There is no denying that quarterback is the most important position in football. It might be the most important position in all of sports.
However, it’s far from the most important spot in fantasy football.
Yes, it’s true. Quarterbacks do score more fantasy points than the other positions. Seventeen signal callers while only one wide receiver and no running backs scored more than 250 points in standard leagues during the 2015 season. Quarterback will always score the most fantasy points (they should anyway. If they don’t, that’s a problem).
But that doesn’t mean quarterback should be an owners’ first choice … or even second, third, fourth or fifth draft pick. There are so many great signal callers in today’s NFL, the longer fantasy owners wait to draft one, sometimes the better their teams ends up becoming.
In standard leagues (probably all leagues actually), the top quarterback last season was Panthers’ Cam Newton, who scored 389.1 points. The 12th ranked quarterback was Chargers’ Philip Rivers, who recorded 284.5 points, which means there was a difference of 104.6 points. Over the course of a 16-game season, on average, that’s the difference of 6.54 points per week.
That’s a sizable margin, but it’s much smaller if we throw out the top three quarterbacks.
Blake Bortles finished fourth among all quarterbacks with 316.1 fantasy points, which means there was, on average, just a difference of 1.98 points per week between the No. 4 and 12 signal callers.
At wide receiver and running back, the margin is much wider.
Antonio Brown led all receivers in standard leagues with 252.5 points. The 24th wideout was James Jones with 141.0 points, giving them, on average, a difference of 6.97 fantasy points per week.
The margin was even greater at running back. Devonta Freeman led the way with 243.4 points while James Starks was the 24th running back with 123.3 points. The difference between those two backs was an average of 7.5 points per week.
Just to be clear, the reason we used 24 running backs and wide receivers while just 12 quarterbacks is because in the typical 12-team league, there are two starting backs and two starting receivers per team. There’s usual just one starting quarterback (HINT: do not follow this piece of advice in a two-quarterback league).
For 12-team leagues that have a FLEX spot, you’ll actually have to use 30 running backs and wide receivers, which would give an even wider difference.
So what do all these numbers tell us? Well, they suggest that as long as owners in a 12-team league draft a quarterback that is going to finish in the top 12, there really isn’t much of a difference between them. Whereas with running backs and receivers, there are definitely more tiers and the elite players are significantly better than the lower ranked players who still start.
Here’s another look at it. Which quarterback would you rather have?
Quarterback A: 4,870 yards, 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 304.2 points
Quarterback B: 4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 316.1 points
Quarterback C: 3,821 yards, 31 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 301.2 points
They’re pretty much all the same, and incredibly, Drew Brees is Quarterback A, Aaron Rodgers is Quarterback C and as referenced above, Bortles finished fourth among quarterbacks with 316.1 points and is Quarterback B.
Now, there’s no guarantee these quarterbacks repeat those numbers. Rodgers surprisingly struggled last season, but in order to draft him, owners will have to use a third-round pick in 12-team leagues. Based on their ADPs at Fantasy Pros, Brees is going two rounds later in the fifth, and Bortles is being drafted at the end of the sixth.
Even if their statistics reverse themselves, and Rodgers scores 15 more fantasy points than Bortles, it would still be much better value to draft the Jaguars quarterback in the sixth than Rodgers in the third.
Quarterback is actually very similar to tight end in the sense that Cam Newton and Rob Gronkowski are, by far and away, so much better than everyone else at their position (in terms of fantasy). Targeting them early is fine. But if owners miss on Newton, waiting on quarterback is the best strategy.
There just isn’t a big enough difference between quarterbacks ranked second through 12th to justify sacrificing an early pick. Instead, emphasize running backs and wide receivers early (maybe even taking a bench running back within the top five picks) then target Bortles, Rivers, Tony Romo, Derrick Carr and Kirk Cousins late in the sixth round and after.
It’s the key to building the best all-around roster.