Using FireFactor to Dominate Your Fantasy Football League: Quarterback Edition

Aaron Rodgers has a great chance of being the top scorer in fantasy football, but where does the math say you should draft him?

When it comes to fantasy football, I'm a bit of a crusader. And what I mean by that is that I try to right the wrongs that I see, to help the new and to give the veterans a reminder that … no, seriously, just stick with me for a bit.

I don't really consider myself a crusader or anything. I promise. But there is a big shift in fantasy football mentality, and it's important that we keep in mind some underlying truths.

Deemphasizing the focus on running backs in fantasy football has been increasingly popularized lately, and it's not without merit. It makes sense not to want to spend a first-round pick on a position with, anecdotally (and likely empirically), the highest likelihood of injury.

The thing, though, is that running backs -- like the elite, every-week, no-brainer starting running backs -- are the most important yet hardest-to-find commodities in fantasy football.

Our FireFactor score, which can be found on our customizable cheat sheet, agrees with that -- especially in standard scoring leagues.

So even though it might be scary or unappealing to draft, say, Eddie Lacy instead of Dez Bryant, the fact is that players who can produce RB1 numbers are scarcer than those who can put up WR1 numbers.

That's why pointing to Rob Gronkowski's dominance at the tight end position as a reason to draft him before a likely RB1 candidate doesn't make sense. It neglects the roster as a whole, and the fact remains that tight ends can be streamed, and running backs and receivers cannot be treated quite as haphazardly.

That's where FireFactor comes into play.

Explaining FireFactor

FireFactor is basically a Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) method, and it indicates how to value certain players at different positions. Sure, we know Aaron Rodgers has the best chance to be the highest-scoring player in fantasy football leagues, but we also know that he isn't a sensible first-overall draft pick.

FireFactor helps explain why that is, and a lot of it comes down to positional scarcity based on your customized league settings.

So, we have Rodgers pegged as the highest-projected player this season and to score 343 fantasy points, making him one of just five players (all quarterbacks) to top the 300-point mark and the only player projected for more than 330 points.

When should you draft him?

FireFactor and Quarterbacks

We know it's a passing league, but that actually goes a long way in devaluing the importance of the quarterback position. If more players are getting in on the action, there are more useful options. If you're in a 10- or 12-team league, useful options will be sitting on the waiver wire each week.

So, here's how we project the top-10 quarterbacks to fare this year, including their FireFactor score in a 10-team league with 1 quarterback, 2 receivers, 2 running backs, 1 receiver/running back flex, and 1 tight end.

PlayerPos. RankRiskFPOverall RankFireFactor
Aaron Rodgers (GB)#1 QBLow354.2218108.08
Drew Brees (NO)#2 QBLow344.112097.97
Andrew Luck (IND)#3 QBLow334.93188.76
Peyton Manning (DEN)#4 QBLow329.653483.51
Matt Ryan (ATL)#5 QBLow323.453777.31
Russell Wilson (SEA)#6 QBLow306.794860.65
Matthew Stafford (DET)#7 QBLow295.65549.46
Cam Newton (CAR)#8 QBLow285.826439.68
Tony Romo (DAL)#9 QBLow282.187036.04
Philip Rivers (SD)#10 QBLow280.527434.38

To be clear, these are some of the highest-projected fantasy scorers, but their overall rank -- their FireFactor rank -- doesn't reflect that. It's based on the very nature of the importance of quarterbacks in 10- or 12-team setups.

Simply, these are all low-risk options, and the difference between, say, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers is 50 points over the course of a season, or about 3 points per week. That sounds like a good headstart, but is it really worth taking Manning in the fourth round rather than Rivers in the 10th, especially knowing that fantasy points aren't consistent week to week?


But what if you play in a 6-point per passing touchdown league? Wouldn't things change?

PlayerPos. RankRiskFPRankFireFactor
Aaron Rodgers (GB)#1 QBLow417.228145.05
Drew Brees (NO)#2 QBLow400.5413128.37
Peyton Manning (DEN)#3 QBLow389.9816117.81
Andrew Luck (IND)#4 QBLow385.7318113.56
Matt Ryan (ATL)#5 QBLow373.3223101.15
Russell Wilson (SEA)#6 QBLow338.524766.35
Matthew Stafford (DET)#7 QBLow335.774963.6
Tony Romo (DAL)#8 QBLow330.235158.06
Philip Rivers (SD)#9 QBLow323.065750.89
Cam Newton (CAR)#10 QBLow312.396640.22

It sure looks like quarterbacks are more dominant in 6-point leagues (based on their total fantasy points), but that's not actually true.

What's actually happening is that the whole position moves up together -- just like with the whole "it's a passing league" mentality. More quarterbacks posted a top-12 score in a given week in 6-point formats than in 4-point formats, and there's really nothing to suggest that you're at a disadvantage if you wait on quarterback in such leagues and stream the position fairly sensibly.

In 6-point leagues, seven quarterbacks find their way into the top 100 in our overall rankings. Six are there for 4-point leagues. Yes, the top end creeps up into the top-25 or so, but that doesn't mean that other passers aren't moving up as well.

What's a Quarterback Worth?

I want to stress that names really aren't that important when approaching fantasy football from a strict, game theory angle. If Eli Manning finishes as the top fantasy quarterback, then it might cause us to change our views on the position, but it shouldn't. Unless players are scoring drastically different point totals than what we've seen historically, we should be focused on the numbers.

Year in and year out, scoring totals among the various positions are fairly constant, excluding some outliers near the top. That means that if Eli finishes as the top fantasy quarterback, it won't be because he scored 500 fantasy points or because he scored 200 and everybody else had a horrendous year. Understanding positional differences matter more than jockeying between a player who can finish eighth or 12th at his position.

Considering this, there's a pretty significant difference in weight at each position, and based on FireFactor, the top quarterbacks aren't worth a whole heck of a lot relative to running backs and receivers. Here are how the FireFactor scores for quarterbacks matchup with the three other positions in a 12-team league that rewards half a point for a reception and four points for a passing touchdown.

FireFactor EquivalentFireFactor ScoreRBWRTE
QB 1115.82RB 14WR 11TE 1
QB 2105.74RB 18WR 12TE 1
QB 396.41RB 20WR 13TE 2
QB 491.23RB 25WR 14TE 2
QB 585.12RB 26WR 14TE 2
QB 668.45RB 29WR 24TE 3
QB 757.11RB 30WR 28TE 4
QB 847.39RB 32WR 31TE 6
QB 943.78RB 33WR 33TE 7
QB 1042.09RB 33WR 35TE 7
QB 1133.9RB 35WR 40TE 8
QB 1233.13RB 35WR 41TE 8
QB 1325.48RB 39WR 46TE 9
QB 1419.47RB 42WR 48TE 10

Whoever finishes as the top fantasy quarterback, provided he scores roughly 340 points and the other positions don't see a dramatic uptick or downtick (and I mean really, really dramatic for everyone at every position), is about as useful as the 14th-best running back during the whole course of a season given these scoring settings.

This also shows how much more important the multi-start positions of running back and receiver are than single-start positions are, but we'll get to that later.

Implementing FireFactor into Your Season

The easiest place to implement FireFactor principles is in your draft. If you're sitting in your draft and have the decision between, say Matthew Stafford (our QB7) and his receiver Golden Tate (our WR18), you should definitely opt for Tate. You won't want to omit ADP entirely, of course, and there is plenty of value to be had if league mates select tight ends and quarterbacks before snagging running backs and receivers, but the point of the exercise is to focus on how positional scarcity really should drive your decision-making.

This is especially true during the season. It's hard to give up on players who are performing well, especially with the swap is for a player who isn't living up to the expectation. However, if you use the table above as a trade chart of sorts and somebody wants to offer you a fringe RB2 (in the RB25-29 range) for a mid-tier quarterback who is putting up solid games, it's a deal that's in your favor.

According to the numbers, you shouldn't feel afraid to wait on drafting a quarterback, and you shouldn't panic if you haven't found a consistent starter week in and week out. But we'll soon see that you shouldn't be willing to risk that type of uncertainty on running backs and receivers.