Fantasy football rankings are like driving directions. They attempt to lay out the best general route for your fake football adventures, but there are some things they can’t account for like traffic or construction detours. Some of the most common hazards on the rankings highway are variations in scoring settings. The Yahoos and ESPNs of the world base their rankings on the scoring settings of their respective standard leagues. So how should a drafter adjust when his or her home league diverges from the standard scoring settings? The answer is not simple, but over the past two seasons, I’ve made an effort to track the variations in values of players at each position between different scoring setups. This piece will focus on the shifts in quarterback value between 4- and 6-points per passing touchdown leagues, but check out my scoring settings articles from the past two seasons for more in-depth analysis:
2011 Scoring Settings Analysis – QBs
2011 Scoring Settings Analysis – RBs
2011 Scoring Settings Analysis – WRs
2012 Scoring Settings Analysis – QBs
2012 Scoring Settings Analysis – RBs
2012 Scoring Settings Analysis – WRs
I hope those of you reading this are aware of your own leagues’ scoring settings, but for the sake of completeness, here are the standard scoring values for passing touchdowns and interceptions across some of the Internet’s most popular fantasy sites:
As you can see, there is no industry baseline for QB scoring settings across the major sites. Furthermore, the point values above are only for standard leagues. Managers in custom leagues are at the mercy of their commissioners when it comes to scoring settings. I’ve played in leagues where passing TDs were worth 5 points and INTs were -3, as well as leagues where there was no penalty for INTs at all.
In the grand scheme of things, these minor scoring tweaks don’t affect the overall values of QBs too much – Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees will almost always be top-5 guys, for example – but dedicated fantasy managers should always be searching for deficiencies in the standard rankings so they can gain any available advantages over the competition, incremental or otherwise. In your quest to find these exploitable values based on standard rankings, it’s important to avoid the trap of trying to memorize which individual players are worth more in certain formats. My goal is to help you develop the tools to understand why certain types of players gain or lose value based on the scoring settings. Once you add that skill to your repertoire, you’ll be able to apply your scoring settings evaluations to all players for your entire fake football career, both in your draft-prep and during the season. Let’s get started*.
*Quick note: I’m going to focus only on passing TD values from here on out, with interceptions held constant at -2 points, as that is the value used in most standard formats.
Running with the Devil
This may look like a memo from the desk of Captain Obvious, but running quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III are more valuable in 4/TD leagues than 6/TD leagues. Because they throw fewer passing touchdowns than “pure passers” like Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan, the rushing QBs lose fewer points when those TD passes are devalued, all while their rushing yards and TDs still count for the same number of points.
In fantasy points per game last year, Newton (#5 vs. #7), Kaepernick (#22 vs. #24), and Michael Vick (#15 vs. #17) each ranked two spots higher in 4/TD leagues than in 6/TD leagues. Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, was the #2 ranked QB in both formats, but he was much closer to #1 Drew Brees in 4/TD leagues (0.124 points per game) than in 6/TD leagues (0.624 points per game) thanks to Rodgers’ 2 TDs and 259 rushing yards on the ground. Since he became the full-time starter in 2008, Rodgers has averaged 279.0 yards and 3.6 touchdowns on the ground per season. For that reason, he’s still my clear top-ranked QB ahead of Brees in leagues with 4 points per passing touchdown.
While writing my 2012 scoring settings analysis series, I was surprised to find a handful of pocket passers who, like the rushing QBs, actually gained value in leagues where passing TDs were worth less. What guys like Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, and Andrew Luck all had in common was an exceptionally large number of passing yards. Those three QBs are known to be gifted passers, but what really drove those yardage totals was the fact that each of them spent the bulk of the season playing from behind. For example, Romo threw 422 of his 648 attempts while trailing (65.1%). Stafford (63.0%) and Luck (56.5%) had similarly lopsided playing-from-behind attempt numbers. In 4/TD leagues, all those extra passing yards allow guys like Romo, Stafford, and Luck to leapfrog the TD-reliant passers that would rank higher in 6/TD leagues (e.g., Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson).
To identify other players that fit this mold, look for talented quarterbacks on teams with mediocre-to-bad defenses/special teams or ineffective running games. Stafford, Luck, and Romo all still apply. Stafford, in particular is a guy worth targeting this season because his passing TD total should bounce back towards the mark of 41 he posted in 2011. The best example of this type of QB might actually be Drew Brees, a dominant fantasy force due in large part to how bad the New Orleans defense has been during his tenure. Other QBs who might find themselves in the perfect storm of a high-pressure passing attack mingled with a low-pressure defense include RGIII, Josh Freeman, Michael Vick/Nick Foles, and maybe even Matt Flynn or Chad Henne. The main difference between Griffin/Freeman/Vick/etc. and Romo/Stafford/Luck is those in the former group are all on teams with good running backs and/or more balanced play-calling. Offensive scheme dictates the percentage of passing attempts, which in turn influence yardage totals.
TDs for 6 points, Chicks for Free
When QBs get real-life fantasy value on their passing touchdowns, it’s easy to assume the players who benefit the most are the ones that tally the most TDs. The following table shows that this is generally true. It shows the difference in points per game between 6/TD and 4/TD leagues for the top 24 QBs from 2012.
|ACR**||Player||6/TD PPG||4/TD PPG||PPG Difference|
|4||Robert Griffin III||23.833||21.167||2.667|
**Note: Average Composite Ranking (ACR) is my own personal stat from the Scoring Settings Analysis series that averages a player’s rank across all measured scoring formats. It’s not the greatest statistic, but it gives a decent snapshot of general value at a given position.
