Expected Fantasy Points: Quarterback Usage & Efficiency (Fantasy Football)
To conclude our Expected Fantasy Points series, we shift our focus to the Quarterback position. Over the last couple of years, we have grown accustomed to the “cheat-code” QBs who provide league-winning rushing upside. But how much more valuable are those rushing opportunities compared to passing attempts? Is there a situation in which a passing attempt is more valuable than a rush attempt? Using Expected Fantasy Points, we can answer those questions while also assessing each QBs usage and efficiency relative to opportunity!
Before we dive into QBs, be sure to also check out the other articles in our Expected Fantasy Points (xFP) off-season series breaking down Running Backs, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends.
In this piece we will discuss:
- Quarterback Usage
- Quarterback Leaders in Expected Fantasy Points
- Most/Least Efficient Quarterbacks
- Efficiency Regression
Quarterback Usage And Their Expected Fantasy Value
Similar to Running Backs, Quarterbacks provide a duality in their usage. For the most part (outside of the occasional Philly Special), QBs are used as passers and rushers. Naturally, one would assume that rushing the ball will always yield a higher expected fantasy value. As I dug into the data, that is not entirely accurate:
Like the usage charts in my previous articles, I plotted the expected value of a rushing and passing attempt at each yard line using historical play-by-play data. The chart begins at the 99-yard line on the left side of the x-axis and progresses to the 1-yard line on the far right. To no surprise, the value of an opportunity increases the closer we get to the end-zone.
However, the more surprising conclusion is that a QB rushing attempt is actually less valuable than a passing attempt when the play occurs within the first 25 yards of the field. In fact, a rushing attempt actually has a negative expected value up until the team’s own 9-yard line. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense! Quarterbacks who are “backed up” against their end-zone are more likely to commit a fumble or even a safety when rushing the ball. As a result, for fantasy purposes, there is more value in throwing the ball in those situations. A few other observations:
- Average Value of a QB Rush Attempt: 0.60 Fantasy Points
- Average Value of a QB Pass Attempt: 0.46 Fantasy Points
- A QB rushing attempt is 1.29x more valuable than a pass attempt
- The gap increases inside the 10 as a rushing attempt is 1.52x more valuable than a passing attempt
With this information in mind, below are a few additional details on how my Expected Points model works:
- Each opportunity is evaluated as either a Rush Attempt, Target, or Pass Attempt. For example, when I mention Passing xFP in my article, I’m referring to the Expected Fantasy Points generated from their passing opportunities
- Down and Distance: The lower the down and distance, the higher the expected value
- Yard Line: Opportunities closer to the end zone are valued significantly higher
- Depth of Throw: Also known as Air Yards. The deeper the throw, the more fantasy points we should expect
Once we total the expected value of a player’s opportunities, we arrive at Expected Fantasy Points (or xFP). This metric highlights the most valuable players for fantasy based on their usage. The difference between xFP and their actual fantasy score is known as Fantasy Points Over Expected (or FPOE), which defines a player’s efficiency compared to the average player.
For example, let’s take a look at Justin Herbert’s numbers:
- Expected Fantasy value: 20.67 per game
- Actual Fantasy points: 22.40 per game
- FPOE: 1.73 per game
While not the most efficient quarterback, Herbert still exceeded his expected fantasy value while ranking within the top-3 in xFP this past season.
Let’s dive into the rest of the data!
Fantasy Usage Leaders
Josh Allen had a truly dominant campaign as he finished as the QB1 in Expected Fantasy Points by a 14.9% margin. As you might already expect, his rushing upside was a significant part of his elite production. In fact, 23.5% of his expected value was driven by his rushing opportunities, leading to the 3rd highest QB rushing xFP this season at 5.82 per game. The only QBs ahead of Allen in rushing fantasy value were Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts. However, unlike Hurts and Jackson, Allen also boasts elite passing volume, ranking as the QB2 in passing xFP (17.94) behind only Tom Brady. In other words, Allen remains a cheat code for fantasy purposes as he possesses both elite rushing AND passing upside in the Bills’ offense. And with a variety of weapons at his disposal, he could very well repeat as the QB1 for fantasy in 2022.
