Rearview QB

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

For the 10th straight season, I'm advising fantasy football owners about a better baseline metric 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.

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.

To be clear, this should be merely the starting point for your quarterback projections. If you think a particular quarterback 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 (or his supporting cast) 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 2015; the point is to separate 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 2015 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 (excluding quarterbacks with 4.0 adjusted games or fewer) ranked in fantasy points per adjusted game. The scoring system used is 4 point per passing TD, 1 point per 20 yards passing, -1 per INT, 1 point for every 10 yards rushing and 6 points for every rushing TD. For reference, the league average QB scored 19.80 FP/G in 2014.

Let's use the Cam Newton line as an example.  The Panthers quarterback ranked 17th in fantasy points last year, but was credited with just 13.5 adjusted games played (he missed two full games, and parts of three others).  As a result, his 300.3 fantasy points translates to a more impressive 22.3 fantasy points per adjusted game, which ranks 7th among all quarterbacks last year (also noteworthy: Carolina's Team QB ranked 7th in fantasy points last year, and Newton currently has an ADP of QB7).

RkQuarterbackFPAdjGFP/AdjGRk
1 Andrew Luck 427.4 14.8 28.8 1
2 Aaron Rodgers 405 15.2 26.6 2
4 Peyton Manning 375 15.5 24.1 3
3 Drew Brees 375.4 16 23.5 4
5 Ben Roethlisberger 369.3 16 23.1 5
6 Russell Wilson 367.7 16 23 6
17 Cam Newton 300.3 13.5 22.3 7
10 Tom Brady 334.2 15.1 22.2 8
32 Kirk Cousins 118.5 5.4 22.1 9
7 Matt Ryan 347.2 15.9 21.9 10
12 Tony Romo 318.4 14.7 21.7 11
13 Jay Cutler 315.7 14.8 21.4 12
29 Nick Foles 157 7.3 21.4 13
31 Carson Palmer 124.8 5.9 21.3 14
8 Eli Manning 335.6 15.8 21.2 15
9 Ryan Tannehill 335.4 15.9 21.1 16
27 Mark Sanchez 180.6 8.6 21.1 17
11 Philip Rivers 330.5 15.9 20.8 18
14 Joe Flacco 314.3 16 19.6 19
15 Matthew Stafford 310.2 16 19.4 20
36 Mike Glennon 109.8 5.7 19.3 21
16 Colin Kaepernick 304.4 15.9 19.2 22
23 Ryan Fitzpatrick 214.6 11.3 19 23
39 Jake Locker 82.9 4.5 18.6 24
21 Kyle Orton 220.3 12 18.4 25
38 Zach Mettenberger 96 5.4 17.8 26
18 Andy Dalton 269.8 15.4 17.5 27
19 Alex Smith 260.7 14.9 17.4 28
22 Teddy Bridgewater 216.9 12.7 17.1 29
37 Charlie Whitehurst 101.3 6 16.8 30
33 Robert Griffin III III 118.3 7.1 16.7 31
28 Josh McCown 171 10.3 16.6 32
30 Austin Davis 142.7 8.7 16.5 33
26 Geno Smith 195.1 11.9 16.5 34
20 Derek Carr 244.7 15.3 16 35
34t Shaun Hill 114.9 7.3 15.6 36
24 Blake Bortles 214.3 13.7 15.6 37
25 Brian Hoyer 205.2 13.4 15.3 38
34t Drew Stanton 114.9 7.6 15.2 39

Perhaps most notable here are the number of quarterbacks who played 16 games (or close to it) and drop in the FP/AdjG column.  Eli Manning and Ryan Tannehill both snuck into the top 10 last year in total fantasy points, but they were not QB1s on an every week basis (although as we'll soon see, Tannehill also faced a very tough schedule last year). The same goes for Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, and Colin Kaepernick: they each had decent season-ending numbers, but they also stayed healthy all season.  When you do that, it's pretty easy to have strong season-ending numbers. The more important metric to keep in mind for those players is that none of them ranked in the top 16 on a per-(adjusted) game basis.

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 regular starter had a more difficult schedule than Peyton Manning. In fact, among quarterbacks with at least 9 starts, the toughest three schedules last year belonged to AFC West quarterbacks:

