Commissioner Guide: Why Superflex Will Become the Default Format (Fantasy Football)
The game of Fantasy Football is constantly evolving. There are clear points on the Fantasy Football timeline that stand out as distinct changes to the central format of the game. As the game grew and technologies evolved, these changes began as ways to improve the game and eventually became the “standard” that most leagues follow. The Superflex setting is the next niche format that will become a default setting in the near future.
History of Fantasy Evolution
In the earliest days of Fantasy Football, fantasy owners and commissioners would peruse the newspaper’s sports section for the stats from the previous weekend’s games. They would manually calculate each team’s score based on their roster and mail or call each owner with their report. Due to the huge manual workload, most leagues focused solely on touchdowns scored. We now look back and call those TD-only leagues.
As the personal computer became more common, commissioners began to use spreadsheets as a way to run their fantasy leagues. This allowed them to more easily track other statistics, such as yardage. While not everyone had access to a computer and the commissioner still had to mail or call each owner with their results for the week, “standard scoring” was born.
Enter the internet. Perhaps you are old enough to remember AOL and the barrage of CD’s they would send out for free internet minutes. Yes, there was a time where your internet provider limited your internet access to minutes. The increased access to the internet allowed commissioners to begin sending weekly “electronic mail” recaps of the week. Where you once wrote out individual letters or made phone calls, you could now share the weekly report with just one electronic mail message. Again, when we reduced the commissioner’s time commitment to communications, we increased their ability to track more statistical data points. With that, negative points for turnovers become more common, along with more detailed stat tracking for kickers and team defenses.
As the internet evolved, the “dot.com” phase brought with it websites that functioned as services for the end-user and were a boon to the Fantasy Football industry. Websites now “hosted” fantasy football leagues. Each owner in the league could manage their roster on this website and scoring was done automatically. No more manual labor for the commissioner! As the sites evolved, so did the access to LIVE! scoring, allowing the league owners to watch their team score points in real-time as the games on TV played out.
It is at this point that Fantasy Football really exploded. Where commissioners once limited scoring due to the number of manual calculations involved each week, websites were doing all the hard work for them and doing it instantaneously. One of the first problems to be solved by the web-hosted fantasy league was tied games. The use of the automated scoring on a website allowed commissioners to implement fractional scoring. Where a full point was previously awarded for 10-yard increments of rushing/receiving or 25 yards of passing, players were now awarded points for every single yard gained in a game. At the same time, fantasy commissioners really started to dig into how points were scored and how they could manipulate the scoring to level the playing field across the positions.
Many fantasy players had long recognized the disparity in scoring between RBs and WRs. With the boom of web-hosted fantasy leagues, commissioners begin to implement a plan to “level the scoring” between the two positions. This was the birth of point-per-reception (PPR) scoring. Suddenly, the WR position and pass-catching RBs carried significantly more value to fantasy teams. Up until a couple of years ago, “standard scoring” (TD/yardage only) was still the default setting of most fantasy hosting sites. Within the past 2-3 seasons, however, the PPR trend has finally become the default for fantasy leagues, with all major platforms now using some form of PPR as the default setting.
As the gameplay of the NFL evolved, so did Fantasy Football. The noticeable increase of passing plays and decreased focus on the running game brought to light a new issue. Where PPR scoring was intended to level the value of to the top RBs and WRs, PPR scoring was now making WRs far more valuable. This trend gave rise to the “ZeroRB” draft strategy, a name coined by Rotoviz’s Shawn Siegele, where owners focused heavily on WRs in the early rounds of their drafts, then filled out their RB positions with “3rd down RBs” who caught enough passes to become a viable scoring option. To combat this sudden over-valuation of pass catchers, savvy fantasy commissioners “nerfed” the PPR scoring, by reducing it to a half-point per reception.
