There are certain traditions that fantasy football players hold onto wholeheartedly; whether you call it ritual, group-think, experience or blind obedience. There are little, if any, external factors that can sway us from certain predetermined actions. Few places is this more evident than during draft day. If one happens to be so bold (or some would say ignorant) to draft a kicker anywhere other than the end of the draft, draft a defense in the top of the draft or heaven forbid draft multiple kickers, a constant and unending stream of mockery and ridicule will quickly be unleashed upon you.
One such tradition that I’ve always found amusing is the tendency for players to bypass the quarterback position. Like most traditions, this one is steep in ritual, historical facts and expert advice. Generally, the running back position has been the cornerstone of any successful team. The position is so highly prized that many players would draft not one or two, but three running backs to start the draft. Throughout the past 20 years of fantasy football, the lesson has been passed down from high upon the championship mountain, with experts and former victors preaching running back, running back and running back again. It is the law that the fantasy gods have bestowed upon us, and woe is he who shall challenge it.
As the years have rolled by and the league has taken a sharper turn towards the passing game, most have adjusted away from this strategy, at the most taking a running back in the first two rounds. However, is this enough of a rollback in strategy to correctly compensate for the new NFL? While no one will debate the importance of a premier running back in fantasy football, the days of 400-carry rushers have long passed us by. As such, many of the same changes that are touted as the genesis for the proliferation of the passing game can be counted on for the downfall of the superstar running back.
Nevertheless, running back remains the keystone position, accounting for 15 of the top 24 projected draft picks. True, a running back’s ability to accumulate rushing and receiving yards, touchdowns and receptions is unmatched. However, with more and more teams utilizing two-back systems, is a mid-second round back worth more than a premier quarterback? Is Frank Gore, who produced 221 standard fantasy points in 2012, a more valuable commodity than Drew Brees’ nearly 350 points?
To find a different perspective for this answer, let us depart from focusing on the decline of the running back position. Instead, let us analyze the explosion of the quarterback position and what has led to the opinion of a deep quarterback class. In 2012, 11 quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards, 12 if one is willing to concede the 52 yards that Eli Manning needed to reach 4,000. In addition to those 12, you have prolific running quarterbacks in Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton. Haven’t drafted a quarterback yet? No worries; Andy Dalton still threw for 3,700 yards. As such, in regular 12-team leagues the current quarterback pool should be more than enough for each team to arm themselves with a premier signal caller. However, could it be that the metrics we consider for an elite quarterback are no longer valid?
In order to consider this analysis, we will look at all 2012 quarterbacks who passed for more than 100 completions throughout the season. This should give us a healthy sample without overcrowding our population with injury fill-ins and wildcat quarterbacks. There are a number of metrics which we will utilize as our basis point for the comparison, primarily though we will focus on fantasy points scored per individual, the mean or average fantasy points of the population, the standard deviation of fantasy points for the population and the number of standard deviations away from the mean for each individual, commonly referred to as a z-score. You will note that I do not include lost fumbles for quarterbacks. There are many schools of thought on quarterback fumbles and the randomness or predictability for them. Given that fumbles can be categorized in a variety of ways ranging from mishandled snaps, a fumble on a designed run or crashing into your offensive lineman’s rear end, I tend to disregard them when considering the performance of the quarterback position.