Which QB Stats Are Most Repeatable?

Which quarterback statistics from 2012 can help us avoid busts in 2013?

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at a starting point for your running back projections. I don't think the same type of article would be as useful at the quarterback position, but we can still look at which quarterback statistics are not very likely to repeat in 2013.

Buyer Beware: Heavy Usage

There were 20,521 passes, sacks, and runs by quarterbacks in 2012. That's an average of 641 per team. But not every quarterback was involved in exactly 641 plays, of course. The more plays a quarterback has, the more likely he is to put up big fantasy numbers. But if a quarterback was only a fantasy star in 2012 because he ran a lot of plays, he might be overvalued in 2013. This is simply regression to the mean at work. Let's take a look at the biggest offenders.

  • Matthew Stafford was involved in a mind-boggling 791 plays last year. Stafford ran 23.3% more plays than average last year, the main reason he finished as QB10 in 2012. It's easy to be impressed with the fact that Stafford threw for 4,967 yards last year, but let's put that in context: he broke the record for pass attempts in a season while playing for a 4-12 team. Stafford will have to significantly improve as a quarterback in 2013 to offset what he'll lose in fantasy value once he's involved in fewer plays.
  • Andrew Luck may have posted impressive numbers as a rookie, but he was the only Colts quarterback to take a snap last year. Luck threw 627 passes, was sacked 41 times, and ran 62 more times. That gave him 13.8% more plays than the average team quarterback in 2012. Luck will probably improve on his pedestrian 7.0 yards per attempt average from last year, but if he throws fewer attempts in 2013, any improvement he makes as a passer won't necessarily translate into him being a better fantasy quarterback.
  • Tony Romo played for a bad Cowboys team last year that ranked 30th in time spent playing with the lead. As a result, Romo was credited with 724 plays in 2012. This was an outlier for Dallas' star quarterback: he started all 16 games in 2011, but only participated in 580 plays. Romo had a down year in 2012 by his standards, leading the NFL in interceptions and posting the lowest touchdown rate (just 4.3%) of his career; only a huge number of opportunities kept his fantasy value in the top ten.
  • Drew Brees ranked 4th in total plays among quarterbacks (715), although it's less surprising seeing Brees' name here. In each of the last three years, Brees has finished with 658-670 passes, 24-26 sacks, and 15-21 carries. He's a volume machine, but one you can depend on.
  • Tom Brady was fifth with 699 plays. The Patriots generally run a lot of plays -- they ranked 2nd in plays in both 2009 and 2011 -- but last year was a huge outlier. In 2009, New England ran 1,076 plays; the next year, at 14-2, the Patriots ranked 22nd with just 986 plays. In 2011, the team had 1,082 offensive plays. But in 2012, New England fell just nine plays shy of an NFL record when they ran 1,191 plays. It seems like Bill Belichick and Brady enjoyed running a hurry-up, no-huddle offense last year, but it's always hard to predict what the Patriots will do. Just know this: there's little upside involved if you are projecting Tom Brady to run 700 plays next year. Brady feels ,reliable, but he's been all over the map as far as fantasy points. Here are his fantasy point totals each year, starting in 2006: 283, 496, 4, 344, 376, 462, 423. With a healthy Gronkowski and Hernandez, it's possible Brady could get back to the 450-point range. But if New England drops from 1,191 plays to 1,050 plays, and Gronkowski struggles to get on the field, Brady could easily settle into a quarterback who scores "just" 350 fantasy points.

