A Review of the 2014 Fantasy Football Season: Quarterbacks

2014 was a great year for quarterback scoring. How did numberFire's algorithms perform?

Quarterbacks are unlike any position in fantasy football. Most are highly dependent on matchup and game flow, and both of those mechanisms are interesting to predict each week. In most leagues you only start one quarterback, so they're also simply not as scarce as running backs, wide receivers, or even tight ends in some leagues. Combine all of these factors together and you're probably turning head over heels trying to find a discernible method of valuing quarterbacks.

As JJ Zachariason of numberFire has preached his entire writing career: stop drafting quarterbacks early! Instead of trying to find a “top-five” quarterback in the first few rounds of fantasy drafts, just wait. If you subscribed to the “waiting” notion this year -- and I hope you did -- you were likely rewarded. Seven of the top-12 overall quarterbacks had an average draft position (ADP) in the seventh round or later. Players like Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, and even Eli Manning provided QB1 production at a fraction of the draft capital.

In the following sections, we’ll review how the top-25 quarterbacks performed this year, keeping in mind overall rankings are not the best barometer for season-long fantasy success, especially with quarterbacks. Let’s say, while a given player finished QB8 overall, his “weekly finishes” (or, where a given quarterback finished overall on a week-to-week basis) may tell a different story. With that said, let’s review 2014.

Note: the table below uses standard scoring, where each touchdown pass is four points. The “difference” column is just the difference in rank between where the quarterback finished and where we, numberFire, had that quarterback ranked at the beginning of the season.

Preseason QB RankProjected FPsActual QB RankActual FPsDifference
1Drew Brees363.57Andrew Luck378.84
2Peyton Manning345.94Aaron Rodgers361.11
3Aaron Rodgers345.93Russell Wilson333.44
4Cam Newton296.86Peyton Manning327.7-2
5Andrew Luck291.24Drew Brees324.1-4
6Matthew Stafford287.51Ben Roethlisberger318.910
7Russell Wilson284.79Matt Ryan300.32
8Tom Brady283.62Ryan Tannehill295.312
9Matt Ryan281.46Tom Brady292.6-1
10Philip Rivers279.26Eli Manning291.59
11Nick Foles278.44Philip Rivers287.5-1
12Jay Cutler269.29Tony Romo281.32
13Robert Griffin III268.68Jay Cutler277.6-1
14Tony Romo266.7Joe Flacco274.29
15Colin Kaepernick259.05Colin Kaepernick270.10
16Ben Roethlisberger253.48Cam Newton269.3-12
17Andy Dalton246.79Matthew Stafford267.2-11
18Alex Smith227.45Andy Dalton235.3-1
19Eli Manning216.08Alex Smith232.8-1
20Ryan Tannehill214.91Derek Carr21219
21Carson Palmer211.86Kyle Orton19020
22Jake Locker197.87Ryan Fitzpatrick189.74
23Joe Flacco194.53Teddy Bridgewater187.712
24E.J. Manuel192.53Blake Bortles185.110
25Josh McCown188.51Brian Hoyer171.27

What We Got Wrong

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Over the last 10 weeks of the regular season, Roethlisberger finished inside of the top-12 quarterbacks (QB1) eight times. That span includes his historic back-to-back 35-plus fantasy point performances against the Colts and Ravens, where he threw 12 total passing touchdowns.

By all means, Big Ben was a bonafide top quarterback this year. He finished third in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) just behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. He finished fourth in yards per attempt with 8.2, and seventh in total passing touchdowns with 32. Roethlisberger had the best statistical season of his career, and will likely be drafted as a solid QB1 option come draft day later this year.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins

Tannehill was a little surprising this year. He finished the season QB8 overall, but wasn’t incredibly efficient in doing so. He finished 14th with 0.46 fantasy points per drop back, 16th in Passing NEP, and 23rd in Passing NEP per drop back. In a way, Tannehill’s season was the proverbial litmus test for a “meh” NFL quarterback being a usable fantasy commodity.

Tannehill finished inside of the weekly top-12 quarterbacks (QB1) seven times this season, which in and of itself is pretty good on the surface. But take into account Tannehill finished outside of the top-15 quarterbacks (mid-QB2) seven times as well, and things become clear: while he enjoyed enough success along a 16-game season to crack the top-10 overall, he was probably more like a high-end QB2 or streaming option based on opponent.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

What’s funny about Matthew Stafford is that, like Ryan Tannehill, he was incredibly inconsistent this season. The difference was cost. Stafford likely cost you a top-60 pick overall last August, while Tannehill was basically free. Stafford was essentially a poor man’s Ryan Tannehill in fantasy football.

Stafford, like Tannehill, had seven top-12 (QB1) weekly finishes while also managing to have six finishes outside of the top-20 (low-QB2). Basically, he was harshly mediocre. He finished tied for the 18th best touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.8) with Derek Carr and Kyle Orton. Stafford scored 0.40 fantasy points per drop back, which was good enough for 28th overall, and he also finished 16th in Pass NEP per attempt.

Since Stafford’s 41 passing touchdown season in 2011, he has been drafted and treated as a QB1, but the results since then point to the contrary. Unless something changes in Stafford’s game or he somehow becomes more efficient, he should be drafted as a high-end QB2 in 2015.

Honorable mentions: Eli Manning (ranked 19th, finished 10th), Joe Flacco (23rd, 14th), Cam Newton (4th, 16th).

What We Got Right

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

I remember the offseason debates. Some had Russell Wilson as a low-QB1 (ranked 9th to 13th), and some had him even lower. Luckily, our projections liked Wilson as a solid QB1 option, and our writers loved him even more. Hopefully you owned him in at least one league this year.

Russell Wilson’s 0.61 fantasy points per drop back was second only to Aaron Rodgers this season (0.63). 36.4% of his scoring output came from his absurd rushing totals (118 rushes, 854 yards, and 6 touchdowns). If you took those rushing totals and made Russell Wilson a running back, his 109.4 points would have been good enough to finish as the RB29 overall (standard scoring), ahead of Branden Oliver, Rashad Jennings, and Darren Sproles.

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

If you owned Tom Brady the first four weeks of this fantasy season, you may disagree with this call. He finished outside of the weekly top-20 quarterbacks (QB2) all four weeks, and didn’t manage a 13-plus point fantasy performance in that span. Then, in Week 5, his season turned around.

The Patriots figured out their offensive line, Rob Gronkowski started doing Gronk-like things, and Tom Brady’s season was rectified. From Week 5 on, Brady had seven top-8 weekly finishes, and was the fantasy quarterback we have come to know over the years. He finished third in touchdown-to-interception ratio (3.7), and fifth in both Passing NEP, and Passing NEP per drop back. Despite Brady’s turnaround this year, his age 38 season is upcoming, and his average draft position will be an interesting thing to watch during the offseason.

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Ah, yes. The lovable (and for some reason, hated) Tony Romo. When he’s not finishing fourth in Passing NEP, second in Pass NEP per drop back, and boasting the league’s second-best touchdown-to-interception ratio (3.8) like he did this year, people seem to think he’s “terrible” and “not clutch.” For whatever reason, people will always hate Romo for inexplicable reasons.

Alas, Romo had probably his best season as a professional at 34 years old. Not only was he among the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL, he also had a pretty good fantasy season, too. Romo had eight top-12 weekly finishes (QB1) and scored 20-plus fantasy points in five of the last seven weeks of the season. Love or hate him, Romo is a solid QB1 in fantasy and is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Honorable mentions: Aaron Rodgers (ranked 3rd, finished 2nd), Matt Ryan (9th, 7th), Jay Cutler (12th, 13th).