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Is it worth drafting top fantasy quarterbacks?

To draft Aaron Rodgers or not to draft. That is the question.

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

Much like eating a Reese’s, there’s no wrong way to draft your fantasy football team.

If you want to be traditional and draft running backs and wide receivers first, then address quarterback and tight end later, then finally snag a kicker and defense in the last two rounds, go for it. If you want to employ the Zero RB strategy and draft running backs way late, expecting to land the next Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara (hint: it’s Sony Michel this year), be my guest. If you’re a Bills fan and only want Bills players on your team, hey, you do you. (Though I would kindly ask that you pick your second favorite team as the Bills might offer the least about of fantasy talent as a team.)

Moral of the story: there are a bajillion different draft strategies all with their own positives and negatives.

A strategy that I’ve started employing is not selecting a quarterback until at least the ninth round. A quick peek at Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP chart will show you that there are plenty of good fantasy quarterbacks available in the late rounds. Guys like Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger are all currently going in the ninth while QBs like Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Tyrod Taylor are going in the 10th and below.

Obviously the thought behind the strategy is instead of spending a third or fourth round pick on a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson or Drew Brees, you use that pick on a top running back/wide receiver and still get a wildly productive quarterback later. Stafford for instance was QB7 last year and Rivers was QB8. Brees was QB9, yet is currently going in the fifth round.

As we’re trapped in that long period of time between the NFL Draft and when preseason starts—a time when there’s very little to write about fantasy wise—I decided to interrogate this strategy I’ve accepted so readily. Is it really better to wait on quarterback or are guys like Rodgers and Wilson worth the high investment? Which method actually brings you the most fantasy production?

Calculating Aaron Rodgers’ fantasy production

Step one is to figure out how many points on average a player like Rodgers will get you any given year. And from this point on I’ll stop saying “like Rodgers” because Rodgers will be the guinea pig for this entire experiment. He’s the best fantasy quarterback in the league (though Deshaun Watson is-a coming for that title) and is routinely the best fantasy option, regardless of position, when healthy.

Here’s Rodgers’ fantasy production since taking over the starting spot in Green Bay back in 2008 (courtesy of Pro Football Reference):

Rodgers’ fantasy numbers

Year Games Total Points QB Rank
Year Games Total Points QB Rank
2008 16 296 2
2009 16 351 1
2010 15 306 2
2011 15 399 1
2012 16 344 2
2013 9 171 21
2014 16 358 1
2015 16 305 7
2016 16 382 1
2017 7 134 29

You can see why he’s the guinea pig for this whole experiment. If Rodgers plays all 16 games, he’s either the best or second best quarterback in fantasy. That’s pretty impressive.

Totaling his fantasy production (3,046 points for what it’s worth) and then dividing that by number of games he’s played, we get that Rodgers throughout his career averages 21.5 fantasy points per game. This means that drafting Rodgers, on average, will net you 344 fantasy points each season.

Not bad at all Mr. Rodgers.

The difference between Rodgers and a late round quarterback

Ultimately, the point of the QB late strat is that you think you can exceed Rodgers’ production by taking a wide receiver or running back atop the third round and pairing him with a late round quarterback. So my first thought is: how much of a difference is there between a guy like Stafford or Rivers and Rodgers? If Stafford for instance isn’t that far off from Rodgers, then it stands to reason that you could easily make up, and exceed, the difference with a third round running back or receiver.

Much like I’ve chosen Rodgers to be the guinea pig from the QB fantasy elites, I’ve chosen Stafford, Rivers and Matt Ryan to be the faces of the late round quarterbacks. For starters, all three are going in the ninth round, which is pretty important in order to be the face of the late round QBs. More so, they have been in the league for a long time, are extremely reliable in terms of injury, and haven’t fluctuated too much in fantasy produciton.

Here’s Stafford, Rivers and Ryan’s fantasy stats since 2008:

Stafford, Rivers & Ryan’s fantasy numbers

Year Stafford: Games Total Points Rivers: Games Total Points Ryan: Games Total Points
Year Stafford: Games Total Points Rivers: Games Total Points Ryan: Games Total Points
2008 -- -- 16 287 16 198
2009 10 127 16 275 14 188
2010 3 53 16 290 16 258
2011 16 347 16 265 16 281
2012 16 276 16 208 16 305
2013 16 285 16 287 16 248
2014 16 254 16 266 16 284
2015 16 292 16 286 16 236
2016 16 282 16 263 16 355
2017 16 278 16 272 16 230

Doing the same calculations we did for Rodgers’ career averages, we get the following:

Stafford, Rivers & Ryan totals

Quarterback Fantasy Points Per Game Fantasy Points Per Season
Quarterback Fantasy Points Per Game Fantasy Points Per Season
Stafford 17.5 280.8
Rivers 16.8 270
Ryan 16.3 261.5

While these seem like a far cry from Rodgers’ 21.5 FPPG and 344 FPPS, they actually aren’t that far off. Stafford’s season average is only 64 points off of Rodgers’ which means you’d just need whatever player you took in the third round to get you at least 64 total points. Brian Hoyer somehow managed to score 64 total points last year.

Which takes us too...

Who’s available at the top of round 3?

Looking at early ADP, here are some players going around Rodgers at 3.02:

  • Derrick Henry
  • Joe Mixon
  • Rob Gronkowski
  • Tyreek Hill
  • Jay Ajayi
  • Doug Baldwin
  • T.Y. Hilton

All those guys can get you 64 points. Hell, they can easily get you the 83 points needed if you draft Ryan instead of Stafford.

Gronk averages 11.5 FPPG in his career. Eight games out of him and you’d be all set. Hilton was the fifth best receiver in football just two years ago and Henry finally has a backfield to himself still has to deal with another fantasy viable running back in his backfield. Can’t the Titans just give the fantasy world a break and hand over the reigns unencumbered to Henry once and for all?

Anyway, point stands, any of these guys can help you exceed Rodgers’ value.

Did this prove anything?

Yes. No. Sure. Maybe. I don’t know.

Look, nothing about this experiment was exact science. The numbers were all averages and I didn’t even consider what player you’re potentially missing out in the ninth round to pair with Rodgers. Last year Marvin Jones went in the ninth round and he ended up being WR5. Alternatively, Corey Coleman went a couple picks ahead of Jones and ended up WR89. I believe the phrase is “shit happens”.

I was just curious to see how big a gap there is between Rodgers and the late round quarterbacks you can draft and if that gap is insurmountable. Clearly, you can make up for what Rodgers’ brings to the table so if you miss out on the top quarterbacks, don’t fret, it won’t doom your team for eternity (or for the rest of the season).

Personally, I’m sticking with taking a quarterback in the late rounds. I like stock piling on receivers and running backs early and just seeing which players fit. I now know I can get quarterbacks who offer almost equal production in the later rounds so investing that high a pick in that position just doesn’t seem worth it to me.

The next question is if Rob Gronkowski is worth it. Prepare for more apathetic conclusions!