RkQuarterbackAdjGSOS
1 Drew Stanton 7.6 1.3
2 Jake Locker 4.5 1.2
3 Peyton Manning 15.5 1.1
4 Derek Carr 15.3 1
5 Austin Davis 8.7 1
6 Philip Rivers 15.9 0.9
7 Kyle Orton 12 0.9
8 Ryan Tannehill 15.9 0.7
9 Jay Cutler 14.8 0.7
10 Tom Brady 15.1 0.6
11 Aaron Rodgers 15.2 0.6
12 Ben Roethlisberger 16 0.4
13 Geno Smith 11.9 0.4
14 Alex Smith 14.9 0.3
15 Cam Newton 13.5 0.1
16 Drew Brees 16 0.1
17 Kirk Cousins 5.4 -0.1
18 Matthew Stafford 16 -0.1
19 Joe Flacco 16 -0.1
20 Mark Sanchez 8.6 -0.2
21 Mike Glennon 5.7 -0.2
22 Colin Kaepernick 15.9 -0.2
23 Matt Ryan 15.9 -0.3
24 Teddy Bridgewater 12.7 -0.3
25 Robert Griffin III III 7.1 -0.3
26 Blake Bortles 13.7 -0.3
27 Josh McCown 10.3 -0.4
28 Brian Hoyer 13.4 -0.4
29 Andy Dalton 15.4 -0.4
30 Russell Wilson 16 -0.5
31 Shaun Hill 7.3 -0.5
32 Eli Manning 15.8 -0.5
33 Andrew Luck 14.8 -0.6
34 Nick Foles 7.3 -1
35 Charlie Whitehurst 6 -1
36 Ryan Fitzpatrick 11.3 -1
37 Tony Romo 14.7 -1.2
38 Zach Mettenberger 5.4 -1.4
39 Carson Palmer 5.9 -1.5

You might be surprised to see Carson Palmer -- who plays in the notoriously tough NFC West -- down at the very bottom.  Palmer had the easiest schedule in football because he missed both Seahawks games and both 49ers games, while getting to play Washington and Philadelphia, along with the Chargers, Raiders, Cowboys, and Rams.  His teammate, Drew Stanton, had the hardest schedule of any quarterback in the NFL last year.  That at least mitigates what otherwise looks like an enormous gap between Palmer's and Stanton's stats last year.

Note that these strength of schedule ratings are themselves adjusted, so Tony Romo's schedule doesn't look easy because the defenses he played allowed a ton of fantasy points in part because they faced Tony Romo.  Rather, the adjustments to the defenses and the quarterbacks are both iterated hundreds of times until the results converge, eliminating that circular issue.

The final step is to adjust each quarterback's FP/AdjG average for the SOS numbers above.  Let's use Andrew Luck as an example.  The Colts quarterback produced 427.4 fantasy points in 14.8 adjusted games, giving him a 28.8 FP/AdjG average that was over 2 points per game better than every other quarterback.  However, Luck's schedule was relatively easy -- the defenses he faced allowed 0.6 FP/G more to opposing QBs than the average defense -- so Luck finishes with 28.2 Adjusted Fantasy Points per Adjusted Game.  And since Aaron Rodgers had a tough schedule, that narrows the gap between the two to just one point.

RkQuarterbackFPAdjGFP/AdjGSOSAdj FP/AdjG
1 Andrew Luck 427.4 14.8 28.8 -0.6 28.2
2 Aaron Rodgers 405 15.2 26.6 0.6 27.2
3 Peyton Manning 375 15.5 24.1 1.1 25.2
4 Drew Brees 375.4 16 23.5 0.1 23.6
5 Ben Roethlisberger 369.3 16 23.1 0.4 23.5
6 Tom Brady 334.2 15.1 22.2 0.6 22.8
7 Russell Wilson 367.7 16 23 -0.5 22.6
8 Cam Newton 300.3 13.5 22.3 0.1 22.4
9 Jay Cutler 315.7 14.8 21.4 0.7 22.1
10 Kirk Cousins 118.5 5.4 22.1 -0.1 22
11 Ryan Tannehill 335.4 15.9 21.1 0.7 21.8
12 Philip Rivers 330.5 15.9 20.8 0.9 21.7
13 Matt Ryan 347.2 15.9 21.9 -0.3 21.6
14 Mark Sanchez 180.6 8.6 21.1 -0.2 20.8
15 Eli Manning 335.6 15.8 21.2 -0.5 20.7
16 Tony Romo 318.4 14.7 21.7 -1.2 20.6
17 Nick Foles 157 7.3 21.4 -1 20.4
18 Carson Palmer 124.8 5.9 21.3 -1.5 19.8
19 Jake Locker 82.9 4.5 18.6 1.2 19.7
20 Joe Flacco 314.3 16 19.6 -0.1 19.5
21 Matthew Stafford 310.2 16 19.4 -0.1 19.3
22 Kyle Orton 220.3 12 18.4 0.9 19.2
23 Mike Glennon 109.8 5.7 19.3 -0.2 19
24 Colin Kaepernick 304.4 15.9 19.2 -0.2 19
25 Ryan Fitzpatrick 214.6 11.3 19 -1 18
26 Alex Smith 260.7 14.9 17.4 0.3 17.7
27 Austin Davis 142.7 8.7 16.5 1 17.4
28 Andy Dalton 269.8 15.4 17.5 -0.4 17
29 Derek Carr 244.7 15.3 16 1 17
30 Geno Smith 195.1 11.9 16.5 0.4 16.9
31 Teddy Bridgewater 216.9 12.7 17.1 -0.3 16.8
32 Drew Stanton 114.9 7.6 15.2 1.3 16.4
33 Robert Griffin III III 118.3 7.1 16.7 -0.3 16.4
34 Zach Mettenberger 96 5.4 17.8 -1.4 16.4
35 Josh McCown 171 10.3 16.6 -0.4 16.2
36 Charlie Whitehurst 101.3 6 16.8 -1 15.8
37 Blake Bortles 214.3 13.7 15.6 -0.3 15.3
38 Shaun Hill 114.9 7.3 15.6 -0.5 15.1
39 Brian Hoyer 205.2 13.4 15.3 -0.4 14.9

So what can we take away from these numbers?