Despite missing several games to end the season, Lamar Jackson had another very productive year, especially if you exclude his final game in which he left early due to an ankle injury. From weeks 1 to 13 (prior to his injury), Jackson was the QB2 in Expected Fantasy Points (xFP) at 21.9 per game, trailing only Josh Allen. And it should not come as a surprise that his production was heavily driven by his rushing opportunities, as he led all quarterbacks in rushing share (37.4%) in that timespan. However, what stood out the most was his passing production as he averaged a career-high 14.9 passing xFP. He also averaged the highest air yards per attempt (9.4) of his career, throwing the ball much more aggressively this past season. Coupled with the Ravens’ highly improved early-down passing rate (see chart below), it should not be a surprise that he set career-highs across the board. While this could very well be a byproduct of their RB injuries, forcing them to pass the ball more, Jackson will continue to hold top-tier QB1 upside as long as he maintains similar rushing volume in 2022.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Jalen Hurts was one of the most reliable QBs for fantasy as he finished as a top-12 QB in 73.3% of his games. That should not come as a surprise as he led all QBs in rushing xFP at 6.76 per game, while also ranking as the QB2 in efficiency at +2.46 Rushing Fantasy Points Over Expected. In other words, Hurts’ rushing usage provided fantasy managers with an extremely high baseline of 9.2 fantasy points per game. On a less positive note, his passing efficiency severely limited his overall upside, scoring -1.23 fantasy points BELOW expected on those opportunities. Fortunately, adding an elite wide receiver in A.J. Brown should significantly improve the Eagles’ offense. And if Hurts’ passing efficiency does regress to the mean, coupled with his elite rushing usage, it would not surprise me if he ends the year as a top-3 quarterback for fantasy.
Fantasy Efficiency Leaders
Next up, let’s take a look at the most efficient Quarterbacks from the 2021 season. In other words, these are the QBs that performed well above their expected value.
Joe Burrow was by far the most efficient fantasy quarterback this past season averaging an impressive +4.27 Fantasy Points Over Expected (FPOE). In addition, he also led the league in adjusted yards per attempt at 8.96. While those numbers are certainly impressive, there are a few concerns regarding Burrow’s production. First off, he relied heavily on his efficiency to produce for fantasy. While he did finish as the QB10 in points per game, he was only the QB22 in expected fantasy points with 15.37 per game. Secondly, a majority of his expected value came as a passer, as he was not very productive on the ground. What does this tell us? If Burrow’s efficiency regresses to the mean, he might just finish outside the top-12 this upcoming season unless his passing or rushing volume improves in 2022. Realistically, I highly doubt his FPOE declines to zero since the Bengals have one of the most talented receiving corps in the league. However, it is fair to expect some regression, which could lower Burrow’s ceiling this year.
Interestingly, a player who is very similar to Burrow is Kirk Cousins, who has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks over the last three seasons. In fact, Cousins is the QB5 since 2019 in Fantasy Points Over Expected (+3.49 per game), defying regression in each of his last three seasons. However, what has limited his production has been the Vikings’ run-heavy offense, as he continues to rank outside of the top-12 in xFP and volume each year. As a result, it is nearly impossible for Cousins to crack the elite tier of fantasy production unless the Vikings change their offensive philosophy entirely. With former Rams OC Kevin O’Connell taking over as their new head coach, we might see Cousins’ expected fantasy value improve, especially if they decide to employ a more pass-friendly offense in 2022.
