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Steve Schwarz | Archive | Email |  
Staff Writer

Do You Really Want Your Fantasy QB Playing From Behind?

Blake Bortles

There are exceptions but in general you don't want your fantasy QB always playing from behind.

Many a fantasy owners will exclaim to me that they “like when their quarterback is always playing from behind.” I’m sure you hear it all the time, too, maybe even parrot those words to others. Too bad the facts gets in the way of this theory.

Sure, sometimes you can get a great comeback and put up crazy numbers, particularly in the fourth quarter. I’m sure we all remember Peyton Manning on a Monday night in 2003 running up 28 fourth quarter points and 194 passing yards against Tampa Bay. But the truth is, it’s not good when your quarterback is consistently way behind on the scoreboard.

Let’s look at the facts.

I analyzed the past 10 seasons, looking at every situation in which a team posted a minus -80 points-differential for the season. There were 75 such teams and 171 quarterbacks who started for them.

As a reference, to be a viable fantasy quarterback, you have to at least be top-12 in the league. Over the 10-year period from 2007-16, that means averaging 20.4 FPts/G. And that number has been climbing of late, what with the changes in rules and the proliferation of three- and four-receiver strategies. Over the past five seasons, the average fantasy starter has averaged 21.5 FPts/G. But we will use the 10-year average.

So how many of the 171 starters on bad teams averaged 20.4 FPts/G or more for the season?
The number is just 13 (see chart below). Thirteen quarterbacks or 7.6 % posted enough points to be a fantasy starter. None are an elite starter, they are of the low-end starter variety.

 13 QBs on "Bad" Teams Were Low-End QB1s
Year Team Pt. Diff Player FPts/G
2016 JAC -82 B. Bortles 21.3
SF -171 C. Kaepernick 21.4
2015 TEN -124 M. Mariota 21.2
SF -149 B. Gabbert 20.8
CLE -154 J. McCown 21.2
2014 CHI -123 J. Cutler 22.3
WAS -137 K. Cousins 21.3
2013 ATL -90 M. Ryan 21.0
WAS -144 R. Griffin III 21.0
2012 PHI -164 M. Vick 20.7
2010 DEN -127 K. Orton 21.0
BUF -142 R. Fitzpatrick 20.7
2007 CAR -80 J. Delhomme 22.0

Ok, now let’s look at those teams, who over the past decade, played with a big lead, having posted a +80 points differential or more. From that group there were 74 teams over the 10 seasons and 92 quarterbacks (good teams obviously don’t use as many signal callers as bad teams) and 48 of them (52.2 %) averaged at least 20.4 FPts/G.

 48 QBs on "Good" Teams Were Low-End QB1s
Year Team Pt. Diff Player FPts/G
2016 DAL 115 D. Prescott 21.2
ATL 134 M. Ryan 25.7
NE 191 T. Brady 24.7
J. Garoppolo 21.1
2015 PIT 104 B. Roethlisberger 23.6
CIN 140 A. Dalton 22.7
SEA 146 R. Wilson 24.9
NE 150 T. Brady 25.4
ARI 176 C. Palmer 23.9
CAR 192 C. Newton 28.5
2014 IND 89 A. Luck 27.6
BAL 107 J. Flacco 20.4
DAL 115 T. Romo 21.8
DEN 128 P. Manning 24.4
GB 138 A. Rodgers 25.6
SEA 140 R. Wilson 23.4
NE 155 T. Brady 21.4
2013 NO 110 D. Brees 27.3
CIN 125 A. Dalton 23.6
KC 125 A. Smith 20.5
CAR 125 C. Newton 22.5
SEA 186 R. Wilson 20.7
DEN 207 P. Manning 31.0
2012 GB 97 A. Rodgers 25.6
ATL 120 M. Ryan 24.0
SEA 167 R. Wilson 20.8
DEN 192 P. Manning 23.9
NE 226 T. Brady 25.3
2011 DET 87 M. Stafford 26.5
NE 171 T. Brady 27.9
GB 201 A. Rodgers 26.5
NO 208 D. Brees 29.5
2010 SD 119 P. Rivers 22.5
PIT 143 B. Roethlisberger 21.5
GB 148 A. Rodgers 24.5
NE 205 T. Brady 21.8
2009 PHI 92 D. McNabb 20.8
IND 109 P. Manning 22.2
DAL 111 T. Romo 21.5
SD 134 P. Rivers 21.0
NE 142 T. Brady 21.4
MIN 158 B. Favre 21.4
GB 164 A. Rodgers 25.1
NO 169 D. Brees 24.7
2008 SD 92 P. Rivers 21.5
2007 DAL 130 T. Romo 23.7
IND 188 P. Manning 21.5
NE 315 T. Brady 28.9

