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03 Jul

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Drafting A QB Early Is A Mistake

Do you have to take a quarterback early in a fantasy football draft? The answer is a definitive no if you ask Ray Flowers.

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Let me start with the conclusion to this piece. You do not have to draft a quarterback early to win your fantasy football league. Why? Because there is a fundamental misunderstanding when it comes to how passers record points that warps peoples minds. In what follows I will lay out his reasoning as to why it's often a better move to go with runners and receivers early in a draft. It's pretty straight forward stuff, even if people try to needlessly complicate things.

PART I – A HISTORY LESSON

Let's go year by year over the last five years, and them compare those numbers to a decade ago. The data should point out what is obvious – teams, all teams, pass the football more than they did in the past, and they are doing it better now than at any point in the past.

2004: 5 threw for 4,000 yards. One for 4,600 yards.
2009: 10 threw for 4,000 yards. One for 4,600 yards.
2010: 5 threw for 4,000 yards. Three for 4,600 yards.
2011: 10 threw for 4,000 yards. Six for 4,600 yards.
2012: 11 threw for 4,000 yards. Six threw for 4,600 yards.
2013: Nine threw for 4,000 yards. Three threw for 4,600 yards.
 

2004: 9 threw for 25 touchdowns. Two threw for 35 scores.
2009: 12 threw for 25 touchdowns. None threw for 35 scores.
2010: 11 threw for 25 touchdowns. One threw for 35 scores.
2011: 9 threw for 25 touchdowns. Three threw for 40 scores.
2012: 12 threw for 25 touchdowns. Three threw for 35 scores. 
2013:  11 threw for 25 touchdowns. Two threw for 35 scores. 
 

2004: 7 for 500 passes. Zero for 600 attempts.
2009: 14 for 500 passes. Zero for 600 attempts.
2010: 9 threw 500 passes. Two for 600 attempts.
2011: 16 threw 500 passes. Three for 600 attempts.
2012: 18 threw 500 passes. Six for 600 attempts.
2013:  16 threw 500 passes. Six for 600 attempts.

Obviously passing has picked up in recent years and it's not just Peyton Manning that has thrown more effectively.  Further proof. On a per team average, here are some yearly numbers.

1984: 18-for-32 (56.3%), 206 yards, 1.4 passing scores
1994: 20-for-34 (58.8%), 214 yards, 1.3 passing scores
2004: 19-for-32 (59.4%), 211 yards, 1.4 passing scores
2013: 22-for-35 (61.3%), 236 yards and 1.6 passing scores   

The league, as a whole, throws the ball more often, completes more passes, throws for more yards and tossing more passing scores than ever before.

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PART II – TOTAL POINTS, DO THEY MATTER? 

This is the main argument that people make. They say 'but Ray, quarterbacks score the most points in my setup so I need to take one first.' This is patently false. Quarterbacks do score the most points, the premise is accurate, but the conclusion – having to draft one – is completely fallacious. Here are numerous data points that should make my point more clear.

I will use the SiriusXM Experts Host League from 2013 to illustrate the data points that follow. Here is the scoring system from that league.

4 points for a passing touchdowns
6 points for a rushing/receiving score
1 point for 20 yards passing
1 point for 10 rushing/receiving yards
1 point for a passing 2-point conversion
2 points for a rushing/receiving score
1 point per reception.

Pretty standard stuff.

We will look at Weeks 1-16 since the vast majority of leagues don't play in Week 17.

The facts.

(1) The top-2 point producers were quarterbacksPeyton Manning & Drew Brees.

(2) Four of the top-5 scorers were quarterbacks (add in Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton).

(3) Nine of the top-10 overall point scorers were quarterbacks (the only none QB was Jamaal Charles).

(4) Of the top-20 point producers 15 were quarterbacks.

(5) Of the top-30 point producers 18 were quarterbacks

How many teams are in your league? If you're only starting one quarterback you could have had a top-20 overall point producer at the quarterback position if you were in a 15 team league. Are you participating in a league deeper than that? Didn't think so. Some more facts.

* Last season LeSean McCoy was pretty good, right? He produced 312.2 points. Matt Ryan scored 313 points.

* Last season Calvin Johnson had 305.2 points. Alex Smith had 306.9 points. 

* Last season Matt Forte had 303.6 points. Ryan Tannehill had 305.1 points.

* Last season Jimmy Graham had 285.4 points. Colin Kaepernick had 293.8 points.

* Last season Knowshon Moreno had 279.2 points. Carson Palmer had 281.4.

* Last season Dez Bryant had 270.5 points. Joe Flacco scored 278.6 points. 


