In this article, we continue to look at the 2017 values of the top players in the singleton positions – quarterback and tight end – by looking at the fantasy values of the number one and two highest scoring quarterbacks of 2017: Russell Wilson and Cam Newton.
Fantasy Value Points
I described my concept of fantasy value in the article Fantasy Value as Measured in Points, Featuring a Deshaun Watson Case Study To recap the approach that I am taking: I am reviewing past fantasy value, not stating their present value or making future predictions. Inspired by Pete Palmer and John Thorn’s The Hidden Game of Baseball, I am looking to take express the number of fantasy points that a player contributed to his fantasy team, which I am going to start calling Fantasy Value Points (FVP). We measure this by taking the sum, through Week 16, of the player’s differential contribution in games in which he should be started, where differential contribution is the difference between the number of the fantasy points the player scores in a given week, and the number of fantasy points scored by the next best starting option on his fantasy team. In this way, measure the value to the fantasy team of having the player on the roster, as opposed to having to rely on the next best player.
Of course, a player’s value to a particular team is not very interesting or informative. But a player can be assigned an objective, general value by looking at his value in a range of situations reflecting different team constructions. We do this by taking the difference between the player’s weekly fantasy points and the average fantasy point production of a range of players who we take to be the likely next best choices.
The Bench Discount
In the article referenced, we looked at Deshaun Watson’s 2017 value, and discovered that it was a surprisingly low 20.55 points, because Watson delivered some of his best performances in weeks in which he was not projected very high, and therefore sat on the bench. This is one of the advantages of the fantasy value points method: points scored while sitting on a fantasy team’s bench do not add to a player’s value.
To a much lesser degree than Watson, Cam Newton was affected by this bench discount. Newton finished as the number 2 quarterback in fantasy points, but finished behind Tom Brady in fantasy value ranks, largely because on his second best performance of the season – 33.4 points against the New England Patriots in Week 4 – he was projected as the 22nd best quarterback, and was therefore considered a bench player on almost all teams. That causes his value to take a dive. If he had been ranked at QB12 or higher, he would have gained 10.7 points of fantasy value.
The Fantasy Values of Russell Wilson and Cam Newton
Russell Wilson finished the season as the QB1 with 347.92 fantasy points (in both standard and PPR leagues), and Newton was second with 299.48, just ahead of Tom Brady at 295.88 and Alex Smith with 295.19. Through Week 16, the numbers were Wilson 327.48, Smith 295.19 (he was benched in favor of Patrick Mahomes in Week 17), Newton 288.38, and Brady 280.28.
Because Wilson and Newton were high picks, and because most fantasy football players do not draft multiple top-12 quarterbacks, we assume for the purpose of this study that the next best option on any given week are the quarterbacks projected as the QB13 through the QB24 that week. As always, we use the projections on Fantasydata.com to determine who should be the starter. In order to come up with the fantasy value of Russell Wilson and Cam Newton each week, we subtract the average number of fantasy points scored by the quarterbacks ranked 13 through 24 that week. The exception is Cam Newton in Week 4, because, as I have stated, he was projected as the number 22 quarterback. For the purposes of his fantasy value, he is assigned 0 points against the QB13 to QB21, and that is averaged with the difference between his points and those of QBs 23 and 24 (Roethlisberger and Carr, who scored 20.26 points between them).
In the end, Russell Wilson finished the season with 90.42 points in 15 weeks of play, for an average of 6.03 points per game. Newton’s fantasy value was less than half of this amount, at 40.84 points in 15 weeks, or 2.72 points per game. The 50-point difference reflects the roughly 50-point difference in their season-long points total, but expressing value as the margin over replacement players helps us see that Wilson was more than twice as valuable to his fantasy teams as Newton.
Top QBs vs. Top Tight Ends
Wilson and Newton’s fantasy value is modest compared to the top tight ends. As shown in Gronk vs. Kelce vs. Ertz: 2017 Fantasy Values Compared, the top three tight ends finished the season with 143.05, 138.48, and 104.18 fantasy points value in 2017. The reason, as is well-known to experienced fantasy football players, is that backup quarterbacks tend to do okay, while backups tight ends do not. In weeks 1-16, the average QB13 through QB24 scored 15.63 fantasy points, compared to 6.73 for the average TE13 through TE24. (As a reminder, these are the numbers for the weekly projected players ranked 13 through 24 in their positions – not the players who actually finished in those slots on those weeks.) This difference of almost 9 points means that Gronk’s 17.49 fantasy point per game average separated him from the pack much more than Russell Wilson’s average of 21.83 points per game did.
Whether this was a one-year anomaly or a consistent pattern will have to be left to a separate post. What is certain is that based on last year’s performance by position and rank, the top quarterbacks are going far too high in mock drafts compared to the top tight ends. The highest ADP for tight ends, Rob Gronkowski, is at ADP 2.10, barely ahead of the top QB, Aaron Rodgers, at 3.03 (data from fantasyfootballcalculator.com). He is followed by Travis Kelce at 3.08, who is followed shortly by Deshaun Watson (!) at 4.01, who is followed by Zach Ertz at 4.04, followed a round later by Brady at 5.03. The top tight ends are valued slightly higher than the top quarterbacks, a mistake if last year’s performances were anything but a big anomaly.
Russell Wilson was far and away the most valuable quarterback as measured in Fantasy Value Points, more than doubling Cam Newton. But Wilson’s value fell far short of the values of the top two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce.