Links to similar discussions on other positions:
Selecting quarterbacks late in fantasy football is far from revolutionary. And even though savvy fantasy managers are catching on and drafting high-upside quarterbacks earlier than in the past, there is still equity to be found in the middle and late rounds in 2021.
Consider this article a reminder that the late-round quarterback strategy is built on years of data and can still work. Last year's version of this article had mixed results. Josh Allen was discussed, and he only finished as fantasy football's top overall quarterback. But players like Daniel Jones, Teddy Bridgewater, and Joe Burrow disappointed (though Burrow had his moments before his season-ending injury).
These are the reasons why the late-round quarterback strategy works:
- Positional Scarcity
- Flat Scoring Distribution at Quarterback
- Quarterback is a Predictable Position
- Quarterback is a Replaceable Position
Please note that all assumptions in this article are based on typical league setups (i.e., one-quarterback leagues with 18 or fewer roster spots).
Here are the starting players in a 12-team fantasy league vs. how many available NFL starters there are at each position.
- Quarterbacks: 12 fantasy starters, 24 NFL starters
- Running Backs: 24-36 fantasy starters, 48 NFL starters
- Wide Receivers: 36-48 fantasy starters, 52 NFL starters
* The "NFL Starters" figures assume that certain passing offenses aren't palatable in typical leagues (hence the reduction from 32 at quarterback and 64 at receiver) and make assumptions that committee/third-down running backs are fantasy relevant (thus, a number greater than 32).
At the risk of over-simplifying things, which position seems least important? Here are the same numbers presented in a non-football way. Let's say you're hosting a cookout, and your grocery list consists of 12 sides and 30 hamburgers. Your local grocery store is running out of stock as you and 11 other people enter the store. Which of the following are you going to pick up first?
- 12 sides when 30 are available
- 30 burgers when 48 are available
Apologies to any vegetarians out there, but even a non-meat eater should understand the supply and demand here.
Takeaway: fantasy leagues require fewer quarterback starters while more are available, making it a position with high supply and low demand.
Flat Scoring Distribution
Below is a chart of quarterback scoring over the past three seasons from QB1 to QB20.
Note: the QB8, QB12, and QB16 data points have been enlarged for emphasis.
And here is the difference between a middling starter and a backup at various positions.
- QB4 to QB20: 4.6 fantasy points per game
- RB8 to RB48: 9.1 fantasy points per game
- WR8 to WR48: 5.8 fantasy points per game
The difference between a high-end starter at quarterback (QB4) and a quarterback who shouldn't even be rostered (QB20) is only 4.6 fantasy points per game. Conversely, the drop-off from a middling RB1 (RB8) to a bench player (RB48) is 9.1 fantasy points per game.
Takeaway: quarterback scoring is flat, and scoring at the other positions drops off drastically.
Forecasting positional players requires analysis of Xs and Os, game script, and many other factors. But in today's pass-heavy NFL, quarterback volume is more predictable. And unlike position players, quarterbacks play against an entire defense. Bad passing defenses are both identifiable and exploitable. There's a reason why DFS cash game advice centers around cheap quarterbacks. And quarterbacks who can run the ball have a higher floor and ceiling in fantasy football.
The correlation between matchup and production is stronger at quarterback is stronger than at any other position. And with most NFL teams passing 25 or more times per game, quarterbacks have insulated volume.
Takeaway: of all fantasy football positions, the quarterback is the easiest to predict on a week-to-week basis.
Quarterback scoring is flat, quarterbacks are predictable, but why is the article's title "Upside Only?" Because the most fun part of drafting quarterbacks is the safety that comes with the best backup quarterback in fantasy football history: the waiver wire.
Across the fantasy football industry, there are articles, podcasts, and more published each week that focus on acquiring waiver wire quarterbacks. The intent of this practice is to find a quarterback who can finish in the top-12 in that particular week. There will be highs and lows along the way, but the waiver wire typically offers QB7-10 production if averaged across an entire season.
Takeaway: there's no need to worry about a quarterback "busting" as a draft pick. The production of an average starter is available for free.
- Quarterback is a position with high supply and low demand.
- Quarterback scoring is flat; scoring at the flex-eligible positions drops off drastically.
- Quarterback is the easiest of all positions to predict on a week-to-week basis.
- The waiver wire is a viable contingency plan at quarterback.
Drafting any quarterback who doesn't have top-three upside is a wasted pick. And the earlier the pick is made, the greater the ramifications to the rest of the roster (i.e., the benefit lost of selecting a flex-eligible player in an earlier round). When a quarterback selected late realizes his high-end outcome, the fantasy GMs who rostered him have a significant advantage over their league mates.
A few years ago, the fantasy football market caught on to the late-round quarterback strategy, but now it's catching on to the ideal late-round quarterback profile. Quarterbacks like Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, and Dak Prescott being selected in the top half-dozen at the position illustrate that fantasy GMs are looking for rushing ability with as much priority -- or more -- as passing ability.
But the strategy remains sound, and the cupboard hasn't been left bare. Below are the best candidates being selected in Round 8 or later to emerge into every-week starters, listed in order of current average draft position.
- Joe Burrow - he's fully healthy again, his offensive line is improved, and his weapons are outstanding. In fact, this author is high on Burrow's prospects in 2021.
- Justin Fields - he might not start Week 1, but that will keep his price down. His big arm and agile legs are a great combination for fantasy football.
- Trevor Lawrence - he'll start from Day 1, his head coach is creative offensively, he'll be in friendly game scripts, and he can score fantasy points with his legs.
- Trey Lance - big arm, quick legs, excellent weapons, and a head coach who has turned average quarterbacks into fantasy assets make Lance a priority this season.
Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.