Are Rushing Quarterbacks the Holy Grail in Fantasy Football?
Over the past few weeks, I've attempted to determine whether weekly consistency exists on an individual basis. My original hypothesis was that the majority of what we often label as consistent week-to-week play is really an illusion - the result of a small sample of games that are inherently more random than most people realize.
In past articles, I've used baseball as an example of why we place too much emphasis on each individual football game. We'd never watch a string of 16 MLB games and conclude that a player who hits .450 over that stretch is really a .450 hitter. We'd likely claim that his hitting over that stretch was very consistent, but we wouldn't suggest he's inherently consistent with such a small sample of games to study.
Since 16 games is all we have to analyze NFL players, however, we often draw far-reaching conclusions based on a single season. Is Wes Welker really as consistent as everyone thinks, or do we convince ourselves he's a steady receiver because he catches a lot of passes? The truth is that since Welker's first 1,000-yard season in 2007, he has averaged the same number of quality starts (as outlined in my wide receiver consistency article) as the average wide receiver.
In that first article on wide receiver consistency, I concluded that week-to-week consistency for receivers doesn't exist, at least in terms of YPC. The only receivers I thought might be more consistent than others were guys like Percy Harvin who can beat defenses on the ground. With more versatility, players become safer.
That thought got me analyzing the consistency of running backs - something I think actually exists for certain players at the position more than others. Specifically, week-to-week consistency seems to be more than illusion for backs who catch passes. That's true even for owners in non-PPR leagues; running backs who catch a lot of passes have more ways to score points, and thus become safer on a weekly basis.
So that's the background for today's study - a look at whether rushing quarterbacks possess more weekly consistency than pocket passers. To determine whether that hypothesis is true, I studied all quarterbacks who have thrown for at least 3,000 yards in a single season since 2007. Then, I sorted those passers by rushing yards.
If my hypothesis was correct, we'd expect the rushing quarterbacks to have more "quality starts" than the non-rushing quarterbacks. It turns out I was wrong. The top 25 quarterbacks in terms of single-season rushing yards posted an average of 10.1 games with at least 6.0 percent of their total fantasy points. Meanwhile, the pocket passers averaged 10.8 games with at least 6.0 percent of their year-end fantasy points.
So why haven't the rushing quarterbacks - a list that includes Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers - been more consistent than the static quarterbacks? My hunch is that, despite some big names in the mobile quarterback category, the majority of the pocket passers are simply better than the running quarterbacks. In the latter category, for example, I examined four seasons from Peyton Manning alone. Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, and Brett Favre also fell into the non-rushing quarterback category on more than one occasion. On the other hand, some of the big rushing quarterbacks over the past five seasons include David Garrard, Josh Freeman, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel.
Thus, I think what we're seeing is there aren't all that many passers whose rushing prowess can make a fantasy impact. Actually, only Cam Newton and Michael Vick (twice) have thrown for 3,000 yards and rushed for over 400 yards in the past five seasons. Only one other quarterback - Tim Tebow - has rushed for more than 400 yards, regardless of passing yardage. Of the three combined 3,000/400 seasons from Newton and Vick, the average number of quality starts was 11.7.
Ultimately, I think rushing quarterbacks really do possess more weekly consistency than other passers. The problem is there aren't many true dual-threat quarterbacks out there. Sorry, but comparing a mobile quarterback like Jason Campbell or Ryan Fitzpatrick to Cam Newton is ridiculous.
As the nature of the college game changes and more RGIII-esque quarterbacks enter the league, I think you'll see a real change in how quarterbacks are viewed in fantasy circles. Why bank on Tom Brady beating defenses through the air when you can bet on Newton scoring points both his arm and legs? Newton, RGIII and future NFL quarterbacks can throw for only 150 yards and still post spectacular fantasy numbers. While the risk of injury is always slightly greater with rushing quarterbacks, the season-to-season and even week-to-week consistency is probably great enough make up for that risk.
Jonathan Bales is the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft. He also runs the "Running the Numbers" blog at DallasCowboys.com and writes for the New York Times.