Review those six comparisons. Are any of you out there seriously trying to tell me that you would take any of those quarterbacks over the position players I listed? Of course you wouldn't, not if you wanted to win you wouldn't.  

Are you getting it yet? 

The fact is that ALL quarterbacks score more points than position players in most setups. Just the way it is. That does not mean, however, that quarterbacks should be taken early in fantasy football drafts. I'll move on to the simple reason for that next (hopefully it's already clear to you, but if it isn't...)

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Let's assume the following setup. 

A 12 team league with the following starters: 1 QB, 2RB, 3WR, TE, FLEX, K, DEF 

In this setup you start 12 quarterbacks, 24 running backs, 36 wide receivers and 12 tight ends. There will also be the need for 12 flex options further penetrating into the RB, WR and TE pools. This is a huge key that everyone seems to miss. Let's put the pieces of the puzzle together.

You start 12 quarterbacks in this setup. Remember what we just learned: 15 of the top-20 point producers last season were quarterbacks. You could have QB #15 last year and still get a top-20 overall point performer. Why reach on a quarterback? You don't need to. 

What you need to be worried about is the other positions, not quarterback. Remember, you're starting way more players at the other spots – at least running back and wide receiver.

For the sake of what follows I'm going to assume that we're starting a RB or WR at the flex spot. That means I will assume that there are 12 tight ends starting, 30 runners (the 24 you have to start and six more at flex) and 42 at wide out (the 36 you have to start and six more at flex). 

This is key, and it's the main point that people always miss. There are 32 NFL teams. That means...

We are starting 12 of 32 quarterbacks. 
That's 37.5 percent of the league.

We are starting 30 of 32 running backs. 
That's 93.8 percent of the league.

We are starting 42 of 64 wide receivers. 
That's 67 percent of the league.

We are starting 12 of 32 tight ends. 
That's 37.5 percent of the league.

I'm assuming that we're basically talking tailbacks only at the running back position and that teams are using a traditional two wideout set as their base. You could easily argue that a good deal of teams start three wideouts. Even if we grant that half the league does that we would still be starting 42 of 80 wideouts, still more than 50 percent of the starters at the position.

With so much player penetration at running back and wide receiver it becomes a simple case of supply and demand. You need to start more than twice as many runners as quarterbacks and three times as many wideouts as signal callers. You simply have to draft more of them. Recall that quarterbacks all score the most points. This is simply not true a the other skill positions and we have to start more skill position guys than signal callers. Let's move on to the data.

THE 2013 SEASON

QUARTERBACK 

There were 15 QBs in the top-20 overall point producers last year. Peyton Manning scored 467.1 points to top the list while the 12th ranked QB, Tom Brady, came in at 309.9 points. That's a difference of 157.2 points from the top QB to the last starting QB. That's obviously a huge gap between the two but what if we remove the astronomically impressive season of Peyton Manning? Lets compare #2 (Drew Brees) to Brady. If we do that the gap shrinks to 85.2 points.

The 12th ranked QB was the 14th overall point producer in 2013.

RUNNING BACKS

Jamaal Charles scored 382.0 points to lead all runners. The 30th ranked runner was C.J. Spiller who   recorded 137.9 points. That's a difference of 244.1 points. Remember, the gap between the top starting QB and the last starting QB in the fantasy game last season was 157.2 points. The top ranked runner more than doubled – substantially – the point total of the 30th ranked runner. More than doubled (re-listed for emphasis). 

The 30th ranked RB was the 127th overall point producer in 2013.

WIDE RECEIVERS

The top wide last season was Calvin Johnson. His point total was 305.2, the 16th highest overall mark in fantasy football. The 42nd best wide receiver in 2013 was Eddie Royal with 146.1 points. The difference between the elite of the position and the last weekly starter was was 159.1 points.

The 42nd ranked WR was the 113th overall point producer in 2013.

TIGHT ENDS

The leading tight end in points last season was Jimmy Graham with 285.4 of them. The 12th best tight end, Coby Fleener, was 129th overall overall with 137.3 points, less than half the point total of the lowest starting quarterback.

The 12th ranked TE was the 129th overall point producer in 2013.


Are you seeing why going with a quarterback in the first or second or third round simply because they score the most points may not be the best plan? Quarterbacks are fairly consistent from week to week, especially when compared to the other positions, I'll grant that. Rarely will a starting quarterback go out and throw for 134 yards and three interceptions without a score. However, that's not the case with skill players. How many times does a runner for for 43 yards and no scores, or a receiver catch three balls for 26 yards? It happens all the time – every single week in fact. While some see that and think they need to go QB early to lock in that consistency, I think he exact opposite is true. ALL QBs SCORE POINTS. Not all runners and receivers do on a weekly basis. This makes it even more important to try an load up on the elite skill position players because, again, I can wait to roster a quarterback and still end up with a very stable commodity. I can't say the same thing at running back and wide receiver.

