- Where do quarterback fantasy points come from?
- Long live the Konami Code
- Which quarterbacks rely on which stats?
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Following up our quarterback overview for fantasy, we’re staying steady with the theme of each position and looking at the stats that matter the most for the position on a per-game level, the stickiest stats from year-to-year, and then some nuggets on how quarterbacks are now scoring their fantasy points in more diversified ways.
Highest Correlation to Points Per Game for Quarterbacks
In terms of raw counting stats that carry the highest impact on fantasy output, it’s all about the two things the position actually scores fantasy points from in the passing game, which is touchdown and yardage production. Chasing overall passing volume has been a long-standing fantasy myth for the quarterback position, as it’s more about what you do with your pass attempts than how many times you’re putting the ball in the air. The pursuit of “garbage time” in fantasy has led many owners off course throughout the years as those pass attempts come with the lowest return per pass attempt across the league.
For one, it’s hard to accurately predict NFL game script and beat the market in that area. Second, we remember the few teams that actually provide production when the game is off the rails because it sticks out as so many other teams are continuously failing while trailing, Third, in order to trail, the quarterback likely played very poorly up until that point. In the end, it’s not about the attempts, but what you do with them because using the pass attempts you do have efficiently is going to naturally keep that volume from overinflating.
Year-Over-Year Correlation Categories for Quarterbacks
The most interesting thing here is that among all of the positions we’ve covered, quarterback scoring per game and per season is the most volatile. For a position considered predictably safe and reliable, quarterback scoring has more musical chair variance than all of the other positions. That plays a role in why we struggle to set the market on quarterback in fantasy drafts.
My hypothesis would be that since it is the position that is the most reliant on touchdown production to carry overall fantasy output that quarterback is the position impacted the most by natural variance of actual touchdown output. Just as it was with all of the other positions, touchdown production per game and per season is extremely volatile. We’re going to cover some of the passers who ran hot and cold in those areas a year ago as we move on, but large touchdown spikes and dips shouldn’t be something handled as a constant for a player the following season.
The stickiest season stats for quarterbacks are all of the rushing ones because the bulk of the position is still filled enough pass-first options that don’t channel enough rushing production to cause any true variance. We’re going to get into the increased rushing production of the position shortly, but when more than half of the league’s passers are still stationary objects, those lowly rushing numbers per season from that group aren’t going to fluctuate heavily.
When we uncover the best passing stats to remain steady per year, completion rate is the only rate statistic that holds up while other rate stats such as yards per pass attempt and touchdown rate carry low correlation in remaining something to count on carrying over from the previous season. Touchdowns are the lifeblood to actually winning fantasy games, but they are the hardest element of our game to predict.
Although lower than the other fantasy positions we’ve covered, per game output remains the best to latch onto for projections while also providing an inroad to any potentially discounted players during the draft. Jared Goff struggled down the stretch of 2018, but still ranked fifth among quarterbacks in passing yardage per game (293 yards) and 10th in fantasy points per game (19.4 points) but is often the 11th to 15th quarterback off the board in drafts this summer.
The Konami Code: Still Expanding and Unaccounted For
Despite rushing output in the open not having much correlation to per game quarterback scoring, that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of hidden impact on what rushing does for the position. As mentioned, because so many quarterbacks still don’t do anything at all on the ground, that keeps the overall weight of the rushing impact in check across the league.
Back in *rubs eyes* 2013, I penned a series on the importance of rushing quarterbacks in reference to rushing fantasy points from passers being a cheat code for creating a tangible and productive fantasy floor. I cringe over reading some of my older approaches and methods, but the overall point on rushing production carrying more and more weight at the quarterback position is significant. That rushing output hit a few all-time highs in the 2018 season.
QB Rushing Performance Over the Past 10 Seasons
|Year||RuAtt||NFL Att%||RuYd||NFL RuYd%||RuTD||NFL TD%||Rush PTs|
Overall rushing attempts and yardage by the position not only increased but blew the doors out of the water from the previous high marks. Last season, quarterbacks made their biggest impact in opportunity and production in those two areas. Rushing output alone accounted for 15.1 percent of all of the fantasy production by the quarterback position, the highest rate ever. That still means that 85 percent of the fantasy production came via the air and passing stats still rule the position, but the increase in rushing output is still expanding.
