2021 RSO Contracts: QBs

Updated: July 24th 2021

My annual look at early RSO auction values begins at the quarterback position.  The series was designed to give the reader help in planning for upcoming auctions by looking at actual RSO auctions already finished this year.  The data comes from a variety of different types of leagues with varying scoring rules and starting requirements which can drastically alter player values so be cautious in expecting values to match your particular league.  The information does provide a useful starting point for examining how RSO owners value players at a certain position relative to one another and the length of contract they are willing to invest.  Provided fantasy stats and rankings utilize ESPN per game scoring.

Average RSO Quarterback Contracts

Upper Tier

The remarks about Mahomes will look very similar from last year. He makes up the top-tier of RSO quarterbacks, by a wide margin.  Mahomes put up another excellent season in 2020 as the QB1 among qualifying passers.  Maybe no QB started off their first three seasons in the NFL as well as the Kansas City quarterback.  He retains one of the best supporting casts and coaching teams in the NFL.

There won’t be much argument Mahomes deserves his spot at the top of QB contracts.  The only issue might be the premium paid for him.  There are more than a handful of quarterbacks who scored relatively closely in fantasy last year which come at a significant discount compared to the Kansas City passer.

Rest of the QB1s

Because rookie Lawrence begins the second tier, we should note an item about RSO auctions this early.  The sample size of auctions with rookies is extreme small so don’t put too much stock in the numbers but realize rookies generally go for a premium.   For that reason, I don’t discuss rookie prices much in the article.  Lawrence is one of the top quarterback prospects we have seen in a while with great traits and an intriguing situation with Meyer as the new head coach in Jacksonville.  Murray was the top fantasy QB last season before injuries. He possesses top-end rushing and scrambling abilities combined with upper level passing volume which makes for an incredible fantasy ceiling.  The sky’s the limit if the Cardinal’s QB boosts his passing efficiency and, with it, his touchdown totals.  Herbert produced maybe the best rookie season ever from a number standpoint and has one of the better all-around physical toolboxes.  The main area of concern is that his completion percentage far exceeded his actual down-to-down accuracy and he lived off of incredible deep –ball production, a volatile year to year proposition.  Allen made one of the biggest real-life jump NFL quarterback jumps as a passer we have ever seen, partly due to the addition of Stefon Diggs, while also keeping up his rushing production for fantasy.  Is the jump a blip or sustainable?  Prescott is another quarterback who started the year on fire as the QB1 before injury with a great group of skill-position players at his disposal. His crazy fantasy numbers were partly driven by matches against sub-par passing defenses and incredible volume due to Dallas’ own pathetic defense last season so don’t overweight last season’s performance too much.

Jackson took a step back from his gigantic 2019 season but still only scored 2.5 points per game less than Mahomes.  The Ravens added a lot to the receiving core this offseason though the Ravens’ QB will likely never be in the top-half of passing volume.  He remains the top fantasy QB rusher by a mile and a small increase in efficiency could potentially lead to a significant fantasy boost, with the overall QB1 firmly in his range of outcomes.  Wilson consistently ranks as one of the best combinations of passing and rushing at quarterback.  He’s usually among the most efficient passers in the NFL with significant scrambling ability and never missed a game in his career.    Jackson and Wilson are great values on RSO if you want to pay up for a starting quarterback.


