Does an accurate deep ball lead to fantasy production? An analytical study
It's fantasy draft season; time to prepare to steal your friends' money and gloat for 8 months. When you consume a ton of content, you often forget to consider an important question: what made Player X good at fantasy football in 2019? Trend lines, regression (both positive and negative) and progression are important in determining who to draft. But have you ever considered what makes a fantasy quarterback good?
We already know that a quarterback's rushing floor makes him an asset in fantasy, right? Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, etc. are fantasy darlings for a reason. Here's a breakdown of the relation of 2019 fantasy points per game and rushing yards for qualifying quarterbacks:
R = 0.63
Can you guess who that guy is that exceeds even the trend line? I'll give you one guess.
So step one: identify a rushing floor. Easy enough. But what happens if you're debating between two guys that might not have that rushing floor as your QB2 in superflex leagues? Your strategy should be to get two guys that have top-12 potential. Have you ever considered what separates great fantasy producers from good ones?
I started debating this while looking at some advanced analytics (provided by Pro Football Reference) the other day. Air yards is a piece of data that gets thrown around a ton, but it's relevance to fantasy is modestly discussed. Does a quarterback with a high Completed Air Yards (CAY) necessarily mean that he is good for fantasy football?
In order to get my answer, I had to dive a little deeper. Total Fantasy Points wouldn't be indicative of a correlation, as that would segregate the durable quarterbacks from the ones who ran into some bad luck (or got their asses tossed on the bench). FPTS/G is a metric that is going to be referenced more often in the future, so I decided to hop on that train. Disclaimer: the only quarterbacks considered for this research exceeded 150 pass attempts (Drew Lock just barely made the cut). Below is the breakdown of FPTS/G vs. Completed Air Yards.
R = 0.51
As you can see, the trend line would indicate that the more Completed Air Yards a quarterback has, the more successful they are in fantasy football (with the exception of Lamar Jackson's crazy ass in the middle of the datagrid). I took this a step further and looked at the CAY as a percentage of Total Yards. This helps identify which quarterbacks relied less on their receivers' big-play ability and more on their arm.
R = 0.46
A little less positive correlation here, but the point remains the same. A quarterback who throws an accurate, frequent deep ball is more likely to return fantasy value. Frequency matters, too. If it didn't, Jimmy Garoppolo would top the list of fantasy-relevant deep throwers. He was the most accurate deep thrower in 2019, completing 61.3% of his 20+ yard throws, per PFF. He did so on just 31 attempts, however. Ironically, Jimmy G is the only QB in the top ten of PFF's best deep-ball quarterbacks that landed outside the top twelve in fantasy points per game.
Quarterback %CAY/Yds FPTS/G Rank
Matthew Stafford 64% 4
Ryan Fitzpatrick 64% 17
Jameis Winston 64% 5
Matt Ryan 63% 10
Dak Prescott 61% 3
Russell Wilson 58% 7
Josh Allen 57% 11
Lamar Jackson 57% 1
Deshaun Watson 56% 2
Carson Wentz 55% 13
Of the top ten %CAY/Yds quarterbacks, seven finished top-ten in FPTS/G and the only one outside of the top fifteen was Ryan Fitzpatrick. And on the flip side of things, the top five quarterbacks whose yards came from YAC can be seen below.
Quarterback YAC FPTS/G Rank
Jared Goff 2250 20
Philip Rivers 2185 22
Jimmy Garoppolo 2159 21
Derek Carr 2122 23
Aaron Rodgers 2009 14
I also broke CAY down per pass attempt. The r-value here was 0.62*, just a hundredth away from the r-value for rushing yards and FPTS/G.
*if you take one thing away from this article, this is it.
R = 0.62
So you might rightfully be wondering what the relevance of this is. The answer is simple (though it's a general rule of thumb): stay away from YAC-dependent quarterbacks. Quarterbacks that let it fly frequently and accurately are much more valuable in fantasy football than dink and dunk quarterbacks. So after you've drafted a quarterback with a rushing floor, don't waste your time on the Jimmy Garoppolos, Derek Carrs, or Philip Rivers's of the world. Target Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady (especially this year) or even Baker Mayfield as your QB2. You're likely to see a higher fantasy output. And you're more likely to take your friends' money.
Are there anomalies? Absolutely. I'm not saying to avoid Drew Brees because he doesn't necessarily air it out as much as Matthew Stafford. But considering this information as a general rule of thumb as you head into your drafts and combining it with the rest of your research will likely end in a lot of crooked numbers in the win column come the 2020 fantasy season.
Until next time!