Yes, This Is a Weird Year for Fantasy Football Quarterbacks
Seeing Josh McCown's name atop the Week 5 fantasy football quarterback leaderboard has fantasy owners feeling uncomfortable. Seeing the three names underneath his -- Eli Manning, Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton -- has fantasy owners wondering if there's any reason to even play the game.
It feels weird. The quarterback position just feels weird. It seems like the predictable players have become unpredictable, and the typically-volatile signal-callers are all of a sudden every-week starters.
Maybe it's due to injury? Not seeing Andrew Luck over the last two weeks has felt a little awkward, and injuries to key starters like Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo have allowed other quarterbacks to step in and try and prove their fantasy football worth.
Maybe it's due to sample size? After all, we're only five weeks into the season, so that could have a lot to do with the quarterback weirdness.
Perhaps, though, we're simply witnessing a shift. We've been so used to Peyton Manning and Drew Brees lighting up the scoreboard for years, and that's no longer happening. Meanwhile, unlikely quarterbacks are stepping up for the respective teams, seemingly more than ever.
But enough of this "it appears as though" or "it feels like" crap. Has this season, mathematically, looked different than what we've seen before? How does it compare to last year?
It's a Weekly Game
The reason this season feels so strange at the quarterback position is because of the feeling of extreme volatility week to week at the position. In other words, there seems to be crazy weekly turnover -- new quarterbacks are performing well each week, while other passers are dropping off.
Fantasy football is a weekly game. We know this. As a result, it's not as helpful to look at cumulative, season-long statistics as it is to look at weekly ones. After all -- especially with just a five week sample size -- one big performance can really skew total fantasy point tallies, making them appear better than they actually are.
So rather than comparing season-long numbers from 2015 through five weeks to the same ones from 2014, let's take a look at top-12 and top-6 performances. Why? Well, in a 12-team standard league, each owner is starting just one quarterback. If a quarterback, then, finishes in the top 12, he'll more than likely be "usable". If he finishes in the top six, you're looking at a passer who had an "elite" week.
It's not a perfect system -- a quarterback who scored just 0.4 points fewer than another, for instance, could see a difference of being usable and not being usable. That's not perfectly accurate.
But it does give us a glimpse into how things are trending, and it sort of shows the journey made by quarterbacks, not just the end result of said journey.
Comparing 2015 to 2014
So far in 2015 (through five weeks), 28 different quarterbacks have seen at least one top-12, QB1, usable performance. (Note: This could shift a tad given the outcome of the Monday Night Football contest.) Considering only 12 passers are started in your fantasy league each week, and that there are only 32 teams in the NFL, that's a hell of a lot.
But last year, 2014, this number was actually 32. In other words, the turnover among quarterbacks in the top 12 each week was greater last season after five weeks than what we've seen so far this year.
Among all 28 passers who have finished with at least one QB1 performance through five weeks this season, only four had average draft positions after the 15th round in 12-team leagues, per MyFantasyLeague.com. In 2014, that number was seven.
So as strange as this season has felt from a quarterback standpoint, at the highest of levels, we've actually seen more consistency week to week than what we witnessed a year ago.
The oddness of the 2015 season, however, isn't simply due to turnover. It's all about the unexpected.
At this point last year, four quarterbacks had at least four top-12 performances after five weeks: Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning. Per MyFantasyLeague.com, Luck had a third-to-fourth round average draft position (ADP), Rivers was being selected in the ninth, Wilson in the eighth and Manning in the first.
No one was shocked that these quarterbacks were performing at a high level.
When looking at passers with three or more usable weeks at this point last year, Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler join the four quarterbacks above. Cousins was undrafted, but Rodgers was a second rounder, and Cutler's ADP actually rose to the late seventh round by the time August rolled around.
Fast forward to 2015. The only two passers with four or more usable weeks are Tom Brady and Andy Dalton. Brady's not much of a surprise, but Dalton's five top-12 weeks -- only one fewer than what he saw all last year -- is a huge shock considering his late-13th round ADP.
But then we have this smorgasbord of quarterbacks who have produced three weekly top-12 performances to start the year. These passers include Josh McCown, Tyrod Taylor, Blake Bortles, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers.
Among these quarterbacks, only Rodgers was drafted before the ninth round, on average. And if you remove Rodgers, Flacco and Manning, the remaining four all went either at the end of the 14th round of drafts, or they didn't get drafted at all.
In other words, last season's best performers at the quarterback position through five weeks saw only Kirk Cousins as a late-round flier. This year, six of the nine passers were drafted after Round 10, while five of them were legitimate dart throws.
When looking at top-six performances, things start to become a little clearer -- we start to see why folks are so perplexed by this year's quarterback scoring.
At this point last year, 17 different quarterbacks had at least one top-6, elite performance. This season, that number is actually 21. So while the number of top-12 weeks this season is lower, the number of high-end performances is higher.
Because we're all only human, we'll latch onto those big performances more than we would, say, a guy ranking 10th at the quarterback position in a given week. Josh McCown's Week 5, for example, is a much bigger deal to us than Nick Foles' Week 1.
What This Has Meant in 2015
More quarterbacks are putting together top-notch performances this year than last season, but fewer quarterbacks are giving middle-of-the-road usable games.
What this means is that the edge that elite quarterbacks -- Rodgers, Luck, Manning, Brees, etc. -- have typically given you (or, at least, gave you last season) isn't nearly as strong here in 2015.
This explains why daily fantasy players who tend to pay up for the safety and floor of elite quarterbacks have more than likely been having trouble with the position this year. And it's also why season-long streamers are probably jumping for joy, especially if they drafted someone like Andy Dalton at the end of their draft.
None of this is predictive, but it does show that you're not wrong in thinking quarterback scoring has been odd in 2015. But if it continues, we may see everyone employing a late-round quarterback draft strategy next season.