Quality Starts: Quarterbacks

Quality Starts for 2019 Quarterbacks

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 that can give you a consistent performance week after week should 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 2019 season, the first consideration was to take the No. 12 quarterback for the year (Jared Goff, 320.2 fantasy points) and dividing his total by 16 for a game average, just like we have used as a baseline in previous years. This approach was flawed because it might be overlooking some quarterbacks who had a better per-game performance but missed playing time due to injury. Once the quarterbacks were sorted by weekly averages, the results were rather remarkable: four quarterbacks outside of the Top 12 season-long rankings all had per-game averages that would have resulted in a Top 12 season had they been the starter all year. Two Week 1 starters, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees, both missed significant time due to injury, but both quarterbacks were fantasy starting material when healthy. Joining Stafford and Brees were two other passers that earned the starting job later in the year - rookie Daniel Jones and veteran Ryan Tannehill. With four new names for consideration, the Quality Start metric moves up significantly for last season from Goff's 20.0 points per game to Matt Ryan's 22.4, more than an 11% increase in value for a fantasy starting quarterback each week. Clearly using the per-game average is a much better metric for quarterback evaluation. After all, each week fantasy team owners have to decide on who to start, so only available passers are ever considered.

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 quarterback performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 12th-quarterback 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 16.7
Quality Start
16.8 to 27.9
Excellent Start

Table 1: 2019 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 quarterbacks that started an NFL game. While both Daniel Jones and Ryan Fitzpatrick had significant performances as starters, they both came into contests last season off of the bench. In weeks where Eli Manning was the starter (such as Week 1), Manning's per-game effort was considered, but not Jones' numbers. This was more considerable for quarterbacks who came in off of the bench and had strong performances, such as Gardner Minshew in Week 1 last year where the rookie came in off of the bench for an injured Nick Foles and threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns. None of Minshew's numbers counted for Week 1, as Foles drew the start - so only Foles would be subject to this study for Week 1, not Minshew. That's an important distinction, as several quarterbacks have had great games in relief yet they should not get counted, simply because no one would have started them on their fantasy roster that week with them expected to do nothing but hold a clipboard on game day. 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-quarterback games spread across 57 NFL quarterbacks from 2019. That’s a very important number – only 57 starters. That number is reasonably consistent across the past several years. Table 2 summarizes the total number of different starting quarterbacks across the past seasons:

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