How to Handle QB Depth in 2013 in a Draft
By Brad Kruse
I was asked to write about how to handle the new issue of depth at the quarterback position we’re facing in 2013. When presented with this challenge, my first instinct was to say: “What’s new about it?”
The following comments reflect 12-team PPR leagues which start only one quarterback.
Playing Chicken with the Quarterback Position
I have always been in the camp of drafting your quarterback late. I’ve just felt there is no better value later in drafts or on the waiver wire than at quarterback. Now, many people say this too and I’ve read articles over the years about how waiting on your quarterback is the thing to do. These articles point out the value of quarterbacks available in the fourth and fifth rounds of drafts each year as reasons to “wait” on quarterback. Let me clarify: waiting for a quarterback, to me, doesn’t mean taking one in the fifth round. Instead, I’ll typically wait until the 9th or 10th round where I target my first quarterback in a draft. Also, there have been occasions where I’ve waited much longer.
For example, the following is what took place at a high stakes event last year where my brother and I teamed up to chase the grand prize of $200,000. This wasn’t a draft we didn’t care about and were just testing theories. This league was important to us.
Competing players had noticed we were void at quarterback in the 9th and 10th round so some of them accelerated taking their second quarterback to keep that value away from us. It became a running joke in the league and after a certain point it didn’t matter that we didn’t have a quarterback because everyone else had two. After reviewing the remaining quarterbacks at the draft and their Week 1 schedule, we decided that Matt Cassel would be our Week 1 starter. We’d look to play quarterback by waiver wire until we found one that emerged. Figuring no one would be drafting Cassel, we decided to take him in round 19 of the draft (as our first quarterback). We selected a defense before we normally would and were able to pluck some sleepers in rounds 15-18 and didn’t sweat the fact that the league was so aggressively drafted the quarterback position.
Interestingly enough, Matt Cassel scored 22.9 points in Week 1. This was more than Tom Brady, Cam Newton or Matt Stafford scored that week. Each of these quarterbacks was drafted in the first four rounds. We outscored our opponent in Week 1 at the QB position with our 19th round selection. That was a great feeling. Obviously, Cassel wasn’t the final answer for the team but we found an assemblage of quarterbacks that worked and kept us from being dominated at this position throughout the season.
Why do I tell you all this? Well, in large part to try to break you of the paradigm that you MUST draft a quarterback high. Instead, I think you should be one of the last to draft your quarterback and this year is just another great example of why to do this and not as much of a paradigm shift as people will have you believe.
Given the above statements, it might surprise you to know that I do believe you’d like to have a top-6 quarterback playing for your team. It makes life a lot easier when setting lineups each week. However, drafting quarterbacks late and having a top-6 quarterback are not mutually exclusive.
When thinking of the offensive skill positions, the quarterback position has been by far the deepest position in fantasy football. The question is: has it gotten deeper?
Clearly, over the last several years all quarterbacks are scoring more points, but for the position to be truly “deeper”, the point difference from the top quarterbacks to the low end quarterback starters need to be narrowing. And, what I mean by that is for the top-drafted quarterbacks (QB1, QB2, QB3 to the low end drafted quarterbacks (QB10, QB11 and QB12). If you just compare end of year points, kickers could provide significant difference since the top kicker can provide you a lot of points over the 12th best kicker each year. However, it’s almost entirely random to know who those kickers will be each year; therefore they don’t get assigned much value at the draft.
Quarterbacks are a different. We all tend to know who the likely top quarterbacks will be each year. Historically, the top three drafted quarterbacks have ~ a 67% probability to finish the year as a top 6 quarterback. From 2003–2010, according to the chart below, you could also find a top-6 quarterback with ~ 65% probability by drafting two quarterbacks from the QB10-QB13 range.
My challenge was to find out IF quarterbacks are really “deeper” this year than in the past. I’ll do this by researching the following questions to see if the answers lead me to believe quarterbacks, in fact are deeper (aka less valuable) today in drafts:
1. Are the top quarterbacks less consistent?
2. Can quarterbacks outside the top-9 drafted quarterbacks still break into the top-6 quarterback rating at the end of the year?
3. Is the separation between QB1 and QB12 narrowing significantly?
Question 1: Are the top-drafted quarterbacks still consistent?
Answer: Yes, the top-drafted quarterbacks last year were Rodgers, Brees and Brady and, in fact, they each finished in the top 3 at the end of the year. As I mentioned above, historically, each had a 67% chance to finish top 6 yet, in 2012, each finished top 3. This answer doesn’t argue that depth was greater in 2012; only that the top quarterbacks were still consistent in 2012. Consistent elite performance is valuable in drafts. The fact that you can probably assume Brees and Rodgers will comfortably perform amongst the leaders at the position gives them value in drafts, as it historically has.
