The Rule You Need To Have In Your Fantasy League
Fantasy football isn’t a perfect science.
It’s a game about a game.
Within this game, we try to assign a point total to reflect a real performance by a player. In American football, with 22 moving parts on the field at all times each having an impact on the outcome, it is very difficult to distill the true value of a player down to a number or two. That’s why groups like Football Outsiders are always coming up with gigantic formulas to try to compress 500 variables into one numerical output. In fantasy football, we want a little more simplicity. We want yards, TDs, and if you want to get super fancy, receptions. It’s more fun that way.
However, there is a big discrepancy between real performance and fantasy performance when it comes to quarterbacks, much bigger than with any other position. With backs and receivers, efficiency plays a role but yards and TDs tell a lot of the story. You don’t hear “that guy’s a great running back in fantasy but not in real life” very often. You hear it with QBs all the time. There’s a reason why you can win a fantasy championship with Tony Romo as your quarterback and…well you get the idea. In addition, there are some QBs who play efficiently and generally are very good at what they do and would never sniff your fantasy roster.
I first became acutely aware of this watching Eli Manning and Michael Vick earlier in their careers. I’d sit, frustrated, watching Manning throw ball after ball in the dirt, completing a little more than 50% of his passes. Yet somehow, he’d come up with 15 fantasy points because he had 225 yards, 2 TDs, and a pick, a decent fantasy day. Vick was even more maddening to me, as he’d have a stat line like this: 14 for 27, 154 yards, 1 int, 68 rushing yards and a rushing TD – aka 16 points, again a decent day. Meanwhile, a look at the game for both these players would reveal an offense that couldn’t move the ball, usually a double digit loss, and some garbage time yards and a score that boosted their numbers. I hated this idea.
On the flip side, I was watching Chad Pennington years ago when he was with my beloved Jets and afterwards with the hated Dolphins. Pennington had games with 225 yards too, with 2 TDs, maybe an interception here and there. But he was 15 for 20. Sustained drives. Played within an efficient offense. And yet, at the end of the day, his numbers looked just like Manning’s or Vick’s.
That’s fantasy football, I’d hear people say.
The NFL is a quarterback driven league, especially today. In my belief, we need to close the gap a bit between how the QB plays in real life and how they are represented in fantasy football. So I came up with a very simple way to include completion percentage – albeit a bit flawed and incomplete measure of efficiency – in fantasy football numbers.
For every complete pass, a QB gets 0.6 points. For every incomplete pass, a QB gets -1 points. It sounds weird, but hear me out.
In the NFL, the idea of completing just 60% of your passes and being elite is dead (despite what John Clayton says). It doesn’t mean you are bad, but a quick look at the numbers reveals that you need 60% just to be ranked in the top 20.
(Please click to enlarge)
So with my idea, the threshold for gaining points because of your percentage is right above 60%:
5/10 = -2 points
6/10 = -0.4 points
7/10 = 1.2 points
Now, some may say “why not just award points for percentage in a tiered system (ie, 60-64% = +1, 65-69 = +3, etc or something like that). By taking each throw into account, you can reward a QB for sustaining a high percentage for longer. Let’s use 2/3 (about 67%) as an example:
2/3 = 0.2 points
4/6 = 0.4 points
8/12 = 0.8 points
16/24 = 1.6 points
The longer a QB does well, the more points are awarded to him.
Let’s look at how using this rule in my league last year worked out. Here are the juxtaposed numbers with standard ESPN rules and my league’s rules:
(Please click to enlarge)
That’s the top 20. What’s interesting is that 19 of 20 QBs are the same, but the deck has been shuffled. Rodgers jumps to the top, a hair ahead of Peyton Manning and then Matt Ryan. Josh Freeman is off the list, replaced by Philip Rivers. There are slight jumps and falls within the list that represent bonuses for efficiency, not just chucking the ball 50 times per game (like Andy Dalton jumping over Matt Stafford, or Matt Schaub leaping over Josh Freeman).
The most polarizing figure here is Andrew Luck. Luck was lauded all year for his play, especially in big moments. Amazingly, he was the third best rookie QB last year, behind Russell Wilson and RGIII. Yet in standard fantasy leagues, he was ranked ahead of Wilson and just behind RGIII.
Luck did some great things last year. His team went 11-5 (although his Colts were literally the worst 11-5 team in the history of the NFL) and he came up very big in the fourth quarter a number of times. More was asked of Luck than any other rookie QB, as he attempted the most passes for a rookie in NFL history and had the most yardage ever for a rookie as well.
He is the poster child for why I think completion percentage should be included in fantasy football. He had many games where he absolutely crippled his offense with incomplete after incomplete, only to finish with big yardage numbers and a few TDs and a great fantasy day. The best two examples of this are week 3 against Jacksonville and week 13 against Detroit:
||Comp./Inc. (Comp. %)
Luck was a rookie, and this is not a smear campaign. But should we be rewarding a QB who can’t complete 50% of his passes but plays in a pass-happy offense and chucks it enough to wind up with tons of yards? I don’t think so.
To nail my point home, let’s put another game next to Luck’s week 13:
||Comp./Inc. (Comp. %)
|Luck Week 13
|Rodgers Week 4
Aaron Rodgers played a truly impressive game. Luck did not. It’s reflected the Luck’s paltry QBR. However, you’d never know it by looking at the standard fantasy numbers.
While not perfect, my completion points system isn’t complicated, and it will help avoid those “bad real-life, great fantasy” performances that happen so often with QBs.
Steve Caronia is a New York City based physical therapist. He was once kicked out of a friends fantasy league for winning it the first two years he was in it.