It is also at this point where another draft strategy was being commonly recognized; the “Late Round QB” (LRQB), a phrase coined by Numberfire’s JJ Zachariason in his 2012 e-book. While many savvy fantasy players like myself had identified the benefits of “waiting on QB” until the latter rounds* back in the mid-2000s, it would be another 8-10 years before it became a commonly recognized and utilized draft strategy by the masses. As fantasy players learned more about it, the LRQB strategy began to impact almost every fantasy draft. It has become a running joke in “expert” leagues, as drafts amongst the most hardcore fantasy players devolve into a game of chicken, waiting to see who would cave first and draft a QB. Oftentimes, the #1 ranked QB wouldn’t be drafted until the latter part of the middle rounds (rounds 7-9), sometimes even falling into the double-digit rounds. Like everything before it, the devaluation of the QB position caused by the LRQB strategy would force fantasy commissioners to find and implement a setting to combat this disparity within the fantasy game.
* You can read about my personal favorite LRQB story from a draft in 2006 in the intro of my 2017 article “2QB and Superflex Strategy”
The Rise of Superflex
Armed with more information and data than fantasy commissioners from 10-15 years ago could only dream of, current fantasy commissioners created a way to bring value back to the QB position with the creation of the “Superflex” position. Like all the changes before it, Superflex was derived from a niche format, in this case, the “2-QB” format. Long part of small leagues with only 6-8 owners, the 2-QB format was a way to have more QBs being drafted. The Superflex format was created to allow a second QB or additional RB, WR, or TE player to be used in your line-up.
Passing Volume Sky Rockets
Over the past 10-15 years, the passing volume has increased substantially in the NFL. As recently as the 2010 season, only five QBs eclipsed the 4,000-yard mark. Last year, 11 QBs broke the 4,000-yard mark, and a twelfth, Jimmy Garappolo, came up just 22 yards short, finishing with 3,978. All those extra yards are tied to increased passing attempts. In 2010, only nine QBs exceeded 500 passing attempts, two of which went over 600. In 2019, 15 QBs exceeded 500 passing attempts with five surpassing 600 attempts.
We can all recognize that Fantasy Football is a game of chance, drafting players based on their prospective stat outcomes. The increased passing volume has sapped the value of drafting the few players capable of throwing for 4,000 yards. Back when only 4-6 QBs were posting 4,000 yards, 30 TD seasons, it was a bit more important to draft one of them early in your league, where 12 QBs were “starters” in a normal 12-team league. Now, with 10-14 QBs posting 4,000+ yard seasons, everyone in the league has one. There is no reason to “reach” for a QB in Round 5 when you can draft the same passing stats in Round 12 or even later. Below is a chart showing how many QBs each week in 2017-2019 exceeded the 10, 15, and 20 point thresholds in 4pt passing TD scoring.
The Numbers Behind Starting Lineup Requirements
As I highlighted in my article “Why PPR Leagues Should Require Three Starting WRs” earlier this year, roster requirements are based on the number of players who can score points consistently above a certain threshold. With the increased passing volume, the WR position has become “deeper”, where more players are scoring starter worthy points each week. My research shows that the average “Flex” position cutoff has increased nearly 2 points since the mid-2000s, where a “flex worthy” player used to score 8 points, they are now scoring 10 points.
In a normally formatted 12-team league requiring 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, and one Flex, we would see 12QBs, 30RBs, 42WRs, and 12TEs designated as starters each week. Why 30RBs and 42WRs? As highlighted in the above references article, the Flex position in a 3WR required league is often a 50/50 split between RB and WR – 6 of each.
One of These Things Is Not Like The Other
So how many players actually eclipse that 10-point threshold each week in PPR leagues (with 4 pt passing TDs)? Here are the results from the past three seasons:
An average of 23 QBs, 29RBs, 37WRs, and 12 TEs exceed 10 PPR points each week. Three of the Four positions line up quite nicely to our traditional league starting requirements outlined above, except one. These traditional starting line-up requirements are putting owners in the position to start more players than the number that exceeds 10 PPR points in a given week, yet traditional 1QB leagues are only requiring 50% of the QBs who exceed that threshold or even the 15pt threshold. Why is the traditional roster requirement so “deep” at each position, except QB?
How Superflex Impacts Roster Requirements
This one is simple – it doesn’t. Since our normal format with a single flex is requiring more starters each week at RB, WR, and TE than the average of how many actually score over 10 points, the additional Superflex position is almost always filled with QBs. Adding a Superflex position to your starting line-up will not impact your established RB/WR/TE usage. Adding a Superflex spot simply forces owners to pay attention to all the QBs and their scoring, instead of waiting until the end of the draft and/or playing the matchups at the position off the waiver wire. In almost every scenario, owners will elect to start a QB in the Superflex position because they almost always score more points than the RB/WR/TE that would be considered for the position.