I’ll save you a few clicks on your calculator and let you know that the average PPG difference for this group of quarterbacks was 3.300 points per game. Inside the top-24, there are 10 players above that average. Six of those ten players – and I’m about to use a very technical analytic term – crushed the average with a 4.000 difference or better. Those players were Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Ben Roethlisberger. Now let’s rank last season’s top 12 quarterbacks by those calculated PPG differences with a few other stats thrown in:
|PPG Difference (6/TD-4/TD)||Rankings Difference (6/TD-4/TD)||Player||Passing TDs||Passing Yards||Passing TDs per Passing Yard|
What does this table show us? First of all, ranking players in this way happens to return the 2012 league leaders in touchdown passes. They are in perfect order except for Ben Roethlisberger, but keep in mind that he only played 13 games last season, so it’s fair to assume he would have finished with more touchdowns than Romo, Dalton, and Freeman in 16 games. This outcome is intuitive, if not ridiculously obvious, but it’s worth stating.
Still, when it comes to relative rankings between formats, many of the top touchdown producers don’t move much. In the case of Brees, Rodgers, and Brady, it’s because they have nowhere left to go. Their godly TD and yardage totals let them sit atop the Mt. Olympus and pity all other mortal QBs. Romo actually fell one spot in the rankings for the reasons described above in the “Playing Catch-up” section.
So what allowed Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, and Ben Roethlisberger to gain ground in the rankings while all the other elite TD-tossers remained stationary? Look at the correlation between rankings difference and passing TDs per passing yard. Roethlisberger moved up the most (4 spots) and his TD/yard was 0.00796, which leads all the QBs in the table not named Brees, Rodgers, or Wilson (I’ll get to Wilson shortly). Who was second place in the TD/yard metric? None other than Peyton Manning (0.00794), who moved up two spots in the rankings between 4/TD and 6/TD leagues. Similarly, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers all fit the trend of moving up in the rankings while simultaneously having high TD/yard numbers.
On the other hand, there are also outliers to this trend. The most glaring red flag is raised by Russell Wilson and his 0.00834 TD/yard offering. He didn’t gain any spots in the rankings between formats, but this can be explained. Wilson would have moved up one spot in the rankings, but Roethlisberger made too large of a jump from behind him (#8 to #12). Wilson did, in fact, pass Andrew Luck in the rankings, but Big Ben leapfrogged them both, leaving Wilson mired in the rankings at #10. Furthermore, thanks to his 489 rushing yards, Wilson already had extra value in 4/TD leagues, so it should be no surprise that he didn’t gain any ground in the rankings for 6/TD leagues.
The other major exceptions to this trend were Andy Dalton and Josh Freeman. They were simply too far behind the top 12 QBs to move up in the rankings. They did, however, distance themselves from the QBs trailing them in the rankings by a significant margin. In 4/TD leagues, Freeman at #14 was 0.345 points per game ahead of the #15 QB, Michael Vick. In 6/TD leagues, Freeman was still the 14th-ranked QB, but he had a 1.018-PPG lead over Carson Palmer at #15.
Assuming that TDs/yard can actually dictate which QBs gain the most value when moving from a 4/TD league to a 6/TD league, the next step is understand why. Ultimately, it’s all about the relative point values of the stats themselves. If the worth of all yardage and rushing/receiving TDs remains constant, the quarterback who throws more passing touchdowns relative to those other stats will inherently gain the most value when passing touchdowns are worth more. Here’s another way to look at it: the QBs with higher TD/yard numbers gain more value jumping from 4- to 6-per-TD leagues because they rely on passing touchdowns more than yards to score their points.
In the end, overall volume of stats reigns supreme, evidenced by the fact that Brees, Rodgers, and Brady rank 1-2-3, regardless of scoring settings. But as we move down the rankings and the quarterbacks are bunched closer together in points per game, seemingly small efficiencies in touchdowns per passing yard can make a meaningful difference in the standings because passing TDs are suddenly worth more in 6/TD leagues.
All that’s left to be done at this point is to apply this knowledge to our player base and adjust our rankings for 6/TD leagues. Roethlisberger, Ryan, and the Manning brothers are the big winners here. Their offenses rely so much on them finding receivers in the end zone that they can’t help but gain value in leagues with higher rewards for passing TDs. Eli, in particular, seems poised for a bounce-back and is a great target if you’re aiming for a mid- or late-round QB.
While Dalton and Freeman should again be worth more 6/TD leagues than 4/TD leagues, they face the same problem now that they did last year in that the 12-to-14 QBs ahead of them might just be significantly better players. With that said, I like Freeman a hell of a lot this season at his current ADP and it wouldn’t surprise me if he cracked the top-12 in any format, especially 6/TD.
As previously discussed, Russell Wilson is a fascinating case. While I wouldn’t bet on him having a season that was worth significantly more in 6/TD leagues than 4/TD leagues, it’s possible he’ll simply improve across the board and jump from #10 to Kaepernick- or RGIII-like levels across all formats. The competition in those top tiers of the rankings is fierce, but Wilson has tools to make a move.
Further down the rankings, Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and even Christian Ponder should have added value in 6/TD leagues; although, it’s hard to say whether that positive bump in points per game will be enough to vault any of them over the QBs ahead of them in the 4/TD rankings. I’ve already discussed how offensive scheme and play-calling can inflate or depress the fantasy value of quarterbacks, but talent and ability typically win out. For the NFL’s bottom half of quarterbacks, the talent is often just not there and they are unable to distinguish themselves in a fantasy-relevant way.
Rank and File
To wrap things up, I’ll leave you with my quarterback rankings for 2013. As currently constituted, they tend to hedge between valuing running quarterbacks and pocket passers. How will you apply the lessons learned here to tailor these rankings to your own league’s scoring settings?