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Do You Need a Stud Quarterback?

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.

The Approach

  • 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 Learnings

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.

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phorts
9 years ago

Solid. I’ve always been of the mindset that you need a stud QB to win consistently (which usually translates to playoffs/championships), but have never found a way to prove it. Fantasy Points Per Game, Top 5 finishes, etc, only tell half the picture. Reliability and input from REAL leagues is about as much proof as you can get, and need. Well done.

I didnt add my 2 leagues results to the forum, but Brady, Brees, Arodge, Ryan, Peyton were in both. With Cam, Eli, Wilson, Stafford mixed in.

I guess the question now is, do you need a top 5 QB to win it all? Whats the cutoff for a “Stud QB”?

Jeff Haverlack
9 years ago

I’m not one to comment on our own articles that much because I believe it’s something we leave for our visitors to do. But ….

Great piece Tim. Especially in that it supports something I came to realize about 5 years ago: That while you don’t HAVE to have a stud (top 5) QB to be a championship team it is highly, highly desirable because of their consistency and, even more importantly, the point disparity garnered between the stud and the opposing QB that you are playing in any given Sunday. In what can easily be a 20 point advantage in some weeks, that is often two players worth of production … very tough to overcome.

I did research on this a couple of years ago to prove out my theories and my numbers showed that of the championship teams that I tallied, ~85% of them had a top five quarterback and most, a top three.

I’ve been meaning to write this piece ever since. Nice Job!

JBlake
9 years ago

As a big fan of probability, I think I would need to see a larger data set and more of the math before I buy in to the statistical significance. For example: In a 12-team league, most teams are going to have one of the top 12 starting QBs on their team, right?. Therefore, I would expect the top 12 QBs to account for nearly 100% of playoff teams, so I don’t think it’s that amazing to see that the top 11 account for 90% of the playoff teams in your data. I would actually expect that.

Sticking with a standard 12-team league, Brees should be the starting QB for 8.3% (1/12) of teams, yet he showed up in 12% of playoff teams; that’s significant, improving your chances of the making the playoffs by 40-something% versus random chance. But the next three (Brady/Rodgers/Ryan) account for 25% of starting QBs, and their teams only accounted for 28% percent of playoff teams. That’s a small improvement, but not statistically significant without more data.

So I love the concept of this kind of article, but if you gathered more data and graphed it out, I think you would see a great advantage in have the Top QB, a steadily decreasing advantage in having the 2nd through 6th best QB. After that, it’s actually disadvantageous to have QB7 and lower because, by definition, your QB is now performing below average in your league.

Reply to  JBlake
9 years ago

I agree in that I would like to see how the data plays out in different size leagues, also maybe IDP v. non-IDP leagues.

Reply to  JBlake
9 years ago

You have some good points, but you’re also working under the assumption that every team has just one of the top QBs. I know that in one of my leagues, I have Brees and Ryan. It wouldn’t surprise me if a fair number of teams with Brady, P. Manning, and Brees also had young guys like Cam, Luck, and RG3.

It would be interesting to expand this to include other positions and league types, but that isn’t very easily done unless someone like myfantasyleague has data like that available.

Even if you want more though, you should be able to see the correlation between the top QBs and the QBs most often on playoff teams. Brees, Brady, and Rodgers were the top scoring QBs in most leagues, and they were also the three most common on playoff teams. The questions are where are the cutoffs and is it most important to have a QB or some other position. Both of those would take a fair amount of work.

Coach
Reply to  Jacob Feldman
9 years ago

my question for you is why in the hell would you have brees and ryan. you are fighting a losing battle trying to mix and match those two. pick one and trade the other.

Reply to  Coach
9 years ago

12 team league. I have the following on roster:

QB: Brees and Ryan
RB: Foster, McCoy, Stewart, Wilson, Wells, LeShoure, Hunter
WR: Megatron, Bryant, Julio, Fitz, Crabtree
TE: Graham and Hernandez

What would you suggest me trading my insurance at QB for?

Always best to find out what you’re talking about before rudely passing judgment on something.

Coach
Reply to  Jacob Feldman
9 years ago

I would try to upgrade at running back by trading ryan and leshoure for something like ridley and big ben.

you’re probably never going to bench drew brees. You could trade Ryan for something good even if you have a good team.

And I was asking a question. Nothing rude about that.

dynasty king
Reply to  Jacob Feldman
9 years ago

Foster is a year or two away from the wheels coming off, McCoy’s stats went down and he’s coming off of a concussion, Stewart and Wells have not proven to be every week starters and Wilson, Lehoure and Hunter have upside but are not yet proven.
Matt Ryan is coming off of a monster year and his value is higher than it’s ever been. Why not look at a feature Rb and young upside Qb ?
Your roster is strong, I don’t deny you that but your comment above comes off a bit arrogant.
Pride before the fall my friend.

Kevin
Reply to  JBlake
9 years ago

I think you should show us more specific stats in my opinion you really didn’t back up your argument well. Also I think when most people think of stud QB they are talking about the top 3-5 guys not the top 11. Some things I didn’t like was that you bunched all the players into groups… Like I’m sure there were less teams with Stafford and Eli as their QBs because they were busts compared to ADP. But Luck, RGIII, Newton, and Romo I can hardly believe hurt their owners much compared to the top 3. In fact I’m surprised RGIII teams weren’t the highest of all QBs. Anyway I don’t think you need to drop an early pick on a QB however I do think its important to have a good quarterback (I think they are usually decently easy to predict the undervalued ones.. Peyton this year, Stafford last year were both easy plays in my opinion).

shivs
9 years ago

Won last year with Tebow and lost in the semifinals this year with Peyton. So it goes.

