In about 90 days we will be playing fantasy football again. Sometimes the offseason just flies by. Super Bowl 51 doesn’t seem that long ago but it has already been four months and before we know it we will be setting lineups on a weekly basis. A few days ago I came across a post on social media from former RotoGrinders personality and ESPN fantasy analyst Al Zeindenfield. Al was touting his most recent fantasy team that was built in the “MFL10” format (a format where players draft their teams and that’s it, no roster management whatsoever). Al’s three quarterbacks were: Eli Manning, Blake Bortles, and Ryan Tannehill. All three quarterbacks were drafted in the 11th round or later. I made the statement that “Quarterbacks must not matter in said league.” Al replied with: “Here’s the secret, QB’s aren’t worth much in ANY league.” This has led me to question the current direction of fantasy football. Why aren’t quarterbacks worth much? Why do we want to devalue the most important position in football in our fantasy leagues? To me, it doesn’t make sense.
Here's the secret, QB's aren't worth much in ANY league. https://t.co/bB8JYCQkKS
— Al Smizzle (@AlZeidenfeld) June 1, 2017
Believe it or not, fantasy football was created in 1962. A man by the name of Wilfred “Bill” Winkenbach is who conceived the idea that has grown into the 11 billion dollars a year industry that it is today. The first ever fantasy football league’s top scoring player was quarterback George Blanda of the Houston Oilers (The league only involved the AFL). Blanda threw for 2810 yards and 27 touchdowns that year, a far cry from Aaron Rodgers’ 4428 yards and 40 touchdowns last season. The game has evolved into a pass heavy game that barely resembles the original game of football.
If you go back to the early days you will find that many American’s thought the game was barbaric. The game of football almost did not survive the first decade of the 20th century. In 1905, 18 men died playing college football. These deaths forced then United States President Theodore Roosevelt to step in. Roosevelt urged change for the game. 62 schools met and made major rule changes. The most important of all may have been making the forward pass legal.
The first pass was completed September 6, 1906, by St. Louis University’s Bradbury Robinson for 20 yards. In the 1920s the football actually was forced to change shape to allow it to be thrown easier. Thus, how it has become its distinguished lemon shape. In 1933, the National Football League allowed the forward pass to be a legal play as long as the quarterback threw the ball behind the line of scrimmage.
These changes the game have brought us to where we are today. The quarterback is the most important player in the NFL so why shouldn’t he be the most important player on your fantasy team?
The default answer to this question right now is something along the lines of: “Every team throws a ton so it doesn’t matter which quarterback you have because they all score similar amounts of points.” That is simply not true.
Taking a look at ESPN’s standard scoring leaders in 2016, you’ll find that Aaron Rodgers led quarterbacks in scoring with 380. Matt Ryan was 2nd with 347.5 and Drew Brees was 3rd with 332.3 fantasy points. A margin of 47.7 points between 1st and 3rd. Not drastic but if you consider that Rodgers averaged 3 more points a week that could make a big difference. Let’s go further down the list, rookie quarterback Dak Prescott scored 286.9 points and was the 6th best quarterback, a difference of nearly 100 points and 6 points a week. Now that could cost you some games.
Al drafted his quarterbacks in the 11th round and later. A trend that has continued to grow in the last decade. The strategy that most “smart” fantasy players take is drafting wide receivers and running backs early and waiting until they have gotten their guys at those positions before selecting a quarterback no matter if it’s a round in the double digits. While I am not suggesting that the strategy doesn’t work or cannot work because it clearly has worked out for players in the past. What I am suggesting is that just because it’s the cool trend doesn’t mean it’s always the right move.
Looking at average draft position on CBS Sports, you’ll find that currently picks 1-9 are all running backs and wide receivers. Rodgers is the first quarterback to be found at pick 10. When Looking at FantasyFootballCalculator.com’s average draft positions, you’ll see this trend in full force. Rodgers is not being drafted until the 24th pick, meaning that according to “smart” fantasy players 23 running backs and wide receivers are being drafted before Rodgers. This doesn’t sound smart to me at all. Rodgers scored the 2nd most points of any fantasy player in ESPN standard scoring last season.
To really drive my point home let’s do the same little exercise we just did with quarterbacks with wide receivers. In 2016, Antonio Brown led receivers with 307.3, Jordy Nelson finished 2nd with 304.7, and Mike Evans was 3rd with 304.1 for a whopping margin of 3.2 points between 1st and 3rd. Let’s continue shall we? To get to the same point differential we saw between the 6th highest scoring quarterback and the 1st we have to travel all the way down to Terrell Pryor who scored 213.4 points and finished as the 20th scoring wide receiver.
This tells us that the position the “smart” players covet is actually the position where you can draft numerous guys that produce the same averages. The difference between 1st and 20th in quarterbacks will cost you nearly 9 points a week and you’ll be forced to start Joe Flacco over Aaron Rodgers, or Alex Smith over Drew Brees. Do you really want to do that just to make sure you get a top WR? You shouldn’t.
I know, this article probably has your head spinning already, but just to prove even in a PPR league the same concept applies let’s check it out, The difference between 1st and 3rd for receivers: 7 points. The difference between 1st and 20th: only 6 points difference between 1st and 20th in standard scoring. I hope the light bulb is clicking.
The bottom line is. The idea that not drafting an elite quarterback because you can get Andy Dalton later is simply the wrong move. Taking a wide receiver over a quarterback early in a draft is a mistake. I have stayed the course during this trend over the years. I have continued to select elite quarterbacks early in drafts and this has helped me get to 14 league championship games and 8 league titles (I play in only 2 leagues). Now obviously there are other strategies involved throughout the season to get a player to the championship, but let’s be real wouldn’t you want to invest your money in a guy who is protected on every play by the league vs. a guy who could take a season ending hit over the middle to end his season on any given play? I sure would. I will take guaranteed points over upside every time. I haven’t devalued the quarterback and you shouldn’t either.
–Nick Olson, CoachO37 on Twitter