If we look at just the past five seasons, the percentage takes a huge jump to 65.1% (28-of-43).
So, do you still want your quarterback to play from behind and have less than a 10% chance of being “starter-worthy”? Or play with a lead and have at least a 52% chance of giving you starter value?

If your answer is no, then the next step is analyzing which teams will qualify for the 80+ point differential tier.

It’s hard not to notice that New England and Tom Brady made the list in six of the 10 seasons including the last three. That’s an easy choice. But where do you go from there?

Let me make a few suggestions.

Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan

They were +134 last season and while I don’t think the offense can get much better, the Falcons’ defense will improve. Their top two draft choices were a defensive end (Takkarist McKinley) and a linebacker (Duke Riley). They added a CB in the fifth round (Damontae Kazee). Ryan has five quality targets in Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The 32-year-old QB has passed for at least 4,500 yards in five consecutive seasons and the last time he threw for less than 200 yards in a regular season game was November 2013 (55 games ago).

Oakland, Derek Carr

Carr was having a great season before the injury, going 12-3 with 3,937 passing yards, 28 TDs and just six INTs. The Raiders averaged 27.3 ppg with Carr under center. The defense will set the offense up to be even better in 2017. Led by All-World Kalil Mack, management added five of its first six draft choices on the defensive side of the ball headed by CB Gareon Conley and S Obi Melifonwu. Add the threat of Marshawn Lynch and this team should be dominant. If Carr can just learn how to play against the Chiefs and Broncos … he could be an elite fantasy option.

Seattle, Russell Wilson

In case you haven’t noticed, the Seahawks have become a passing team. Wilson put up a career-high 546 passing attempts and with running back Lynch retired last season the receiving corps became the focal point of the offense. Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse and Jimmy Graham led the way. Wilson’s 2016 season was injury-filled and a return to health will allow him to be a fantasy stud once again (read add value by using his legs). The team filled a hole at center (when they traded Max Unger for Graham), by spending a second-rounder on Ethan Pocic and that move should be a huge lift to the offensive line. Defenses will have to deal with a variety of running options with newly-acquired Eddie Lacy to go along with Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise. Given the Seahawks’ still elite defense, this team should easily post a triple-digit differential.

Los Angeles Chargers, Philip Rivers

The Chargers were actually a minus 13 last season, but had a tremendous off-season (well … other than moving to Los Angeles). They finally decided to protect Rivers by adding free agent Russell Okung, then drafting Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney in the second- and third-rounds, respectively. They also added Clemson wideout Mike Williams. Assuming Keenan Allen is healthy it makes for a talented wideout group with Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin. Antonio Gates is still around and just as important the Chargers have up-and-coming Hunter Henry at tight end. Meanwhile, running back Melvin Gordon came into his own last year. Defensively, they will get Joey Bosa for a full season. Beware of a tough early schedule if you choose Rivers, but the offense should be very hard to stop.

Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger

Looking to get off to a quick start in your league, strongly consider Big Ben as your quarterback. The Steelers will open with Cleveland, then play Minnesota, Chicago, Baltimore and Jacksonville. Meanwhile, the return of Martavis Bryant should take some of the pressure off superstars Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. And don’t be surprised if TE Jesse James becomes a viable fantasy option after the release of Ladarius Green. Roethlisberger has been a stud at home, but weak on the road in previous seasons, however, this year’s road schedule looks favorable (Cleveland, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Houston).

Steve Schwarz served as the fantasy sports editor of The Sports Network and is the 2014 FSWA Football Writer of the Year.