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Jonathan Bales | Archive | Email | Twitter
Staff Writer

Quarterback Consistency

Jonathan Bales is the founder of and writes for the New York Times and Dallas Cowboys. He’s the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.

In my last article, I explained how to utilize consistency and volatility to your advantage on draft day, detailing why a quarterback should be a legitimate option for you in the first round. Today, I want to take a look at the exact consistency correlations I uncovered while writing my book Fantasy Football for Smart People.

Above, you can see the season-to-season consistency of touchdowns and overall fantasy points for each skill position. Note that quarterbacks are the second-most consistent players in fantasy football, just behind tight ends. On average, 60 percent of quarterback fantasy points carry over from year to year, with the other 40 percent regressing toward a league mean.

In addition to the 0.37 correlation strength of passing touchdowns between year Y and Y+1, let’s take a look at the correlations of other quarterback statistics. Below, you can see the consistency of passing yards from one year to the next.

At 0.50, the strength of the correlation is greater than that for touchdowns. With a larger sample size of plays (all passes versus passes with a legitimate threat of scoring), this makes intuitive sense.

For fantasy owners, this means you can be more confident in your passing yardage projections than your touchdown projections. It isn’t that touchdowns don’t matter; actually, they’re more influential than any other stat because the touchdown disparity between elite passers and average ones is so vast. Without strong predictive ability, however, the degree to which a stat should affect your rankings is minimal.

Think of it like this; imagine passing touchdowns were worth 100 points in your league so that whoever secured the league’s top touchdown-throwers was basically guaranteed a championship. Also imagine that the strength of correlation for year-to-year passing touchdowns was 0.0, i.e. impossible to predict. With no ability to accurately project passing touchdowns, they should have zero influence on your rankings. In this extreme scenario, you can see why it isn’t simply good enough to understand the probable outcome for each player (your projection); you also need to know how likely the player’s production is to deviate from your projection (and to what degree).

You might be asking from where the high 0.60 strength of correlation for quarterback fantasy points arises. While passing yards remain pretty steady from year to year, the most consistent statistic in all of fantasy football is quarterback rushing yards.

Above, you can see that an incredible 80 percent of quarterback rushing yards carry over from one year to the next. This has a profound impact on fantasy football projections; rushing quarterbacks such as Cam Newton who are widely considered risky propositions might not be as much of a gamble as you think. Since the general fantasy public analyzes primarily passing stats when ranking quarterbacks, there’s certainly an opportunity to leverage the most consistent fantasy stat, quarterback rushing yards, into a competitive advantage.

Finally, consider interceptions. From a defensive perspective, there’s a mild correlation between interceptions from one season to the next. From the perspective of individual passers, however, there is almost no correlation. For all intents and purposes, you’d actually be better off ignoring interception projections altogether than giving them the same weight as other passing statistics. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t project interceptions, but rather that you can’t be as confident in that prediction as your projection for rushing yards, for example.

Putting It Together

In my book, I propose a formula to create power rankings at each position based on consistency correlations like those above. In a nutshell, I suggest multiplying your actual projection for each statistic by the corresponding correlational strength, then adding all of the numbers together to generate a power rating of sorts. If you project Cam Newton to rush for 600 yards, for example, you would multiply that total by the correlational strength of season-to-season quarterback rushing yards (0.80).

After proceeding in a similar fashion for all quarterback stats and adding the results, you’d have an initial power rating for Newton. That rating is more valuable than projected fantasy points because it necessarily implements consistency. The most consistent positions would create the largest disparity (also known as scarcity) in power ratings, making those positions more valuable.

Whichever method of formulating projections and rankings you choose, consistency and volatility need to be a major part of the equation. If not, you’ll be leaving a whole lot of fantasy points on the table in 2012.