Each draft season too many managers behave like broken records, playing the same notes over and over, trusting a player’s fantasy points from the previous season to be there again. That results in drafting without proper context. There are various ways to seek context in fantasy prognostication, such as targets, fantasy points per touch and yards per attempt, but not all are created equal.
In this article, we’ll attempt to not just use success from one previous fantasy season alone as a barometer for future success, but to uncover exactly how often success in previous seasons has translated to success after that. Specifically, we’ll cover top-12 quarterbacks and PPR tight ends.
The chart below is a broad look at how many top-12 fantasy QBs and TEs repeat as top-12 performers at their respective position the following year.
Last season was the first time in the high-volume passing era that at least half of the top-12 quarterbacks from the previous season did not repeat as top-12 quarterbacks in standard-scoring leagues. However, top-12 quarterbacks over the past five seasons have had a significantly higher success rate in repeated success than other positions.
Repeat Success Rate of Top-12 QBs (2011 through 2016)
(Note: 2017 is not included. We do not yet know if that success will be repeated in 2018.)
This likely is not enough information to form a draft strategy for quarterbacks, though, as top signal-callers from the previous season will cost you a top-50 pick, whereas others can be had as late as the double-digit rounds. Let’s dive deeper into the quarterback position to see if we can come up with some educated opinions on when to select one.
Number of Top-12 QBs Who Repeated the Following Year
In every season since 2011, at least half of the previous year’s top-six quarterbacks finished as a top-12 quarterback in the current season. However, that was also the case in four of the past six seasons for the grouping ranked seventh to 12th. To me, the table above shows that top-six quarterbacks aren’t significantly more likely to finish as top-12 QBs the next season when compared with their low-end QB1 brethren.
Frankly, I expected a far higher success rate for top-six scoring QBs than what I found, considering we are living in the golden age of passing in the NFL, with many future Hall of Famers at the position. In my opinion, if fewer than 60% of the previous year’s top-six quarterbacks are going to finish in the top 12 at the position, it’s hard for me to justify spending a high pick on one.
But something interesting is happening with last season’s top-six quarterbacks:
2018 Average Draft Position of Last Year's Top-Six QBs
Which one of these is not like the other? Alex Smith is getting zero respect in fantasy drafts after finishing fourth at the position last season. Our own Denny Carter believes Smith is once again a target for late-round quarterback lovers seeking production on the cheap, due to the high-volume potential under Jay Gruden.
However, if your draft strategy is to select a quarterback early, there are two names who appear to be extremely safe investments.
QBs With the Most Top-12 Seasons (Last Five Years)
Drew Brees and Russell Wilson have been QB1s in each of the past five seasons. Wilson is being selected in the fourth or fifth round, but Brees is coming at a discount, despite still finishing as the No. 11 quarterback last year, and no worse than sixth in the six years prior to 2017. Brees can currently be had in the sixth or seventh round.
Matthew Stafford is coming at an even bigger discount in the ninth round. He’s been a QB1 in four of the past five years and top-10 in three consecutive seasons. Philip Rivers should also receive some attention here, with four top-12 QB seasons in the past five years. He can be had for even cheaper in the double-digit rounds.
The tight end position saw a significant spike in year-to-year consistency when seven of 12 repeated from 2013’s top finishers. Like quarterbacks, tight ends have been more consistent year to year than running backs and wide receivers. However, like the quarterback position, most leagues only require one tight end to start, which means more context is required to develop a draft strategy for the position.
Number of Top-12 TEs Who Repeated the Following Year
Over the past six seasons, the top-six tight ends were significantly more consistent than the low-end grouping in repeating the following season as a top-12 TE. The 22% difference in success rate is four times as large as the difference between the same groups at the quarterback position repeating.
Specifically, which tight ends have been most consistent year-to-year?
TEs With the Most Top-12 PPR Seasons (Last Five Years)
Three of these tight ends are not active, which shrinks the pool. Delanie Walker’s consistency has been marvelous, as he’s also finished as a top-five PPR tight end in three straight seasons. He also has the cheapest ADP of the remaining names in this table, being selected in the sixth round or later, whereas Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce will cost you a pick in the first two or three rounds. Greg Olsen’s average draft position places him in the fifth round.
Looking deeper at the No. 7 through No. 12 tight end scorers over the past six seasons, the success rate of repeating is too low for me to risk using a pick on one of them. Those TEs last season were Jack Doyle, Kyle Rudolph, Jason Witten, Cameron Brate, Ben Watson and Jared Cook. With a low 33% success rate to repeat as a top-12 TE, I’m waiting until the double-digit rounds to take a chance on one with upside if I can't land an elite tight end.
Some names that stand out to me in that area this year are George Kittle and Tyler Eifert. Trey Burton is another target if he's available late.
Top-12 Quarterbacks and PPR tight ends are more consistent year-to-year than top-12 PPR running backs and wide receivers.
The high-end QB1 tier is not significantly more consistent than low-end QB1 tier since 2011. Drew Brees in the seventh round is likely the earliest I would pull the trigger on a quarterback. However, given the data, it's more likely that I wait until the double-digit rounds to select a signal-caller.
If you’re looking for a repeat performance from a tight end, the top end of the first tier is 22% more likely to repeat as a top-12 scorer than the back end. Shoot your shot with Gronkowski, Kelce or Ertz, or wait until the double-digit rounds to take a flier on one with upside.