There were 88 individual instances last season in which a quarterback ran the ball six or more times in a game. In those performances, the average scoring week was the QB11 with 20.2 fantasy points scored. On average, 6.8 of those fantasy points scored came solely from rushing. Last year, there were six QBs who averaged over 4.0 fantasy rushing points per game (equal to a passing touchdown in fantasy) and 10 different quarterbacks averaged at least 3.0 rushing points per game. With the additions of Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones from this draft class to the position, we’re only adding more and more athletes and dynamic playmakers from a rushing perspective to the position.
Relying on Rushing
These are the passers who had over 20 percent of their career fantasy output come solely from rushing production.
In the case of both Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, over half of their fantasy production came off of rushing output. The interesting thing about both is that they accrued their rushing points in completely different ways.
Josh Allen did his work as a scrambler when the Bills deployed an empty offense on the crux of their plays to end the season. Allen scrambled on 11.9 percent of his drop backs last year. That was the second-highest rate over the past decade with four or more starts in a season, trailing only Michael Vick in 2010. He also averaged 10.8 yards per scramble attempt, the highest rate for any quarterback over the past 10 years that tallied 20 or more scramble runs. It was a necessity for Allen to scramble since he faced pressure on 43.4 percent of his dropbacks, which trailed only Deshaun Watson (though some of that pressure, also like Watson, was self-inflicted).
If the Bills are going to continue to use more empty sets to elevate Allen’s strengths as a player, then he will still have opportunities to make splash plays in the rushing game, but we should anticipate his rushing yardage to be reined in some with the Bills’ improvements to their offensive line situation since so many of Allen’s yards came from passing plays breaking down. We should also expect his rushing touchdowns to slip a touch as Cam Newton is the only quarterback to ever rush for eight or more touchdowns in consecutive seasons.
Jackson took over as the starter in Week 11. From that point forward, he was the fantasy QB8 for the remainder of the season and provided a healthy dose of safe-floor fantasy games that stemmed from rushing production. Jackson scored at least 15.7 points or more in all seven of those starts and finished in the front half of weekly quarterback scoring six times. In four of his final five starts, he was a top-12 scorer. Over that span, Jackson tallied 119 rushing attempts, which ranked sixth in the entire NFL and outpaced the next-closest quarterback by 65 rushing attempts.
For the season, Jackson handled 130 designed quarterback runs, the most for any quarterback since the statistic was tracked. He did all this while he averaged just 159.1 passing yards per start. Jackson was well on pace for over 1,000-rushing yards over a full season. We’ve seen just one quarterback hit that milestone (Vick in 2006) and even though Vick himself averaged 154.6 passing yards per game, he ended that season as the QB2 for fantasy. We still need Jackson to develop more as a passer to be that week-winning type of fantasy entity, but Jackson is the best bet we’ve had to be the next 1,000-yard rusher we see from the position.
That point about being able to contribute in both the rushing game and the passing game is what truly wins weeks for your team. Patrick Mahomes didn’t throw for the most touchdowns or passing yardage in league history last season, but he did post the highest-scoring fantasy season for a quarterback ever. How was he able to do it? By adding 39.2 fantasy rushing points (2.5 per game) onto his lofty passing totals, which ranked ninth among quarterbacks.
As of right now, there’s no more balanced quarterback in terms of passing and rushing output than Deshaun Watson. He’s the type of fantasy player owners are hoping Kyler Murray can be. With 8.2 yards per pass attempt (sixth in the league), Watson joined Otto Graham and Ben Roethlisberger as the only three quarterbacks in league history to average over 8.0 yards per pass attempt in each of their first two NFL seasons. To go along with posting 18.3 (third) and 15.8 (15th) passing points per game through two years, Watson has also ranked second (5.6 points) and third (5.3 points) in fantasy points per game to come from rushing. That dual production is how a high floor turns into a week-winning ceiling.
One last note on the players listed above and what that has to do with the drop-off we had from both Cam Newton and Russell Wilson a year ago. We don’t have a great sampling of rushing passers in league history, but it is fair to propose the question as both Newton and Wilson enter their early-30’s if their decline in rushing output is something we should naturally anticipate like we would from aging running back hitting that portion of their career.
