Two-QB Leagues: Discussion and Strategy

Two-QB Leagues: Discussion and Strategy

Two-Quarterback Leagues

If you've played fantasy football in its more standard format over the years, you've no doubt learned to wait on the quarterback position. It's not that the top quarterbacks don't score a lot of points - in fact they actually score the most points - but rather that mediocre QBs score a lot of points too.

Here's a chart from last year of the top-60 point scorers in a relatively standard non-PPR league:

RkPlayer NameGPtsPts/GRkPlayer NameGPtsPts/G
1Russell Wilson16411.825.731Mark Ingram1622614.1
2Cam Newton16364.522.832DeAndre Hopkins15215.814.4
3Tom Brady16359.722.533Antonio Brown14207.314.8
4Kirk Cousins16354.622.234LeSean McCoy16206.612.9
5Matthew Stafford16348.121.835Deshaun Watson7199.928.6
6Alex Smith15347.623.236Leonard Fournette13194.214.9
7Philip Rivers16337.621.137Trevor Siemian1118116.5
8Ben Roethlisberger15329.32238Ezekiel Elliott10179.217.9
9Carson Wentz13326.725.139Jordan Howard16178.711.2
10Dak Prescott16325.920.440Carlos Hyde16176.811.1
11Todd Gurley15323.321.641Keenan Allen16176.211
12Drew Brees16321.920.142Mitchell Trubisky12174.514.5
13Jared Goff15313.320.943Brett Hundley11167.815.3
14Blake Bortles16312.619.544Devonta Freeman14166.211.9
15Matt Ryan16299.118.745Tyreek Hill15166.211.1
16Case Keenum15287.419.246Dion Lewis1616510.3
17Andy Dalton16275.917.247Marvin Jones16164.110.3
18Marcus Mariota15274.818.348Julio Jones16163.910.2
19Jameis Winston13270.720.849Aaron Rodgers7160.422.9
20Derek Carr15269.41850Lamar Miller16157.59.8
21Tyrod Taylor15262.717.551Rob Gronkowski14156.411.2
22Josh McCown13260.720.152A.J. Green16155.89.7
23Le'Veon Bell15260.617.453Michael Thomas16154.59.7
24DeShone Kizer15260.617.454Brandin Cooks16154.29.6
25Eli Manning1525817.255Adam Thielen16152.79.5
26Jacoby Brissett16256.916.156Larry Fitzgerald16152.79.5
27Kareem Hunt16244.215.357Travis Kelce15152.510.2
28Joe Flacco16240.51558Jarvis Landry161529.5
29Alvin Kamara16233.414.659Alex Collins1515210.1
30Melvin Gordon16230.114.460Christian McCaffrey16150.69.4

As you can see, even bad quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Eli Manning crack the top-30. And Deshaun Watson cracked the top-35 - in 6.5 games. But this is a bug, not a feature in a traditional one-QB league. If every QB - just by virtue of showing up - scores so many points, then it's hard for the best QBs to stand out. Last year, Russell Wilson was a difference maker (as was Carson Wentz when healthy), but the per-game difference between Jameis Winston (No. 19 overall, 12th in PPG) and Cam Newton (2nd and 4th, respectively) amounted to only two points. Put differently, in your standard 12-team league, whether you had the fourth or 12th-best QB wasn't a huge deal, and because many starting QBs were on the waiver wire, you probably could stream your way into better than 12th, no matter how long you waited on the position.

Another way of putting this is that while quarterbacks score far and away the most points in most fantasy formats, star quarterbacks do not outscore their more mediocre counterparts by as wide a margin as star running backs or receivers outscore theirs. We could also say that a top quarterback's value over replacement (VORP) is not as high as a star running back's or receiver's.

(For more on VORP and Value-Based-Drafting and also how it's flawed, click here.)

There are two reasons it's tough for top QBs to stand out: (1) The very nature of the position means the QB is necessarily involved in every pass play, i.e, the difference in opportunity between Aaron Rodgers and Manning is negligible, and (2) in standard fantasy leagues, most of which have no more than 12 teams, you only need to start one quarterback, whereas you need 2-4 starting running backs and receivers.

The first point is obvious - every NFL team will throw more than 450 passes, and no team is likely to throw more than 700 or so. And usually a QB on the low end of the scale supplements his low pass attempts with more rushing attempts. So the difference in opportunity among quarterbacks isn't that large. Contrast that with running backs (300 carries for the top, fewer than 100 for the change-of-pace option) and wide receivers (150-plus targets at the top, fewer than 80 for replacement-level bench players), and you can see that QB production is naturally going to have a narrower distribution.

The second point is also easy to understand - in a 12-team league, everyone should have a top-15 QB, and owners at the bottom of that range will stream always available QBs in favorable matchups. That means, no matter how good QBs at the top of the board are, they're still graded on a very steep curve, i.e., the extent to which they exceed the baseline, freely available, late-round and streamable QBs on the wire.

While fantasy football can't fix the first problem - the only way QBs aren't involved in every pass play is if teams went with college-football-style in-game QB timeshares - it has fixed the second, either by adding a QB-flex, i.e., a flex spot in which you can start a second quarterback, or simply requiring owners to field lineups with two starting QBs.

