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Two-QB Leagues: Discussion and Strategy

Chris Liss

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

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:

Rk Player Name G Pts Pts/G Rk Player Name G Pts Pts/G
1 RussellWilson 16 411.8 25.7 31 MarkIngram 16 226 14.1
2 CamNewton 16 364.5 22.8 32 DeAndreHopkins 15 215.8 14.4
3 TomBrady 16 359.7 22.5 33 AntonioBrown 14 207.3 14.8
4 KirkCousins 16 354.6 22.2 34 LeSeanMcCoy 16 206.6 12.9
5 MatthewStafford 16 348.1 21.8 35 DeshaunWatson 7 199.9 28.6
6 AlexSmith 15 347.6 23.2 36 LeonardFournette 13 194.2 14.9
7 PhilipRivers 16 337.6 21.1 37 TrevorSiemian 11 181 16.5
8 BenRoethlisberger 15 329.3 22 38 EzekielElliott 10 179.2 17.9
9 CarsonWentz 13 326.7 25.1 39 JordanHoward 16 178.7 11.2
10 DakPrescott 16 325.9 20.4 40 CarlosHyde 16 176.8 11.1
11 ToddGurley 15 323.3 21.6 41 KeenanAllen 16 176.2 11
12 DrewBrees 16 321.9 20.1 42 MitchellTrubisky 12 174.5 14.5
13 JaredGoff 15 313.3 20.9 43 BrettHundley 11 167.8 15.3
14 BlakeBortles 16 312.6 19.5 44 DevontaFreeman 14 166.2 11.9
15 MattRyan 16 299.1 18.7 45 TyreekHill 15 166.2 11.1
16 CaseKeenum 15 287.4 19.2 46 DionLewis 16 165 10.3
17 AndyDalton 16 275.9 17.2 47 MarvinJones 16 164.1 10.3
18 MarcusMariota 15 274.8 18.3 48 JulioJones 16 163.9 10.2
19 JameisWinston 13 270.7 20.8 49 AaronRodgers 7 160.4 22.9
20 DerekCarr 15 269.4 18 50 LamarMiller 16 157.5 9.8
21 TyrodTaylor 15 262.7 17.5 51 RobGronkowski 14 156.4 11.2
22 JoshMcCown 13 260.7 20.1 52 A.J.Green 16 155.8 9.7
23 Le'VeonBell 15 260.6 17.4 53 MichaelThomas 16 154.5 9.7
24 DeShoneKizer 15 260.6 17.4 54 BrandinCooks 16 154.2 9.6
25 EliManning 15 258 17.2 55 AdamThielen 16 152.7 9.5
26 JacobyBrissett 16 256.9 16.1 56 LarryFitzgerald 16 152.7 9.5
27 KareemHunt 16 244.2 15.3 57 TravisKelce 15 152.5 10.2
28 JoeFlacco 16 240.5 15 58 JarvisLandry 16 152 9.5
29 AlvinKamara 16 233.4 14.6 59 AlexCollins 15 152 10.1
30 MelvinGordon 16 230.1 14.4 60 ChristianMcCaffrey 16 150.6 9.4

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:

Rank Player Points G PPG Rank Player Points G PPG
1 RussellWilson 411.8 16 25.7 31 Larry Fitzgerald 261.4 16 16.3
2 Todd Gurley 383.3 15 25.6 32 JoshMcCown 260.7 13 20.1
3 CamNewton 364.5 16 22.8 33 DeShoneKizer 260.6 15 17.4
4 TomBrady 359.7 16 22.5 34 Jarvis Landry 260 16 16.3
5 KirkCousins 354.6 16 22.2 35 Michael Thomas 258.5 16 16.2
6 MatthewStafford 348.1 16 21.8 36 EliManning 258 15 17.2
7 AlexSmith 347.6 15 23.2 37 JacobyBrissett 256.9 16 16.1
8 Le'Veon Bell 341.6 15 22.8 38 Julio Jones 251.9 16 15.7
9 PhilipRivers 337.6 16 21.1 39 JoeFlacco 240.5 16 15
10 BenRoethlisberger 329.3 15 22 40 Adam Thielen 239.8 16 15
11 CarsonWentz 326.7 13 25.1 41 Tyreek Hill 239.2 15 15.9
12 DakPrescott 325.9 16 20.4 42 Carlos Hyde 234 16 14.6
13 DrewBrees 321.9 16 20.1 43 Travis Kelce 233.5 15 15.6
14 Alvin Kamara 315.4 16 19.7 44 Leonard Fournette 230.2 13 17.7
15 JaredGoff 313.3 15 20.9 45 Christian McCaffrey 228.6 16 14.3
16 BlakeBortles 312.6 16 19.5 46 Rob Gronkowski 227.3 13 17.5
17 Antonio Brown 310.3 14 22.2 47 A.J. Green 226.8 16 14.2
18 DeAndre Hopkins 309.8 15 20.7 48 Doug Baldwin 225.3 16 14.1
19 MattRyan 299.1 16 18.7 49 Marvin Jones 225.1 16 14.1
20 Kareem Hunt 295.2 16 18.5 50 Golden Tate 224.5 16 14
21 Melvin Gordon 288.1 16 18 51 Davante Adams 222.5 14 15.9
22 CaseKeenum 287.4 15 19.2 52 Brandin Cooks 221.2 16 13.8
23 Keenan Allen 284.2 16 17.8 53 Duke Johnson 216.1 16 13.5
24 Mark Ingram 278 16 17.4 54 Demaryius Thomas 205.9 16 12.9
25 AndyDalton 275.9 16 17.2 55 Ezekiel Elliott 203.2 10 20.3
26 MarcusMariota 274.8 15 18.3 56 Mike Evans 203.1 15 13.5
27 JameisWinston 270.7 13 20.8 57 Zach Ertz 202.4 14 14.5
28 DerekCarr 269.4 15 18 58 Devonta Freeman 200.2 14 14.3
29 LeSean McCoy 263.6 16 16.5 59 Robby Anderson 200 16 12.5
30 TyrodTaylor 262.7 15 17.5 60 Jordan Howard 199.5 16 12.5

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.