One of the questions that was hotly debated before the start of the 2012 fantasy season was, “Do you need a stud QB to make the playoffs”? As a long time re-draft player, I learned to avoid quarterback in favor of a running back or receiver until at least the eighth or ninth round in most cases. But the new NFL has brought me in to the 21st century kicking and screaming. I now believe that the days of winning with Shaun King or Elvis Grbac are behind us.
I’ve collected some informal data from a number of sources about teams that made the playoffs. In particular, I’d like to thank my friends in the DLF Forum for their generous contributions. I focused on making the playoffs rather than winning the league because so much luck is involved in one and done fantasy playoffs. Plus I had access to much more data this way and thus less outlier noise.
- I received data from over 200 dynasty teams that made the playoffs
- In some cases, teams reported having two very strong QBs (example: Peyton/RG3). I didn’t count this as a committee. A committee by my definition is a combination of QBs where no one would reasonably want to count on either as their sole starter (example: Bradford/Tannehill)
- I simply tallied up the number of times each QB was listed and then ran the math. In essence, I was seeing how many times each QB made an appearance in the data. Each appearance was treated as one time that the QB led a team to the playoffs
The Key Findings
- Eighteen different QBs were reported as being the primary player that led at least one team to the playoffs.
- Drew Brees led the most teams (12%) to the playoffs, followed closely by Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. In total, this group accounted for 40% of the teams in the sample.
- After the top four, there was a large second tier of quarterbacks in which each helped approximately the same number of teams to the playoffs (Andrew Luck, RGIII, Cam Newton, Matt Stafford, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, and Eli Manning). In total, this group helped nearly 50% of the teams to the playoffs.
- Given the math, it’s not surprising that after the second tier the numbers fell off quickly.
- And only 2% of owners reported successfully using a committee approach to make the playoffs.
The data clearly shows having one of the top-4 guys was a tremendous help to their teams. These teams made the playoffs at a much higher rate than those without one of them. Four QBs accounted for 40% of the playoff teams – that’s a big advantage. And it’s interesting to note that eleven quarterbacks accounted for nearly 90% of the teams that made it.
While that’s all fun and interesting data to collect and analyze AFTER the fact, the bigger question is could we have predicted this? And the answer is largely yes, which is what makes this so critical to fantasy success.
Think about it this way. In non-PPR, of the top-10 scoring running backs, at least four were not widely expected to be in that list (Doug Martin, CJ Spiller, Alfred Morris and Stevan Ridley). This demonstrates that our ability to predict the top running backs is somewhat spotty. It’s hit and miss. That’s certainly part of the fun of the game. If we could all predict it with certainty, there’d be nothing much to talk about or for that matter play for.
Well, our accuracy was much better at quarterback. Coming in to 2012, the widely held belief was that in some order Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Stafford and Cam were studs. And most of us had a second tier that included the likes of Eli, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. Well our hit rate here was quite good. Besides Rivers, every one of those preseason predictions paid off. Moreover most of us sharp shot the top-3 (Brady, Brees and A-Rod). Although there was a significant group that had Cam being a top-3 quarterback. Note: Cam still ranked sixth in terms of most playoff appearances in my sample.
So, you put the two learnings together: first, it helps to have a stud quarterback and second, you are likely to pick the right player as a stud. In combination, this makes taking a stud quarterback early in a start-up or paying handsomely in a trade a relatively safe endeavor. There isn’t much risk because you know who to choose and you know that it has a safe ROI.
Some Additional Considerations
There are some other things to consider that largely support the premise that having a stud quarterback is a wise investment.
None of the top dogs missed ANY games this year (and that includes the historically brittle Matt Stafford). And to the best of my recollection, none of them were even in doubt of making any of their starts. This is valuable in terms of predictability, peace of mind and also your ability to invest other places. If you have a Brady, it’s not absolutely necessary to back him up with anything but a bye-week filler. The math on the stud quarterbacks would be different if injuries were a legitimate concern. Having to make the investment to get a stud and make the investment to get a viable back-up would make the proposition less attractive.
While time will tell, I believe the new rules regarding contact with quarterbacks are inevitably going to lead to longer careers. The number one argument against taking Brady or Brees early is that they only have so much left in the tank. I question that. I think even Peyton Manning has several more good years ahead. Even if I’m only a middling team, I’m targeting one of these studs. They aren’t just good for serious contenders – it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Brady under center in 2015. If I’m right about that, these guys are good to go for what should be most dynasty owners’ planning horizon.
In closing, while I’m not all that surprised by the results of this informal analysis it’s nice to see the numbers support what I think most of us have come to believe via trial and error. If you want to make the playoffs next year and you’re sitting on the likes of Josh Freeman and Jay Cutler, my advice would be to make a serious push at a quarterback upgrade.
Editor’s Note: Tim Stafford can be found @dynastytim on twitter and in the forums as dlf_tims.