Around 12 months ago, colleague and editor-in-chief Pete Rogers was guesting on a podcast hosted by a mutual friend of ours, Ollie Connolly. As I was casually listening, I heard my name mentioned as the aforementioned Mr Rogers called me out to produce a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) rating for NFL Quarterbacks, as I was spending too much time looking at the historical statistics of quarterbacks long since retired. Always up for a challenge, I first had to look up what a WAR rating was (I'm not a baseball guy), and after I got the gist of it, I started to use the data I've collected to create my ROPE Index and a provisional version was born. It’s been on the back burner for a while, but now I'm a Fake Teams alum, I thought I would look to resurrect the metric and try to produce a fantasy version of the WAR rating to sit alongside it.
For anyone unfamiliar with the WAR rating, it’s a metric that defines a player's contribution to his team's win total, compared against a replacement player. Thankfully, because the NFL sees on average between 40 and 50 different quarterbacks taking meaningful snaps each year (44 so far in 2017 have attempted at least 10 passes in a game), there's enough data to compare starters against the backups who step due to injury/suspension/a good old fashioned benching. Rather than just focussing on comparison to the backups, I've also produced a version against the league average (WAA), as it’s fairly well accepted that there is a significant drop off between the starters and backups in the NFL. There was some internal debate about who the starters and replacements are for some teams, as guys like Sam Bradford , Tom Savage and Mike Glennon all started the season, but were replaced, though Savage is back under center after Deshaun Watson's injury for the Texans. In each of these cases I've classed them as the starters as they started week 1, but I've done it on a case by case basis. Jacoby Brissett for example I've classed as the starter, even though a) he was brought in as a backup and b) Scott Tolzien started week 1, but with Andrew Luck not playing, Brissett has clearly been the starter for the Colts
The working behind the metric is fairly complicated but essentially takes each player's ROPE Index rating from each win, and compares it to the league average and the average of all the backups that have played this season, and it is then adjusted into wins. The fantasy version works in a broadly similar way, but uses each quarterback's fantasy output, rather than their ROPE Index rating compared to the average/backups, and then adjusts it to fantasy points rather than wins. I’ve only ranked quarterbacks with at least four games where they generate a ROPE Index rating (at least 10 passes).
Without further ado, here are the ratings, looking at wins and fantasy points above average and replacement players.
WAR Ratings - 2017 Season (as of Week 10)
It should be noted that as this is only to Week 10, the WAR ratings won’t produce a massive variance from best to worst but even so, we can see Drew Brees sits atop the WAR ratings with a rating of just under 3 wins compared to the average quarterback and just under 4 wins than the average replacement quarterback, which would make the Saints’ record 5-5 or 4-6 without him. Tom Brady has delivered a near identical rating of +3 and +4 wins against the average, which would leave the Patriots with the same 5-5 and 4-6 record without Brady.
Given the Redskins were sat with a 4-6 record before their Thanksgiving win over the Giants, Kirk Cousins’ play has kept them relevant as without his contribution of +1.88 wins above average and 2.91 wins above replacement, the Redskins would be facing a top five pick in next year’s draft.
As much buzz as Carson Wentz has inspired about his MVP candidacy, his contribution to the Eagles’ league-leading 9-1 record appears overstated as his WAA rating has only contributed just over 1 win and a WAR rating of just over 2 wins, which would still see the Eagles leading the NFC East with an 8-2 or 7-3 record.
There are three quarterbacks on teams with a record of at least .500 who are a net negative to their team’s relative success compared to the league average. The WAR ratings for Cam Newton (-0.58), Blake Bortles (-0.85) and Joe Flacco (-1.65) say their teams would all be better if the league average quarterback played in their place, with the Ravens also better off if Flacco was replaced by a backup player as well, given his poor play in 2017.
DeShone Kizer brings up the rear in the WAA ratings, with the Browns record being held hostage by their rookie quarterback to the tune of more than 3 wins if the league average player started in his place.
Fantasy Points Above Average/Replacement (FPAA/FPAR) Ratings
Moving onto the fantasy ratings and there is an immediate difference between the quarterbacks who contribute to their team’s winning record, and those who are contributing to your team’s fantasy success.
Russell Wilson is the number one rated quarterback, averaging over fantasy 4 points (a passing touchdown in standard leagues) more per game than the league average passer and over 5.5 points more than a backup quarterback so far this season. Given Seattle’s offense and their non-existent run game, I’d argue Wilson is the league MVP as no offense is more reliant on their quarterback to make plays than they are in the Pacific North West. As good a Wilson has been, Deshaun Watson was actually the number one guy before his injury and that trajectory will make him an interesting choice in drafts for 2018, as he still rates as the second place quarterback, despite going down before week 9.
After having seen Carson Wentz brought down to earth in the WAA/WAR ratings above, Wentz is having a much stronger fantasy season, as he is currently the fourth rated quarterback in FPAA, averaging fantasy 3 points per game more than the league average quarterback in 2017. Drew Brees goes the other way with his FPAA rating 10 places below his WAA rating as he compiles a supremely efficient season, if not as prolific as in recent years, in the most balanced offense he’s seen in New Orleans since their Super Bowl winning season of 2009.
Cam Newton sits a massive 18 places above his WAA rating, mainly driven by his running ability that is not counted in the ROPE Index as it’s a pure passing metric. Newton has 436 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns so far this season, more yards than any quarterback and only one touchdown less than Dak Prescott.
Joe Flacco has the worst FPAA rating, conceding nearly 4 fantasy points per game to the league average quarterback. To be fair, Flacco is a borderline starter in a deep league with lots of teams on bye weeks anyway, but his fantasy numbers are pretty atrocious none the less.