One further set of numbers to help to drive the nail into the proverbial coffin that it makes any sense to draft a quarterback early.

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PART IV – THE POINT PAYOFF

Let's move beyond the best and the worst at each spot. One player can skew things if we look at it that way (i.e. the bonkers season that Peyton Manning had last year). Therefore we'll compare the top-5 players at each position with the last ranked starter at that position. Remember, 12 QBs, 30 RBs, 42 WRs and 12 TEs is our operating model. Also, we're only concerned with Weeks 1-16.

THE 2013 SEASON

QB: 380 points is the average of the top-5. The 12th ranked quarterback posted 310 points. 
There is a 70 point gap between top-5 and last starter.
The last starter produced 82 percent of the points of the top-5. 

RB: 307 points for the top-5. Runner #30 recorded 138 points.
169 point gap, 45 percent of the top-5.

WR: 295 points for the top-5. Receiver #42 recorded 146 points.
149 point gap, 49 percent of the top-5.

TE: 221 points for the top-5. End #12 recorded 137 points.
84 points gap, 62 percent of the top-5.

The bottom line is that the lowest starting quarterback was closer to the top-5 at his position than the lowest runner or receiver was to the top-5 at their position – by a massive amount. Look at the running  back and wide receiver positions. The last starter at each of those positions failed to record 50 percent of the point totals of the top-5 at their position. At the quarterback position the last starter recorded 82 percent of the point total of the top-5. It's not double the difference of RB/WR, but it's certainly a massive difference. Doesn't this point out what I've been constantly telling you? Pretty clear isn't it?

The data is right here. This is the money shot. Put simply, a few facts.

(1) All quarterbacks score points, not just the best of the best.

(2) Even the worst starting quarterback in your league is still an elite point producer relative to the other positions.

(3) The gap between the last starting QB and the top-5 at the position is a mere 18 percent loss.

(4) The gap between the last starting RB and the top-5 at the position is a loss of 55 percent.

(5) The gap between the last starting WR and the top-5 at the position is a loss of 51 percent.

(6) The gap between the last starting TE and the top-5 at the position is a loss of 38 percent.

(7) Since quarterbacks score the most points AND have the smallest decline in loss of point scoring at the bottom of the starters at the position, why on earth would you take a quarterback early when there is massive point loss at the other three spots, especially at the running back and wide receiver positions? 

(8) Any solid quarterback will produce plenty of points and roughly keep up with the elites of his position. This is simply not the case at running back or wide receiver. 

Thought I would toss in two more years of data so that you didn't think it was a one year anomaly. 

THE 2012 SEASON

QB: 380 points the top-5. The 12th ranked quarterback posted 310.7 points. 
69.3 point gap, 81.1 percent of the top-5. 

RB: 287 points for the top-5. Runner #30 recorded 134 points.
153 point gap, 47 percent of the top-5.

WR: 305 points for the top-5. Receiver #42 recorded 150 points.
155 point gap, 49 percent of the top-5.

TE: 208 points for the top-5. End #12 recorded 145 points.
63 points gap, 70 percent of the top-5.

THE 2011 SEASON

QB: 423 points the top-5. The 12th ranked quarterback posted 284 points. 
139 point gap, 67 percent of the top-5. 

RB: 305 points for the top-5. Runner #30 recorded 137 points.
168 point gap, 45 percent of the top-5.

WR: 284 points for the top-5. Receiver #42 recorded 147 points.
137 point gap, 52 percent of the top-5.

TE: 231 points for the top-5. End #12 recorded 153 points.
78 points gap, 66 percent of the top-5.

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PART V – TWO QB LEAGUES

We've seen a proliferation of two quarterback leagues of late (leagues that start two quarterbacks) and Super Flex leagues (where you can start a QB at the Flex spot). Some notes on this setup.

(1) Almost everything in the first four sections of this report doesn't speak to two QB leagues.

(2) If you are in a 2-QB or super flex league you can take quarterbacks early. In fact, it's likely advisable. This is especially true in Super Flex leagues. Remember, all quarterbacks score the most points and that Joe Flacco outscored Dez Bryant last season. At the same time also remember what you learned previously. There's not a massive gap between the elites and the moderate plays at the quarterback position. Heck, Ryan Fitzpatrick averaged 21.2 points a game last year and that's only 1.6 points off the 22.8 points a game from Aaron Rodgers

(3) You must use a quarterback in the flex spot if you can. They score more points on a weekly basis and have a much lower floor. Whereas a wideout or runner can get shutout and have a four point day, an absolutely horrible day for a quarterback is still going to get you double-digit fantasy points in nearly every instance.

