- Deep-ball quarterbacks have been more valuable than those that throw shorter passes.
- Mobile quarterbacks offer increased value without an ownership premium.
- High-volume red-zone quarterbacks have offered increased value, but tend to carry high ownership.
Production is ultimately what should matter most in both real-life and fantasy football. This might seem obvious, but at times both teams and fantasy players alike possess a bias toward certain player archetypes, particularly at the quarterback position. But should daily fantasy sports players be targeting specific types of quarterbacks, and if so, which ones?
Using our Trends tool, we’ll measure and compare the fantasy points per game, Plus/Minus (points above/below salary-based expectation), and Consistency (percentage of time meeting salary-based expectations) of each of the following quarterback archetypes:
- Deep-ball vs. short-pass: Do field-stretching quarterbacks offer more value than those that are content to dink-and-dunk their way down the field?
- Mobile vs. statue: Are dual-threat quarterbacks really more productive than pocket passers?
- Red-zone vs. dead-zone: How crucial is a quarterback’s level of involvement in the red zone?
Are Deep-Ball Quarterbacks More Valuable Than Pocket Passers?
Big-play minded quarterbacks are fun to watch, and there’s reason to believe passers who consistently chuck the ball downfield offer increased fantasy upside compared to those who don’t. Over the past five seasons, the correlation between fantasy points per dropback and per-game deep attempts (those that travel 20-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage) is .28, a weak but positive relationship.
Only five quarterbacks have averaged over 5.5 deep-ball attempts per game (min. 6 starts) since 2015: Ben Roethlisberger (2015-2017), Blake Bortles (2015), Andrew Luck (2015), Deshaun Watson (2017), and Russell Wilson (2017). Interestingly, with the exception of Bortles, who hasn’t maintained his field-stretching mentality over the past two seasons, each of them has dealt with an injury at one point or another, so while each of them has proven capable of producing truly staggering stretches of excellent play, asking a quarterback to hold the ball for a long time in order to let throws develop downfield might not be the recipe for extended longevity. Luckily for those of us that play daily fantasy sports, we can roster — and profit from —these quarterbacks one week at a time. Over the past three seasons, the league’s top 10 quarterbacks in deep attempts per game have vastly outperformed the bottom 10:
(Note: For reference, quarterbacks as a whole since 2015 have averaged 16.6 fantasy points per game, a -0.1 Plus/Minus, 47.5% Consistency, and 4.1% ownership on DraftKings, and 15.7 fantasy points per game, a -0.2 Plus/Minus, 46.9% Consistency, and 4.4% ownership on FanDuel.)
The deep-ball group contains still plenty of underperformers, and quarterbacks that hardly throw downfield aren’t useless fantasy assets (though that style may foreshadow big-picture problems in the team’s faith in their overall passing game), but the downfield mindset can give an otherwise helpless signal caller a chance to produce in fantasy. For example, DeShone Kizer attempted the fourth-most deep passes in the league in 2017 on his way to finishing 0-15 as a starter for the Browns, but he was one of 18 quarterbacks who had at least four games with 20 or more DraftKings points. And while targeting quarterbacks that routinely test defenses downfield has also historically led to an increase in ownership, it’s generally a risk worth taking considering the increased value and consistency that come along with it.
Are Scramblers More Valuable Than Pocket Passers?
The correlation between a quarterback’s rushing attempts per game and fantasy points per dropback is .44. Though that figure would normally signify a moderate correlation, it’s relatively strong in the realm of NFL stats, and it indicates that plenty of mobile quarterbacks have been among the league’s most efficient fantasy performers.
Most quarterbacks will take off and run a few times per game, but only a select few ever carry the ball as much as even a backup running back would; among quarterbacks who have started at least six games in a season since 2014, 62% have averaged fewer than three rushing attempts per game, while only seven have averaged more than five rushing attempts per game. That group of seven has balled in DFS, averaging 18.97 DraftKings points per game with a +2.1 Plus/Minus and 56.8% Consistency over the past four seasons. The likes of Tyrod Taylor, Cam Newton, Wilson, Watson, and potentially Alex Smith could again possess this fantasy-friendly workload heading into the 2018 season.
For most quarterbacks, anything gained on the ground is an unexpected luxury, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the position’s top 10 in rushing attempts per game have proven to be superior DFS options compared to the bottom 10:
Dual-threat quarterbacks have routinely offered more value and consistency than the league’s least-mobile options under center, and what is perhaps most intriguing about that is that there hasn’t been a consistent difference in ownership between the groups — the public is grossly undervaluing mobile quarterbacks.
Of course, not all rushing opportunities are created equal. An attempt near the goal line is obviously more valuable than one farther upfield, but those carries are slim pickings for most quarterbacks, as only Taylor, Newton and Dak Prescott have at least eight rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line during each of the past two seasons (and Prescott’s early-career success as a rusher near the goal line will be needed more than ever this season without Dez Bryant and Jason Witten). Those three quarterbacks have averaged solid results (18.19 DraftKings points per game, +0.27 average Plus/Minus, 53.1% Consistency), though interestingly enough, their output was not quite as good as the scrambler group as a whole.
Are High-Volume Red-Zone Quarterbacks More Valuable Than Low-Volume Ones?
Red-zone pass attempts can be indicative of both a quarterback’s ability to consistently drive his team down the field as well as how much his coach trusts in his ability to throw accurately in the tightest area of the field. The correlation between pass attempts inside the 20- and 10-yard line is .98, so we’ll focus solely on pass attempts in the red zone.
Success in the red zone sometimes simply comes down to numbers. Defenses can essentially force offenses to pass by overloading the line of scrimmage with defensive tackles — basically what the Patriots did to the Seahawks in Super Bowl 49 — but the league’s best quarterbacks have generally been capable of continuing to thrive in this narrow area of the field. Therefore, it stands to reason that If a team doesn’t trust its signal caller to throw in the red zone, you probably shouldn’t trust that quarterback to lead your DFS squad — but is that truly the case?
Over the past three seasons, red-zone pass attempts per game have a .29 correlation with fantasy points per dropback, and quarterbacks with a top-10 usage rate close to the goal line have historically outperformed those in the bottom 10:
The league’s most active red-zone quarterbacks have mostly balled out, but they’ve come with steep ownership while producing relatively modest value and consistency compared to the other types that were previously discussed. The minuscule differences between the two groups in 2017 suggests that a quarterback’s red-zone usage may already be priced into his salary.
Have more questions about DFS quarterback value? You can use our tools to research different types of quarterbacks yourself, and be on the lookout for a similar breakdown on running backs.
Pictured: Deshaun Watson
Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski – USA TODAY Sports