Author of The Late Round Quarterback (2012), JJ Zachariason is doing a Rotoworld offseason series on quarterback value in fantasy football. A link to Zachariason's book can be found here. JJ is also on Twitter.
Find the first two parts of JJ's Quarterback Draft Analysis Series here (Part I: QBs & Fantasy Value) and here (Part II: QBs & Depth).
I had an Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card growing up. You may remember it: The card displayed Junior’s mug smiling innocently, holding a bat like it was part of his body. I think I stole the card from my brother, but I still considered it my own. Anytime I got together with my neighborhood buddies to “trade”, they always asked what it would take to get my Griffey. I told them the only thing I’d accept for it was a Nintendo with the Track & Field pad.
At one point, the Griffey was the focus of conversation among seven-year-olds in my neighborhood. Everyone was talking about it, and everyone wanted it. That is, until Matthew moved across the street from me.
My friends and I were all trading one day, and we decided to invite this “Matthew” character to join. Aside from having another dude my age in the neighborhood to play street hockey with, I was excited to show off my awesome card collection to someone new. We were in my basement displaying our cards like it was some sort of professional event, and I reached into my box and pulled out my beloved Griffey. The guys in my basement were impressed, as usual, except for the newbie.
Matthew acted like the Griffey rookie card was just another potato chip under the couch cushion.
He arrogantly smiled as he pulled out the exact same card from his box. That moment – that smile – was when I learned about the basic concept of supply and demand.
Before Matthew moved to my neighborhood, I could have had anything for Griffey. After, I could barely squeeze out a ’93 Topps Walt Weiss from my friends. I understood the reason, though: My pals saw less value in something because the supply of that something had doubled.
This same type of logic is really identifiable in fantasy football. And for whatever reason, thousands of fantasy owners fail to realize it.
Without boring you with a regurgitation of my college economics classes, let’s look at supply and demand at a very basic level. We’ll define supply as “how many of something is available”, and demand as “how much people want that something.”
In most markets, when the supply of a widget is greater than the demand of a widget, participants will pay lower costs to obtain that widget. If there’s an apple stand that has nine apples, but only six people want one apple, then those six people aren’t going to pay much to get an apple. There are apples for everyone! But if 17 people want an apple when there are only nine apples available, you’ll find that they’re willing to pay a higher price.
In fantasy football, there’s a way to determine supply and demand of particular positions in a standard lineup. And when you’re able to do this, you’re capable of seeing which positions are inherently more valuable in our beloved fantasy game.
Demand is more obvious, as we can look at a lineup and determine the exact number of players a team needs to fulfill its requirements. In most leagues, a squad must have one quarterback, at least two running backs, and at least two receivers. So in a 12-team league, we’d expect the demand for quarterbacks to be 12, and the demand for running backs and receivers to be 24 each. Of course, anytime there’s a flex spot in a lineup, the demand for the positions involved in said flex increases.
Things become a little more subjective when the supply of particular positions is analyzed. As defined previously, supply is “how many of something is available.” There are plenty of running backs and receivers accessible because so many of them get opportunities in a game, but how do we determine the pool of players that are actually worthy enough to start in fantasy football? Even though Mewelde Moore is a running back, for instance, should he really be in our running back consideration set?
This notion is extremely important when trying to understand the supply of a specific fantasy position. If you look at any 2012 box score, you’d often find three or four different runners touching the rock, and potentially eight or nine receivers catching passes. Unless injury or poor performance occurs, you only see one quarterback on each team throwing the ball. It may appear that there’s an excess of backs and receivers, but really, quantity doesn’t equate to quality in this case.
Think of it this way: are you going to trust Chaz Schilens as a starting receiver before a fantasy week begins? In Week 11, Schilens caught four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. He finished as a top-24 receiver that week, making Schilens a reasonable option in 12-team leagues. But considering Schilens totaled just 16 receptions all season prior to that game, he clearly wasn’t a true option for fantasy owners entering the week.
The supply of usable running backs and receivers is limited by reliability and predictability. While you can find worthwhile ones on a week-by-week basis through the waiver wire, the chance that you catch lightning in a bottle is very slim. And the likelihood that you actually have the idiotic courage to start a player like Jorvorskie Lane is just as small.
If you look at 2012 (excluding fantasy-worthless Week 17), 93 running backs finished in the weekly top-24 at least once. Seems like a lot, right? Well, the majority of those running backs only accomplished this feat once or twice, making them not very usable or predictable. Just 35 backs cracked the top-24 four or more times. Digging deeper, only 17 of them entered the top-12 that many times.
We also saw 98 receivers rank within the weekly top-24 last year. Again, many of those players didn’t do it very often. There were 46 receivers who did it four or more times, and only 22 wideouts snuck into the top-12 four or more times in 2012.
Without looking at point values (I’ll get to that with my next article in this series), it’s clear that, even though the overall amount of backs and receivers is high, the quality of the majority of these players is low. When that happens, you begin to see a dip in supply.
And let’s face the facts: It’s easier to trust quarterbacks because you know they’re going to touch the ball in every game. To put this another way, the quarterback floor in fantasy football is much higher than any other position. Sure, players like John Skelton and Mark Sanchez will throw up goose eggs every once in a while, but plenty of quarterbacks will also do the opposite.
Looking at a similar analysis as I did above, there were 38 different quarterbacks who finished in the weekly top-12 in 2012, and 26 of them did it four or more times. That’s more than double the number of quarterbacks needed (remember the definition of demand?) in a 12-team league.
When you break down quarterback top-6 finishes, you’d find 12 different quarterbacks in 2012 achieving this four or more times.
Wait a second – isn’t that one quarterback for each team in a 12-team league?
These numbers are at least a little eye opening, but we should understand that it’s difficult to find an exact number that defines the supply for each fantasy position. It’s a subjective thing. Where do we draw the line and say, “this player is usable” or “this player should never be started”? I could have a much different definition than you do.
So instead of me feeding you statistics, let’s think about this a different way. There are 32 teams in the NFL. Some teams, like the Saints, enjoy running a committee system, giving more than one running back a fantasy football chance. Of course, we have to remember that only a few of these committee backs are truly useful on a week-to-week basis.
A running back-by-committee approach doesn’t mean more running backs enter the supply side of this argument. What it actually does is diminish the opportunity for a true every-down running back. Instead of there being a clear 32-player pool, we’re now faced with a massive drop from the 200-plus attempt runners to the rest of the field.
The same goes for wide receivers. Even though we’re seeing more passing in today’s NFL, we’re also seeing fewer chances for elite receiving performances. The ball is being spread around. More receivers on the field at once simply dilutes the clear, top-notch receivers we all strive to obtain in fantasy football.
Quarterbacks don’t share the field with anyone. They have all the opportunity in the world in each game they start. Remember when Fred Jackson was stealing carries from C.J. Spiller, and we kept seeing the #FreeSpiller hashtag on Twitter? Well, there’s no such thing as #FreeSpiller for quarterbacks.
All quarterbacks are free.
You need two or three running backs to fulfill a lineup need, and you need two or three receivers to do the same. You need just one quarterback. In order to have the same supply and demand rate as the quarterback position, you would need 50-60 readily available, startable running backs or receivers in fantasy football.
Are you going to pay a high price for a position in low demand? When you know there are readily available signal callers in fantasy, is it worth reaching for one in a fantasy draft? Is selecting a quarterback early all that worthwhile when you have to have multiple, reliable players at other positions?
I need to know: Would you still give me the world for my Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card after seeing the same card in Matthew’s collection?