2
16
5
34
Ben Roethlisberger - PIT
8
3
4
15
4
123
Brett Favre - MIN
7
6
3
16
4
84
Philip Rivers - SDC
6
8
2
16
4
45
Donovan McNabb - PHI
6
5
3
14
3
102
Kevin Kolb - PHI
2
0
0
2
2
74
Tom Brady - NEP
7
4
5
16
2
35
Eli Manning - NYG
5
7
4
16
1
83
Jason Campbell - WAS
4
8
4
16
0
186
Alex Smith - SFO
2
6
2
10
0
130
Jay Cutler - CHI
5
6
5
16
0
67
Kyle Orton - DEN
2
10
3
15
-1
211
Matt Moore - CAR
1
2
2
5
-1
199
David Garrard - JAC
3
9
4
16
-1
166
Matt Leinart - ARI
0
0
1
1
-1
157
Vince Young - TEN
2
5
3
10
-1
149
Matt Ryan - ATL
3
7
4
14
-1
81
Carson Palmer - CIN
3
8
5
16
-2
116
Josh Freeman - TBB
1
4
4
9
-3
189
Matthew Stafford - DET
1
4
5
10
-4
121
Joe Flacco - BAL
3
6
7
16
-4
88
Matt Hasselbeck - SEA
2
5
7
14
-5
201
Matt Cassel - KCC
3
4
8
15
-5
148
Chad Henne - MIA
1
4
8
13
-7
127
Mark Sanchez - NYJ
2
2
11
15
-9
151

Table 4: 2010 Top Drafted QBs Sorted By 2009 Value

Note that Sam Bradford of the Rams is absent for the simple reason that he is a rookie and did not start any games last year. Judging form last season, it would appear that Matt Schaub is a nice value against the rest of the Top 10 QBs going off the draft board, but there are even better values out there. Donovan McNabb and Ben Roethlisberger are both available outside of the Top 10 but their Quality Starts are comparable to Philip Rivers and Brett Favre. Sure, Roethlisberger is suspended for at least four games, but the combo of Big Ben and McNabb could be rather formidable.

On the other side of the coin there is even further evidence that Joe Flacco is not quite worth a Top 10 selection and neither is Matt Ryan. Both teams rely on the ground game more often than not. The question of course depends on how the addition of Boldin helps the Ravens and Flacco to change the 2009 numbers. That’s the biggest warning here – there is no reason to believe all of these numbers as indications of 2009 performance, but having this information available should give you more to think about when deciding who you will have leading your fantasy team this year.

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

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