News & Analysis

The 2018 leaders in fantasy points per dropback

Nov 18, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) rushes during the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

I rarely ever have to leave the PFF website for my fantasy football research . Between what’s available in our fantasy stats (available to Edge and Elite subscribers) and our premium stats (available to Elite subscribers), there really isn’t much else I’m ever scrambling to find.

Still, many are unaware of the potential of — or even existence of — some of these stats. One personal favorite, for quarterbacks, is fantasy points per dropback.

You can find this data yourself in our fantasy stats page, but in case you’re not a subscriber, here’s a peek at last season’s top-10 list by this metric.

Fantasy points per dropback isn’t as sticky or predictive as raw fantasy points per game, but that’s to be expected considering fantasy points per game is essentially the product of fantasy points per dropback and dropbacks per game. Despite being less predictive, I do think these statistics provide additional utility from a descriptive perspective, and they will play a role in my rankings and projections.

After spending some time going over this data, here are some of my most notable findings and key takeaways for fantasy:

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

Over the past 10 seasons there have been 363 instances of a quarterback recording at least 200 dropbacks in a season. Of these 363 seasons, Jackson’s 2018 season ranks best in fantasy points per dropback (0.83). He eclipsed the previous record of 0.73, held in a four-way tie between Deshaun Watson (2017), Cam Newton (2015), Robert Griffin III (2012), and Colin Kaepernick (2012).

Jackson also broke the record for rushing fantasy points per dropback with 0.49, which was 50% more than the next-closest season. Although, Jackson’s efficiency was off the charts, volume was a major concern — he ranked last among all quarterbacks in dropbacks per start (27.0). Even so, thanks to rushing upside, a new offensive coordinator with a long history of lifting mobile quarterbacks for fantasy, and some exciting new offensive weapons, Jackson has league-winning upside and might just be my favorite target at the position.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

Right behind (or, rather, a whopping 20.5% behind) Jackson was Mahomes. Although he was a sizeable margin behind Jackson last year, this was still a historically great season, ranking ninth-best this past decade in fantasy points per dropback and third-best in passing fantasy points per dropback. Mahomes also saw good volume (thanks to aggressive play-calling and a sieve-like defense), ranking 10th-best in dropbacks per game (39.9), helping him record the most fantasy points of any quarterback in any season all-time. Regardless of the length of Tyreek Hill’s suspension, Mahomes should be the first quarterback off the board in all leagues.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Miami Dolphins

Shockingly, Fitzpatrick ranked third in fantasy points per dropback (0.62). Typically, we’d highlight him as a glaring regression candidate, getting benched multiple times last year while also posting a fantasy points per dropback 35.7% better than his prior career average. However, he’s basically free in all drafts, and did grade out ninth-best (of 37 qualifiers) last year, while his competition (Josh Rosen) graded second-worst. If named the starter, which seems likely, he’s at least viable in 2QB and superflex leagues.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

Wilson might just be the poster boy for this stat. In seven seasons in the NFL, Wilson has ranked top-four in fantasy points per dropback six times. He also holds four of our top-20 seasons this past decade and ranks best in fantasy points per dropback since entering the league. While Wilson might be the most fantasy-efficient quarterback in the NFL, he’s at a detriment in terms of volume. Wilson ranked just 32nd in dropbacks per game last season (31.8), which played a major role in his finish of just 13th in fantasy points per game (second-worst finish of his career).

Unfortunately, all offseason Seattle has doubled-down and refused to apologize for being a slow-paced run-first offense, so it seems Wilson should again suffer in this department in 2019. Even so, Wilson has always struggled in this department and always ranked highly in fantasy points per game in spite of it. Since entering the league, and of 26 qualifying quarterbacks, Wilson ranks 23rd in dropbacks per game (34.8) but sixth in fantasy points per game (19.7). Aaron Rodgers leads all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game over this span, but if Wilson saw the same volume (in terms of dropbacks per game), Wilson would instead lead all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game (22.7) by 1.4 and improve on his own average by 3.0 fantasy points per game. Contrasting historical efficiency with likely volume, Wilson sits at QB10 in my own rankings.

