Whether it be DFS or season long, fantasy football is a decision-making game. We try to use the best processes possible to arrive at weekly lineup decisions, then watch the games to see the results. Although there are sure to be bumps in the road, over the course of time we should see positive results if our decision-making processes are positive.
I spent the last few weeks collecting data on top weekly fantasy scorers at each position, dating back to 2013. For each position in this series, I'll use a 51-game sample size derived from No. 1 fantasy finishers over the last three seasons. I wanted to come up with a data-driven profile for top weekly scorers at every position of fantasy significance. The hope is that these profiles will increase my chances of identifying candidates to score a lot of -- or ideally, the most -- fantasy points at their positions in a given week.
(On the next page is a profile of top-six weekly scorers.)
Part one is Quarterbacks.
Weekly QB1 Overall Profile:
Accounted for 3+ touchdowns: 51/51, 100%
Accounted for 4+ touchdowns: 36/51, 70.6%
Played on team that won the game: 46/51, 90.2%
Played on team that was favored: 34/51, 66.7%
Played at home: 31/51, 60.8%
Faced pass defense ranked 15th or worse in DVOA: 34/51, 66.7%
Faced pass defense ranked 10th or better in DVOA: 9/51, 17.6%
Played in game with Vegas total of 47 points or more: 24/51, 47.1%
Played in game that went over the Vegas total: 45/51, 88.2%
Although volatile and tough to forecast weekly, touchdowns are the clear-cut nuts of fantasy scoring, which will show up consistently throughout this series. Every single overall fantasy QB1 has accounted for three or more touchdowns over the past three seasons, and over a third have accounted for four or more. Nearly a third (31.4%) of the overall fantasy QB1s scored a rushing touchdown.
The overall QB1 profile suggests identifying winners could be a helpful part of our process in spotting top quarterback scores. More than 90% of the quarterbacks who've led their position in weekly scoring played on teams that won, and two-thirds of the overall QB1s played on teams that were favored by Vegas entering the game. Although there were some exceptions, by and large overall QB1s were not piling up points in pass-heavy comeback mode trying to erase a deficit. They were imposing their will offensively, excecuting in scoring position, and winning games.
For the most part, home-versus-road matchups have not been a major part of my fantasy decision making when it comes to deciding on quarterback plays. Perhaps that should change. Nearly 61% of overall weekly QB1s have played at home, a stat bogged down a bit by an odd 2014 season in which just 8-of-17 overall QB1s played at home. In 2013 and 2015 combined, 23-of-34 (67.6%) overall QB1s played at home. 12-of-17 (70.6%) overall QB1s played at home in 2015.
For this examination, I didn't want to go back too many years to avoid leaning heavily on the lockout-affected 2011 season, and to account for recent NFL rule changes. But because 2014 was seemingly an outlier year for top-scoring road quarterbacks, I backchecked home-away splits in 2011 and 2012. In those seasons combined, 21-of-34 (61.8%) of overall weekly QB1s played at home. So in sum, over the last five years 52-of-85 (61.2%) top quarterback scorers played in home games. Here is the percentage breakdown of overall QB1s playing at home versus on the road, and as favorites versus dogs:
Favored at Home: 24/51 (47.1%)
Favored on the Road: 10/51 (19.6%)
Underdogs on the Road: 10/51 (19.6%)
Underdogs at Home: 7/51 (13.7%)
"Start Your Studs" is a common mantra among season-long fantasy analysts, and it certainly has more hits than misses. The mere fact that a player can be labeled a "stud" indicates that player is good, and good players tend to have more big games than slow ones. But matchups definitely matter, particularly when we're seeking out top weekly fantasy scorers. Over the last three seasons, two-thirds of overall QB1s have faced pass defenses Football Outsiders identified as 15th or worse in DVOA. Only 9-of-51 (17.6%) overall QB1 finishes came against top-ten pass defenses according to DVOA. In 2014 and 2015, just 4-of-34 (11.8%) overall QB1 performances occurred against top-ten DVOA units.
Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average) is an opponent-adjusted advanced statistic calculated based on success specific to down and distance. One dilemma we face in this examination is that DVOA is a season-long metric and does not necessarily account for critical week-by-week injuries, or dramatic changes in performance. The numbers I used here were from Football Outsiders' year-ending DVOA. In Week 3 of 2015, for instance, Aaron Rodgers had a five-touchdown game against a Kansas City pass defense that opened the year playing poorly, but wound up ranking fifth in DVOA. Down the stretch of the 2013 season, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning both finished as overall weekly QB1s against a Chiefs pass defense that collapsed due to injuries, but was good enough in the season's initial three months that it ranked 7th in DVOA.
Although DVOA is one of the most useful statistics at our disposal, this is a reminder that we should continue to monitor injuries closely when assessing weekly matchups, and not be slaves to an individual, compiled stat.
Vegas totals for the 2015 season tended to be in the range of 40 to 54 points. I chose 47 points as a cutoff line because when I see a total of 47 points or more, I tend to believe that game at least has a chance to be high scoring. I was surprised that less than half of the overall weekly QB1 performances occurred in games with totals below 47. I was not surprised, however, that nearly 90% of games that produced overall weekly QB1s went over the game's projected Vegas total.
Some of this examination confirmed my previous beliefs, and some of it opened my eyes to new ways of thinking. We've always known to target quarterbacks facing mediocre-to-bad pass defenses in games that might shoot out. Going forward, we may want to increasingly emphasize quarterbacks that fit those descriptions, but are also playing at home and on teams that are favored, and/or on teams we have good reason to expect to win. Too many times in the past, I've aggressively targeted quarterbacks I thought would be losing and therefore stack pass attempts, when I should've focused on quarterbacks playing in favorable environments in offenses that would move the ball into scoring position with ease.
Expanding the Sample Size on Page 2 >>>
A few readers asked me to expand the sample size to fantasy quarterbacks who posted high weekly scores, rather than focusing solely on overall QB1s. The top six is a strong target zone for DFS cash games. Looking at top-six finishers over the past three seasons, our sample expands from 51 games to 306.
Weekly Top-Six QB Profile:
Accounted for 3+ touchdowns: 248/306 (81.0%)
Accounted for 4+ touchdowns: 108/306 (35.3%)
Played on team that won the game: 212/306 (69.3%)
Played on team that was favored: 188/306 (61.4%)
Played at home: 174/306 (56.9%)
Faced pass defense ranked 15th or worse in DVOA: 198/306 (64.7%)
Faced pass defense ranked 10th or better in DVOA: 66/306 (21.6%)
Played in game with Vegas total of 47 points or more: 151/306 (49.3%)
Played in game that went over the Vegas total: 236/306 (78.1%)
The results here were not wildly different from the 51-game QB1-only examination. Touchdowns continued to drive scoring heavily, while home-game quarterbacks again showed an edge, albeit a slightly smaller one. The percentage of quarterbacks who played on winning teams dipped from 90.2% to 69.3% as the sample size grew, though winning quarterbacks maintained a significant advantage. Matchups remained strongly relevant. The fact that 88.2% of overall QB1s and 78.1% of top-six fantasy passers played in games that went over the Vegas total is a reminder that identifying high-scoring contests is a critical component in forecasting high-scoring quarterback games. Opponent scoring is important.
Ideally going forward, we should be seeking quarterbacks facing pass defenses that are mediocre or worse in games we believe have a chance to shoot out, and our prospective quarterback can win against an opponent that also has a chance to score a lot of points. From a decision-making standpoint, playing at home should be a useful tiebreaker once we've narrowed down each week's quarterback pool.