The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 (Quarterback Strategy) of the new Rotoworld fantasy football draft strategy book “Fantasy Football U: Expert Tips on How to Dominate Your Draft“.

QBs Don’t Matter (Except They Do)

JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB)


The thing about quarterbacks in fantasy football is that they don’t really matter.

I know that can be tough to hear. They’re field generals on the actual gridiron, and every fantasy football owner wants, in some way, the fake game of football to reflect the real one.

But that’s not how things work. That is, if you want to win.

Even before the recent influx of talented quarterbacks, the game of fantasy football has dictated that you wait to draft the position. Yes, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are more than likely going to finish as top fantasy signal-callers this year, and that predictable knowledge seems to give fantasy owners a nice security blanket during a draft.


That’s ignoring the bigger picture, though.


Editor’s Note: You can now buy the e-book or paperback on Amazon.


Quarterback Replaceability

Jerry has five apples, and he’s trying to sell all of them. But only four people really want an apple.

To sell them, then, Jerry is forced to lower the price per apple in order to entice a buyer who may not really want an apple. At a lower cost, the apple, to a newer consumer, becomes part of a purchasing consideration set.

A dude wants an apple when the apple is cheaper.

This, my friends, is the simplest supply and demand analogy I could come up with.

The relationship between supply and demand is the driving force in a free market. Generally, when the number of available products (supply) decreases, then the desire for a product increases (demand), resulting in higher prices. And when there’s an excess supply of a product, it’s usually the result of lower demand, which can lower costs.

I promise this is still a fantasy football book.

In a traditional fantasy football lineup, owners are starting one quarterback, at least two running backs, at least two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker, and one defense.

To put this another way, the demand for running backs and wide receivers is much greater than the demand for the other positions. You’re starting more of them, so the desire — the need — to obtain those players is greater.

As a result, their costs rise.

This is precisely why we see the early rounds of fantasy drafts dominated by wideouts and running backs.

For instance, when looking at average draft position (ADP) data (via, you can see that the cost of the worst hypothetical starters in a 12-team league — that is, the 24th-ranked running back, the 24th-ranked wide receiver and the 12th-ranked quarterback — are much greater at wide receiver and running back than they are for quarterback.

Over the last seven seasons, the 24th running back has, on average, left draft boards at pick 68 in PPR leagues. The 24th receiver has been drafted at around pick 61.

At quarterback, the last theoretical starter has usually been selected at pick 87.

Why? Supply and demand.

But the decline in average cost for this final start-worthy quarterback in drafts has also been due to — as noted at the top — the arrival of some seriously good gunslingers.

There’s a larger supply of usable quarterbacks these days, driving down prices. That’s why, in 2010, the 12th quarterback left draft boards at pick 80. Last year, the average cost for that same quarterback was pick 102. This arrival of talent has made the position super replaceable. For example, in 2012, there were two quarterbacks with at least 11 QB1 performances. In 2016, no quarterback hit that mark.

Analyzing fantasy football in this manner is important because the game is played on a weekly basis, not a yearly one. You can look at year-end totals and draw conclusions that way, but this gives us a better picture of the week-to-week replaceability of the position.

And that replaceability has grown over the last half decade.

During the past two seasons, we haven’t seen a ton of elite quarterback play at the position. Had there been elite play, we would’ve seen more players in the “At Least 13” or “At Least 12” buckets. Instead, the quarterback numbers are grouped closer together. The position has been replaceable.

And, really, that’s how it’s been since the 2012 season, when the world was introduced to Andrew Luck. And Russell Wilson. And Kirk Cousins. And, since then, Tyrod Taylor. And Jameis Winston. And Marcus Mariota. And Derek Carr. And Dak Prescott.

You get the idea. There are a lot of good players at the position, which means that there’s more Replaceability.

Also, when you compare top-12 quarterback performances to top-24 outings from running backs and wide receivers — and we’re looking at top-24 here because almost all 12-team leagues are starting at least two wideouts and two running backs — you can see how the position shows less diversity in performance from player to player. And less variety means less eliteness (shoutout to Joe Flacco).

For example, since 2012 we’ve seen 3.60 quarterbacks hit 10 or more usable, top-12 weeks per year. And we’ve seen 18.20 wide receivers have seven or more top-24 performances. (This excludes Week 17.) The thing that jumps out most is how ridiculously valuable top running backs can be. If you happen to have the running back who’s far and away better than the rest of the position, you’re gaining a significant edge in fantasy football. The main issue is obtaining that running back.

But, at quarterback, the top performances are scrunched together, especially when you consider the number of overall starters at the position in a typical 12-team league.

Usable Weeks Per Year at Quarterback, Running Back, and Wide Receiver Since 2012




Just to clarify, this is saying that a little over 100 percent of all quarterback starters in a 12-team league over the last five seasons have provided at least seven top-12 performances. Meanwhile, the 100 percent mark is reached at running back and wide receiver at the “At Least 6” usable performances bucket.