Question 2: Can quarterbacks outside of the top-9 drafted quarterbacks perform as strong starters for your team?
Answer: last year, the quarterbacks drafted from QB10-QB13 were: Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III. Two of those quarterbacks (Manning and Griffin) had very strong seasons and many teams rode those quarterbacks week in week out as if they were drafted as top quarterbacks. They weren’t just QBBC members. If you randomly drafted two of those 4 quarterbacks, you had a 75% chance of landing either Manning or Griffin. Had you planned your draft by not selecting a quarterback until round 9, you still had a 75% chance of landing a top quarterback. That gave you a tremendous advantage.
So, yes, the strategy of selecting two quarterbacks in the 10-13 range proved itself once again. In fact, since 2003, with one exception, there’s always been at least one quarterback pre-draft ranked from QB10-QB13 that finished the year at QB6 or higher. Randomly drafting two quarterbacks from QB10-QB13 has given you a 65% chance of drafting a top-6 quarterback after drafting all your other offensive starters.
This suggests depth at quarterback is still present (as it has been in the previous dozen years) not that depth has newly emerged.
Question 3: Has the difference between QB1 and QB12 narrowed?
After answering questions 1 and 2 we know that the elite quarterbacks are still likely to be elite and that quarterbacks ranked 10-13 and higher can still break into the top-6 quarterback tier with enough regularity to plan your draft around.
The answer to this third question will tell us if there is still enough value then between the elite tier and the low end starter to justify, to a value based drafter, passing on the elite quarterbacks.
Let’s look at end of the year data to compare deltas from QB1 to QB12. Clearly quarterbacks are scoring more points now than ever before. The chart below shows the end of year point totals for the average of QB1 and QB12 from 2003-2009 and 2010-2012
A few years ago, everyone wanted to find a 300 point quarterback which was the measure of a starting quarterback. There are more of those quarterbacks today. If that means quarterbacks are “deeper” then yes, they are deeper. However, we need to look at the value of the quarterbacks to see if their value has actually dropped off.
Despite the fact all quarterbacks are scoring more, value based drafting indicates the advantage the top quarterback has over the worst starter each year is still pretty much the same.
We don’t really see any significant difference when we’re looking at the deltas between the top starting quarterback and the worst starting quarterback over the years.
Reacting to the new PERCEPTION of depth at QB
The belief that quarterbacks are deeper these days appears to be more perception than reality. The elite quarterbacks have also increased their point totals each year. The delta from the low end starters to the top starters is very similar to what it’s been.
However, perception can fuel reality. And, if the perception this year is quarterbacks are deep (and hadn’t been before), this could change how other people are drafting quarterbacks. Accordingly, that could change how YOU should draft your quarterback.
The following table shows the ADP for the top-12 quarterbacks over the last 4 years, and then compares it with where quarterbacks are going in July in 2013. I’ve also added, for comparison an expert league’s quarterback draft that occurred recently.
As you can see, ADP by QB rank varies some each year, but having 5 quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds each year was fairly common. So far, this year that has dropped to 2 quarterbacks. You’ll also notice that in each year, including this year, QB12 is taken between 7.06 and 8.04. Now that’s interesting; the top tier of QB’s has slid a couple of rounds, but the final starting quarterbacks have stayed relatively consistent.
Now, each draft is different and as you can see by the Expert league, experts almost always draft quarterbacks later. That is actually more typical to the Vegas leagues I compete in where the twelfth ranked quarterback is taken in the 9th or 10th round. With that in mind, the expert league also had their top quarterbacks (normally taken in the 3rd round) slid a couple of rounds. But, the bottom quarterback starters kept their ADP fairly similar to what I would have expected in a Vegas draft.
After reviewing the ADP data, I’d propose the following strategy when entering your draft this year. It’s a three part plan to allow you to adapt to how your league treats the quarterback position.
No change from previous years – grab 2 quarterbacks ranked between QB10 and QB13
Enact this plan assuming the elite quarterbacks (Rodgers and Brees) are taken before your fourth round pick.
This year, most people will tell you they like 12 quarterbacks. And, conveniently, most leagues are made up of 12 teams. Therefore, if everyone plays nice everyone gets a quarterback that they like.
However, in most leagues not everyone will play nice. There’s always someone that has to back up their quarterback early even if they invested a fourth or fifth round pick in them. Usually, it’s because they can’t believe Tony Romo is still on the board and can’t let a guy who waited get that caliber of a quarterback. So, instead, he sacrifices a mid-round pick to prevent that player from taking Tony Romo. Or, the RGIII owner is a bit nervous about the health status of their quarterback and rationalizes they have to protect their investment with RGIII (who they got at a discount due to his health issues) by grabbing another top-12 quarterback. Whatever the reason, just because the math works to your favor doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to have one of the 12 quarterbacks everyone likes if you wait until round 9 to draft a quarterback.