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills

Over the final six weeks of last season, Allen ranked first in fantasy points per game (24.2). He ranked sixth in fantasy points per dropback (0.56), despite also ranking third-worst (of 30 qualifying quarterbacks) in PFF passing grade. This should help highlight the importance of rushing upside for a fantasy quarterback, which is something I explained in more detail elsewhere. In total, 53% of Allen’s fantasy production came on the ground, which was the second-most of any quarterback (behind Jackson) since 2000. Although our numbers suggest he should see a decline in rushing production this year, he still has enough rushing upside to offset his passing game concerns and consider him in fantasy drafts as one of the few late-round quarterbacks with legitimate league-winning potential.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

Over the past two seasons, Watson leads all quarterbacks (min. 17 games) in fantasy points per dropback (0.60). Last season he ranked fifth in fantasy points per game (21.7), seventh in fantasy points per dropback (0.55), and 12th in dropbacks per game (39.3). If his wide receivers can stay healthy (Will Fuller and Keke Coutee combined to miss 19 games last year) his odds are as good as anyone to unseat Mahomes as the overall highest-scoring quarterback in 2019.

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Like Wilson, Prescott has been hyper-efficient and impressively productive in spite of poor volume. Over the last three seasons, Prescott ranks sixth (of 32 qualifying quarterbacks) in fantasy points per dropback (0.52), 11th in fantasy points per game (18.3), and 25th in dropbacks per game (35.0). If Dallas had just been average in dropbacks per game over this span, Prescott would rank seventh in fantasy points per game (19.7). As I argued elsewhere, Prescott is one of the best quarterback values in current drafts and now has legitimate top-end upside with Kellen Moore calling plays for the team.

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

Brees also joins the Prescott/Wilson archetype of being hyper-efficient but suffering from poor volume. Over the past two seasons, Brees has just been moderately productive in fantasy points per game (18.7), ranking 11th of 24 qualifiers. Over this span, he ranks fourth-best in fantasy points per dropback (0.54) but third-worst in dropbacks per game (34.6). Unfortunately, like Wilson, there’s little reason to suspect volume improves much this year.

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears

Trubisky seems likely to take a step forward next season. Last year, he ranked eighth in fantasy points per dropback (0.55) but 26th in dropbacks per game (35.5). He ranked 12th in fantasy points per game (19.5) but would have ranked seventh-best in the Bears were perfectly average in dropbacks per game. The Bears ranked fourth-best in point differential (+138), and, so long as that number declines, as Vegas strongly suggests it will, Trubisky seems due for a significant positive regression.

Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

Rivers is another likely positive regression candidate. Last season he ranked 11th in fantasy points per dropback (0.53) but 29th in dropbacks per game (34.0). Across his previous four seasons, he ranked ninth of 37 qualifying quarterbacks in dropbacks per game (39.9). If he kept up that pace last year, he would have finished seventh in fantasy points per game.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Roethlisberger stands out as a quarterback likely to take a step back in fantasy production. Over the past two seasons, Roethlisberger ranks first in dropbacks per game (42.1), but has ranked 14th (2018), 16th, 11th, and 19th in fantasy points per dropback over the past four seasons. On top of this, Roethlisberger graded only 16th-best last season, and now has to contend with the loss of Antonio Brown.

Note: Eli Manning and Joe Flacco have also been similarly far-too-reliant on volume for fantasy production (while lacking in efficiency), but I’m sure you didn’t need me to tell you that.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Rodgers, at his lofty ADP (QB3), is also worth mentioning as a quarterback to be cautious of. He’s ranked top-eight in fantasy points per dropback in eight of his previous nine seasons but ranked just 22nd last year (0.46) – the worst finish of his career. He finished 10th in fantasy points per game (19.7), held afloat by his 42.6 dropback per game average (third-best). While it’s hard to bet against Rodgers, his recent numbers in another stat I find especially meaningful were also particularly alarming.

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