Michael Vick averaged a career-high 10.1 rushing points per game at age-30, then his rushing production tapered off significantly per game to end his career. Randall Cunningham averaged just 1.9 rushing points per game from age-31 on after averaging 5.5 per game prior. Steve Young, however, hung on to his rushing output throughout his career and averaged 4.2 rushing points per game from age 31-37.
The sample size is far too small to come to a real conclusion of if Newton’s and Wilson’s rushing output will spike back to career norms prior to 2018, but it’s food for thought as Newton’s designed rushing attempts fell from 109 in 2017 to 74 last season and Wilson scrambled on just 5.9 percent of his dropbacks after doing so on 8.9 percent of his career dropbacks prior.
Relying on Passing Touchdowns
These are the passers who had the largest spike in fantasy production to come from passing scores compared to their career rate entering last season.
As we just mentioned, both Russell Wilson and Cam Newton ran less in 2018, which naturally caused some of the increase on touchdown reliance, but Wilson’s touchdown spike is far more extreme and more of a concern moving forward if he doesn’t run once again in 2019. He threw a touchdown pass on 8.2 percent of his passes — Patrick Mahomes was at 8.6 percent — while he actually threw more touchdown passes per passing yardage (once every 98.5 passing yards) than Mahomes did (101.9 yards). 46.9 percent of Wilson’s fantasy points stemmed directly from passing touchdowns, the highest rate for his career to date.
Of the previous 20 quarterbacks to have a touchdown rate over 8.0 percent, none threw for a higher touchdown rate the following season while the average drop per passer was 3.6 percent. Only three of those 20 passers threw for more overall touchdowns the following season with an average loss of -10 passing scores. Wilson himself had a similar season in which he out-produced his career touchdown rate in 2015 when he threw for a touchdown on 7.0 percent of his 483 pass attempts and then came back to throw just 21 touchdowns the following season.
The above notes also apply to Mahomes, who isn’t listed in the table because he had just one career start and no passing touchdowns as a rookie. On top of that previous paragraph, outside of Mahomes’s 2018 campaign, there have been 12 other seasons in which a passer threw 40 or more touchdowns via the air. None of those previous 12 passers threw more touchdown passes the following season with nine of those 12 players throwing at least 16 fewer touchdown passes as an encore. There’s natural regression in store for Mahomes; the question will be how much it will be and where that places him in the context of the position after he provided the largest positional gap at the position since 2007.
Largest Dip in 2018 Passing Touchdown Points Rate
On the other end of things, these passers suffered the largest drop-off in terms of fantasy points generated from passing touchdowns compared to their career output prior.
Deshaun Watson was coming off an unsustainable 9.3 percent touchdown rate as a rookie and was due for some of that natural regression we talked about Wilson and Mahomes. His 2018 season is why the word “regression” doesn’t have to always be the boogeyman it is presented as. I believe Watson’s 2018 season is a solid proxy for where we can expect Wilson to land in 2019 in terms of a touchdown rate dropping — but remaining high in the context of the league — while Wilson’s overall passing volume should be comparable to where Watson’s volume was a year ago when he had 628 drop backs. Wilson had 655 and 628 dropbacks over his two seasons prior to 2018.
Despite playing through that leg injury and missing a nearly full game to close the season, Aaron Rodgers still managed to finish the 2018 season as the QB6 in overall scoring and the QB9 in points per game. He also did that while posting a career-low 4.2 percent touchdown rate after posting a 6.5 percent touchdown rate for his career prior. We should expect Rodgers to climb back towards his career rates and his play-action passing rate should spike this season.
The past three quarterbacks Matt LaFleur has been associated with — Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff, and Matt Ryan — each ranked fifth, second and first in play-action dropback rate in those seasons. Rodgers has ranked 30th, 32nd, 29th, and 32nd in play-action dropback rate in each of the past four seasons. The last time that he used play action at a high level was the 2014 season when he ranked 11th in the league with 24.1 percent of his dropbacks.
That reduction of play-action passing also lines up with the massive dip in yards per pass attempt Rodgers has suffered over the past four seasons. In that 2014 season, Rodgers averaged 8.4 yards per pass attempt (second in the league) and won his second NFL MVP Award. It was the last time Rodgers averaged over 7.4 yards per pass attempt for his career. After leading all quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt (8.27) over the 2008-2014 seasons, Rodgers has ranked 27th in yards per pass attempt (7.12) for all quarterbacks with over 200 pass attempts over the past four seasons.