Fantasy Equity Scores: Elite Quarterback Floors and Ceilings
May 31, 2017 | C.D. Carter
I’m back for a fourth year of fantasy equity scores because, well, fantasy footballers seem not to hate their analysts raving about ranges of outcomes.
And that’s what this little exercise is all about: using Rotoviz sim scores — seeing what “similar players did after they had a season that was comparable to the subject player” — and tweaking a player’s median and high projections to get a sense of his fantasy floor and his best case scenario. It’s a subjective process. But what if I told you all projections are subjective in one way or another? Would it blow your mind? It wouldn’t? Well OK then.
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The equity piece of the equation explains the gap between where a guy is being drafted (according to MyFantasyLeague.com) and where his median and high equity scores might land him at the end of the season. A player with a negative high score is an enormous, flaming red flag, while a guy sporting a positive median score should pique our collective interest. This process also reveals the reliable yet boring types — guys with median and high prospects sitting near each other — and boom-bust players who have median and high scores miles apart.
These equity scores admittedly get more interesting the further down we go in average draft position. It’s something less than a Gladwellian game changer to say the seventh quarterback off the board could finish as the QB2. The below equity scores are mostly useful for those who play in leagues that feature late-round quarterback chicken on draft day, or anyone who longs for a set-it-and-forget-it signal caller in 2017.
Here are median and high equity scores for the first 12 quarterbacks off the draft board. I’ll have the next batch of quarterback equity scores soon. Or soonish. We’ll see. Arby’s sometimes has spotty internet.
My equity scores swung hard, missed, pulled a back muscle, and fell off a mountain in projecting Russell Wilson in 2016. Wilson’s high equity score came in at three, putting him at QB1. His median score had the Seattle signal caller at QB4. What unfolded seems impossible: Wilson played 16 games and barely cracked the top-15 fantasy quarterbacks. He was unusable for fantasy purposes through much of 2016 after finishing 2015 as the QB2 and 2014 as a top-3 quarterback. It was, of course, a fairly serious leg injury that took the shine off Wilson last season. It was apparent in the way he played: the uber mobile thrower averaged 3.3 rushes per contest through nine weeks. It was only after his leg injury had improved that he approached the six-rush per game mark, which is right in line with his 2014 and 2015 per-game rushing attempts. Wilson notched 66 fantasy points on the ground in 2015, more than double his 2016 rushing output. That’s the difference between Wilson being a top-5 fantasy quarterback and a high-end QB2. Another reason to be bullish on Wilson, as PFF’s Pat Thorman noted, is the quarterback’s lower-than-low 2016 touchdown rate of 3.8 percent. Even the league average touchdown rate of 4.3 percent would’ve netted Wilson another 15 fantasy points, putting him in QB7 range (without adjusting for his normal rushing production). Wilson’s closest Rotoviz sim score comps include a lot of horrifying names — including Matt Cassel and Jason Campbell — but if we assume 16 healthy games, Wilson is a safe investment who can be had a full two rounds after Tom Brady and Andrew Luck. I won’t run screaming from that median equity score because I don’t believe it’s reflective of a healthy Russell Wilson. It’s a deceiver. The Great Deceiver.
Equity scores hit on Kirk Cousins in 2016. The 14th quarterback off the draft board featured a high equity score of eight, putting him at QB6 on the year. The Washington passer finished the season as fantasy’s No. 5 signal caller. His high-end prospects last season were based in part of expected volume, and indeed, Cousins threw the fifth most passes (and third most yards) of any quarterback in 2016. I mentioned last season that Jay Gruden has been a sucker for passing in the red zone. Cousins finished with 83 red zone passes, more than all but seven quarterbacks. We can (should) expect more of that sort of juicy red zone volume in 2017, and this time Cousins has more big targets in Terrelle Pryor (who has been excellent in the red zone), Josh Doctson and Brian Quick. And Jordan Reed, of course. One potential source of concern for Cousins: he has bowel-shaking splits in wins and losses. He notches 18.6 fantasy points in Washington losses and 27.4 points in victories, as the Washington offense transforms into a dink-and-dunk nightmare when facing negative game script (Cousins’ yards per attempt plummet, as his attempts spike in losses). Cousins’ touchdown rate saw a significant drop from 2015 to 2016 — enough to build positive regression into the high-end projection. The hollering discount from 2016 is long gone, but equity scores still project Cousins as a solid buy at his average draft position. You’re getting a fine floor from a signal caller who has eclipsed 300 passing yards 16 times in over the past two seasons. Matt Ryan’s 2016 campaign (348 fantasy points) sits atop Cousins’ best-case comps. That’s a truckload of upside that’s not baked into his 2017 ADP.
I can overlook Derek Carr’s 2016 5 percent touchdown rate because it’s not that far beyond the league average and he averaged a healthy 39.5 drop backs per game — meaning he didn’t post a nice rate with minimal opportunity. Maybe the best part about taking Carr in the eighth or ninth round is that you’re getting a quarterback with a fairly narrow range. Nothing in Carr’s median projection says his production could or should plummet in 2017. The argument against Carr reaching that QB5 ceiling is clear: the Raiders are projected by Vegas to lose 2.5 more games in 2017, and Carr has been something less than spectacular in silver-and-black losses. He notched 5.8 fewer fantasy points (on 3.4 more attempts per game) in 2016 losses than he did in victories, averaging a paltry 214 passing yards and 1.3 touchdowns in those losses. He was largely a creature of positive game script. Carr didn’t exactly rack up yardage in Raiders wins either (274 per game). He lacks that comfy yardage-powered floor. Still, he’s been taken as late as the 11th round, per MFL ADP data. That’s not a bad place in which to grab a guy with a top-5 ceiling.
I’m not going to put up a full-throated argument against Tom Brady as the first quarterback off the board in 2017. I would be remiss, however, to exclude the following. And I haven’t been remiss since the second Clinton administration. I won’t start now. My days of being remiss are over. My father was once remiss. It is our family shame.
Brady hasn’t reached his epic 2007 levels of per-dropback fantasy efficiency (0.65), but you might notice a marked uptick in his fantasy worth over the past couple seasons. I show the past four seasons here because I’m not sure how relevant Brady’s early and mid-career production is to our 2017 concerns. A median equity score that puts Brady among the top-4 signal callers tells us that there’s very little risk, but I’m not sure how much we can trust his sparkling 6.5 percent touchdown percentage to continue — or even rise, as some will suggest — into the coming season. While Brady will surely make the Patriots great (again), trumping the accepted and proven late-round quarterback strategy for the big-league signal caller could constitute buying into fake narrative news pushed by haters (and losers) of the late-round QB approach.
We got the mythical Aaron Rodgers volume passing season in 2016, and to the shock of no one, Rodgers finished as the runaway QB1. His completion percentage and interception rates somehow remained on par with his other spectacular seasons despite the massive jump in volume (610 attempts). His top sim score is, fittingly, Aaron Rodgers in 2011, when he posted a cool 45 touchdowns and racked up 397 fantasy points — among the most in the modern fantasy era. The elixir of Rodgers’ sustained fantasy success: Jordy Nelson, who returned last year from a knee injury that scuttled his 2015 campaign. Rodgers is a machine with Jordy. If you bank on 16 games from the aging Nelson and can stomach burning an early pick on a quarterback, Rodgers is (or should be) your man.