While these seem like different solutions, in reality they're similar as owners should always aim to have a QB in the flex spot rather than a position player. The table at the top of this article makes it clear why - Dak Prescott outscored Todd Gurley, and Manning outscored Melvin Gordon and Alvin Kamara. The addition of the extra QB in your lineup also ensures that every QB with a pulse is rostered in a 12-team league - after all, there are 24 QB starters every week, and you'll want even the Flaccos and Sam Bradfords in the event one of your top two gets hurt or has a bye week. As such, the replacement value for QB plummets in such a format, and streaming off the wire is impossible. Instead of comparing your top QB to the No. 12 one or better, you're comparing him to whatever mediocre receiver someone had to use in his QB flex or the zero someone had to take in the 2-QB format. As replacement value tends toward zero, the players who score the most points are the most valuable players, period. And as the table above shows, that's clearly the QBs.

Why then in 2-QB leagues do some people still draft Todd Gurley ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson? Why isn't the first-round almost exclusively QBs? I think the answer to that has more to do with the market than their true value, but I'll offer a few other arguments:

First, many leagues are half-point or full-point PPR which boosts the value of WR and RB relative to QB. Here are the top-60 players in full PPR:

1Russell Wilson411.81625.731Larry Fitzgerald261.41616.3
2Todd Gurley383.31525.632Josh McCown260.71320.1
3Cam Newton364.51622.833DeShone Kizer260.61517.4
4Tom Brady359.71622.534Jarvis Landry2601616.3
5Kirk Cousins354.61622.235Michael Thomas258.51616.2
6Matthew Stafford348.11621.836Eli Manning2581517.2
7Alex Smith347.61523.237Jacoby Brissett256.91616.1
8Le'Veon Bell341.61522.838Julio Jones251.91615.7
9Philip Rivers337.61621.139Joe Flacco240.51615
10Ben Roethlisberger329.3152240Adam Thielen239.81615
11Carson Wentz326.71325.141Tyreek Hill239.21515.9
12Dak Prescott325.91620.442Carlos Hyde2341614.6
13Drew Brees321.91620.143Travis Kelce233.51515.6
14Alvin Kamara315.41619.744Leonard Fournette230.21317.7
15Jared Goff313.31520.945Christian McCaffrey228.61614.3
16Blake Bortles312.61619.546Rob Gronkowski227.31317.5
17Antonio Brown310.31422.247A.J. Green226.81614.2
18DeAndre Hopkins309.81520.748Doug Baldwin225.31614.1
19Matt Ryan299.11618.749Marvin Jones225.11614.1
20Kareem Hunt295.21618.550Golden Tate224.51614
21Melvin Gordon288.1161851Davante Adams222.51415.9
22Case Keenum287.41519.252Brandin Cooks221.21613.8
23Keenan Allen284.21617.853Duke Johnson216.11613.5
24Mark Ingram2781617.454Demaryius Thomas205.91612.9
25Andy Dalton275.91617.255Ezekiel Elliott203.21020.3
26Marcus Mariota274.81518.356Mike Evans203.11513.5
27Jameis Winston270.71320.857Zach Ertz202.41414.5
28Derek Carr269.4151858Devonta Freeman200.21414.3
29LeSean McCoy263.61616.559Robby Anderson2001612.5
30Tyrod Taylor262.71517.560Jordan Howard199.51612.5

Under this format, two RBs, Gurley and Le'Veon Bell creep into the top 10, so there's a better case for elite RB and even WR, but 13 of the top-16 players are still QBs. And in half PPR, only Gurley cracks the top-15.

I think the best argument for taking an RB early in a 2-QB or QB-flex format is that the drop-off among RBs and WRs is steeper than for QBs, so as long as you get decent QBs in Rounds 2 and 3, it makes more sense to pair them with an elite RB. It's a question of Gurley, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers vs. Rodgers, Rivers and say Kenyan Drake. Because even the lesser QBs not only score so many points, but are virtually guaranteed to do so if healthy, people opt for the rock-solid RB rather than the upside RB who could easily lose his job.

That all makes sense, but that's assuming there will be steady, guaranteed QBs to take in Round 3. Should everyone draft QBs for two straight rounds with maybe Bell, Gurley and Antonio Brown going in full PPR, you're definitely not getting Ryan or Rivers in Round 3. You'd be lucky to land Manning, and you might have to settle for Flacco.

But in a 12-team league, this is rarely the case. The backs and a couple receivers do go in the first round, and there's almost always a rock solid QB there for you in Round 3. Regardless of whether this is the optimal strategy - I would argue as replacement goes to zero, it's not - it's what the market seems to offer, and we have to draft accordingly.

Even in QB-flex or 2-QB auctions, the market for low-end QBs is usually soft relative to their raw production. Accordingly, you're not wrong to pay big bucks for a top RB, and pick up two - or even three - QBs on the relative cheap.

Why the market continues - even as replacement value on QBs goes to zero - to underprice QBs isn't especially important. So long as the market is behaving that way, you must adjust and value top backs and receivers accordingly. If I were to speculate, I'd say that when 2-QB leagues became more prevalent, most people who joined were familiar with the "fade-the-QB" one-QB league strategy, and so that bias got built in. And once it did, it made sense to adjust to the market even if the raw value of QBs should have been higher.

Bottom line - in two-QB or QB-flex leagues, you should value the top QBs as first-round picks, but in full PPR you still might make out better with a top RB or Antonio Brown, if you can get two rock-solid options in Rounds 2 and 3. And it's almost always worth stashing an underpriced third QB, a Ryan Tannehill or even Lamar Jackson type.

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Chris Liss
Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.
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