The selection of five rookie quarterbacks in the first round of the NFL draft plus a number of off-the-field issues and movement inserted a level of uncertainty rarely seen at the quarterback position as a whole, particularly past the top-echelon.  The Lions traded Stafford to the Rams for multiple 1st round rookie picks and Goff.  The former Lion has always been on the cusp of greatness with one of the top “arm-talents” in the league capable of making dynamic throws from many arm angles and transfers to a highly talented team with one of the most highly regarded offensive minds.  Stafford’s penchant for different throwing mechanics unfortunately often leads to inconsistent accuracy and less efficiency than expected.  He also has an extensive injury history, particularly with back issues recently.  Rodgers’ upside is MVP-level, as seen just last season, and he is consistently one of the best at protecting the football never exceeding 8 interceptions in a decade.  Retirement or holdout represents the downside (a very real possibility most people aren’t weighting highly enough).  Tannehill has been one of the most efficient passers in the NFL since starting for Tennessee in a run-heavy offense and gets Julio Jones added to the mix.  That run-heavy mix limits the volume and upside.  Would new offensive coordinator Todd Downing produce a more pass-heavy offense and how would Tannehill respond?  Hurts put up quality fantasy points in four starts thanks largely to significant rushing yardage and gets a full offseason to work with a new offense designed for him with back-to-back 1st round wide receivers heading the core.  A lot of his rushing is due to scrambling because he is essentially a “one read then scramble” quarterback, despite his extensive college resume.  He ranked only above Dwayne Haskins in PFF grading last year.  Hurts is one of the most volatile fantasy quarterbacks with top-five production or benching very real possibilities.  The arguments for Watson are similar to Rodgers.  He compares favorably on the field to Russell Wilson as one of the best all-around passing/rushing combos.  His legal issues have a wide range of outcomes which puts part or all of this season (and beyond) in question.  Brady has one of the highest projected touchdown, yardage, and volume totals this season with one of the best offensive groups in the league.  Will the ageless wonder ever fail?  Miami surrounded Tagovailoa with a lot of receiving talent this offseason adding speedsters Will Fuller in free agency and Jaylen Waddle in the draft.  Does he make a second year leap after an un-noteworthy season recovering from injury?  What’s left in the tank for Roethlisberger after a disappointing 2020 coming back from major arm surgery?

QB3s and more

While Mayfield performed fairly well from a real-life quarterback perspective, there hasn’t been much to get excited from a fantasy point of view so far never averaging more than 17 PPG in a season.  The Falcons and Ryan might be sliding downward at this stage and replaced superstar Julio Jones with the highest drafted tight end ever in Kyle Pitts.  New head coach Arthur Smith might bring an entirely new offensive philosophy emphasizing the run more.  Wentz self-destructed last year and had one of the worst seasons of any quarterback.  Does a reunion with Frank Reich bring back the old Wentz?  Cousins brings borderline QB1 upside at QB3 prices.  Darnold has arguably been the worst starting quarterback in the NFL during his reign as in New York.  Can he resurrect his very young career in Carolina?  Fitzpatrick has shown the ability to support significant fantasy production from good receivers.  How long do Newton, Garoppolo, and Dalton hold off rookies?  Who wins the quarterback competitions between Lock and Bridgewater (does it even matter) or Winston and Hill (it matters)?

Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.



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Player Values with Range of Outcomes and the Importance of Upside

Updated: July 4th 2021

The term “range of outcomes” is probably familiar to many of those who play games of chance.  We do not always know precise outcomes for certain situations, fantasy football being one of those situations.  Player statistical output arises from an array of random forces which we can’t control or necessarily predict.  Fantasy gamers may arrive at valuable estimates, however, when looking at a range of possibilities.  This article utilizes basic probability mathematics to help the reader answer questions relating to player values with a range of potential outcomes, referred to as expected player values.  The article is more theoretical than data-driven so do not get too caught up in the specific numbers used.  Try to think more about the methodology and how it can be used to answer your own fantasy questions.

Expected Player Values

Before we look at the unknown, let’s examine how player values are calculated in fantasy football.  This article will use the familiar value based drafting (VBD) method as a start in determining fantasy expected player values (note there are a number of similar methodologies for determining player values).  Player values (V) are calculated as the difference between points scored (P) and the baseline points of a replacement level player (BL).  The replacement level point level is typically taken as something similar to the next best player available after all fantasy starters for a league. For example, the 13th best QB in a 12 team 1QB league would be the baseline scorer, but this may also vary according to method and application.  We will use average points per game (PPG) as our points in this article for simplicity.  The player value equation then is simply:

V = P – BL

Let’s say a player scores 14 PPG and the baseline replacement player scores 12 PPG, the player’s value is equal to 2 PPG.   We should also note a player’s value has a floor of zero (no negative values).  A player who scores at or below the replacement level has zero value according to this method.