SJ
Reply to  shivs
9 years ago

I also won a league handily (wire to wire top scorer; MFL.com Dynasty) last year with Teabow/Vick…. sooooo

To be fair, my players were rock solid, head and shoulders above the rest, so I think it still just really comes down to your overall quality of roster.

If your not able to obtain a lot of depth, avoiding injuries and playing guys while theyre hot, than having more studs in your starting lineup (especially the QB position) will always benefit. But it can be argued that either method is hard to do… especially in a competitive dynasty.

SJ
Reply to  shivs
9 years ago

I’ve also missed the playoffs completely with a very high scoring team (top-4 overall scorer) and Rodgers at QB in consecutive years. So it also just depends on luck too

Jordan
9 years ago

Ok…so this is an interesting article but are we surprised? For instance, the point that 11 quarterbacks led 90% of playoff teams to the playoffs.. In a 10 or 12 team league, of course the top 11 are going to lead teams to the playoffs…somebody has to go to the playoffs..

Marek
9 years ago

I play in a two qb league with romo and Ben as my starters. Was hoping locker would develop this yr but now I don’t think it’ll happen. The Brees owner has been inquiring about Aj green and I have been shutting him down. He is persistent though so do you think I should pursue a trade AJ for Drew?

Coach
9 years ago

I played in a 2 QB league where everyone was selecting QBs the first few rounds. I stocked up with Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, Trent Richardson, Demaryius Thomas, Jimmy Graham, Vincent Jackson…

went to battle with Jake Locker, Sam Bradford, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mark Sanchez.

scored the most points in the league and won the title easily. Granted i picked up Kapernick along the way but my main QBs were Bradford and Fitzpatrick most of the way and I dominated.

Cyrus Miller
Reply to  Coach
9 years ago

This is a very risky strategy and while it worked out, I can see you being at a large disadvantage in the QB position most weeks.

More important, QB is a consistent position year to year and has the longest stability length. I’d be happy with some of your guys (Richardson, Thomas, Graham) but the other guys give up a little.

For example, Ray Rice has been consistent. But because he is a RB, we shouldn’t expect much more than 2-3 years more production out of him, max. 2-3 years is a long time for dynasty leagues, but a QB can be good for 5-10 depending on youth.

If it is a redraft league, ignore what I just said, as it doesn’t matter. I still consider it risky because you are at such a disadvantage, but if you can get the players you mentioned, keep doing it. In my leagues, Rice was a first, Lynch, Richardson, Thomas and Graham were 2nd rounders, and Vjax was a third. I’m astounded you could get all of them, despite the other teams grabbing 2 QB’s.

Drew Swanson
9 years ago

Great article. Keep em coming!

9 years ago

I used to go RB/RB to start out nearly every draft. Then, I switched to drafting WRs with longer shelf life. Now, I like to get that stud QB and build out around him. A stud QB can cover weaknesses and gives you a bedrock.

Vendetta .
9 years ago

The anticipation for this piece was well worth it. Nicely done Tim and confirms what I’ve felt for a few years now.

Ben
9 years ago

I ended up finishing with a 10-4 regular season record and finishing in second place in my dynasty league with Dalton and Bradford as my QB’s. I’m not saying I recommend it, but I ended up having that season without a QB who finished in the top 10 in our league in points or an RB who finished in the top 20. I was pretty darn good everywhere else, though–Green, Thomas, and a Cobb/Steve Smith platoon at WR and Flex; Graham at TE; Tynes; AZ Defense. Sproles and Ballard ended up being my most frequent RB plays, so yeah.

Anyway, I only posted this here because, as your article indicates, I stumbled upon an awfully weird formula for success in a season I had gone into thinking would be year three of The Great Rebuilding Plan (it helps that the league is 0.5 PPR). The current off-season plan is to try to pry Brady loose, but we’ll see how that goes.

Coach
9 years ago

I’m in an 8-team league. The teams who made the playoffs had Newton/Griffin/Vick, Eli/Rivers/Freeman, Matt Ryan and I had Peyton Manning.

The teams with the platoons ended up making the superbowl, with the Newton/Griffin/Vick combo winning the title.

Rodgers, Brady, Brees and Stafford/Romo were left in the cold.

Vince Barkman
9 years ago

I missed out on the playoffs in my league thanks to Eli Manning being very hit or miss… so I traded a bunch of picks to acquire Aaron Rodgers. I’m pretty deep, so I felt using the picks in the way was a wise move. Hopefully it pays off like this article says.

Klyepod
9 years ago

14-4 this year and won the title
Roethlisberger: 14 starts
Batch: 2 starts
Cassel: 1 start
Leftwich: 1 start

alden bietz
9 years ago

In both these leagues QB scoring is huge.

In one league I traded by but off to get better at QB, drafted 1 (2) and got Luck, then at 1 (4) got Griffin. I wanted Martin at 1 (4) but he was gone and took the best player left. So long term I am set.

In the other league I couldn’t trade for a top 4 pick, and in this league I happen to have Freeman and Cuttler , And to trade for a top QB it would be a huge cost. Im watching the QBs that will be going into the draft this year, although I don’t see the talent like last years rookies.

Will Finnegan
9 years ago

Tim i feel like my team is a great example of this need:

I had a good WR core and RB core
but I had traded for Eli Manning and Andy Dalton after being a Vick owner I went into the season as Eli the starter and Dalton the backup

I finished 3rd in my league overall and lost to the champion in the semifinals

I ran into the problem this year where I would start Eli or Dalton and the other one would blow up while the one I started dropped a negative or a 0
They werent ranked far apart week to week so I was puzzled on who to start. Had I owned a Brees, Rodgers, or Brady I would have felt more confident in starting one of those guys

So I traded Eli and Mojo and 2 2nds for Brees and the 1.01

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