Finding 2022's Fantasy Football League-Winning Quarterbacks Through Season Simulations

How can simulating the NFL season 10,000 times help us uncover league-winning options at quarterback?

We, as fantasy football managers, can be heavily swayed by anecdotal evidence and personal experience, and that can cause us to ignore larger trends that will help us find long-term success.

Maybe you drafted Josh Allen early in your drafts last year and are convinced that an early-round quarterback is an absolute must to win your league. Maybe you selected Christian McCaffrey and swore off of early-round running backs and would rather play the late-round and waiver-wire guessing game for your backs (which, by the way, is harder to do than you might think).

And while median fantasy football projections help get your bearings as we enter draft season, they don't do a good job explaining the range-of-outcome reality that exists with fantasy prognostication.

Fantasy football is volatile. Injuries happen. Players are less (or more) efficient than expected. This means that -- with, say, a reasonable discrepancy in touchdown rate from expectation -- players can easily fall from a QB6 projection to a QB13 output, and we won't think twice about it.

But in order to put some math behind this and help uncover the actual odds certain players return us with top-tier fantasy results, I went ahead and simulated the NFL season 10,000 times to see which quarterbacks (and running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends) are most likely to lead the league in fantasy points. This can help us uncover who has tangible, predictable league-winning upside for the 2022 season.

The Process and Expectations

It's very easy to get stuck in neutral when constructing fantasy football projections. Yes, we want to be accurate, but trying to find a rigid answer to a rate stat isn't going to help us very much.

The difference between a quarterback with a league-average 7.1 yards per attempt and an 8.1 yards per attempt (a top-three rate last season) over 600 passes in a season is 24 points -- or 1.4 per game over 17 games. That's not nothing, but 1.4 points per game for a top-three rate and a league-average rate is largely ignorable in the grand scheme when we know we can't really predict a yards-per-attempt average very well.

So, instead, I have realized there is much more value in painting with broader strokes for an exercise such as this.

To get started, I went back and studied historical deviations and ranges of outcomes for players based on numberFire's preseason fantasy football projections. This helped me tailor projections for the simulations.

From there, I accounted for historical injury rates among positions, replacements for injuries when they occur in the simulations, and -- of course -- actual fantasy point variance because, even if a player plays all 17 games, he may not score his exact projection.

Now, from a baseline standpoint, our model projects Josh Allen for 388.9 fantasy points, a full 21-plus points more than any other quarterback.

We certainly should expect that Allen is the most common leader in fantasy points throughout the simulations, but the goal is to remind us that Allen is far from 100.0% likely to lead the league in fantasy points.

In fact, if we bucket out past seasons, we can get a snapshot of -- roughly -- what the sims should spit out in order to feel "historically accurate." Here are the results since 2012, a full 10 years of data.

ADP Bucket Leader% Top-5% Top-12% Outside Top 24%
QB1 to QB4 12.5% 50.0% 75.0% 10.0%
QB5 to QB12 3.8% 20.5% 56.4% 7.7%
QB13 to QB20 2.5% 14.8% 40.7% 19.8%
QB21 to QB30 0.0% 2.1% 10.5% 51.6%
QB31+ 0.0% 0.0% 4.8% 79.4%

The correct way to read this table would be: historically, a quarterback taken inside the top four at the position, on average, has about a 12.5% chance to lead the season in fantasy points and is 50.0% likely to finish as a top-five fantasy quarterback.

Note that we see leaders with reasonable rates down through the QB16 range -- and that we see times when early-round quarterbacks are actually outside the top 24 by season's end. This happens. We want the model to show us times when Allen and the other studs are not top-24 quarterbacks.

So, with that out of the way, here are the simulation results.

Simulation Results and Analysis

Here are the results of the 10,000 season simulations and each quarterback's average draft position in FanDuel's best ball fantasy football formats.

A caveat here is that a lot of these are going to feel "wrong" across positions. It feels wrong to think that there's a 10-20% chance that stud quarterbacks won't even be in the top 24 by season's end, but based on historical trends -- and the mathematics behind the range of outcomes -- it's accurate. Some of them will get injured, and others will overperform.

