Expected Fantasy Points: Which Quarterbacks Were Most Efficient with Opportunity?

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We conclude our Expected Fantasy Points series by highlighting the most efficient quarterbacks in 2020. In fact, this past year featured some of the highest-scoring QB seasons in the history of fantasy football. According to Pro Football Reference, among the top-20 all-time highest scoring QB fantasy seasons, six of them came from the 2020 campaign featuring the following players:

Of those six quarterbacks, five of them ranked in the top-8 in my Fantasy Points Over Expected metric in 2020, proving that they were supremely efficient with their opportunity. Let’s dive into the data to determine what led to their highly successful seasons, and what we can expect from them going forward.

And if you missed the other articles in our expected fantasy points series, be sure to check those out as well:

Expected Quarterback Fantasy Points: The Process

As mentioned before in this series: not every opportunity is created equal. And as we can see below, a quarterback passing or rush attempt inside the 20 is worth 2.8x more for fantasy than an opportunity outside of the red zone.  

  • 1 QB Opportunity (outside the 20): 0.42 Fantasy Points
  • 1 QB Red Zone Opportunity: 1.17 Fantasy Points

Understandably, red zone opportunities correlate highly to fantasy production across all positions. However, the highest correlation can be found with the quarterback position (R2 of 0.82). Red zone opportunities matter more than air yards, pass attempts, and even rushing attempts per game at the QB position, making it one of the more predictive metrics for fantasy purposes. In other words, teams that rank near the top in pace of play and red zone opportunities will more than likely produce a QB1 for your fantasy rosters.

Knowing this information, how do we translate this to an expected fantasy points metric? In short, I used four seasons worth of data (287 QB seasons from 2017 to 2020) to run a multiple regression analysis with the following metrics.

  • Red Zone Opportunities: The number of pass and rush attempts inside the 20.
  • Air Yards: The total distance traveled for all pass attempts.
  • Pass Attempts: More opportunities lead to more fantasy points.
  • Rush Attempts Share: Quarterbacks that also account for a significant amount of their team’s rushing share possess a higher floor for fantasy.

Using the results of the regression analysis, I calculated the expected fantasy points per game for each quarterback from this past season. The difference between that number and their seasonal fantasy points per game average is known as Fantasy Points Over (or Under) Expected, or FPOE. This metric can highlight a player’s efficiency relative to opportunity while identifying potential regression candidates for the following season.

FPOE and Quarterback Efficiency – 2020 Season

For reference, the scoring format in my analysis assumes four points per passing touchdown. Furthermore, my graph below is filtered on players who were active a minimum of eight games, averaging at least 20 attempts per game (passing and rushing). In doing so, I am highlighting players who received plenty of opportunities to regress to the mean, while remaining efficient (or inefficient) for the majority of the season.

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Let’s dive into the data!

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

FPOE: +132.8 (QB1) | FPOE/G: +8.3 (QB1)

Heading into 2020, Aaron Rodgers was coming off of an inconsistent season where he finished as the QB15 in fantasy points per game. However, he would bounce back tremendously despite averaging fewer pass attempts, red zone opportunities, and air yards this past season. Because of his decline in overall volume, Rodgers’ expected fantasy points of 18.6 per game was a 4-year low dating back to 2017. Despite that, he averaged the highest passing yards per attempt (8.2), completion rate (71%), and fantasy points per game (26.9) in his last four seasons. In fact, Rodgers’ total FPOE of +132.8 is the highest value in my model in that timespan. What gets lost in such a successful season for the Green Bay Packers, however, is that they actually ranked 26th in the league in passing rate at 55%. If that trend continues, and Rodgers’ efficiency does truly regress to the mean, his fantasy production will have to decline. For now, Rodgers’ situation will remain in flux until he reports to the team, confirming that he will indeed be playing for the Packers in 2021.

Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

FPOE: +88.9 (QB3) | FPOE/G: +5.6 (QB4)

Kirk Cousins has been nothing but efficient ever since joining the Vikings, finishing with a positive FPOE in every single season since 2018. In fact, as you can see below, Cousins improved every single year, culminating in an impressive QB3 finish with 88.9 points over expected this past season. Of course, part of his success can be attributed to his outstanding supporting cast of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson. However, Cousins has also proven time and time again that he is one of the most accurate passers in the league. In fact, this past year, Cousins was the QB9 in true completion rate (80.8%) and the QB13 in catchable pass rate (77.9%). But despite his accuracy and efficiency, we have to keep in mind that Cousins is still a part of a run-heavy offense that ranks 19th in pace-of-play. Therefore, this team will continue to run through Dalvin Cook, limiting Cousins’ upside as nothing more than a low-end QB1 in most league formats.

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

FPOE: +112.2 (QB2) | FPOE/G: +7.0 (QB2)

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I was fully prepared to write a segment about Ryan Tannehill, outlining why he will likely regress in efficiency after two outstanding seasons. 

Enter Julio Jones.

With the addition of an elite wide receiver like Jones, Tannehill will likely continue his productive run for a third consecutive season. To no surprise, he graded very well in my FPOE model over the last three years, including his final year with the Dolphins. However, we saw a significant improvement in efficiency in his years with Tennessee, ranking 2nd in FPOE per game in both 2019 (+7.28) and 2020 (+7.01). Entering this upcoming season, we can expect another efficient campaign from Tannehill, especially with Julio – who ranked WR7 in QB rating when targeted – now joining the team. In fact, with a current ADP of 10.01, the Ballers currently have Tannehill as one of their four value picks at the QB position. So if you do miss out on some of the top-tier quarterbacks early on in your draft, Tannehill provides league-winning upside with an affordable ADP.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

FPOE: +54.0 (QB5) | FPOE/G: +3.4 (QB5)

After an electric start to his 2020 campaign, it should not be a surprise that Wilson graded out as my QB5 in total FPOE. However, if we dig deeper into his stats, it becomes inherently obvious that Wilson did most of his damage in those first eight games. If we split his FPOE totals, we can clearly identify that most of his “Points Over Expected” came in the first half of the season. In addition to the stark contrast in FPOE, we also see in the graph below that Wilson’s expected value declined significantly in his final eight games – which is directly linked to Seattle’s drop in passing rate in the second half. After averaging 331.8 air yards and an absurd 7.1 red zone opportunities per game for the first nine weeks, those numbers dropped to 271.2 and 4.1, respectively, in his final eight games. And for fantasy, his points per game dropped nearly 41% from 32.2 to 19.0 in the second half. Regardless, heading into 2021, Wilson remains one of the best QBs for fantasy. Because at the end of the day, even with his inconsistencies, Wilson possesses a high ceiling that can win fantasy managers a matchup on any given week.

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

FPOE: -29.5 (QB31) | FPOE/G: -2.9 (QB32)

Before suffering a gruesome knee injury, Joe Burrow led an offense that ranked 2nd in pace-of-play, averaging 76.8 plays per game in nine games. In that timespan, the Bengals also ranked 5th in the league in passing rate at 63%. This was reflected in Burrow’s volume metrics as he was 2nd among all players in passing attempts (41.1) and air yards (349.3) per game when healthy. As a result, he graded as my QB4 in expected fantasy points per game with 23.8. However, struggles with accuracy and poor offensive line play led to a disappointing FPOE per game (-2.95) for the former LSU quarterback. But despite an inefficient rookie year, there is plenty of room for optimism as the Bengals did upgrade their offensive line by signing Riley Reiff and drafting Jackson Carman out of Clemson. Furthermore, the addition of Ja’Marr Chase and his impact as a dynamic playmaker should not be understated. More on that in Kyle Borgognoni’s detailed rookie profile. So if we add all the pieces together, Burrow should regress in efficiency behind an improved offensive line and an explosive receiving corps, making him a likely breakout candidate this upcoming season.