Now what happens if we add a bit of the unknown and don’t know what a player will score but do have an idea of possible outcomes?  We may still estimate the player’s value if a suitable set range of scoring possibilities is available.  Our expected player value (E(V)) is:

E(V) = E (P – BL)

The replacement level scorer tends to remain relatively stable from year to year and whatever variation which happens is the same for each league and position group so we assume a constant baseline for the purposes of this article.  We can then present our expected value equation in the following form:

 E(V) = sum (Prob(i) x (P(i) – BL))    for all i where Prob is the probability of a player averaging a certain point total.

For example, let’s say there is a 50% chance a player scores 14 PPG and a 50% chance the player scores 16 PPG with the same 12 PPG baseline scoring used previously.  The player’s expected value would simply be:

E(V) = 0.5 (14 – 12) + 0.5 (16 – 12) = 3 PPG

Now that the methodology has been presented, we may answer a basic fantasy football related question.

Example Problem: How Much is Upside Worth?

This is a question which garnered much interest last year, maybe most famously in Scott Barret’s Upside Wins Championships.  To answer this question, the article compares players with wider range of outcomes (more upside and downside) against those with narrower range of scoring possibilities (less upside and downside).

The article assumes a simplified discrete approximation of the normal distribution going forward for fantasy points per game on various mean levels with the same 12 PPG replacement level scorer.  The “Example Probability Distribution” graph below displays a player with a mean of 14 PPG and 10% chances of scoring 10 or 18 PPG, 20% chances of 12 or 16 PPG, and a 40% chance of scoring 14 PPG.  Our expected value for this player would thus be:

E(V) = 0 + 0.2 (12 – 12) + 0.4 (14 – 12) + 0.2 (16 – 12) + 0.1 (18 – 12) = 2.2 PPG

Note the 10 PPG component of the equation gets no value because it is below replacement level (remember no negative values).

We can then extend the concept to examine groups of scoring ranges and associated expected values as seen in the chart below.  The three boxes have 11, 14, and 18 PPG mean scores.  The Narrow range of the 11 PPG box spans from 9 PPG to 13 PPG while the Broad range shows a distribution from 5 PPG to 17 PPG as possibilities for example.


Expected Values for Sample Scoring Ranges

There are a number of key observations and implications which may be drawn from the data.  The importance of upside is readily apparent when looking at the first box with a mean scoring of 11 PPG.  The Narrow range of outcomes produces almost no expected value while the Broad range produces nine times the amount.  There is an intuitive explanation for this.  So much of a lower-tier player’s scoring distribution is at or below replacement level that they only produce value when they produce at the upper end of the distribution.  That makes the player with the wider range of outcomes far more valuable in this case even though the projected stats are equal.

Contrast the 11PPG mean players with the 18 PPG high end scorers in the 3rd box.  The 18 PPG mean scorer produces the same expected value no matter if the scoring distribution is in the Narrow range or Broad Range.  Again this makes intuitive sense.  The upper-tier player is practically always a fantasy producer scoring valuable points, even at the lower levels of production.  That means he doesn’t suffer from the same issues of the lower-tier player at the lower levels of the distribution and thus doesn’t have the big parts of fantasy irrelevance in the distribution.  There is another concept called “risk-aversion” in which people generally prefer the less risky option.  This might actually cause individuals to select the Narrow range player (less risky) over the Broad range scorer among the upper-tier players given there is no expected value difference.  An individual with similar projections between Tyreek Hill and DeAndre Hopkins, for example, might prefer Hopkins if they view him as a less risky option.  The conservation may change when we are talking about big tournaments and other fantasy structures weighted heavily to a very small percentage of the top teams.

The key conclusion from the previous discussion is that upside matters but it matters a lot more for those at the lower-end of the fantasy spectrum.  The importance of upside fades as we move to the higher-level fantasy assets. 

Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.


More Analysis by Bernard Faller