You hear a variation of it every year: “[X Position] is super deep this season, you can wait to grab a [player that plays X position.]” This year’s deep position is quarterback. As J.J. noted earlier, Tony Romo, who threw for nearly 5,000 yards last year, is the 12th QB being drafted, on average. The shmuck in your league who waits until the 9th round to land a starting QB could still be picking up a guy who threw for more than 300 yards a game.
But here at NumberFire, we like to use things like numbers and math. “Deep” is a subjective term, and an inexact one at that. We want to know exactly how deep a position is, and what your return on investment would be if you wait to draft a QB late.
A quick note: J.J. has actually written a book about the strategy behind waiting to draft a quarterback late in your draft. It’s 100 pages long, and much better and more comprehensive than this article. You should go check it out.
Value Relative to Position
One obvious factor affecting quarterback value is supply and demand. In almost all leagues, teams only start one QB, so only 10-14 are needed any given week, which creates a very small demand. Compare that to running back, where 20-28 players have to be slotted every week, and that’s before accounting for flex players. On top of that, the supply of quarterbacks is relatively huge, as there is much less drop off in production than with other positions.
Last year, the 15th-best fantasy quarterback, Eli Manning, gave owners 66.5 percent of the production that the top fantasy QB, Drew Brees, did. Compare that to the dropoff between running backs: Shonn Greene (15th RB) provided just 52.2 percent of Adrian Peterson’s production. What this basically tells you the gap between elite and middling runners is much wider than the same gap between quarterbacks.
The trend is even more pronounced in the top tiers of each position. There is basically no difference between the top QB and the 6th-best QB. Robert Griffin III, last year’s 6th-best fantasy QB, provided 90.2 percent of Drew Brees’ production. Ray Rice, the 6th-best running back, provided just 69.7 percent of Peterson’s production. Again, the top QBs are more or less interchangeable; the top RBs are not. Is that extra 10 percent production worth taking Rodgers four rounds higher?
Last year, Matthew Stafford was the 10th-best quarterback in fantasy football. He produced 263 points. That was more points than every single running back in football except for Adrian Peterson. More points than Arian Foster or Doug Martin. This year, Stafford is getting drafted right about 64th overall, or the 6th or 7th round. Foster and Martin are going 2nd and 3rd overall. You obviously shouldn’t draft Stafford ahead of those guys – his value relatively to other quarterbacks is low enough that he can be got with a late mid-round pick.
And that’s what this all comes down to – value. If you take Aaron Rodgers with your pick in the first round, you’re getting a consistent, top QB, but there is a significant opportunity cost. You could wait 36 picks and take Matt Ryan with the 54th overall selection – his average draft position so far this year – and replicate 88 percent of Rodgers’ value. If you waited that long between running backs, you’d be going from say, Marshawn Lynch to Chris Ivory.
The emergence of Griffin, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson last year created an excess of viable fantasy quarterbacks. Heck, those guys aren’t just viable – they’re fantasy studs. Their emergence should make fantasy owners’ lives much easier. You can wait and wait and wait and still come out of your draft with an excellent QB. Just remember that you don’t need to spend a first round pick to ensure top-level QB production.