At a high level, what this means is that everyone in your 12-team league will have a quarterback who is more usable than a running back or wide receiver.

Furthermore, the edge that you obtain by owning a top quarterback isn’t as strong as it is with a running back or wide receiver. (Note: There’s no comparison to tight ends throughout this simply because tight ends share similar demand to quarterbacks in fantasy football.)

We already talked about how elite (there’s that word again) running backs provide a huge advantage in fake football, but considering how few wide receivers are actually giving you 10, 11, or 12 usable weeks compared to the baseline starter at the position, you can see how owning one of those players can create a large advantage. All the while, a solid four out of 12 teams in your league will have a quarterback next season who offers 10 or more usable weeks.

In other words, that quarterbacks are really good in today’s game actually means that they’ve become less important in fantasy football. Because — and you can should say this in an Oprah Winfrey voice — you get a quarterback. And you get a quarterback. And you get a quarterback. And you get a quarterback.

Opportunity Cost

Maybe you’re not a believer in the analysis we just walked through. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “Yeah, I see your point, JJ, but it doesn’t seem all that significant to me.”

You wouldn’t be totally wrong.

But that’s because it’s just part of the quarterback drafting equation. We’ve barely talked about an even bigger thought: opportunity cost.

Given historical average draft position data, we know that the last starter in a 12-team league at quarterback will be drafted far later than the last hypothetical starter at running back and wide receiver. We analyzed this when talking about supply and demand.

What stems from that is the notion of opportunity cost, or “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”

To put this another way, opportunity cost is the cost associated with what you miss out on.

For example, pretend you’re at a coffee shop. You like both coffee and tea and can’t figure out which one to order. Because you’re a caffeine addict, you choose coffee. Your opportunity cost, then, is tea. You’re forgoing the opportunity to have tea by purchasing a coffee.

During a fantasy football draft, you’re constantly making choices like this. It’s just that instead of coffee and tea, it’s David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell. When you choose David Johnson, your opportunity cost is Le’Veon Bell.

Fantasy football drafts are just as much about the players you don’t choose as they are about the players you do choose.


Editor’s Note: You can now buy the e-book or paperback on Amazon.

Let’s start by looking at this from a theoretical perspective. It’s the first round, and you’ve got the 10th overall pick. You can choose a running back who’s projected to score 100 points more than a baseline, replacement-level player at his position, a wide receiver who’s projected to score 105 more points, or a quarterback who’s projected to score 150 more points.

While Value Based Drafting has plenty of flaws, the value over replacement player formula may tell you to draft a quarterback in that scenario.

But what if the replacement-level running back was being drafted five rounds later, the wide receiver six rounds later, and the quarterback 10 rounds later?

In that scenario, you’re essentially spreading the 100 points across five rounds (20 points per round), the 105 points across six rounds (17.5 points per round), and the 150 points across 10 rounds (15 points per round).

Season-long projections may tell you to draft the quarterback, but the running back is technically the most valuable pick at that time because forgoing the opportunity to draft said running back has the largest ramifications.

The highest opportunity cost is associated with not drafting the running back.

We can use real, historical data to explain this opportunity cost concept as well. Here is a graph that charts average draft position (x-axis) by actual fantasy points scored in a single season (PPR, y-axis) since 2012 among the running back, wide receiver, and quarterback positions. Consider this the expected fantasy output per position at a given draft slot.

Each season below includes top-24 quarterbacks (two quarterbacks per team in a 12-team league), top-60 running backs (five running backs per team), and top-60 wide receivers (five wide receivers per team). In other words, we’re looking at 120 quarterbacks (24 quarterbacks times five seasons), 300 running backs, and 300 wide receivers as our data points.


ADP versus Fantasy Points Scored 2012-2016




The top line represents quarterbacks, the middle line wide receivers, and the bottom line is for running backs. To analyze opportunity cost visually, you’re looking for steepness: the larger the slope of the line, the higher the opportunity cost. That is, for every one pick on the x-axis, a steeper line would mean more points are being sacrificed (y-axis).

It’s very clear that, among this somewhat arbitrary sample (there’s always the chance that your 12-team league sees, say, 70 running backs drafted instead of 60, or maybe only half of the teams in your league will carry two quarterbacks), quarterbacks have the shallowest slope. The math shows that, too. And the main reason for this isn’t because the position doesn’t score the most points (it does) but rather the fact that many quarterbacks score a lot of points.

There’s not much differentiation from one player to the next, leading to a smaller opportunity cost if you were to forgo drafting the position.

And when that’s the case, it means you should be loading up on the scarcer assets — the assets in higher demand — in the early rounds. Not quarterbacks.

Want to read the rest of Chapter 2 and the entire book? Check it out on Amazon.

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