Fantasy Football Strategy: Transparency From a Quarterback Streamer

Streaming quarterbacks in fantasy football may appear difficult, and many say it's only viable when looking in hindsight. But that's just not true.

I don't hate Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. I just don't like investing in them in fantasy football. There's plenty of logic around it, too.

I know, each year, that streaming the quarterback slot on my fantasy team is a worst-case scenario situation at the position. If I don't choose a signal-caller early in my fantasy draft and my late-round pick doesn't pan out, it really doesn't matter -- I'm going to stream, and I'm going to stream successfully.

Perhaps you're not fully aware about streaming and what it means. In essence, streaming in fantasy football is not being locked into one single player in your lineup throughout the season. Rather than playing Colin Kaepernick week in and week out, you play a waiver wire quarterback who has a favorable matchup. Why use Kaepernick against the Seahawks when you can play Josh McCown against the Redskins?

In standard leagues, streaming is most viable at the quarterback, tight end and defensive spots in your lineup because of simple supply and demand. You're starting just one of them (again, standard lineups), so there's a higher supply of worthwhile options in free agency. The same can't be said about wide receiver and running back.

Got it? Word. Now for some background.

I host a podcast called Living the Stream, where cohost Denny Carter and I give streaming recommendations each week based on opposition matchup. Every episode, we'll throw out a few picks at each of the three stream-worthy positions, and explain the logic behind the picks.

The podcast led us to an opportunity to do a weekly segment on The Rob Silver Show this year, which is a show on the FNTSY Sports Network. The gist was pretty straightforward: Denny and I would alternate weeks going on, and when we were recording, we'd give just one quarterback, tight end and defensive recommendation for folks to stream. Rob Silver, the show's host, would keep track of our picks and how they performed.

We wanted to be as transparent as possible.

You see, there are a lot of people who question the streaming tactic. I can't blame them, really. It's an uncomfortable thing to do in fantasy football -- using Geno Smith against someone's Tom Brady, on paper, may make you want to vomit.

Anti-streamers will generally say that streaming is done in hindsight. Giving picks each week is one thing -- keeping track of those picks to actually show how they perform is another.

So that's what we did. Rob, who was a fantastic host throughout the season, kept track of our picks. And I'm here to show you how the quarterback position panned out.

Quarterback Streaming in 2014

First and foremost, you may be wondering why I'm only speaking to quarterbacks in this article, and not tight ends and defenses. Good question.

Tight end is the hardest position to predict each week, so it becomes the toughest position to stream. This -- not some VORP equation -- is the real reason someone like Rob Gronkowski is valuable in fantasy football. But when you find a tight end who produces (like Travis Kelce, who was our first streamer of the year in 2014), you keep him. As a result, finding viable, stream-worthy tight ends in the mid- to late-season becomes difficult.

For the record, our tight end was a fringe TE1 in PPR leagues. This came after knocking players like the aforementioned Kelce or Dwayne Allen out of our streaming pool.

I'm not going to speak to defenses either because everyone knows that streaming defenses is the smartest thing to do at the position in fantasy football. Your defensive performance in fantasy is very matchup driven, and the individual defensive talent itself, a lot of times, means little.

Quarterback is kind of in the middle. Of the big four positions, it's the most predictable -- a quarterback is going to drop back to pass about 30 times per game, meaning our sample sizes are largest compared to a wide receiver, running back or tight end. Finding favorable matchups becomes a little easier because of this.

Alright, now for the good stuff. Below is a chart showing our week by week quarterback streaming picks, their opponents, points scored, and weekly ranking.

WeekStreamerOpponentPoints ScoredWeekly Rank
1Carson PalmerSan Diego21.065th
2Geno SmithGreen Bay17.6410th
3Ryan TannehillKansas City13.1023rd
4Eli ManningWashington32.101st
5Blake BortlesPittsburgh5.0429th
6Joe FlaccoTampa Bay32.242nd
7Carson PalmerOakland16.1213th
8Carson PalmerWashington21.1610th
9Ryan TannehillSan Diego28.223rd
10Mark SanchezCarolina21.184th
11Josh McCownWashington20.325th
12Josh McCownChicago12.8418th
13Alex SmithDenver12.7219th
14Shaun HillWashington16.4217th
15Johnny ManzielCincinnati0.5036th
16Alex SmithPittsburgh13.8418th

Each week, our quarterback choice came down to a passer who was owned in roughly 20 to 25 percent or fewer fantasy leagues across the major sites. We didn't choose one in Week 17 because fantasy football is mostly over by that point. Our Frankenstein passer consisted of 11 unique quarterbacks, with four quarterbacks being used more than once (Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, Josh McCown).

