Here’s a dirty little secret harbored by all NERDS: we’re not perfect. Contrary to popular belief, we are not born with mathematical formulae and computer algorithms spilling out of our mouths. It takes a lot of work to divine answers that elude other “experts”.
So it’s without any shame I can say that finding a leading indicator of fantasy QB busts has been elusive. I’ve been able to find telltale signs of impending busts at the wide receiver, tight end— and most famously—running back positions. But the most important position in football, the quarterback? Nada… until now.
I studied data going back to 2014 (to allow for five paired seasons) to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. First, I looked at all qualifying quarterbacks; then I tracked players whose fantasy (PPR) performance declined the following season (there were 87 such QBs). From that pool, I then ran various analyses to try and identify common statistical traits.
My first hunch led me to look at “wear and tear” (the combination of pass attempts and rushing attempts); I figured that QBs might be analogous to RBs in that respect. No strong correlation, inverted or otherwise, between wear and tear and fantasy performance the following season.
I then tried looking at times sacked and sacks per dropback; still no dice. Similar results were achieved with every major passing statistic. I was starting to get frustrated… until the “aha moment” struck.
I was convinced that wear and tear played a role; it just had to! So I decided to retain that metric as a main differentiator, and looked for a complimentary statistic. Sacks didn’t work—what else could I use? Let’s see… over the years, what type of QB tends to get smacked around a lot? Certainly, the Cam Newton type (always looking to run, making plays outside the pocket), but that should be accounted for by the wear and tear metric. The other type of QB who gets smacked around? The type who holds on to the ball too long. Mind you, I wasn’t thinking about release time—I was thinking specifically about QBs who need to hold on to the ball long enough for complicated/multiple/deep routes to be run. Think Matt Ryan or Ben Roethlisberger. Could yards per pass attempt be a useful metric to pair with wear and tear?
As it turns out, the combination of the two metrics proved to be an excellent leading indicator of QB fantasy letdown:
WOW! Turns out that every time since 2014 that a QB hit a wear & tear of 600+ combined with a yards per pass attempt of 8.0+, his fantasy performance the following season dropped. Not only did it drop, it dropped by an average of 33.69%!
That’s good, but only eight quarterbacks since 2014 were identified by this method; was there some adjustments that could be made to identify more QBs who underperformed the following season? Yup!
By keeping the wear and tear metric set at 600+ and lowering the yards per pass attempt threshold to 7.5+, this screen would have identified 20 potential QB disappointments, 16 of which actually underperformed the following season. That’s still pretty darn good!
Here’s the summary:
Shut up and get to 2021, Nerd!
Now that I think I’ve come up with a leading indicator for QB underperformance, time to roll out which players to avoid in 2021:
Five quarterbacks—Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen—can be expected to perform significantly below their 2020 levels. Watson’s decline is a virtual certainty given that he’s unlikely to play in 2021 due to his legal issues. And while Brady, Wilson and Allen are a good bet to decline, it’s Mahomes who will be trying to buck a historical certainty given last season’s 8.1 YPA combined with the 651 W&T.