Why Not Just Require 2QBs?
The goal of Superflex is to encourage owners to draft multiple QBs and deploy two QBs each week, however, there is also a supply/demand issue that arrises with a formal 2QB requirement. Using the same data from 2017-2019 as we did above and change the point threshold to 5 PPR points, the average number of players exceeding 5 PPR points at each of the RB, WR, and TE positions increases significantly.
At 5 PPR points, you can see how many players in a given week are scoring fantasy points. Where 10 PPR points are the flex threshold as the lowest scoring starting player, 5 PPR points serves as a “player gets some work and is worthy of a roster spot” threshold. These numbers line up closely with full fantasy roster totals for a 12 team league, where most teams are roster 5-7 RBs, 6-7 WRs, and 1-2 TEs. Fantasy owners are rostering that volume of players because, throughout the course of a game, most NFL teams will 2-3 RBs, 5-6 WRs, and 2-t TEs log meaningful snaps. While not every player that sees snaps is a viable fantasy option, you can see how deep the pool of possible fantasy starters can be at each of those positions.
Except for the QB. We don’t need a 5-point threshold to tell us that there only 32 possible QB (fantasy) starters in non-bye weeks. While most bye weeks will rest four teams, there are a few 6-team bye weeks, reducing our player pool down to 26 QBs. In a 12-team league, requiring 2QBs (24 total) would leave at least four teams without a third QB option. We never want to put our league in the position of forcing an owner to start a blank spot, thus the Superflex option is the ideal setting. Superflex can allow those teams who only have one viable QB option in a bye week or injury scenario to still field a full line-up by allowing the Superflex to be filled by the teams 4th RB, 5th WR or 2nd TE.
The Impact of Superflex on Fantasy Drafts
In traditional 1QB leagues, the QB position has become such an afterthought that most sites will suggest that you wait until Round 10 or later to draft a QB. Stock up on RBs and WRs. Toss in a top-ranked TE where you can. But WAIT on QB. The only position that is less valuable in fantasy drafts these days is the Team Defense. (I won’t mention Kickers, because they should have been eliminated from your league years ago!)
When you implement Superflex, the average draft position (ADP) of QBs will skyrocket. In current 1QB ADP, only 5 QBs are being drafted through Round 6. In a Superflex league, you can expect to see at least 15 QBs drafted by the same point.
The best part of this QB ADP surge is the impact it has on the other positions. In a 1QB league, everyone is fighting over RBs and WRs and the few top TEs. When you implement Superflex, the draft becomes a whole lot more interesting. Suddenly, RBs and WRs who never make it to your second or third pick are now available. If you like the “wait on QB” strategy from 1QB leagues, you can still implement it here. Only here, “Late Round QB” means Round 8.[lptw_table id=”163862″ style=”default”]
Why Superflex Will Become The Standard
The QB position is “The Face of the Franchise” for most teams, and each year at the NFL Draft we’ll hear more discussion around teams drafting their “Franchise QB” or “QB of the Future”. You don’t hear those terms thrown around for any other position. The QB is the typically the captain of the team, the “field general”, and the most common post-game interviewee.
Fantasy Football is a game about a game, where-in fans often have deep loyalties to their hometown team or a player from their favorite college team. Fantasy Football fans WANT to root for their guy, but if your guy is QB22, there is a minimal chance you want him on your team in a single QB league. Frankly, QB22 is near-useless outside of one-off matchups throughout the year. But in a Superflex league? Your QB is now a weekly starter!
There was a lot of pushback when PPR scoring was new and gaining steam in new leagues, but eventually, the masses bought in and it became the standard. And while there is pushback right now against Superflex, it’s mostly led by the “traditionalists” that say NFL teams don’t use two QBs (unless you’re the Saints!). The reality is that the added strategy and excitement Superflex brings to your draft and weekly line-up decisions will push more and more owners towards the Superflex setting until it becomes the industry standard.