We hear it all the time in NFL DFS: “target quarterbacks that Vegas projects to be trailing in games”.
Because these quarterbacks will be likely forced to drop back and pass more often.
But did you ever stop to wonder why they’re playing from behind and forced to pass more? Poor play to start the game is what leads to garbage time. Whether the team is lacking offensively, defensively, or both to some degree, the oddsmakers in Vegas that set the spreads believe one team has a distinct advantage over another.
The truth may not be as black and white as we tend to make it out to be.
When we’re selecting our quarterbacks in our DFS lineups, we’re often looking for a combination of good play volume, quality matchup, and affordability. Ownership and other things also play a part, but our primary focus is finding quarterbacks that are capable of putting up points.
We want quarterbacks that put up points on the fantasy score board and the literal score board. Touchdown scoring can provide big fantasy swings for us, so it’s important to target offenses (quarterbacks) that are effective at moving the ball and finishing drives.
Over the past five seasons, we’ve seen the rate of drives ending in scores steadily increase.
|Year||% Scoring Drives||Pts/Drive|
The percent of drives finishing with points and the points per drive have been steadily trending up outside a 2017 blip on the radar. Not only are we seeing a higher percentage of drives end in points, but we’re also seeing more points per drive with teams becoming more efficient in the red zone and scoring touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.
Scoring is trending upwards over the past five years. Surely, Vegas knows this better than anyone. 65.8% of all drives have ended in passing touchdowns over the last decade. The higher rate of passing touchdowns and drives that end in scores, the more likely Vegas points the arrow in that team’s favor. Can we take this information — that scoring is definitively on the rise — and apply it to one of the most referenced points of DFS data, Vegas spreads?
Vegas Spreads vs Quarterback Performance
Over the years, I’m sure you’ve heard the importance of Vegas when it comes to DFS. With scoring on the rise, should we still be targeting quarterbacks that Vegas projects to be trailing in games?
Let’s take a look at FanDuel scoring over the past five years. We’ll use FD instead of DraftKings, so we can avoid the fantasy point bonuses that DK has for 300-yard passers and 100-yard rushers.
Over the past five seasons, we have had 2,066 instances of a quarterback playing in a game with a closing spread falling between -7 to 7. Here’s how quarterbacks fared at each half-point shift in spread:
Quarterbacks that have been projected to be losing (in the positive, right side of the graph), have generally fared worse than favored quarterbacks (negative, left side of the graph).
This goes against the widespread belief that quarterbacks playing as Vegas underdogs should be targets for us in DFS.
Yes, we want our quarterbacks throwing in the fourth quarter. But we don’t need them to.
Quarterbacks that effectively throw well the first three quarters and put their teams comfortably in the lead can cruise to the finish line. They don’t need to throw in the fourth quarter because they’ve successfully done so already, likely piling up fantasy points in the process.
Quarterbacks that are trailing are often in situations where the opposing defense is anticipating a pass. You know the drill. 4th quarter, down 10 points, with less than five minutes to go. That offense is throwing the ball nine times out of ten.
That allows defensive ends to rush the quarterback without worry of a surprise run play. It also allows defensive backs to be more aggressive defending their receivers in tighter coverage. Pressuring the opposing quarterback is the key to winning the game defensively. You can force mistakes, hurried decisions, and hopefully, turnovers. That ultimately leads to fewer fantasy points.
Instead of focusing on quarterbacks that are trailing in games, we should be focusing on quarterbacks that in high-scoring games in general.
Over the past five seasons, quarterbacks that are in games that Vegas projects to have a game total of 50 or more points have fared astoundingly well. Quarterbacks in games where the total is projected for less than 50 points (38-49.5) over the past five years have averaged 15.9 FPPG. Quarterbacks with game totals closing between 50-58 points? They average 20.2 FPPG.
Putting up points on the scoreboard matters significantly when it comes to fantasy football. We want to target offenses that finish drives with touchdowns. Just look at last year’s touchdown-percentage-per-drive data.
Scroll back up for a second and look at the teams ranked toward the top. They’re all teams with strong offenses backed by capable quarterbacks. Here’s how the top-10 offenses in TD% on Drives had their lead quarterbacks pan out in terms of fantasy finish.
|Team||TD% on Drives||QB1||Fantasy Finish|
Quarterbacks that complete a high percentage of their drives for points, often fare quite well in the fantasy department. These types of quarterbacks, when playing in high-scoring games, should be our priority when building rosters.
Recent history says that more often than not, quarterbacks that are underdogs aren’t going to put up as many fantasy points as quarterbacks that are favorites. We should instead be targeting quarterbacks that are in high-scoring games with multiple touchdown potential. There’s a reason that high-scoring affairs generally draw the most ownership — they’ve historically had much more success producing fantasy-friendly assets.
Not all chalk is bad chalk.
Quarterbacks that are underdogs generally don’t fare as well as fantasy options. With five years of data and over 2,000 examples backing up this claim, you can take this knowledge and apply it to your lineup construction this upcoming DFS season.