How To Spot A Fantasy Football League Winner: QBs
The phrase “league winner” gets bandied about a lot in fantasy football circles, often carelessly. Sometimes, analysts use this phrase as nothing more than an attention-getter to hype some mediocre player they love. But when used properly, there is truth to this concept – the idea that one single player can dominate for your team enough to nearly guarantee, on his own, a championship for your fantasy team.
Of course, no player can truly win a fantasy championship alone. Even Christian McCaffery’s historic 2019 season, where he scored a ridiculous 413.2 fantasy points, was only enough to get 48% of his managers into fantasy championships (still an absurd number, by the way). So, fantasy managers still must put together a solid team around a “league winner”, work the waiver wire, and play the matchups. Nevertheless, rostering some players undoubtedly gives fantasy teams an increased chance at a fantasy championship, just like McCaffery nearly gave his managers a 50-50 shot in 2019.
From my analysis of the past five years, league-winning players typically separate themselves from the pack. That means that the top 1-3 players each year, at any given offensive position, generally score at least 30 points more than their next closest competitor, where the end-of-year rankings start to bunch up. That’s good! We want our “league winner” not just to score a few more points than RB3 or WR2; we want them to score way more points.
In this series, I define “league winners” for each of RB, WR, QB, and TE, I analyze historical league winning seasons at all four positions, and I use history to try and spot league winners for 2021. I hope you enjoyed the series, and if you missed the league-winner RB article, the league winner WR article, or the league winner TE article, go back and read those too!
Defining a League Winning Quarterback
As I said above, I studied the fantasy finishes of the quarterback position over the last six years. I wanted to find players who stood out, not just finished QB1 overall, but player(s) who separated themselves from the crowd. What I found was that very few quarterbacks hit the 380-fantasy point threshold (in 0.5 PPR scoring), and those who did separate themselves from the rest of the top 12 quarterbacks. Thus, this threshold worked quite well in establishing an objective definition of a league-winning quarterback.
By setting that 380-fantasy point threshold, I was able to generate eight instances of a league-winning quarterback in the past 6 years, which also “felt about right” (about 1-2 per year).
This is our set of league winners. Now let’s see if we can find out why these players ended up as league winners.
Historical Analysis of League Winning Quarterbacks
Now that we have a nice definition and a decent sample size, we can start to look at these players to decide what is important in predicting fantasy league winners.
In my research leading up to this article, I generated a list of twenty possible statistical or other factors that explain why these eight instances, represented by six different quarterbacks, resulted in a league-winning season. Those twenty factors include passing yards, rushing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns, team wins, team plays, team run-pass ratio, completion percentage, total passes, scrambles, aDOT, total air yards, big-time throw percentage (as defined by PFF), sacks, pressures, pressure percentage, time to throw, touchdown percentage, and interceptions. In other words, I analyzed a ton of data, so much data in fact that it doesn’t fit nicely onto one chart.
|League Winning QBs||Fantasy points||Passing Yds||Rushing Yds||Pass TDs||Rush TDs||Total TDs||Wins|
|Cam Newton (2015)||389.08||3837||636||35||10||45||15|
|Aaron Rodgers (2016)||380.02||4428||369||40||4||44||10|
|Patrick Mahomes (2018)||417.08||5,097||272||50||2||52||12|
|Lamar Jackson (2019)||421.68||3,127||1206||36||7||43||14|
|Patrick Mahomes (2020)||380.4||4740||308||38||2||40||14|
|Aaron Rodgers (2020)||387.26||4299||149||48||3||51||13|
|Kyler Murray (2020)||390.74||3,971||819||26||11||37||8|
|Josh Allen (2020)||405.06||4,544||421||37||8||45||13|
|League Winning QBs||Plays||Run-Pass Ratio||Completion %||Passes||Scrambles||aDOT||BTT%|
|Cam Newton (2015)||1060||47.2%||59.8%||495||29||10.9||6.5%|
|Aaron Rodgers (2016)||1029||60.3%||65.7%||610||43||9||5.2%|
|Patrick Mahomes (2018)||996||58.5%||66.0%||580||29||9.5||7.8%|
|Lamar Jackson (2019)||1064||41.4%||66.1%||401||41||9.3||4.7%|
|Patrick Mahomes (2020)||1057||59.6%||66.3%||588||42||8.9||7.4%|
|Aaron Rodgers (2020)||990||53.1%||70.7%||526||24||8.4||7.7%|
|Kyler Murray (2020)||1083||53.1%||67.2%||558||51||8.3||4.6%|
|Josh Allen (2020)||1034||57.6%||69.2%||572||31||9.1||5.8%|
|League Winning QBs||Total Air Yards||Sacks||DPR||DPR%||TTT||TD%||INTs|
|Cam Newton (2015)||5395.5||33||198||35.5%||2.84||7.1%||10|
|Aaron Rodgers (2016)||5490||35||209||30.3%||3.01||6.6%||7|
|Patrick Mahomes (2018)||5510||26||225||35.2%||2.77||8.6%||12|
|Lamar Jackson (2019)||3729.3||23||144||30.9%||3.03||9.0%||6|
|Patrick Mahomes (2020)||5233.2||22||222||33.9%||2.9||6.5%||6|
|Aaron Rodgers (2020)||4418.4||20||135||25.7%||2.69||9.1%||5|
|Kyler Murray (2020)||4631.4||27||172||27.0%||2.82||4.7%||12|
|Josh Allen (2020)||5205.2||25||233||37.1%||2.99||6.5%||10|
Finally, I plotted each of the twenty factors against their fantasy points scored (and calculated the R2 of each plot) and also calculated the average value of each column from above.
