DFS Mythbusters: Quarterbacks
Many pundits will tell you the optimum way to build a lineup is to pay up at quarterback. They will tell you it makes sense to lock in those points. They are right that those high-end quarterbacks have a higher floor. Where the advice is vulnerable comes down to the question of whether or not paying up for that higher floor is justified by the higher price? The answer to this question is a resounding NO and here are the reasons why.
Let’s start the discussion by borrowing a concept from our season long fantasy brethren. The concept is that of the Late Round QB, made popular by J.J. Zachariason. The idea of the Late Round QB theory is that you should wait on drafting the quarterback position, because the difference in production from the top guys and the mid tier guys is the smallest at the quarterback position. The drop off in potential production is much greater at other positions like wide receiver and running back. The difference in average points and weekly expectations from a top ten wide receiver to a second or third tier option is far greater than the difference at the quarterback spot. Therefore it makes more sense to go after the top talent at those other positions first, because the place where it will hurt you the least is at quarterback.
This theory also is helped out by the fact the NFL is now a passing league. Some possible explanations can be the increased freedom of quarterbacks to run the no huddle and call plays at the line, the popularity of the spread offense, or the rule changes that make it tough on cornerbacks to defend anyone. It is likely a combination of all three, but it is also likely to remain that way. Simple game flow analysis also shows us that these later round QBs may wind up throwing the ball more often if they are constantly playing from behind. Losing teams tend to sling it around more in the later stages of a game. The winning teams tend to keep it on the ground. This is another reason why the gap is smaller at the quarterback position. The good quarterbacks tend to play on winning teams and throw less late in the game. The later round quarterbacks might be expected to throw more to get their teams back in the game. Those garbage time points are very valuable against soft prevent defenses for fantasy purposes.
If the Late Round QB theory is viable, how can we apply it do Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS)? The DFS equivalent of a late round QB is the cheaper priced quarterback. DFS players would be wise to take a page out of the season long book, because the numbers show that it does make sense to go cheaper at quarterback. Chris Raybon of 4 for 4 Football did some excellent work on compiling these numbers. He looked at the difference in points per dollar and overall scores amongst the different positions at each price range. The numbers confirmed what many savvy DFS players had been doing for a season and a half. They confirmed that paying down at the quarterback position made a boatload of sense.
In both 2014 and 2015 on DraftKings, we saw the quarterbacks priced in the $6500 and below range out-produce the guys above that range in terms of points per dollar. Since the salary cap will not allow us to roster high priced stars at every position, it is very valuable to know that the cheaper quarterbacks on average produced almost a half point per $1000 of cost more than their expensive counterparts. The average number of passing yards per game in the NFL last season was 243. The median was 245, so you can almost expect half the quarterbacks on any given week to hit those marks as a floor. We also had 132 games of 300+ yards in 17 weeks of NFL action. That means we had an average of just less than eight quarterbacks (25%) per week throw for over 300 yards. The expensive names like Brees, Brady, and Cam are on the list, but we also have guys who were under $6000 make multiple appearances, such as Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, and Kirk Cousins. In some cases these guys were $2000-$3000 cheaper and were able to match or exceed the numbers put up by the top priced guys. At the very least they were close enough to keep you in the game and allow you a much needed few thousand dollars extra to get better caliber players at the other positions.
The higher priced options at both wide receiver and tight end outperformed the middle tier in terms of raw points and points per dollar. That means we have a bigger gap between the top scoring options and the middle tier players we would be forced to use. Remember a high priced quarterback means you have to go cheap in other spots to make up the salary. With quarterbacks and running backs having a higher average points per dollar at the lower end, it makes sense to pay down there and use the savings to get the wide receivers and tight ends at the top of the price range who are outperforming the cheaper price ranges in terms of both raw points and points per dollar.