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Fantasy Football Strategy: Paying Up For Elite Quarterbacks

Fantasy Football Strategy: Paying Up For Elite Quarterbacks
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Fantasy Football Strategy: Paying Up For Elite Quarterbacks

If you play DFS baseball, then you’re likely familiar with the “pay for pitching” strategy. I spend the first half of the season examining its merits and found that avoiding the highest priced pitchers provided better scores, results and more cashed lineups. With the Fantasy Football season nearing, it’s time to switch over and provide some preseason strategies to help you win this year… and maybe take home a cool million.

The reason I referenced the pitching strategy at the top is because there is a similar theory for DFS football: pay for top quarterbacks because they bring a combination of surety and a high ceiling. The theory is that top-end quarterbacks regularly produce good outings with the ability to provide terrific scores and rarely disappoint. So, you should pay for that mix of qualities that you can’t find with mid-to-low tier options.

Of course, your standard seasonal league player will wonder about the streaming quarterbacks method. After all, waiting on quarterbacks in seasonal drafts is a given these days, and many owners don’t take a quarterback until the middle rounds at the earliest and are happy to pick-and-play off waivers each week. Can that work in DFS football though? Certainly you can argue it would be easier since in a yearly league, only one person can own a particular quarterback, so if your favorite “stream of the week” is on someone else’s roster, you’re out of luck. No such problem in DFS Fantasy Football, as you can pick whoever you want whenever you want.

The main reason for the “wait on quarterbacks” strategy is that it’s much easier to find value there than at running back or receiver. It’s extremely important to shore up those positions because the drop-off for return value is more dramatic. However, again, you don’t have the problem of “unavailable players” for any given week. If you want Adrian Peterson in Week 1, heck, in every single week, you can pick him.

Now, the question is if “waiting on quarterbacks” is effective in DFS by “saving on quarterback” and spending your money at the other positions. I’m going to test this strategy just as I did with high priced pitchers, but let’s get an early look at the numbers.


Andrew Luck vs. Cleveland | Photo by Eric Drost | Creative Commons 2.0

A typical “strong” score on FanDuel is 20 points and DraftKings is 21. The reason for the small bump is that DraftKings subtracts one less point for a lost fumble and gives out a three-point bonus for games with 300-plus yards (also do that for 100-plus rushing or receiving yard games, FYI). There were several quarterbacks who averaged close to or above those numbers: Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were all at or above the mark with Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Tony Romo coming extremely close. But that’s a year-long average; we care more about the weekly performances.

Taking some quarterbacks as examples, Luck hit 20-plus 11 times on each site, Rodgers 10 each, Wilson 7 each, Manning 9 and 10, Brees 7 and 8, Ryan 6 each, Newton 4 and 3 (14 games), Romo 7 each (15 games), Ben Roethlisberger 5 and 7, Ryan Tannehill 6 and 5, Andy Dalton 6 and 7, Kyle Orton 3 and 3 (11 games), Ryan Fitzpatrick 3 and 2 (12 games). I pulled out the Tannehill, Dalton, Orton and Fitz group because these are a few names where people would play the low priced quarterback strategy. It’s also interesting that Wilson and Newton didn’t do better. I expected their rushing numbers to help more.

If you simply played Luck every single week, you’d have 12 20-plus games.

If you simply played Luck every single week, you’d have 12 20-plus games (adding one for picking right on Luck’s bye week). In reality, we can say it’s 13 of 17 since everyone knew to take someone else in Week 17 due to Luck leaving the game early for rest. So, 13-for-17, huh? That’s a great 76.5 percent success rate. If you take Luck’s other four games, you have an average of 13.4 with only one game under 14.9 (that Week 16 stinker). And “picking right” for Luck’s bye and Week 17 is easy to say if you simply went Aaron Rodgers.

