Fantasy Football: Studying the Positional Draft Value of QBs

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WARNING: If you have a deep-seated distaste for statistics, data analysis, or tables full of numbers, this article may cause hair loss, fits of madness, and possibly long-term comatose. Proceed with caution.

As the real NFL transitions into an age of “next gen” statistics and analytics, the fantasy football community is close on its heels. Entire sites like Pro Football Focus have arisen to collect and sift through the data, generating grades and rankings for pro-GMs and fantasy scouts alike.

With that in mind, I took a deep data dive in search of keys to your fantasy drafts. I focused on positional breakdowns of point production and hit rates to identify the hot and cold spots at each position in drafts, and how to successfully navigate them. I kept it within the first dozen rounds or so and focused on data over the last five years. We’ll start with quarterbacks in this piece, with the other positions to follow soon. Also, a few quick housekeeping notes:

  1. The positional tiers I used may look a little odd. That’s because I based them off draft round ranges (early round RBs or “flier” WRs), rather than lineup structures (like RB1 or WR4).
  2. A lot of this stuff inherently folds in some “arbitrary” distinctions, like what makes a “solid starter” or a “bust.” That will always be the case with this kind of data analysis, but the breakdowns I’ve chosen should be fairly standard.
  3. Hit me up on Twitter (@FantasySensei) with any questions, comments, or strongly-worded complaints.
QB: It’s Either Great Or Late

You’ve probably heard the mantra to “wait on QB.” At the same time, we consistently see the truly elite QBs (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady) taken in the first few rounds of drafts. So which strategy is superior?

As it turns out, the data offers some support for each tactic but leans pretty heavily towards one. Here’s a look at the correlation between ADP and fantasy finish for QBs over the past five years.

(Approx. Round)

(Rounds 3-4)

(Rounds 5-8)
(Rounds 9-11)
FANTASY FINISH QB1-QB4 35.0% 17.5% 7.5%
QB5-QB12 25.0% 32.5% 42.5%
QB13-QB20 20.0% 30.0% 17.5%
QB20+ 20.0% 20.0% 32.5%

As might be expected, your best chance of selecting an elite signal-caller (QB1-QB4) comes in the top four selections, commonly taken in Rounds 3-4, with a 35% success rate. The odds of landing an elite running back (fantasy finish of RB1-RB9 for this study) in that Round 3-4 range are 25.5% and for WRs it’s down at 14.5%. In other words, if you’re choosing between Aaron Rodgers, Joe Mixon, or Brandin Cooks in Rounds 3-4, the elite QB is usually the more reliable pick.

That said, take a look at the hit rate for landing a fantasy starter (QB1-QB12) over the course of the entire draft. The combined success rate for early-round QBs is highest, at 60%, but it only drops to 50% for mid-round talent and holds at 50% all the way through Rounds 9-11.

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Let’s compare to RBs, WRs, and even TEs over the same ADP ranges. The chance of getting a top 20 running back in Rounds 3-4 comes in at 47.3% but drops precipitously to 18.7% in Rounds 5-8, before blipping back up to 23.7% in Rounds 9-11 (an interesting discovery we’ll unpack later). For WRs, your shot at a top 20 wideout in Rounds 3-4 starts at 38.1%, dips to 33.4% in the middle rounds, and then plummets to 13.4% late in the draft. And for tight ends, the odds of pinpointing a reliable starter (TE1-TE9 for this study) in Rounds 3-4 hover around 65% and fall to 44% in the middle rounds and 26.7% shortly thereafter.

What does it all mean? When it comes to late-round selections, you’re much more likely to find a starting QB than any other position (especially receiver). This is why the “late round QB” strategy works.

Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire

Expected QB Production

Now, the other interesting piece of data to unpack is expected point production. Using projection data from the Fantasy Footballers’ Ultimate Draft Kit, here’s a look at the expected fantasy production across the tiers we’ve discussed. (NOTE: I’m using projections instead of historical player data here to soften some of the historical variances that make hit rates and bust rates what they are, and focus more on the points themselves).

QB Projected Avg. Points Per Game (Tier Drop-off) RB Projected Avg. Points Per Game (Tier Drop-off) WR Projected Avg. Points Per Game (Tier Drop-off) TE Projected Avg. Points Per Game (Tier Drop-off)
Rounds 3-4 19.8 10.9 11.9 11.4
Rounds 5-8 17.5 (-2.3) 9.0 (-1.9) 10.0 (-1.9) 8.7 (-2.7)
Rounds 9-11 16.1 (-1.4) 7.0 (-2.0) 8.0 (-2.0) 6.9 (-1.8)
Total Drop-off 3.7 3.9 3.9 4.5

The first interesting tidbit is the difference in drop-off at QB versus RB and WR from the early rounds to the middle rounds (and yes we’ll cover that juicy TE drop-off soon). This difference, though mathematically small, demonstrates the slight advantage an elite QB brings over his competition in comparison to RBs and WRs drafted in the same rounds. This is why the Rodgers and Bradys are so often taken early in drafts.

And yet, the narrative changes in the drop-off from the middle rounds to the later rounds. There, QBs show the least difference, at only -1.4 points per game, compared to the -2.0 seen at RB and WR.

Essentially, it all boils down to this: elite QBs are going to have the highest hit rate in Rounds 3-4, where you’ll typically find them, and also offer more upside over their mid-round counterparts (by a hair) than RBs or WRs. But, if you don’t grab one of those top few guys, do not waste a pick on a mid-tier quarterback. Spend your picks in Rounds 5-8 on other positions and come back to QB in the later rounds where the value and the hit rate is, again, much higher.

So where do you find the right value for those other positions? You’ll have to tune in to the next few articles in the series to find out!