Potential Steals: Low Usage

  • Russell Wilson took nearly every snap for the Seahawks last year, but he only finished with 533 plays. Part of that was due to his efficient play, but part of the reason was the Seahawks running game and defense caused the team to take the air out of the ball. Right now, there's little reason to expect something different in 2013, but it's worth recognizing that Wilson ranked as the 11th best fantasy quarterback despite playing running nearly 200 fewer plays than Stafford. The upside is there for Wilson to have a big fantasy season, and he's the type of player you want to insert into your lineup when the Seahawks aren't huge favorites.
  • Eli Manning essentially lost a full game because his defense couldn't get off the field in 2012. The Giants averaged 1,028 plays from 2007 to 2011, but fell 60 shy of that number in 2012. Manning rarely misses a snap, so his year-end production usually overstates his weekly production, but for 2013, he might be undervalued. If you remove the running quarterbacks (Robert Griffin III and Wilson), Manning scored the most fantasy points last year of any player with fewer than 600 pass attempts.
  • Robert Griffin III missed some time due to injury, limiting him to just 597 plays last year. Of course, counting on Griffin to not miss any time against in 2013 may be unrealistic. Griffin was the No. 7 QB last year, but if you played in a Team QB league, the Washington QB ranked No. 3 in the NFL. When Griffin is healthy, he's more like the #3QB than the #7QB.
  • Ben Roethlisberger is another quarterback who carries substantial injury risk. He was limited to only 505 plays last year; if he averaged the same number of fantasy points per play over 641 plays, he would have scored 364 fantasy points, more than Tony Romo or Andrew Luck last season. Expect fantasy owners to be down on Roethlisberger in 2013, but Pittsburgh looks to be an average (or worse) team this year. If he stays healthy, Roethlisberger should have no problem setting a career high in pass attempts, which makes him a high-upside pick as your second quarterback.

Buyer Beware: Touchdown Lengths

Are certain types of passing touchdowns more predictable than others? For example, if a quarterback throws a lot of short touchdown passes, what does that mean for his future production: are those less or more likely to repeat the next year than passes of other lengths?

From 1990 to 2011, 188 different quarterbacks started at least 14 games and thrown 300+ passes in one year, and then attempted at least 300 passes for the same team the next season. After analyzing the lengths of each touchdown pass for those quarterbacks, I discovered the following:

  • For every one-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.70 touchdowns in Year N+1
  • For every two-to-five-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.56 touchdowns in Year N+1
  • For every six-to-ten-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.77 touchdowns in Year N+1
  • For every 11-to-20-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.70 touchdowns in Year N+1
  • For every 21-to-30-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.22 touchdowns in Year N+1
  • For every 31-to-50-yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.33 touchdowns in Year N+1
  • For every 50+ yard touchdown pass in Year N, expect 0.33 touchdowns in Year N+1

If a team throws touchdowns from inside the red zone, that reveals an offensive philosophy that is good for your fantasy quarterback. On the other hand, 21+ yard touchdowns might make the highlight feels, but are very unpredictable from year to year. What does that mean for 2013?

  • Collectively, 21 of the 39 touchdown passes from Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III came from outside of the red zone. Defenses have to play closer to the line of scrimmage against running quarterbacks, so it makes sense that Newton and Griffin go over the top of the defense with some regularity. Just keep in mind that these long touchdown passes may not be very repeatable. Still, I'm more likely to give a rushing quarterback the benefit of the doubt than say...
  • Tony Romo threw 28 touchdowns last year, and 14 of them were from 21+ yards out. Add in the high usage from 2012, and there are some significant reasons to think Romo will be overvalued in 2013.
  • Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler are strong-armed quarterbacks, but both threw over 40% of their touchdown passes from outside of the red zone in 2012. History tells us that relying on deep touchdown passes for fantasy production is a risky endeavor.

Potential Steals

  • Drew Brees is as reliable as it gets: 34 of his 41 touchdown passes came from inside the twenty-yard line in 2012, including an incredible 14 from six-to-ten yards away.
  • The Minnesota Vikings were the only team not to throw a touchdown pass of over 20 yards in 2012. That's a pretty damning indictment on Christian Ponder, who was constantly facing stacked boxes thanks to the presence of Adrian Peterson. On the other hand, his 18 touchdown passes in 2012 doesn't seem like a number that is in danger of declining, perhaps because that's when defenses are *really* expecting more from Peterson.
  • Both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady had over 70% of their touchdown passes come from inside the twenty-yard line. We can count on those two to always deliver strong touchdown numbers.
  • The Falcons metamorphosis into a passing team is complete, and I doubt the addition of Steven Jackson will change that: 25 of Matt Ryan's 32 touchdown passes came from inside the 20.
  • Josh Freeman has a well-deserved reputation as a downfield passer: he ranked 2nd in yards per completion in 2012. But only six of his 27 touchdown passes came from outside the Red Zone, so he's a potential sleeper for 2013, even if his coach seems to hate him.