Let’s say you tried to mix and match all year with Big Ben, Dalton, Orton and Fitzpatrick. Yes, yes, I know you could have picked different or gone through double-digit quarterbacks, but I can write about every possibility… you want a PhD thesis?… and I will be testing this method this year anyway. In any case, using those four, no one scored over 18.4 the first two weeks. Heck, even if you included Wilson, Romo, Tannehill and Newton those first two weeks, you still never topped 18.5. With the original four, you would have fallen short in Weeks 6, 11 and 17. If you picked Tannehill Week 6, then Wilson in Week 11 and Newton for Week 17, you could have gone a perfect 17-for-17, using Roethlisberger four times, Dalton six times, Fitz twice and Orton twice. You really trust your skills and the odds of picking seven different quarterbacks always on the correct weeks? Didn’t think so.

We haven’t even mentioned the most important point in all of this though: cost relative to return value. So, the elite quarterbacks can average around 20 FPPG and the mid-level guys more around 17 (guys in the 16’s like Colin Kaepernick and ones in the 17’s like Philip Rivers). You obviously want the extra three points per game and high ceiling, but what’s the cost? You generally want your quarterback to return 2x their cost (in thousands). That is to say, if the player costs $8,500, he should net you 17 Fantasy points.

Looking at last year, quarterbacks who cost $9,000 or more gave you that 2x value 62 percent of the time.

Looking at FanDuel’s Week 1 pricing – yes, it’s out already! – Rodgers is $9,700 and Luck is $9,200. That means you need a near-elite result to warrant the cost (19.4 for Rodgers and 18.4 for Luck). That seems reasonable when you look back at the consistency and numbers of these two, but what if you pick the wrong one or it’s the off week when both put up just 16 points? Looking at last year, quarterbacks who cost $9,000 or more gave you that 2x value 62 percent of the time. Quarterbacks under that price did so 56 percent of the time… not a huge drop. But again, Luck on his own hit that mark 69 percent of the time and 75 percent of the time if we use the assumed swap for Week 17. Rodgers was right in line with the average at 62.5 percent of the time.

As for the lower priced options, Newton is $8,400, Eli Manning $8,300, Rivers $8,100, Tannehill $8,000 and even Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick are $7,900. That means those quarterbacks have to score 16.8, 16.6, 16.2, 16.0 and 15.8. On average, these quarterbacks need to score 2.7 less points to hit the 2x mark. That doesn’t sound like a significantly lower threshold, does it? Plus, these quarterbacks averaged about four 20-plus games compared to 11 for Rodgers and Luck. And that doesn’t include the near-elite quarterbacks such as Brees, Wilson, Ryan and Romo that cost $8,900, $8,800 and $8,700. There is barely any savings here, and is it worth it to save $1,000-$1,500 to risk a higher volatility and lesser chance at a huge game? Luck had eight games of 25-plus points, Rodgers nine, while that initial sextet averaged around two games of 25-plus each. Heck, Brees and Wilson only had four each with Ryan and Romo having two each.

For 2015, some might prefer to use Rodgers more than Luck, so let’s combine them in an “elite duo” strategy. Between the two and covering each other’s bye weeks, we had 24 20-plus performances out of 34 games, or a 70.6 percent success rate. You arguable miss elite numbers for five weeks for a 17-week season, but with these quarterbacks, the average for those games is still 13.5, and that includes Luck’s 2.36 Week 16 game. It’s true that it’s hard to overcome spending $9,000-plus on a quarterback that gets you just 13 points, but no one is going to be perfect and hit big every week. Truthfully, whether you pay up or save at quarterback, it’s going to be close to impossible to overcome just 2.36 points at quarterback, but that’s the DFS game.

I find myself believing the elite quarterbacks strategy is the better way to play DFS football.

As you can tell, the tone in the middle and towards the end leans towards elite quarterbacks being the better play. I didn’t go into this with any preconceived opinions on the strategy. After seeing the numbers, working the options and talking it out, I find myself believing the “elite quarterbacks” strategy is the better way to play DFS football. At least, that’s what the numbers point to, but it will still be interesting to test this out.

Next week, we’ll stay close to this theory and talk about combining quarterbacks with their receivers.

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