Dollars and Sense: Rookie QB Value

Updated: April 18th 2016

I believe that rookie QBs are an undervalued commodity on Reality Sports Online.  However, I am a man on an island because most of my colleagues disagree.  In Dave Sanders’ piece titled “Maximizing Quarterback Value”, he suggests skipping rookie quarterbacks completely.  In Bernard Faller’s piece titled “Value Town: QBs”, he suggests that since the difference between QB2 and QB16 was just 4 ppg that owners could plug-n-play at the position which could lead to you avoid drafting the top rookie QBs.  I disagree with my colleagues on this, in fact I have been a big proponent in my first two articles of reaching for a quarterback in the early second round of your RSO rookie draft.  Ultimately, our differences of opinion come down to one thing: position scarcity.  

The first thing we need to keep in mind about RSO is it’s unique contract driven dynasty format.  Since there are salary cap ramifications for every add/drop, it’s not quite as simple as other formats to rely on the waiver wire to fill your quarterback position.  Furthermore, because of the rookie draft that kicks off each season, younger quarterbacks are more highly owned than in other formats which further complicates the plug-n-play strategy.  Lastly, because RSO owners are more likely to hoard their quarterbacks, it’s important to keep this in mind when looking at metrics such as VBD and others that compare the “replacement level” of a position.

In Bernard’s piece he presents Tyrod Taylor as a good value, which I agree with, but the problem is that in most RSO leagues Taylor was not available once he was a viable fantasy starter and you needed him.  Sure, you could have grabbed him after the Bills’ announcement since he was only owned in about 20% of leagues originally, but if you doubted him and waited to grab Taylor mid-season as a bye week or injury fill-in he was likely already gone.  Ultimately, Taylor finished as QB17 based on the average number of points scored across all RSO leagues and was 81% owned. For comparison, Taylor was only 56% owned on Yahoo and 35% on NFL.com at the end of the season.  On those sites/formats, relying on Taylor to give you some good plug-n-play value at quarterback was a viable strategy, even late into the season, but I don’t believe it could have been on RSO.

Blake Bortles was also a good value but I think the reality of the ownership percentage paints a bleak picture for those who use Dave’s strategy of skipping quarterbacks in RSO rookie drafts.  Before the start of the 2015 season, Bortles was approximately 17% owned on RSO, presumably most of those being owners who drafted Bortles in their 2014 rookie draft.  Compare that to the data compiled by NFL.com leagues in which Bortles was just 2.8% owned in Week 1 of 2015.  By the Jags Week 8 bye, Bortles was up to 40% on NFL.com and by the end of the season he was up to 71.6%; comparatively he skyrocketed to 90.74% in RSO leagues by the end of the season (mid-season ownership percentages are tough to pinpoint on RSO but I would estimate that by Week 8 it would be at least 70%).  To quote Ron Burgundy, “that escalated quickly.”  The owners who had the foresight to draft Bortles in 2014 are paying him rookie money for QB1 production and that’s worth the gamble of drafting a rookie QB rather than battling on the waiver wire once they “pop.”

The next veteran QB we’ll look at to illustrate my rookie QB feelings is the guy everybody loves to hate: Andy Dalton.  Coincidentally, Dalton finished 2015 as QB16 in both average points and ownership on RSO.  In “Value Town: QBs,” Bernard points out that the difference between QB16 and QB2 was just 4 points per game to illustrate his replacement-level strategy.  Based on my research, I think RSO owners need to dig deeper to find the true replacement level at QB.  For most redraft and keeper leagues, I agree with Bernard that QB16 would be the right place to look but for RSO, I would posit you need to go down to at least QB20, if not further, to realistically expect a player to be available.  Before the 2015 season, Andy Dalton was available in just 25% of RSO leagues (17th most owned QB) and that fell to just 8% by the end of the season.  In order to find somebody who was available in at least 40% of leagues at the start of the season, you would have to look to Sam Bradford, Colin Kaepernick or Teddy Bridgewater (the 20th-22nd most owned respectively).  If you were banking on picking up QB16 as a bye week fill-in during your RSO season you were probably out of luck.

As a counterpoint I looked at Ryan Fitzpatrick, the true embodiment of replacement level QBs.  He was just 19% owned before the season began and ultimately finished as QB11 in average scoring so I would admit that he was the rare case of a viable fantasy starter being widely available on RSO.  The interesting thing though lies in Fitzpatrick’s RSO contracts.  A measly 1% of RSO owners have Fitzpatrick locked up for another year.  So while you can find somebody like Fitzpatrick to help you through a few games this season, you can bet that somebody in your league will overpay for him in the subsequent free agent auction.  Instead, you could be content to have a young, potential stud like Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota under contract for rookie money for another 2-3 years.

In summary, I believe these numbers perfectly illustrate the different dynamic of an RSO league and why you need to value young QBs more highly.  You may think that that a value quarterback will be available for you mid-season but chances are they’re already owned by the time you get to the waiver wire.  The best way for you to ensure that you own that QB before they “pop” is to grab them in your rookie draft.  If you get lucky, and I do admit that this is a crapshoot, you could find yourself paying little salary for much production.  After all, the beauty of RSO is it’s similarity to the real NFL, so why would the value of rookie QBs be any different?  Remember what happened when Russell Wilson’s cap-friendly rookie contract allowed the Seahawks to spend their money elsewhere?  Championship.


Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.