2012 Fantasy Football in Review: Quarterbacks

Our two sleepers went in opposite directions, with Matt Ryan becoming elite and Matt Schaub not even getting a chance to shine.

Quarterbacks: the cornerstone of your fantasy team. Well, unless you had Eli. Or Roethlisberger. Or, dare I say it, Rivers. Finding a top QB is always a priority, which is why we spent so much time before the season getting our projections in order to provide you with the best insight possible.

Well, so how well did we fare? We've decided to take a look back at how the top QBs of the year have compared with our preseason Draft Kit. All of the scoring here is based on a standard league; none of this six points for passing TDs or point per completion stuff. And when you look at the results, our top five looks solid, the unpredictability of rookie QBs bites us, and what happened to that Houston offense?

The Top Tens

Preseason Draft Kit
1. Aaron Rodgers: 295.86 Fantasy Points (FP)
2. Drew Brees: 293.17 FP
3. Cam Newton: 293.00 FP
4. Tom Brady: 290.03 FP
5. Matt Ryan: 266.84 FP
6. Matthew Stafford: 253.33 FP
7. Matt Schaub: 252.60 FP
8. Ben Roethlisberger: 251.87 FP
9. Philip Rivers: 251.83 FP
10. Peyton Manning: 251.80 FP

End of the Season
1. Drew Brees: 337 FP
T-2: Tom Brady: 329 FP
T-2: Aaron Rodgers: 329 FP
4. Cam Newton: 309 FP
T-5. Peyton Manning: 304 FP
T-5. Robert Griffin III: 304 FP
7. Matt Ryan: 291 FP
8. Tony Romo: 271 FP
9. Andrew Luck: 264 FP
10. Matthew Stafford: 263 FP

Right on Target, Sir

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Preseason Projection: No. 5 QB, 266.84 FP
End of Season Total: No. 7 QB, 291 FP

Remember back at the beginning of the season, when there were supposedly five elite quarterbacks? Rodgers, Brees, Brady, and Newton were obvious; we agreed with that top four. And whatdoyaknow? They ended up as the top four at the end of the season as well. But it was the fifth name on our list that had some confused: Matt Ryan.

Well, here we are at the end of the season, and Ryan beat out six different QBs with an average higher draft position: Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers. I'd say that the Falcon has done quite well, myself.

The main reason for Ryan's ascendance up the charts isn't an extraordinarily large amount of passing attempts; Matthew "Let's throw this and, you know, see what happens!" Stafford outpaced Ryan by over 100 pass attempts, or 18% more than the Atlanta QB threw. And even though the Falcons threw the ball on a high amount of their total offensive plays - 61.9 percent of all plays were passes - the Falcons as a team only attempted the eighth-most passes in the NFL.

The main reason for the Return of the Dirty Bird, then, is Ryan's efficiency passing the ball. Sure, his NFL-leading 68.6 percent completion percentage can tell you a bit. But we prefer to look at our Net Expected Points (NEP) figure, which tells exactly how many points a player gained or lost his team by comparing each of his plays to the league-average play in the same situation.

On the season, Matt Ryan gained 197.06 NEP for the Falcons, the second-highest total in the league behind Tom Brady. In non-stat geek terms, that means that Ryan gained over 12 points per game for the Falcons above what the league-average play would have provided; I'd say that helped the 13-3 team a little bit. And all those extra efficiency points gained translated into real fantasy points for his owners; Ryan's 32 TD passes were fifth in the NFL.

Coming Out of Left Field

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Preseason Projection: No. 18 QB, 204.31 FP
End of Season Total: No. 5 QB, 304 FP

Here's the thing about numbers. They're not perfect. And they're really not perfect when they don't exist. They're funny that way.

Since the differences between the college game and the pro game are so large - and even the differences between NCAA conferences can be astronomical - it's hard to get an accurate projection for rookie players. The college numbers might look pretty, but then again, so did Tim Tebow's. All we can do is project based on how past rookie QBs have done (before Cam Newton, historically crappy) and how the Redskins' team efficiency was the previous season (about as efficient as a feather as a weapon in a Clint Eastwood movie).

I can't really lay the blame at the feet of the projections. And we weren't the only ones; very few people saw this season coming. He was drafted an average of 74th in preseason mock drafts, right ahead of such indispensable fantasy names as Fred Davis, Donald Brown, and Peyton Hillis.

But instead, Griffin turned into one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league from the very beginning. Griffin's 155.04 NEP ranked sixth among NFL QBs this season and first among all rookie QBs since our data begins in 2000. Yes, that means even more than RGIII 1.0, 2011 Cam Newton: Newton put up only 57.77 points over expectation for the Panthers last season.

The biggest reason for this quarterback's fantasy explosion isn't his arm though (and who needs one at quarterback, really?) Instead, it was his efficiency scrambling. Quarterbacks typically are more efficient than running backs on running plays, simply because the defense isn't expected the QB to take off. But that wasn't the case for much of the season against RGIII, and he still torched opposing defenses. His 0.56 NEP gained per rush in 116 attempts was easily the most among players with 100 rushing attempts. Cam Newton's 0.47 NEP per rush was second. And only Andrew Luck (0.66 per rush in 66 attempts) was more efficient in more than 40 rush attempts.

Back Into Hiding

Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
Preseason Projection: No. 7 QB, 252.60 FP
End of Season Total: No. 16 QB, 218 FP

But for every Matt Ryan, there always seems to be a Matt Schaub. Despite placing in our preseason top ten, Schaub wasn't even an average fantasy QB this season; he finished with 300 yards passing exactly twice and 20+ FP the same amount.

Our analytics had predicted that a fully healthy Schaub would lead to a return to the 2008-2010 Texans; every year in Houston where Schaub was healthy enough to have at least 300 passing attempts, the Texans had in turn thrown the ball on at least 57 percent of their offensive plays.

The Arian Foster train, however, had other ideas. Led by 351 rushing attempts from Foster alone, the Texans instead ran the ball on 47.8 percent of their offensive plays. The Foster train may derail next season from having run so much, but that's irrelevant now, because the lack of opportunities killed Schaub's fantasy hopes. He ended the year with 544 pass attempts, 11th of the 20 QBs that started every game this season.

So even though Schaub was pretty darn efficient in the opportunities he did get - his 0.23 NEP per pass was sixth in the NFL, even ahead of RGIII - he simply didn't get enough of them as compared to the running game to make it worth his while. The NFL is a passing league, but it seems like teams are now having to pick their poison rather than utilize an all-around strategy. Only two sets of backfield teammates, RGIII and Alfred Morris, and Tom Brady and Stevan Ridley, ranked in the fantasy top ten for both QBs and RBs.