After a stellar 2020 season in which he finished as the QB3 in points per game, Aaron Rodgers followed that up with another top-6 fantasy campaign this past season. While he did regress in efficiency year over year (+7.26 FPOE in 2020), he was still the QB2 in Fantasy Points Over Expected at +3.26 per game in 2021. And unlike Burrow and Cousins, Rodgers was also the QB9 in Expected Fantasy Points per game (17.57), giving him a high weekly baseline of production to go along with his elite efficiency. However, with Davante Adams no longer on the team, we may need to shift our expectations for Rodgers going forward. Along with the potential for further efficiency regression, Matt LaFleur could lean on the running game a little more than in years past, especially with a much less experienced receiving corps at his disposal. As a result, Rodgers could be more of a low-end QB1 this upcoming season.
Fantasy Inefficiency Leaders
Finally, above are the bottom 12 Quarterbacks in FPOE, averaging the most points BELOW expected in 2021.
How bad was Trevor Lawrence’s season? He averaged an absurdly inefficient -4.98 Fantasy Points Below Expected, which is the 3rd worst season in my database since 2013. To put that into perspective, Brock Osweiller’s atrocious 2016 season in Houston was more efficient for fantasy purposes. Even DeShone Kizer’s rookie year in Cleveland ranked higher in FPOE. While that is certainly not how we envisioned Lawrence’s start to his career, it can only improve going forward. Interestingly, Burrow had a similarly inefficient rookie year (-3.59 FPOE in 2020) but found a way to turn that around after the Bengals added Ja’Marr Chase to the team. And while Christian Kirk is likely not as impactful or dynamic as Chase, he should at least provide an upgrade to an inefficient passing offense. And with an improved coaching staff, I fully expect Lawrence to at least perform closer to average from an efficiency standpoint in 2022.
Despite being the 5th quarterback taken in the 2021 draft, Mac Jones was by far the most successful rookie this past season. While he did finish below his expected fantasy value (-2.68 per game), part of his inefficiency was driven by his rushing production – generating only 129 yards on 44 opportunities on the ground. However, as a passer, Jones was one of the most accurate QBs in the league. In fact, per RBSDM, Jones was the QB10 in Completion Percentage Over Expected (+2.7), ahead of players like Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes. Unfortunately, because of his limited volume in a run-heavy offense, Jones only ranked as the QB17 in xFP at 15.91 per game. Assuming that remains mostly unchanged, Jones profiles more as a safe QB2 with limited upside this upcoming season.
While Derek Carr was only the QB18 in points per game this past season, there were a few encouraging takeaways in his production profile. He was one of only five quarterbacks to throw for more than 5,000 air yards on at least 600 attempts. As a result, he averaged the 9th highest passing xFP at 15.39 per game. However, of those five players, Carr was the only quarterback to throw for less than 30 touchdowns. Therefore, he finished below his expected fantasy value (-1.93 FPOE), leading to another average campaign. But with the addition of Davante Adams, I expect Carr to have a much more efficient season, likely improving on his 23 passing touchdowns from last year. And while the Raiders do have a brand new coaching staff, I expect them to lean on their elite receiving weapons, making Carr a very viable later-round QB option in seasonal leagues.
As I mentioned throughout the article, FPOE is a metric that tends to regress year over year. Of the Quarterbacks that averaged positive efficiency, 69.0% regressed closer to the mean the following season. The average decline for those players is –2.70 FPOE per game. On the other hand, 69.1% of Quarterbacks who performed below their expected value saw an improvement in their efficiency. The average increase is roughly +2.65 FPOE per game.
With that in mind, the biggest takeaways from this article should be:
- Since FPOE is not necessarily a sticky metric (especially for quarterbacks), target players who are less dependent on their efficiency to produce. Quarterbacks that provide a high rushing floor generally fit that mold, such as Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson. Less mobile QBs like Tom Brady provide a similarly high production floor as their passing volume carries significant value.
- On the other hand, be cautious about players who relied heavily on their FPOE to produce, especially on limited volume. Joe Burrow is by far the most glaring example as he ranked well outside of the top-12 in xFP, while his efficiency propelled him to QB1 production.
If you have any specific questions on xFP and FPOE, reach out on Twitter at @FF_MarvinE.
xFP and FPOE Summary