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PART VI – THE PEYTON MANNING MISTAKE

Peyton Manning will not repeat what he did last season. Just not happening. Sorry. The following is from the 2014 Fantasy Alarm NFL Draft Guide

The Peyton Manning Show from 2013...

Peyton Manning had the most passes of at least 25 yards (46). He was followed by Drew Brees (41), Andy Dalton (36), Russell Wilson (36) and Philip Rivers (35). 

Peyton Manning led quarterbacks with 43.9 percent of all of his passes going for first downs. What makes that even more remarkable is that he also led the NFL in passing attempts (659). Jason Campbell was the worst at 27.1 percent. 

Peyton Manning led the AFC with 8.3 percent of all of his passes going for a touchdown (55 of 659). The next two men tossed 32 (Philip Rivers at 5.9 percent) and 33 (Andy Dalton at 5.6 percent) scores – but the final two men in the top-5 were at 28 (Ben Roethlisberger at 4.8 percent) and 23 scores (Alex Smith at 4.5 percent). Oh wait, I almost forgot to mention the man who led football – that was Nick Foles at 8.5 percent.

Peyton Manning had the best completion percentage in the red zone (71.8 percent). Nick Foles (70.3), Philip Rivers (65.5), Aaron Rodgers (63.0) and Andy Dalton (61.5 percent) rounded out the top-5. 

Peyton Manning led AFC QBs with a 114.9 QB Rating at home. Which is a bigger shock, Jake Locker at #4 (95.1) or E.J. Manuel at #7 (91.8) in the AFC? The NFC leader was Aaron Rodgers (126.4) followed by Drew Brees (126.3) and Josh McCown (119.7). Two guys that really struggled were Robert Griffin III (80.9) and Matthew Stafford (79.5).

Peyton Manning completed 450 passes. Three quarterbacks who played in all 16 games threw less passes than Peyton Manning or Drew Brees completed (Brees had 443 completions). Russell Wilson threw 407 passes last year. Colin Kapernick threw 416 passes. Geno Smith threw 443 passes. 

Can Manning Repeat His 2013 Effort?

If you are saying yes you are claiming that he will repeat the greatest offensive season – ever. At 38 years of age, without his #2 wide out (Eric Decker) and #1 running back (Knowshon Moreno). The age is a big thing for me, as it should be for you. Manning is 38. He's not remotely mobile. He's had surgery after surgery on his neck. His fastball has diminished. That's all anecdotal but inarguably true facts. Now the data.

Manning threw for 5,477 yards. He had never thrown for 4,800 yards before.

Manning threw for 55 touchdowns. He had only one other season with more than 37 scores and that was back in 2004 when he had 40 passing scores.

Manning completely 450 passes to tie his career best mark. For his career he's averaged 369 a season.

Manning threw 659 passes last season, the 2nd highest mark of his career. For his career he's averaged 563 passes a season.

Manning threw a career-high 10 fumbles. He lost a career-high six fumbles. 

And he's 38 years old. 

It's just not logical to expect him to repeat. It's worse than that. It's illogical. Don't be swayed by the numbers. Listen to Jeff Mans on that one. 


COMMENTS

  • 64x64

    David F. 03 Dec 20:11 / Reply

    Actually, most experts have said that drafting a QB early is not the best strategy. This is the first year I didn't take a QB early, and it hurt my team. Each year in the past I have taken a a top tier QB in the 2nd round and won or came near the top in each of those years in my leagues. This year I listened to the so called experts on the advice of taken the next tier QB's a little later. The problem is that second tier QB's are not consistent as the top tier QB's and don't have the upside that they do. Just like the person commenting above, when a lower tier QB scores 9.8 on a bad day, because they are not consistent, you need a lot from your other players to make up for it. Three times this year my second tier QB caused me to lose. If I had taken the QB I wanted, I would of been in the championship instead of just missing out. I know not everyone will be like me, but sometimes taken the best player available is the best advice you can give. Sometimes a top QB's value is worth more than you think. Also the leagues scoring system should dictate the value. This is just my opinion.


  • 64x64

    furbear87@aol.com 03 Dec 15:54 / Reply

    Ray, I understand what you are saying. But when a top QB like Peyton Manning scores 40 points in a standard league and your 5th round QB had a bad day and scores 9.8 points, the opponent's other 8 players only have to average 8 points a position to score over 100, while your other 8 players have to score around 11 points each. I think I'd rather begin my draft with a guy who is going to give you 20-30 points each week and maybe hit the jack pot and score 40-50 a time or two rather want hope for 13 weeks to get double digit points from my QB?


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