This is another four-part series on fantasy production that is partially linked to my previous “Breaking” series. In this series, I will be looking at fantasy production per team. Specifically, what proportion of fantasy top-12 players at each position play on the same team as other fantasy top-12 players. Kicking off this series I will be looking at the quarterback position. Be on the lookout for the next three articles in the series on running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.
What proportion of fantasy QB1’s play with other top-12 players at the other three skill positions? In other words, what percentage of fantasy QB1’s also played with either a fantasy RB1, WR1, or TE1?
For this study, I pulled every positional top-12 player since 2000 at each position. From there, I found which QB1’s also played with another top-12 fantasy player on the same team. For clarification, here are the top-5 QBs from 2016:
A “1” in either of the last three columns means that QB also played with a top-12 player at that position. A “0” in either of the last three columns means that QB did not play with a top-12 player at that position. For example, Aaron Rodgersplayed with a top-12 fantasy receiver but did not play with a top-12 fantasy running back or tight end. On the other hand, Kirk Cousins played with a top-12 fantasy tight end but did not play with a top-12 fantasy running back or receiver. This was done for every top-12 QB since 2000.
Before you read into this graph too deeply, let me explain what is happening. First, you will notice that I broke the top-12 fantasy quarterbacks into three subcategories: overall (first cluster), the top half (second cluster), and bottom half (third cluster). Each cluster has three bars, one for each other skill position (RB, WR, TE). Each bar shows the percentage of top-12 players at each position, given that they played with a fantasy QB1. The number above each bar is the expected number of fantasy QB1’s in each sub-category that will play with a top-12 fantasy player at that bar’s respective position.
For example, this section of the graph corresponds the first cluster above, which is the overall sub-category. This cluster is showing how many QB1’s will play with another top-12 fantasy player at the other three skill positions. The number above each bar is the expected number of fantasy QB1’s that will play with another top-12 player at that bar’s position. For instance, we can expect about five fantasy QB1’s to also play with a fantasy RB1 (blue bar). Furthermore, we can expect about six fantasy QB1’s to play with either a fantasy WR1 or TE1 (orange and gray bars).
Now that you understand the graph, we can look at the second and third sub-categories, the top half and bottom half. When we break down the top-12 into the top-6 and bottom-6, the distribution is slightly skewed. For example, we can expect about 3-4 top-6 QBs to play with a fantasy WR1, whereas only 2-3 bottom-6 QBs play with a top-12 fantasy receiver. The numbers are similar for the tight end position as well, where we can expect three top-6 QBs to play with a TE1, whereas only 2-3 bottom-6 QBs play with a TE1. As for running backs, the divide is fairly even with about 2-3 QB1’s in both the top-6 and bottom-6 playing with an RB1.
Interpretation and Conclusion
What does this mean? For starters, it makes sense that we can expect a higher number of QB1’s to play with a fantasy WR1 or TE1 rather than an RB1. Unless an offense is very dynamic, aka the Falcons last year, passing game success usually generates a hit to the running game. It helps if a team’s RB1 is also a good pass catcher, much like Devonta Freemanin the Falcons offense. Last year seems to be an outlier in this sense, however, as only 5 QB1’s played with fantasy WR1’s but 7 QB1’s played with fantasy RB1’s. This could be due to the “revival” of the running back position, especially with 3-down backs who are good receivers out of the backfield. Does that trend continue? The last few years suggest it won’t, but there is a chance it does with the workhorse backs now playing in the league.
I tried to find additional parallels between top-12 QBs playing with other top-12 players, but overall it seems very random. For the most part, you can count on a certain QBs to finish as a QB1 while also supporting at least one WR1 or TE1. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees are perennial QB1’s who also perennially support either a WR1 or TE1. Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, and Matt Ryan all support WR1’s, but that does not always make them a QB1. However, when they’ve finished as a QB1, they have ALWAYS supported a WR1 with them. One quarterback stood out to me in particular: Philip Rivers. Under Rivers, the Chargers have NEVER had a fantasy WR1 (sorry Keenan Allen). In fact, the Chargers last WR1 was before the 2000 season. However, Rivers is a perennial TE1 supporter. Isn’t that right Antonio Gates (and soon to be Hunter Henry)?
Overall, we can expect about half of the QB1’s to support either a top-12 fantasy receiver or tight end. We can also expect about 5 of the top-12 QBs to play with a fantasy RB1, but that number could increase given the shift in running back power. All in all, the top QBs are relatively predictable, and their top receivers or tight ends usually come along for the ride. It is the bottom half of the QB ranks that are less predictable, and therefore do not always support a top-12 fantasy receiver. As for RBs, the breakdown is fairly even among the top-12 QBs and is even less predictable than receivers. The RB1’s that do play with QB1’s are usually workhorses who also get production through the air, or their QBs barely crack the top-12.
Thanks for reading and be sure to look out for the next article in this series on running backs, followed by receivers and tight ends. Stay tuned!