Here is what I found:
- There are two ways quarterbacks become league winners: throw a ton of touchdowns or rush for a ton of yards (or both). For ease of reference, I am going to divide these categories into passing QB league winners and rushing QB league winners. This isn’t some amazing new finding; we’ve known this for several years. This dataset just proved the rule.
- Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers represent the passing QB league winners, which is interesting to note because no other NFL quarterbacks have climbed the league-winning mountain via the passing QB league winner route other than these two, exceptional quarterbacks, in the past six years. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning both because league winners via the passing QB method, but very few others have in recent memory. In other words, if you draft a traditional pocket passer hoping for a league-winning season, you have to draft a sure-fire Hall of Famer. In 2020, that means Mahomes and Rodgers (unless you believe Herbert is on that track, which he might be).
- Meanwhile, the rushing QB league winners represent a bit more diversity with Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen. In each of these instances, however, rushing alone wasn’t what got the job done. Each of these rushing quarterbacks also needed an above-average passing year. But these passing stats are not world-beating, like the Mahomes and Rodgers passing numbers. Still, each of the rushing QBs league winners had over 35 touchdowns (with the exception of Kyler who scored a ton of rushing TDs). No matter what, your QB league winner needs to score, usually, about 45-50 total touchdowns, which is a number many NFL teams don’t reach.
- That last note is important, league-winning QBs, regardless of type, are almost always on very good NFL teams. That’s not really a surprise because great quarterback play typically correlates very strongly with team victories and success. Still, we are looking for passers on very good NFL offenses and generally very good NFL teams. That said, being a good passer and on a very good NFL team is typically synonymous. Perhaps Matthew Stafford can put this theory to the test.
- Backing up what the fantasy community has long known, the best R2 correlation with fantasy success was rushing yards, passing touchdown %, and passes. Most of these teams are pass-heavy unless the QB league winner is a rushing QB league winner, which obviously relates to a more run-heavy team because the QB is also involved in the running game plan.
- I tried to capture several offensive line metrics, and I even tried to aggregate all the OL-centric data into one meaningful metric, but I failed. The lesson is that the best QBs get it done with the time that they have, or they escape the pocket effectively (almost all of our league winners had above-average scramble numbers). The point is we just need a competent OL, and the best QBs will become league winners with the time and protection that they have. League-winning QBs are all great improvisers.
Who is the 2021 League Winner?
Clearly, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes are solid bets to repeat as league-winners. Mahomes has done it 2/3rds of the seasons he has played as a full-time starter (and the only year he didn’t involve an injury that shortened his season)! Regarding Rodgers, I am buying the “Angry Aaron” narrative, meaning he should play out of his mind to prove that GB made a mistake questioning his longevity. However, remember that you need to balance risk with the cost at the QB position, particularly if you are playing in a single-QB league, and both Rodgers and Mahomes will likely cost a relatively high draft pick. So, let’s look at a couple of decently priced options.
If you have been following my writing, you know that I am very bullish on the Cowboys offense this year. Currently, I think you get a discount on Dak because of the injury concerns. Buy the dip!
Dak meets all the necessary criteria: he’s on a great offense projected to score a ton of points, he generally scores a few times on the ground (typically averages about six rushing TDs a year), and if he can continue the otherworldly numbers he was outputting prior to his 2020 injury, then Dak is primed for league winning status. I think Dak has the offense and the ability to toss 45+ TDs, which would get him to the Promised Land in a very similar manner to Josh Allen in 2020.
Sure, he’s 44 years old, but he just threw 40 TDs in 2020 in his first year on a different team and with a different coach. QBs always improve in year two implementing the Bruce Arians system. Brady seems to be ahead of the curve, as indicated by his second-half 2020 numbers.
Brady has a great ADP currently, I think he’s set to throw over 45 touchdowns as well, which is a number similar to Andy’s projection. Also, there’s no doubt Brady is a Hall-of-Famer; question Tom Brady at your own peril.
While you probably won’t get even 50 yards of rushing from Brady this year, you might still get a few rushing touchdowns because he’s, somehow, so effective with the QB sneak at the goal line. That might be all you need to hit the league-winning threshold.
Well, that wraps it up for the Quarterback Position. Thanks for reading all the articles and coming along for the ride. If you didn’t read all four articles, don’t forget to read the RB League Winner article, the TE League Winner Article, and WR League Winner article! Now, go win some championships!