Ben Roethlisberger Is a Fantasy Football Trap
I always wear Pittsburgh t-shirts.
I was on my honeymoon last week in Jamaica wearing a "Got Ben?" shirt around the resort my wife and I were staying at. (I'm such an obnoxious Pittsburgh fan. It's disgusting.) A bartender there looked at me, read the shirt aloud and said, "Who is Ben?" I went on to tell him who he was, the team he played for, and the multiple championships he's won over his career.
The bartender still didn't really get it -- I don't know how he would if he wasn't a football fan -- but he did hand me a Red Stripe.
Meanwhile, when you mention the name Ben to fantasy football owners, they know exactly who you're talking about. And this year, they apparently love him.
According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Big Ben has an average draft position in the early sixth round. That's entirely too high.
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Last Season's Magic
|Year||Passing NEP||Per Drop Back||Success Rate|
In 2014, Roethlisberger combined volume with the efficiency he saw during the early parts of his career, where he was asked to do less with the Steelers' offense. Both his cumulative Passing NEP and his per drop back rate were the best of his long career, while his Success Rate -- the percentage of positive throws made -- was nearly the highest he's ever seen, too.
In the end, only four quarterbacks ranked higher than Number 7 in fantasy points scored in standard leagues, and he was only six points off of fourth place Peyton Manning.
Roethlisberger was fantastic, and we shouldn't take anything away from his stellar campaign. But we also have to be realistic about using his cumulative, season-long numbers to draw conclusions about his season.
You may recall, but Roethlisberger had a two-week stretch that was historic last season, throwing six touchdown passes in consecutive weeks against the Colts and Ravens. Those two games totaled 80 fantasy points, or 26.1% of his 16-game fantasy point total.
As a result, from a week-to-week perspective, Roethlisberger was good, but not as elite as his season-long numbers suggest. In terms of top-12 (QB1) performances (this excludes the fantasy football worthless Week 17), Big Ben finished with eight, which tied him with Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. For reference, Russell Wilson finished with 10 QB1 weeks, Peyton Manning had 11, Aaron Rodgers had 11 and Andrew Luck had 13.
And it's not as though Big Ben had more elite, top-tier performances than his peers, either. Seven quarterbacks had more top-six weekly performances than Roethlisberger last year -- the Steelers' signal-caller had four, while Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and the aforementioned top group (Rogers, Luck, Manning, Wilson) had at least six.
So we're looking at two big ideas here. First, Roethlisberger's season-long numbers are naturally skewed by a couple of huge performances. But second and more importantly, Roethlisberger didn't exactly have the ceiling most believe he did. Instead, his value came -- aside from those two big games -- from consistent lower-end QB1 production.
And the problem here is that this type of production is easily replaceable in fantasy football.
A Replaceable Commodity
I host a podcast called Living the Stream, where my cohost, Denny Carter, and I give quarterback, tight end and defensive recommendations each week during the football season. For those of you who are unaware of our streaming adventure last season, I documented it in an article back in January. If you hate reading, in summary, Denny and I went on The Rob Silver Show on the Fantasy Sports Network each week during the 2014 season, giving one quarterback recommendation that was owned in roughly 20 percent or fewer leagues. Rob would then tally our Quarterback Frankenstein's point total, showing how it compared to the rest of the quarterback field.
In the end, our streaming quarterback was a little better than Matt Ryan.
I bring this up because, in standard leagues, the quarterback position is mostly replaceable -- if you're not getting an elite passer, you might as well not get one at all.
This holds true for Ben Roethlisberger and his 2014 season. Even during the best year of his career, our streaming quarterback was on par with his weekly production.
|Week||Streamer||Points Scored||Roethlisberger Points||Difference|
The Frankenstein Denny and I compiled outscored Ben Roethlisberger in 7 of 15 relevant fantasy football weeks last year, "losing" one of those weeks by a measly 0.78 points. The streaming monster had eight top-12 performances (50.0% hit rate compared to Roethlisberger's 53.3% rate), while it ended with six top-6 performances (37.5% versus 26.7%).
Ben Roethlisberger, during his best statistical season ever, was replaceable through the waiver wire.
Avoid Big Ben's Cost
This isn't to say that Roethlisberger won't perform in 2015. The Steelers have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL now, and Big Ben's weapons have incredible ceilings.
This has everything to do with the idea that nearly every quarterback in fantasy football -- aside from the few elite ones -- is replaceable in standard leagues. And the only way Ben Roethlisberger will really live up to his draft cost is if he makes a statistical leap that he's never made during his 11-year career.
I'm not going to bank on that happening.