Quarterback FanDuel
Best Ball
Top 24
Josh Allen 1 24.3% 58.7% 78.4% 8.3%
Patrick Mahomes 2 14.0% 49.4% 74.6% 8.9%
Lamar Jackson 4 9.7% 43.1% 70.6% 10.6%
Kyler Murray 6 9.6% 40.9% 69.2% 11.4%
Justin Herbert 3 7.4% 37.2% 66.1% 11.6%
Jalen Hurts 8 6.9% 36.1% 66.7% 12.4%
Tom Brady 7 5.7% 31.6% 63.9% 13.3%
Dak Prescott 9 4.9% 29.7% 62.4% 14.0%
Joe Burrow 5 3.8% 24.9% 59.0% 14.9%
Matthew Stafford 12 3.1% 23.7% 57.4% 15.0%
Trey Lance 13 2.3% 21.1% 53.7% 16.3%
Aaron Rodgers 11 2.2% 19.6% 52.8% 16.5%
Russell Wilson 10 1.9% 19.0% 53.4% 15.9%
Derek Carr 14 1.1% 12.6% 42.6% 21.2%
Kirk Cousins 15 0.7% 7.9% 34.9% 24.3%
Tua Tagovailoa 16 0.4% 6.5% 30.8% 25.6%
Trevor Lawrence 19 0.3% 5.7% 29.4% 27.1%
Justin Fields 18 0.3% 5.4% 28.3% 27.9%
Ryan Tannehill 24 0.3% 5.0% 27.5% 28.6%
Daniel Jones 23 0.3% 4.2% 26.1% 29.4%
Mitchell Trubisky 31 0.2% 3.6% 22.4% 30.6%
Carson Wentz 27 0.1% 3.0% 20.5% 33.1%
Jameis Winston 20 0.2% 2.1% 18.5% 35.0%
Marcus Mariota 30 0.1% 1.9% 17.7% 35.3%
Mac Jones 22 0.1% 2.1% 16.8% 36.9%
Matt Ryan 17 0.1% 1.7% 15.2% 37.5%
Baker Mayfield 28 0.0% 1.1% 10.6% 43.6%
Zach Wilson 25 0.0% 0.8% 8.7% 47.2%
Davis Mills 29 0.0% 0.5% 8.2% 47.1%
Jacoby Brissett 34 0.0% 0.6% 7.3% 50.5%
Jared Goff 26 0.0% 0.4% 6.3% 51.2%

Okay, so we do see that Josh Allen (24.3%) is -- by far -- the most likely quarterback to finish as the QB1. That would make him the first quarterback to repeat as QB1 in over 10 years. Yes, the historical trends say he won't do it. The math says that he's still the most likely one to do it this season.

Notably, rushing quarterbacks Lamar Jackson (9.7%) and Kyler Murray (9.6%) join Allen and Patrick Mahomes (14.0%) in the top four of those having substantial QB1 odds overall. Historically speaking, rushing quarterbacks have an easier time living up to projections than those relying solely on passing efficiency.

Justin Herbert (7.4%), Jalen Hurts (6.9%), Tom Brady (5.7%), and Dak Prescott (4.9%) are the next tier in terms of sheer QB1 upside with Super Bowl foes Joe Burrow (3.8%) and Matthew Stafford (3.1%) in Tier 3 -- though with Stafford available much later (153.9, on average) than Burrow (51.5).

Ultimately, what we're seeing is that there's a gradual decline in probabilities at quarterback, which is to be expected.

Frankly, the conclusion here should be tailored to how you view the quarterback position in fantasy football drafts.

If you think that elite, early-round quarterbacks have always been the answer, then you should proceed as such. However, if you're not reaching for a true game-changer at quarterback, don't get hasty. If you whiff on the top six or eight, don't panic and take the next available option. Your odds of an elite passer don't drop off too much once the elite are gone, so you're doing yourself a disservice by reaching for, say, the QB12.

If you have been ascribing to the late-round quarterback strategy lately, you may want to reconsider. For sheer and realistic upside, we'll very likely need to be open to reaching a bit early for a quarterback in our drafts. Although there has been an exploitable edge available to us in the past that allowed us to target late-round quarterbacks, that edge is diminishing now that we have multiple viable dual-threat quarterbacks and that they are being targeted earlier in drafts. The sims bear that out.