The (R)evolution of the Rushing Quarterback on Late Round QB Strategy

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling the Twitter timeline and saw several tweets about the value of rushing quarterbacks, and how the “Late Round QB” (LRQB) strategy in fantasy football (popularised by JJ Zachariason) was on the wane. Seemingly, the consensus was that capturing the upside that rushing quarterbacks bring to your lineup, was worth the opportunity cost of selecting one in the early to middle rounds of your draft. As a fervent proponent of the LRQB theory, my immediate thought was to dismiss it, but my curiosity got the better of me – so I went to the data to see what I could find.

First of all, let’s look at how the influx of mobile quarterbacks has changed the quarterback position in fantasy football. I am using the top 12 as a cutoff since the typical fantasy football league will have 12 starting quarterbacks in any given week (10 team leagues have an even greater incentive to draft their QB late). From 2009 to 2014, the top 12 QBs (on a PPG basis) accumulated an average of 11.21% of their fantasy points on the ground. From 2015 through 2020, this increased to 15.71%.

Since 2009, the percentage of points scored by quarterbacks via rushing has steadily increased as more dual-threat quarterbacks have become starters in the NFL. In 2009 all quarterbacks combined for 1,227 rush attempts and by 2020 this had increased to 1,980 – 753 more attempts. 

This chart shows the average percentage of points scored on the ground by the top 12 quarterbacks each year. It’s worth noting that 2011 and 2012 are partially propped up by Cam Newton’s cumulative 1,400 yards and 22 (!) rushing scores. He scored a touchdown every 11.5 carries over that span, considerably lower than the rest of his career of one score per 17 carries.

In particular, the past two seasons have seen a large spike in rushing production. The top 12 QBs averaged at least 20% of their total fantasy production on the ground, over 5% more than the next highest year in the 12-year sample (2014).

It is reasonable to conclude that the percentage of a quarterback’s total points scored via the ground has increased over the past few years. But at what cost? Has their passing output been impacted? If so, has this impacted wide receiver scoring?

Firstly, despite year-to-year volatility, raw fantasy points have gradually increased from 2009 with 2020 capping a 12-year high with a total of 3,565 fantasy points accumulated by the top 12 QBs.

As expected, the average PPG scored by quarterbacks who finish inside the top 12 has increased in a similar way:

Whilst rushing and overall quarterback fantasy output has increased over time, the passing output has seen no significant change from 2009 to 2020. In fact, over the first six years of the sample top 12 quarterbacks averaged 2,790 points per season and over the second six years, their average was 2,734 points per season.

At first glance, the volatility of total fantasy points appears to have a strong relationship with passing points. Running a linear regression over the data set returns an R-Squared value of 0.63 which confirms the strength of this relationship. 

As passing production has remained relatively stable, so has wide receiver production with only a very slight increase in the PPG trend for top 24 receivers from 2009 to 2020. When I initially thought of this article, I wondered whether wide receivers would be hurt by the increase of quarterback rushing points, but it appears this is not the case.

It’s all well and good knowing this information, but what implications does it have for your roster? What does this mean for your draft strategy? Using historical redraft ADP data from Fantasy Football Calculator I compared the percentage of rushing points scored by the top 12 quarterbacks on a PPG basis, against the percentage of rushing points scored by the top 12 quarterbacks by ADP:

Over the past five seasons, the percentage of rushing points scored by QBs who finish inside the top 12 has been higher than those who were drafted in the top 12 in every year except last season. It’s worth noting here that 43% of Lamar Jackson’s fantasy points came on the ground last season – the highest single percentage of any quarterback to finish in the top 12 since 2016. This suggests that drafters may be overstating the rushing upside of quarterbacks that they are drafting inside the top 12, whilst overlooking the upside of later round quarterbacks. It also is indicative of the volatility of the quarterback position in fantasy, despite the anecdotal belief that drafting one early is “safe”.

There are many reasons why quarterbacks do not return on their ADP, but the reality is that they rarely do. Of the 60 quarterbacks drafted in the top 12 since 2016, only 17 have either met or returned on their ADP. 43 quarterbacks have finished with a PPG rank lower than their positional ADP – that’s over 71%! Not exactly a sound investment. A perceived rushing floor doesn’t necessarily guarantee a return on ADP either. Over the past five years, quarterbacks drafted inside the top 12 have an average rushing percentage of 12.5%. Of the 23 quarterbacks who have exceeded this average, just 10 of them met or exceeded their ADP.

Rushing production has been one of the reasons for the overall increase in quarterback production in recent years, but passing production is still a key driver of fantasy points. It would be remiss of me to draw sweeping conclusions from this analysis, but my primary takeaway is to continue to wait on quarterbacks and identify those later-round options that can provide you with an early return on investment. If they have that Konami Code upside, even better! Let your league mates sink early draft capital into the most replaceable position in fantasy football, whilst you hoard multiple running backs and wide receivers inside the top 100 picks.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article! I am happy to take any questions on it over on Twitter. Find me @FF_DownUnder!

The data for this article comes from @FF_Spaceman’s incredible database and references Weeks 1 through 16 of each NFL season. Be sure to follow him!

lglover

English Australia-based writer for @DFF_Dynasty. #DFFArmy #DynastyFootball Find me on Twitter @FF_DownUnder Patriots and Seminoles fan. Whisky & Red Wine enthusiast.

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