Fantasy football draft strategies: Waiting to draft quarterbacks
Last year, Adrian Peterson rode his 2,097-rushing-yard campaign to the MVP award, becoming the first non-quarterback to win the honor since LaDainian Tomlinson took it home in 2006. In the 56-year history of the MVP award, there have been twice as many quarterbacks as running backs to claim the hardware. With the strict rules protecting quarterbacks and receivers, expect that ratio to tilt even more in the favor of signal callers. Given that quarterbacks are putting up ever-more gaudy stats each season, guys such as Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are in the first-round discussion this year. Peyton Manning isn't far behind, and a glut of quarterbacks follows in rounds three and four. But despite what you've heard, the time-honored tradition of waiting on a quarterback still makes sense. The reason? Opportunity cost.
You pay for every pick you make in a fantasy draft in two ways. There's the seen cost, the overall pick in the draft, and the unseen cost, what you pass up to take your guy. For my money, that latter price tag is far too high to take a quarterback early.
If you want Rodgers or Brees, the consensus top two quarterbacks, you're going to have to use a first-round pick. According to Mock Draft Central, they're currently No. 10 and No. 11, respectively, in average draft position. Let's say you have the 11th pick in a 12-team draft, and take Brees with your first pick and LeSean McCoy with your second at 14th overall. The opportunity cost you've paid by taking Brees comes in the form of a second-tier back (think Ray Rice) or elite wide receiver (think Brandon Marshall or A.J. Green). Of course, Brees is going to score more total points than any of those players, but is he truly worth more? By comparing him to his peers, we see that he, in fact, is not.
Brees was the top-scoring fantasy player last year, racking up 365.58 points in standard-scoring leagues. The average total points among the top-12 quarterbacks last year was 319.53, meaning Brees was 14.4 percent better than the average starter in a 12-team league.
Contrast that with wide receivers, since that's the position not represented in our scenario above. Calvin Johnson will be off the board early, but even if you're at the back end of the first round, you'll likely have your pick of any other receiver. Since you need to start at least two receivers, the top players at the position outperform the average starter to a greater degree. Marshall was the No. 2 receiver last year, racking up 246.1 points. The average starter at the position scored 192.98 points, giving Marshall a 27.5-percent leg up on the average starting fantasy receiver.
Let's say you go ahead and grab Marshall and decide to pass on a running back with your first two picks. That means you'll be eschewing the chance to have about the No. 10 running back off the board. Last year, Frank Gore was the 10th-ranked back, scoring 210.8 points. The average starter at the position scored 200.71 points, just 5 percent fewer than Gore. However, unless this is your first fantasy draft, you know how quickly backs come off the board. Twenty-two of the first 48 picks according to Mock Draft Central are running backs. That means you'll have to get lucky to get two of the top-24 running backs, also known as starters in 12-team leagues.
Meanwhile, the only quarterbacks off the board in an average draft at that point are Brees, Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Even if you miss out on all those passers, you'll still be able to target guys like Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in rounds six and seven. And in those scenarios, you won't miss out on top-tier receivers and top-15 backs.
Taking one of the top quarterbacks seems fun, and there is a lot of comfort in plugging Brees or Rodgers or Manning in week after week. But when the draft gets back to you in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, and you're forced to talk yourself into LeVeon Bell or BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Chris Ivory as a starter, and guys like Stafford and Luck are still available, Alfred Morris as a first rounder is going to start looking awfully good.