The average fantasy points scored per week -- standard-scoring, of course -- ended up being 17.78 points, with a median of 17.03. From a week to week standpoint, our streamers had eight top-12 performances, while another five ranked between 13th and 19th. Three of the 16 quarterback performances were terrible, ranking 23rd, 29th, and 36th.

Through Week 11, the quarterback Frankenstein had compiled QB4 numbers from an average points per game perspective. At the time, it was better than Drew Brees, a player who had an early-round draft cost in August.

Things admittedly got more difficult after that time. We had to keep our quarterback streamer under the 20 percent ownership, but that became increasingly more difficult as casual owners started to see which quarterbacks were the real deal and which ones weren't. What these picks don't show you is the fact that we, quarterback streamers, could have kept a player like Mark Sanchez on our team through the end of the year. Or, of course, another team in our league could have mistakenly dropped a decent quarterback (remember when folks dropped Tom Brady earlier in the year?) -- we couldn't necessarily play to this, as we had to give reasonable streaming selections for the least common denominator.

As I said, we screwed up big time during three different weeks. In two of the cases, we got really, really cute. Lesson learned: don't stream inexperienced quarterbacks (Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel).

Overall though, the quarterback compiled was on par with nearly every individual quarterback in fantasy football, aside from the elite guys. So let's talk about them.

Quarterback Streamer vs. The Elites

The idea of streaming your quarterback has more to do with investment than it does being the best at the position. Every pick comes at a cost, and it's foolish to think that you'll end up with the top players at every position on your fantasy team after your draft is over. Spending little during your fantasy draft on a quarterback can do wonders to the other in-demand positions in fantasy football, like running back and wide receiver.

With that in mind, you still need to compete at the position. Investing nothing still needs to bring some sort of results, even against the best in the game.

Here's how the quarterback streamer finished against the top-tier preseason quarterbacks of 2014, as well as the best passer we saw this year in fantasy, Andrew Luck.

Weeks BetterN/A6844
Weeks WorseN/A971111

By no surprise, the streamer wasn't better than any of these quarterbacks from a mean and median perspective. However, it finished "better" than Drew Brees during 53 percent of Brees' games, and Peyton Manning, who was generally drafted in the first or second round last season, was worse than the streaming quarterback Frankenstein during 40 percent of his contests.

Keep in mind, your later-round quarterback selection could have also been someone like Russell Wilson, who finished as a top-three quarterback in 2014. Or you could have been fortunate to get and keep someone like Tom Brady or Mark Sanchez off the waiver wire. Having that gives a big boost to quarterback streaming.

Even still -- even if you were only able to play bottom-of-the-barrel options this season -- you weren't completely done against teams with top-tier options. You were still competing, and this shows just that.

Why Streaming Is an Option

Like I said earlier, you can stream quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses because the demand for those positions in fantasy football is lower than at running back and wide receiver. In single-quarterback, 12-team leagues leagues, 12 passers are started each week. All teams, especially once bye weeks hit, aren't rostering a backup quarterback. (Even if they are, they're not difficult to obtain via trade.) That leaves a plethora of options out there to choose from each week.

And raw numbers back this up, too. In 2014, 40 different quarterbacks finished with at least one top-12 (QB1) weekly performance -- 20 of them had five or more. In 2013, 44 different quarterbacks had at least one QB1 finish. In 2012, the number of passers with a top-12 performance was 38.

The NFL is a passing league, sure, but it's not just helping the best quarterbacks in the league. It's also helping the Alex Smiths and the Josh McCowns. And it's making random, backup quarterbacks like Derek Anderson viable options when they face a favorable matchup.

Quarterback streaming works, and we now have proof that it works. It seems like this is a good time to start the shift to superflex or two-quarterback leagues.