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Daniel Jones, New York Giants

FPOE: -47.3 (QB34) | FPOE/G: -3.4 (QB33)

Daniel Jones, similar to the rest of the Giants offense, struggled to consistently produce for fantasy managers. Part of that is due to Jones’ lack of opportunity, playing behind the 29th ranked offense in pace of play. Because of that, he only ranked as my QB17 in expected fantasy points per game with 19.2. From an efficiency standpoint, he finished well below that number, resulting in the worst total FPOE in my model (-47.3) for the 2020 campaign. Some of his inefficiency can be attributed to his inaccuracy, ranking QB33 in catchable pass rate (74.4%) and QB21 in true completion rate (73.7%). On the other hand, the injury to Saquon Barkley along with a struggling offensive line (27th in adjusted sack rate) clearly limited his upside as well. Going forward, a healthy team and the additions of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney should improve the efficiency of this offense. As a result, I fully expect Jones to regress closer to the mean which could lead to a more fantasy productive season in 2021.

Expected Fantasy Points and FPOE – Full Results

Below are the results for all 34 quarterbacks that qualified for my FPOE analysis. If you have any specific questions, do not hesitate to reach out on Twitter @FF_MarvinE.

Player Team GMs FPs/Gm Expected FPs FPOE/Gm Total FPOE
Aaron Rodgers GB 16 26.87 18.57 8.3 132.76
Ryan Tannehill TEN 16 24.28 17.27 7.01 112.17
Kirk Cousins MIN 16 22.43 16.87 5.56 88.98
Patrick Mahomes KC 15 28.74 23.07 5.67 85.11
Russell Wilson SEA 16 25.62 22.24 3.38 54.01
Kyler Murray ARI 16 26.65 23.99 2.66 42.56
Justin Herbert LAC 15 25.21 22.82 2.39 35.86
Josh Allen BUF 16 28.34 26.19 2.15 34.47
Drew Brees NO 12 20.24 17.46 2.78 33.38
Jared Goff LAR 15 19.13 17.07 2.06 30.94
Tom Brady TB 16 24.09 22.45 1.64 26.19
Matthew Stafford DET 16 18.96 17.53 1.43 22.83
Lamar Jackson BAL 15 24.56 23.08 1.48 22.27
Ryan Fitzpatrick MIA 9 19.41 17.12 2.29 20.62
Derek Carr LV 16 20.57 19.56 1.01 16.08
Philip Rivers IND 16 17.73 16.85 0.88 14.11
Deshaun Watson HOU 16 26.4 25.67 0.73 11.75
Teddy Bridgewater CAR 15 18.94 18.16 0.78 11.67
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 15 20.41 19.79 0.62 9.27
Nick Mullens SF 10 14.85 14.69 0.16 1.62
Baker Mayfield CLE 16 18.26 18.16 0.1 1.55
Matt Ryan ATL 16 20.89 21.15 -0.26 -4.16
Cam Newton NE 15 19.3 19.85 -0.55 -8.31
Sam Darnold NYJ 12 13.34 14.41 -1.07 -12.78
Alex Smith WAS 8 10.93 12.98 -2.05 -16.37
Tua Tagovailoa MIA 10 15.56 17.33 -1.77 -17.69
Gardner Minshew JAC 9 21.25 23.33 -2.08 -18.71
Mitchell Trubisky CHI 10 17.84 19.81 -1.97 -19.68
Andy Dalton DAL 11 14.6 16.4 -1.8 -19.79
Drew Lock DEN 13 16.67 18.75 -2.08 -27.05
Joe Burrow CIN 10 20.8 23.75 -2.95 -29.52
Carson Wentz PHI 12 19.36 21.96 -2.6 -31.26
Nick Foles CHI 9 13.58 17.43 -3.85 -34.63
Daniel Jones NYG 14 15.79 19.16 -3.37 -47.25

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