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Passing on Passers - A Case For Drafting Your QB1 Late


We all know that Patrick Mahomes, in his second season as an NFL player and his first as a full-time starter, broke a record set in 2013 by the very own Peyton Manning. In 2018, Mahomes finished the season with 417.1 fantasy points, edging Manning's 412 by 5.1 in the final tally. That is impressive in and of itself, but do you know what is more impressive? Mahomes accomplished such feat being drafted around the 10th round on average with an ADP approaching 120.

Don't get me wrong, though. The 2018 season also saw Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck rack up more than 325 points. The former boasted an ADP of 42 and the latter's was at around 85. Good quarterbacks with high ADPs more often than not are going to produce points no matter what.

That doesn't mean, though, that you should draft one of those highly-coveted, highly-priced quarterbacks. Each and every year the passing game seems to get more importance in the NFL. It shows both in real-life and in fantasy leagues. Today, I'm here to analyze what has happened during the past few seasons at the QB position in order to convince you, once for all, that you should wait on drafting your QB1. Thank me later. Note: to see images in full size, just click on them.

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The Average Quarterback Production Is (Almost) At A Historical High

The following chart depicts the points generated by every quarterback from 2010 to the 2018 season. There have been 209 quarterbacks ranked since 2010 on Fantasy Football Calculator's (FFC) database. From 2014 on, the trend has gone upwards in total QB point production barring a little regression in 2017 (Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson missed 18 combined games, though). Even with that, 2018 has been the best season of the decade by far in terms of QB fantasy production:

Accounting for the number of quarterbacks to feature on FFC's ADP rankings each season, and thus showing the average points per quarterback instead of the total points accumulated by all players at the position, things stabilize a bit. There is an up-and-down line going from 2011 to 2018.

An uptick in production is followed by a lesser outcome the next season, and vice-versa. Maybe 2019 average production moves down again after a peak in 2018, but we'll have to wait to know and I have serious doubts that will be the case.

All of this is great but, who are the quarterbacks truly awarding the most points to their owners?

 

Higher ADPs Don't Always Translate Into Higher Production

Although I may have convinced you that 2018 proved that the quarterback position is posting arguably historically high marks, that doesn't mean you should pass on the best quarterbacks available early in your draft, right?

The fact that more QB-points were generated in 2018, at first sight, and with the presented evidence, still doesn't tell us who was really generating all that point surplus. At this point, you wouldn't be wrong assuming there was an uptick in production just because of heavy-lifters as Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, and Tom Brady (ADPs 1-2-3 in 2018) were putting on tremendous performances. Turns out that is not entirely the case.

Here is every player on FFC's dataset represented by a single dot per season. You can find their ADP (overall among all players, not only QBs) on the horizontal axis, and their fantasy points at the end of that season in the vertical one:

As we could expect, there is indeed a relation between ADP and fantasy points produced at the end of the year. Exactly, the correlation between both variables amounts to an R-Squared value of 0.15 (where zero means no relation, and one means total positive correlation). Good, definitely not great.

To make things a little less messy, here are the quarterbacks ranked for the 2018 season and their fantasy points production. I have applied a color scale divided into five levels to make things easier to the eye:

Getting back to Mahomes, he was the clear leader of the pack with his record 417.1 points. After him, there was a group with 310+ points comprised of six QB. Then there was another group that scored between 240 and 310 points with nine QBs in it. Finally, the worst two groups had seven and four quarterbacks respectively, all of them producing under 215 points (except Derek Carr who got to 215.8).

The same trend line that applied to the whole dataset can also be seen to a certain point here. At the top left part of the chart, we find the highest-drafted QBs and those with the highest production numbers. As we go down and to the right things get murkier with the likes of Tyrod Taylor making their appearances.

 

A Season-By-Season Look At Quarterback Production Based on ADP

The same as I did with the 2018 season in the previous section I have done for every year since 2010, putting all charts together in the same image so you can easily and quickly compare all of them:

Excluding the weird outlier that 2015 turned out to be, every year presents a similar trend line. The R-Squared values range from .12 to .32, with the exception of 2015 again featuring a negative correlation (!)

As I'm trying to convince you of not drafting the highest-ranked QBs by ADP, I'm going to leave part of the data out to focus on the really good point-producers. The next chart is limited to the last five seasons, and to quarterbacks with at least 200 fantasy points in their accounts at the end of the year. Also, QBs with an overall ADP over 84 (end of the 7th round in 12-team leagues) are highlighted:

Of the 86 quarterbacks to score more than 200 points between 2015 and 2018, only 39 of them did so while being drafted inside the first seven rounds of fantasy drafts. Less than half of them! Of those 39, only 15 (again less than a half!) put up more than 300 points. In comparison, 10 quarterbacks drafted from the 84th pick onwards logged 300+ points in at least one of the past five seasons. You can't tell me you're not starting to seriously consider passing on QBs early.

As I said before, there are sure bets on players that almost 99% of the time are going to do what we expect them to do. Rodgers raved on 2014 and 2016. Wilson and Brady did so in 2015 and 2017. They came with high ADPs but they were worth the price. On average, though, the best QBs are not linked to a high ADP as the data clearly shows.

Nobody could predict Mahomes putting on a record-season last year, for sure. But the odds of that happening again (at least to a certain extent) with any other underrated or overlooked quarterback are higher than ever. Drafts are living, breathing processes. Their flow varies from one to another and things can look totally different depending who your fantasy league-mates are, their backgrounds and experience, strategies, etc. If you see Mahomes available at the start of the fifth or sixth round, as impossible as it sounds, you take him. You have to adapt and take advantage of the situation. But if that drop doesn't happen to him or any other super highly-rated QB, you're probably better off passing on quarterbacks since at least the 8th round arrives, loading on RBs and WRs (and the eventual TE if you like so) with the prior picks.

Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, and Jared Goff all were picked on average at or later than the 8th round in 2018. All of them, too, produced more points than all but two players (Watson and Rodgers) ranked above them by ADP. Deshaun Watson getting off the board at around the 42nd pick or Aaron Rodgers at the 30th could have cost you a lot of points if you had selected them over other much better point-producers at the WR or RB position considering how Jared Goff, for example, finished just under 20 points behind those two.

The takeaway from all of this is that the difference in points from an ADP-30 QB and an ADP-80 one is not worth the price to pay for the first one given how much more expensive he would turn out to be.

So for the upcoming season, each time you enter the draft room, keep that in mind. Be comfortable laughing at those trying to snatch Mahomes, Mayfield or Watson in the first two or three rounds of the draft. Wait for your chance. Bank on sleepers.

Finally, all you'll have to do is wait for the season to finish and present all of those too-fast gamblers a QB leaderboard. Their quarterbacks may be floating around the top spots, but yours will undoubtedly be near enough to them, if not over their names if you truly hit the right button on draft day.

Enough with all those Zero RB and Zero WR strategies. Go Zero QB. Just wait and reap the rewards. You can thank me now.

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