Using FireFactor to Dominate Your Fantasy League: Quarterback Edition

Each year, quarterbacks tend to rack up more fantasy points than all other positions, but understanding how to value their production goes a long way for a fantasy owner.

I'm only 23, but I've been playing fantasy football for nearly half of my life. I've spent my formative years reading all the draft strategies, sleeper articles and promises of surefire locks there are back when Google searches for "fantasy football sleepers" were more a minefield and less a wholesale retail catalog.

If there's one thing I learned so far in my fantasy lifetime, it's that picking the right players is hard. If there's a more helpful thing I've learned, it's that understanding fundamental philosophies goes a long, long way on my yearly treks toward championship glory.

Football is a team game, and fantasy football is a team game, too. Drafting an elite quarterback early may be the closest thing to a safe bet there is in fantasy football, but you need to understand what it costs you to do so. For a few years, it never made sense why having an elite quarterback didn't necessarily help me win, but it all clicked one year, 2008 I believe, when I drafted Jay Cutler in Round 9 of my drafts and started to place top-three consistently.

But nothing, honestly, has made things easier to conduct my philosophy or explain myself to those I'm trying to help than numberFire's FireFactor rankings.

I have no idea how the math works, but whatever is in there, they're the only rankings I've ever wanted.

FireFactor Explained

FireFactor is essentially a Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) system. Built in is the option to customize your league settings for both scoring and roster construction, which is by far the single-most important aspect of fantasy football, in my opinion. It's something people overlook time and time again both on draft day and during the season.

FireFactor assigns each player a quantitative value, a value that makes cross-positional comparisons easy and worthwhile. You may have Peyton Manning atop your quarterback rankings, but when do you decide to stop drafting running backs and receivers and draft him instead? Is it a gut call? Or do you still want a player who has the potential to be the high-point-scorer in fantasy football?

FireFactor helps with this decision.

FireFactor rankings thwart positional rankings. Understanding the intricacies of both inter-positional and intra-positional discrepancies will change your outlook on drafting, trading, and playing the waiver wire.

And it will probably make you not want to draft a quarterback or tight end in Round 1.

There will be some unanswered questions after the first article, as I reference why other positions can be more valuable than quarterback, but I'll get to them later in the series and hopefully make you confident by the time you enter your draft. Also, this will be the longest installment in the series as I had to introduce you to FireFactor.

FireFactor and Quarterbacks

There's an undeniably calming presence in having a consistent quarterback to plug in each and every Sunday. But what separates casual fans from a large contingent of degenerate fantasy players is the perception of quarterback importance on a fantasy squad. That being said, plenty of fantasy-advice-givers find merit in snatching elite quarterbacks, citing an edge in the positional battle each week or the potential to have a surefire stud locked in on your roster.

Having your quarterback outproduce your opponent's is a great start to your matchup, right? I can't argue that, and I won't because I agree with the sentiment. But just how much more valuable can a quarterback be on a weekly basis compared to other quarterbacks?

Well, 10-team leagues are pretty standard, and that means 10 quarterbacks at a given time are going to be started. What's the value of having the top option instead of the 10th-best quarterback over the duration of a season? Have a look.

Quarterback4-Pt TD FPFireFactor6-Pt TD FPFireFactor

It's a lot to soak up, but first let me explain where those numbers come from: our cheat sheet set to a 10-team league with 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 2 wide receivers, 1 tight end, and 1 flex (running back or receiver). I'm not using player names because the names change when scoring settings are changed (particularly when dealing with PPR and non-PPR leagues, but that's for the other positions).

So, what does it mean? It looks like having a top-three quarterback is a significant edge, particularly when passing touchdowns count for six points. But if you look at quarterbacks 4 through 12, we project a 26.03-point gap over the course of a season in 4-point leagues. And while it may seem like a 6-point touchdown league would widen the gap, it actually gets narrower: 22.81 points. Having a quarterback finish fourth or fifth instead of 10th is negligible.

The Weekly Game

Now, I'm fully aware that some quarterbacks are more consistent than others, and that seasonal tallies divvied equally isn't indicative of how points are earned throughout the season. But I fully believe that factoring in too many variables can cause people to justify drafting certain positions too early or too late. So factoring the season-long projections into weekly installments makes understanding the intra-positional discrepancies clearer.

Here's the breakdown of what we project to be the average points scored by certain quarterbacks in 4-point passing touchdown leagues compared to some baseline players for reference's sake.

4-Pt TDEstimated Weekly FPvs. QB1vs. QB6vs. QB12vs. QB16

Operating under the assumption that most leagues reward just four points for passing touchdowns (but you should always run the numbers specifically for your league's settings), the 16th-best quarterback in a given fantasy league would average 15.92 fantasy points per week. Compared to the top quarterback talents, that's not even a seven-point disparagement per week between the average production of the top quarterback and a likely un-started one.

To put it another way, snaring whichever quarterback will finish as the QB1 will cost you at least a second-round pick. For just a 5.83 points per week deficit, you can wait until Round 10 or later to grab your fantasy signal-caller.

And that's assuming you're playing an opponent who can expect top-level fantasy points per week from his or her quarterback as well. Even if you have a quarterback who operates as the 12th-best fantasy quarterback (and provides 16.97 points per week) in a 10-team league, you're in fine shape as far as quarterbacks are concerned.

Applying FireFactor to Your Fantasy Draft

Say you're facing a hypothetical sixth-round dilemma between Matthew Stafford or a running back you like, but who might not emerge as the lead back. Maybe Stafford is the only quarterback left you feel comfortable with, and all the running back talent is a hodgepodge of what-if and committee work.

You make the snap decision to try the back, who tanks, and Stafford plays up to his draft price of QB6 at year's end

How bad did you screw up? Well, assuming you can snare a quarterback in your 10-team league who is at least 16th, you'd be at a weekly disadvantage of 2.09 points from the Stafford owner.

Since Stafford would be only marginally better than a barely-even-fringe-level-starter at quarterback, on average, he's not much of an asset. This is why his FireFactor score with these settings (60.46) would indicate he's about as worthwhile an addition to your team as the 30th-best running back. So taking a stab at landing a running back with top-25 potential or so would be a worthwhile choice in the middle of the draft even if you swing and miss on the pick.

Implementing FireFactor during Your Fantasy Season

You need to keep in mind that projections and rankings are only as good as they adhere to your scoring system. So reading reports from beat writers and knowing which players might be primed for bigger seasons than most people expect (like Shonn Greene) or who are set up to fail (like Julius Thomas) always helps, but without understanding the inherent value differences between diverse positions, you can't fully apply your hard-earned knowledge.

You might have the inside scoop, but you won't know how to value these players properly.

Here's a chart that displays projected value comparisons based on FireFactor projections. The FireFactor score comes from a 12-team league with a running back and receiver flex, 4-point passing touchdowns, and no points for receptions.

FireFactor EquivalentFireFactorRBWRTE

The most glaring takeaways, to me, are how important elite running backs are versus quarterbacks – even the best quarterbacks - and how little tight ends matter. But since we're focusing, for now, on quarterbacks, note the narrow gap between quarterbacks ranked 6th through 12th (but really also quarterbacks outside the top 3).

Like I discussed in the Matthew Stafford anecdote, the gap between a non-elite (i.e. top-three) quarterback and the rest of the starters is almost negligible. If you can draft a quarterback who you think will be one of the truly elite at a price you're comfortable with, then by all means, do it.

But when you find yourself in the middle rounds of your draft and are afraid of missing out on a second-tier quarterback like Stafford and being stuck with, I don't know, a Tony Romo, just take a deep breath and know that the gap isn't going to be very big at all.