February 26, 2021

Time Skew

Play Fantasy Football Smarter not harder

“Cheat Code”: the fantasy value of rushing Quarterbacks

7 min read
We're all on a constant search for a fantasy QB with a consistent, reliable scoring floor with a high "ceiling" right? Enter the cheat code of rushing QB's...
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The “Konami Code”, or more simply “cheat code”…

As a young boy, I was fortunate to experience the rise to prominence of video gaming systems in the 1980’s. Like other young gamers at the time, I quickly learned the secret of the “Konami Code”, or “Cheat Code”.

UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START, and suddenly I’d unlocked the key to easy victory. Aptly named right?…

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Fast forward 30 years or so and that term from my youth is once again a staple of my vernacular. No, not because of some ongoing affinity for vintage gaming systems (though I’ll still grab a controller whenever possible). Instead, it’s because of my involvement with Fantasy Football. The term “cheat code” applies to a quarterback who can threaten defenses both through the air and on the ground.

We, as fantasy managers, have devalued the most important position on an NFL roster; the Quarterback. We wait as long as possible to take one in redraft league drafts; some even filling the position through weekly streaming. This is largely due to the relative replaceability of fantasy production at the position week-to-week. There are 32 starting QB jobs in the NFL. Yet somehow, we’ll see around forty different QB’s finish as a top 12 weekly performer each season.

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We talk about a player’s “floor” in fantasy with increasing regularity. The floor for a player being the perceived baseline of points we can expect from them any given week. As fantasy managers, we strive for predictability with that floor, while also trying to maximize upside when targeting players. This ever present search for a consistent, reliable floor with a high “ceiling” has helped bring us to the dual-threat QB. A “cheat code” we can use to maximize opportunities and exploit targeted scoring rules that mitigate the traditional “pocket passer”.

Check out our review of Zach Wilson and Justin Fields and where they fit best in the NFL.

The data behind the “cheat code” theory

Preparing for this article, I compiled data for the top 20 QB’s from each of the last four seasons. The purpose being to quantify what makes a dual-threat QB more valuable in fantasy football. My value analysis looks largely at three pivotal metrics: FPTS/game (fantasy points per game), total rushing attempts, and player consistency.

2020 Fantasy QB Data Analysis (Stat credits: Time Skew Fantasy)
2018 Fantasy QB Data Analysis (Stat credits: FantasyData & FFToday)

2019 Fantasy QB Data Analysis (Stat credits: FantasyData & FFToday)
2017 Fantasy QB Data Analysis (Stat credits: FantasyData & FFToday)

So what’s the data telling us?

From the data presented, we can see that over the last three seasons in particular, the rushing QB’s have excelled. These types of QB’s have demonstrated the ability to provide high volumes of FPTS/G (upside), at a high level of consistency (floor).

Of the top 20 QB’s in total FPTS scored for 2020, seven of them totaled above-average rushing attempts. Of those seven players, six (86%) finished the season as a QB1 in both FPTS/G and overall consistency score. Further to this, only five of 13 QB’s (38%) who totaled below-average rushing attempts accomplished the same. Both 2019 & 2018 yielded similar results; with splits of (88% / 25%) and (71% / 31%), respectively. While 2017 didn’t provide the same level of disparity, rushing QB’s did still hold a slim (1%) advantage.

Image credits: NFLonFO

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But what’s the difference?

So then, what is it exactly about rushing QB’s that allows them this success in fantasy? Obviously, various factors exist; coaching scheme, surrounding talent, work ethic, etc. To simplify, I would submit that there are really two main factors at play; opportunity and scoring settings.

The big ‘O’

Fantasy production is first and foremost about the big ‘O’: Opportunity. Essentially, how often a player gets the chance to impact a game with the ball in their hands. Thus, how often they get the chance to score fantasy points.

The compass always points to fantasy production
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QB’s handle the ball on virtually every play, simply by taking the snap from the center. However, typical pocket passers will immediately turn and hand the ball off on 40-60% of those plays. These become opportunities for the ball carrier instead; effectively negating the possibility of the QB producing any points on that play. QB’s that are able to take a portion of those carries themselves, increase their volume of opportunities to produce points.

Additionally, mobile QB’s have the ability to escape pressure at times in the game when their protection has broken down. Plays that might’ve otherwise ended in an incompletion, sack, or turnover for a pocket passer get extended by scramblers. Often they create big-play opportunities from broken ones. Again, this is a case where lost production for a pocket passer can become an increased opportunity for a mobile one. In fantasy football, this equals a consistent floor and a high ceiling both start with opportunity.

Image credits: azcardinals.com
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Scoring settings

We determine fantasy points by applying specific scoring settings to actual statistical production. This is yet another key factor in determining the reasons that rushing QB’s hold greater value than pocket QB’s.

In a typical scoring format, a QB scores one point for every 25 passing yards accumulated. At the same time, they score one point for every 10 rushing yards accumulated. These numbers alone depict how a QB that typically receives 5-10 carries per game could produce greater consistency and upside. But wait, there’s more…

In many leagues, we’ve implemented scoring settings that devalue passing touchdowns in comparison to rushing ones. For example, they’ll award four points per passing touchdown, compared to six points per rushing touchdown. Such scoring formats essentially value any rushing touchdown equally to a 50-yd. passing touchdown, and that’s without accounting for an additional one point per 10 yards of length for the rushing touchdown.

Outdated rules implemented to balance QB scoring in fantasy have backfired with the rise of the rushing QB
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To further illustrate the point; a QB in that scoring format that finishes with five rushing touchdowns on the season gets 30-pts. A QB that finishes with 5 passing touchdowns on the season gets 20-pts. That’s a difference of ten points (250 passing yds.), without even having accounted for related rushing yardage points.

The “cheat code” theory, in conclusion…

So, now you’re thinking “I need to get a rushing QB in 2021, no matter what it takes”, right? Wrong!

It’s true that in a vacuum, rushing QB’s provide greater value and stability to your roster than pocket passers. But we don’t play Fantasy football in a vacuum; there are other factors at play. We can exploit this value by knowing it exists, but only as one element of overall sound fantasy roster construction. That does not include mortgaging one’s draft or stripping critical depth at other positions, simply to acquire that value.

A fantasy asset’s true value comes down to the opportunity cost involved with acquiring them. Early in this article, I alluded to the relative replaceability of production at the QB position. It boils down to the number of starters a fantasy manager needs at each position. Typically, we require multiple starters at both RB and WR, not even accounting for FLEX positions. Therefore, the opportunity cost of acquiring a rushing QB early in drafts can hamper your ability to build needed depth; especially in leagues where we start only one QB per week. There are 32 starting QB’s in the NFL, which provides opportunities to find value there beyond rostering a rushing QB.

…now we all know the “cheat code”.

In summary, we should judge a fantasy asset’s value by the opportunity cost of investing in them first and foremost. From there, we can maximize the value by seizing opportunities to roster quarterbacks who can win in multiple ways, but only at the right cost.

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Kris "TheFF_4ce" Angelo
Kris “TheFF_4ce” Angelo

(4x) HBFFL Champion!!
Content contributor for Time Skew Fantasy Football (@timeskewfantasy, https://timeskewed.com). Co-host of the HBFFL’s FF_Force Podcast.

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