  • Peyton Manning's numbers were still really strong last year once you adjust for strength of schedule (he played the Seahawks, the Bills, had two games against the Chiefs, and faced the Bengals, giving him five games against the four toughest defenses last year). There are concerns about his age and his health, but his production last year was probably better than you remember, especially if your lasting image of Manning was in January.
  • Jay Cutler has an ADP of QB20 despite ranking 9th in AdjFP/AdjG.  Yes, he lost Brandon Marshall and new head coach John Fox doesn't have a reputation for being great for his quarterbacks (Manning notwithstanding), but Cutler was still a fantasy factor last year and new offensive coordinator Adam Gase could help.  If Cutler's schedule improves, he could wind up providing some decent value as a QB2 or as part of a committee; after all, he was QB9 through 15 weeks last year, proving you don't need to be a good NFL quarterback to be a good fantasy one. Then again, with the NFC West and AFC West coming on to the schedule, things probably won't be very easy for Cutler in 2015.
  • Tom Brady could still provide a lot of value to fantasy teams in 2015.  Even if he misses the first four games, Brady is so productive on a week-to-week basis that he can certainly justify his QB11 ADP, and more.
  • Ryan Tannehill has an ADP of QB13, while Matt Ryan has an ADP of QB8. But consider that last year, Tannehill actually edged Ryan on a per-game basis.  And while Tannehill had a rough schedule last year, things should be easier for the Dolphins starter this year. 
  • Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson may appear overdrafted this year, at least based on these numbers and their current ADPs.  But they figure to benefit from a healthy Calvin Johnson and the addition of Jimmy Graham, respectively, which draws their numbers last year more in line with where they are going in standard fantasy leagues.  Stafford will presumably be asked to throw more often in 2015 as the Lions defense regresses, and that explains why he still has an ADP of QB10 despite the mediocre production last year.

Finally, let's take a look at defenses.  Again, a negative number means an easier schedule (i.e., weaker quarterbacks), but a lower AdjFP/G means a better defense.  To no surprise, Seattle had the stingiest fantasy defense for opposing quarterbacks in 2014, with Buffalo and Kansas City rounding out the top three. And no defense was friendlier to opposing quarterbacks last season than Washington's.

RkDefFP AllowedFP/GSOSAdj FP/G
1 Seattle Seahawks 228.5 14.3 0.1 14.2
2 Buffalo Bills 260.3 16.3 0 16.3
3 Kansas City Chiefs 271.85 17 0.5 16.5
4 Cincinnati Bengals 284.95 17.8 0.7 17.2
5 Detroit Lions 288.95 18.1 0.6 17.5
6 Minnesota Vikings 301.25 18.8 1.1 17.7
7 San Francisco 49ers 292.75 18.3 0 18.3
8 Cleveland Browns 295.7 18.5 0.1 18.3
9 New England Patriots 303.35 19 0.6 18.4
10 Miami Dolphins 306.05 19.1 -0.1 19.3
11 Carolina Panthers 320.75 20 0.5 19.6
12 St. Louis Rams 306.5 19.2 -0.5 19.6
13 Green Bay Packers 320.4 20 0.3 19.8
14 Houston Texans 309.45 19.3 -0.6 20
15 Jacksonville Jaguars 323.6 20.2 0.3 20
16 New York Jets 338.2 21.1 1.1 20
17 Baltimore Ravens 319.05 19.9 -0.1 20
18 Atlanta Falcons 328.5 20.5 0.4 20.1
19 Tennessee Titans 311.4 19.5 -0.7 20.1
20 Dallas Cowboys 321.75 20.1 -0.2 20.3
21 Oakland Raiders 326.75 20.4 0 20.4
22 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 326.3 20.4 -0.1 20.5
23 San Diego Chargers 316.6 19.8 -0.8 20.6
24 Arizona Cardinals 330.8 20.7 0 20.7
25 Indianapolis Colts 313.2 19.6 -1.3 20.8
26 Denver Broncos 329.3 20.6 -0.4 20.9
27 New Orleans Saints 349.75 21.9 0.3 21.5
28 New York Giants 346.35 21.6 -0.2 21.8
29 Philadelphia Eagles 370.05 23.1 0.5 22.6
30 Pittsburgh Steelers 344.55 21.5 -1.1 22.6
31 Chicago Bears 370.9 23.2 0.5 22.7
32 Washington Redskins 381.85 23.9 -0.4 24.3

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