Running QBs are Still a Secret
Editor’s Note: The guest post below looking at the impact running QBs have in fantasy was written by Sean Fakete. Follow him on Twitter @FantasyProcess. …
As the entire fantasy community has become sharper, a growing challenge exists in attempting to gain an advantage over leaguemates. A majority of successful strategies and theories are now widely publicized for all levels of the community to see. Going into a draft this year with a zero-RB or late-round QB approach is more challenging due to the shrinking knowledge gap between sharp and casual drafters. However, there is still an advantage to be gained with the ability to apply certain strategies better than everyone else.
Owners in 2QB or Superflex leagues can gain an advantage with their second quarterback selection, as those passers garner less attention from the community (outside of TwoQBs.com of course). This article will hopefully open your eyes to a part of the late-round quarterback selection process still overlooked by the vast majority of fantasy participants.
Back in 2013, Rich Hribar brought light to the value a QB can gain with rushing production, calling it the Konami Code. Hribar’s article specifically referenced the rushing-based fantasy upside of Terrelle Pryor and Tim Tebow. Wow, how far we have come from those guys being NFL quarterbacks.
Gaining extra points from a QB on the ground is very often discussed in fantasy circles, but a lot of the time it’s either mentioned by way of narrative, like “Alex Smith can add a few points a week on the ground” or in a big-picture way, like “Russell Wilson has the ability to add 10 pass TDs worth of points from his rushing this season”. Both are true. But as the QB Cards on this site show, there has rightfully been a shift in fantasy football to focus on players’ week-to-week production. I set out to determine how rushing impacts a quarterback’s ability to consistently finish at the top of his position each week.
The data compiled to construct the following tables are based on every QB start from 2013 to 2015 (a total of over 1500 starts in the sample).
Rushing Impact on QB Weekly Rank
The above chart shows where a quarterback ranked each week based on how many fantasy points he scored that week only from rushing. A passer who scored more than six points on the ground finished in the top-10 over 60% of the time and the top-20 over 90% of the time. About 11% of all QB starts resulted in more than six rushing points. For a QB to score more than six rushing points they need either one rush TD or 61 yards rushing, so this group includes both mobile QBs like Cam Newton and immobile QB-sneakers like Tom Brady.
When a quarterback scored between three to six points on the ground they finished in the top-20 about 75% of the time. Targeting a passer late in drafts who can get more than three points per week is a good way to ensure a higher floor. On the other hand, note how a quarterback who scored fewer than three points on the ground finished in the top-10 less than 30% of the time. Now that we know how valuable rushing points are to a quarterback’s weekly rank, the next step is figuring out what contributes to those higher rushing outputs.
In fantasy football there are three factors most important to a player’s scoring ability: volume, yardage, and touchdowns. A quarterback’s rushing points are a direct result of his rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, but volume impacts both. In fact, 78% of QBs scoring fewer than three rushing points had fewer than three rushing attempts in that game. Meanwhile, 90% of QBs who scored between three and six rushing points had more than three rushing attempts. Rush volume leads to scoring points, which leads to good overall scoring weeks.
Rush Volume Impact on QB Weekly Rank
Quarterbacks with more than six rushing attempts (about 9% of the sample) finished in the top-20 over 80% of the time. When a signal caller ran fewer than three times, he finished outside of the top-24 more than a quarter of the time, but quarterbacks with more than three attempts only failed to reach 2QB starter status about 11% of the time. This supports the notion that QBs with adequate rushing volume are high-floor players.
The passers who attempted more than six rushes averaged 6.4 rush points per game, compared to 3.2 rushing points per game for passers between three and six attempts and less than one point for fewer than three attempts. The major differences in this chart are seen in the top-10 and sub-24 columns, indicating a high-volume rushing quarterback is not only high-floor, but also high-ceiling.
Rush Yards Impact on QB Weekly Rank
Since rushing yards are directly responsible for fantasy points, more rush yards will give quarterbacks a better chance at finishing in the top-10 each week. Furthermore, this chart also shows how detrimental it can be for a QB to not pick up yards on the ground. Passers who failed to reach 30 yards on the ground fell outside of the top-24 almost a quarter of the time. Without the added points from rushing yards, a quarterback has a much smaller margin for error.
Gaining 30 yards on the ground more than wipes out an interception and can possibly make up for a missed TD pass. The bust rate for QBs in the 30 to 60 rushing yards range is only 9%. A quarterback who rushed for more than 60 yards finished in the top-10 almost 70% of the time and averaged almost 11 points on the ground. Additionally, there were only 39 QB starts in my sample resulting in more than 60 rushing yards, compared to 159 starts with between 30 and 60 rush yards, combining for about 13% of all starts.
Rush Touchdowns Impact on QB Weekly Rank
We all know touchdowns are the lifeblood of fantasy scoring. Fantasy quarterbacks are often valued by the number of TDs they throw, but hidden value comes from their ability to score TDs on the ground. A QB that simply scores one rushing touchdown in a game has finished in the top-10 almost two-thirds of the time and in the top-20 about 95% of the time.
Ground scores are difficult to project seasonally and even harder to predict game-to-game, but there are certainly some signal callers who are better at running the ball into the end zone. Cam Newton is phenomenal in this regard, possibly the best ever. For what it’s worth, over the last three seasons, quarterbacks have finished top-10 every time they rushed for two touchdowns in a given week, but one-score games are big too. Kirk Cousins ran for five touchdowns last year, and his weekly ranks in those games were 5th, 1st, 12th, 6th, and 2nd.
What Does This All Have to Do With LRQB?
The chart above shows the percentage of a quarterback’s total weekly fantasy points from rushing with splits between QBs drafted in and out of the top-12 (according to Fantasy Football Calculator). Focusing on the quarterbacks with weekly top-10 finishes, a guy drafted outside the top-12 relies on rushing points 50% more than a QB drafted in the top-12 (15% compared to 10%). In fact, although the absolute difference is not huge, the chart shows a consistent difference between the players drafted as QB1s and everyone else, showing that when looking for LRQB targets, you should tend towards guys that rely on rushing a little more.
This final chart is breakdown of the average rush yards, rush TDs, and rushing fantasy points by quarterback ADP. Passers selected in the QB12 to QB18 range are often the best rushing QBs, possibly due to the masses undervaluing rushing quarterbacks. It is also a result of the specific players from this group over the last three seasons. Quarterbacks in that QB12 to QB18 range averaged about three rushing points per game. The group included players like Cam Newton (2015), Russell Wilson (2014), and Michael Vick (2013). Tyrod Taylor is currently going around QB14 based on ADP and added about 5.8 ground points per game last season. Overall, the quarterbacks drafted in the top-six have contributed the least on the ground by yardage, although rushing touchdowns are pretty even across the board.
Who to Target This Year
I mentioned a few names above and took up a lot of space helping explain how important a quarterback’s rushing production is to his overall scoring potential, so I want to finish with a chart of passers and relevant stats to aid in the process of selecting the undervalued quarterbacks currently being drafted outside the top-12, according to TwoQBs.com ADP.