However, that should be your mindset. See if you can grab one of the top-12 quarterbacks in the 9th round. For the one-third of the leagues that allows this to happen, it’s a great advantage to you and one you should design your draft around.
If all of the top twelve quarterbacks are taken from you, then you need to adapt. Take a skill position in round 9 and switch to plan B on how to attack the quarterback position.
Identify upside quarterbacks available later in drafts
Plan B is to identify the upside quarterbacks outside of these 12 quarterbacks who you think could average 20 ppg if things go right for them. The list is actually fairly long including: Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Vick, Carson Palmer, Josh Freeman, and there might be a few others that could emerge as QB1’s if the stars align.
I would first select a high upside quarterback, then a safer pick. In a magazine draft I did early this summer, I grabbed Mike Vick in the 13th round followed by Carson Palmer in the 14th round. Palmer finished with 19.2 ppg last year and should have upgraded his weapons this year. He should be fairly safe but also has some upside potential as well. Vick may not even have a team when the season starts, but, if things go right for him; he could put in huge numbers when he’s healthy.
Plan B options need to consist of one quarterback with upside to perform as a top6 quarterback, but also contains a safer quarterback. The safe quarterback is usually a veteran who’s out of favor but could perform well in a committee or by himself get close to QB1 performance. This year, Eli Manning may offer some of both of those characteristics while typically not being drafted amongst the top12-quarterbacks.
If you plan for this contingency, you won’t be caught panicking at the draft table once the top-12 quarterbacks are off the board.
What about Plan C?
There’s a Plan C? Yes, there is. Plan C is what you enact if you’re in a league full of guys like me who refuse to take a quarterback in the first three rounds. If that’s the case, you’ll need to decide when the right spot to take your quarterback is. It’s important to pre-plan this because if the entire position starts to fall they will all “feel” like values to you.
The right spot depends on the makeup of your team. If you drafted Jimmy Graham or another top tight end early, I’d try to resist grabbing a quarterback before round 8. Taking both a quarterback and a tight end early pinches the value you can achieve at running back and receiver. Your margin for error at those positions diminishes quickly.
However, if you didn’t draft a tight end early, this will leave you the flexibility of grabbing a quarterback if it’s a guy you really like at a nice discount. I would focus on the very safe quarterbacks when considering Plan C. Those are Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers first and foremost. Late in the fourth round those guys jump off the table and can really offer value to your team. There are about 15 running backs, 24 receivers and a couple of tight ends that I definitely would take before any quarterback. After those players are gone, elite quarterbacks are options to be considered.
What’s interesting is the expert league referenced turned into one of these leagues. I wasn’t drafting in this league, unfortunately. However, two owners who passed on Rodgers and Brees in the fifth round then selected the third and fourth QB less than a round later. They might have preferred either Rodgers or Brees in the fifth than settling for QB3 and QB4 less than a round later.
Another owner waited a little bit longer, but it’s interesting that at pick 7.04 they jumped in and selected the fifth quarterback. Now they may have really liked that player, but it is clear the three owners with picks 7.01, 7.02 and 7.03 were void at QB. Theoretically it was very low risk for this owner to wait until pick 8.09 and still virtually guarantee them a solid quarterback. The four owners that had taken a quarterback would all draft between their 7.04 and 8.09 picks leaving only 4 teams void at quarterback to be concerned about. And, as you notice the next quarterback didn’t go off the board until 8.11. So this owner might have lost one quarterback option at the most (the one he took) which may be why he drafted him. But, again he probably failed to recognize where the quarterbacks had been taken.
Plan C focuses primarily on Brees and Rodgers. If they are available at the back of the fourth round definitely consider them this year and don’t bother backing them up. The added advantage of having them as a quarterback is it gives you an extra roster spot.
A few other quarterbacks could have some value for you as well; you may really like their upsides this year, but if you’re in a league that is waiting on quarterback pay attention and time your entry well. Otherwise, default to Plan A.
Remember, we can infer from the ADP data that even when the elite quarterbacks slide in drafts significantly, the lower quarterback ranks aren’t impacted as dramatically. If the elite quarterbacks slip a couple of early rounds, don’t expect QB’s 10-13 to slide much more than half a round or a full round, if at all.
In summary, my strategy in drafts this year is similar to what it’s been in prior years.
If this year more people start drafting as I do, then the primary value that it could open up is with the elite quarterbacks. They may become attractive enough in drafts to consider (Plan C). Otherwise, Plan A and Plan B aren’t significantly different than before.
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