Fantasy Equity Scores: Floors, Ceilings, And Elite Quarterbacks
July 7, 2016 | C.D. Carter
Let’s get this out of the way: this year is not the year to invest in an early-round quarterback. Last year wasn’t either. Next year won’t be the year. Five years after that won’t be the year.
It’s never the year to take a signal caller early.
This doesn’t apply to your 16-team two-quarterback league with three superflex spots. But it always applies to run-of-the-mill 10-and-12-team one-quarterback leagues in which startable quarterback options can be found every week waiting on the waiver wire.
This summer’s version of “but this year is different” takes the form of pushing Cam Newton — last year’s top-scoring fantasy signal caller — as the guy who can meet or exceed his re-draft ADP. My Living The Stream co-host and mostly good guy, JJ Zachariason, has given plenty of reasons fantasy gamers should anticipate regression for Newton in 2016.
It boils down to this: Newton’s eye-popping 7.1 percent touchdown rate is bound to come back to his career average, because that’s what history has taught us, time and again. His 2015 adjusted yards per attempt was a startling 0.9 yards more than his career average (and an amazing 1.6 yards more than his 2014 AY/A). There was also Newton’s 10 2015 rushing scores, which almost equaled his combined 2013 and 2014 rushing touchdown output.
Give Newton his career average of rushing scores (8.5) and touchdown tosses (23.3) and the Panthers’ quarterback comes up 55.8 fantasy points short of his gaudy 2015 total. That would have still qualified as QB2 in 2015, which is something less than terrible. It’s about 3.5 fantasy points per game less than his 2015 output.
Could Newton crack that 400-fantasy point mark once again in 2016 even though his touchdown rate — and the overall touchdown scoring of the Carolina offense — were miles beyond what came before 2015? Well, sure. Is it best to bet on a guy hitting his fantasy ceiling in back-to-back seasons? That’s the question you should consider before burning an early round pick on 2015’s highest scoring player.
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Rivers, as I see it, is the best play among the first 12 quarterbacks off the draft board. He’s going in the ninth round, and not the fourth or fifth round, because his jarring 2015 splits put his fantasy title-winning output on the front end of the schedule. Rivers’ back half of 2015, with Keenan Allen out, Antonio Gates hobbled, and a disintegrating offensive line, was an ugly follow up to an elite start.
Even incorporating some statistical falloff in those numbers from Week 1-8, Rivers was on pace to top Cam Newton as last year’s highest scoring fantasy quarterback. Should we expect that sort of production from Rivers in 2016? No, but taking him at his current ADP means we don’t need anything close to that for Rivers to be a locked-in every-week option at the head of a San Diego offense that has done nothing (but pay lip service) that would indicate a drastic shift in offensive philosophy. The return of Allen is certainly not baked into Rivers’ mid-ninth round ADP. The wily veteran has notched about 28 more yards and 0.24 touchdowns per game with Allen in the lineup over the past three seasons. That’s not insignificant. Rivers’ 2015 touchdown rate was well below his career average, opening up the possibility that he could throw more touchdowns in an offense that manages not to throw the football 700 times, as it did in 2015.
Palmer was last year’s equity score deity, with an ADP of QB16 and a high score that indicated he could finish as a top-7 fantasy quarterback. Four quarterbacks ended up scoring more than Palmer in 2015. His re-draft price, quite naturally, has spiked. I’ve seen lingering concern that the emergence of David Johnson as the Cards’ offensive centerpiece has some fantasy footballers concerned that the ridiculously consistent Palmer could see a hit to his fantasy stock. It’s a small sample, to be sure, but see below for how Palmer managed before and after Johnson broke out last year in Week 13.
Palmer’s per-game fantasy production fell by about 5.5 points with Johnson taking the lead in the Arizona backfield. We’ve seen that Palmer, as the head of Bruce Arians’ offense, has an unbreakable weekly floor that comes with a capped ceiling. Equity scores show that there’s some value in drafting Palmer at his early-eighth round ADP, but it’s far from the bargain Palmer was during the summer of 2015. One word of warning: Palmer’s touchdown rate was well above his career rate. In fact, it was an all-time high for the old man. Same goes for this adjusted yards per attempt. Same with his adjusted net yards per pass attempt. There’s no reason to think Palmer won’t be the steady producer he has become in Arians’ offense. Anything beyond QB6-7 requires at least some wishful thinking.
Eli Manning, with Odell Beckham, Jr., at his disposal, has posted 23.14 fantasy points per game, or what would come out to 370.24 fantasy points for a full season. That would’ve topped every 2015 signal caller not named Cam Newton. Perhaps more importantly, Manning — after a nightmarish start in Ben McAdoo’s offense — has average 22.68 points per contest, with or without OBJ. I’ve held for a couple years that McAdoo’s offense holds great fantasy football potential for everyone involved, but especially the quarterback. After an initial “culture shock,” Manning has adjured quite well to McAdoo’s scheme. Eli’s equity scores show a quarterback with not a whole lot of his ceiling incorporated into his ADP, while the same can’t be said for signal callers going in the two or three rounds before the Giants’ quarterback. His top-end sim score comps are intriguing, including Drew Brees’ 2008 campaign, which saw Brees finish as fantasy’s No. 1 quarterback. Eli’s older brother is also among his better comps, as Peyton’s 2009 season (in which he was the QB3) shows up. Eli, Rivers, and Derek Carr are all being drafted in the ninth round right now. Rivers would be my preference over Eli, but just by half a hair. Carr isn’t even in the conversation.