The Rise of the Rushing Quarterback

Matt Hicks, Staff Writer

The days of prioritizing the pocket passing quarterback in fantasy football are over. We need to start recognizing the value of rushing quarterback; who are too often disrespected and devalued based on traditional perceptions of good quarterback play. The basic argument for rushing quarterbacks is that they provide more upside; pocket passing quarterbacks must work 2.5 times as hard to produce points (based on the scoring system of most leagues; where points are awarded for every 25 passing yards, and every 10 rushing yards gained). The argument for rushing quarterbacks, however, goes much, much further.

Rushing Quarterbacks Dominated in 2017

Of the top 5 fantasy finishers at quarterback in 2017, 4 rushed the ball at least 60 times. Russell Wilson (95 attempts, 586 yards) finished at QB1, Cam Newton (139 attempts, 754 yards) was QB2, Alex Smith (60 attempts, 355 yards) was QB4, and Carson Wentz (60 attempts, 299 yards) finished as QB5. 3 of these quarterbacks (Wilson, Newton, and Wentz) threw for less than 4,000 yards and both Newton and Wentz threw for 3,350 yards or less. Still these quarterbacks finished as top 5 players; because of their ability to rush the ball. Each of these quarterbacks rushed for at least 4.6 yards/carry; with Wilson rushing for 6.1 yards/carry. To put this into perspective, Todd Gurley rushed for 4.6 yards/carry and Alvin Kamara rushed for 6.07 yards/carry. When you have a rushing quarterback, you essentially have an extra running back on your roster.

The Fall of the 4,000 Yard Passing Quarterback

4,000 yards is often used as the gauge for an elite level season for a quarterback (although Joe Flacco has only thrown for 4,000 or more yards once). The 4,000-yard passing quarterback, however, is becoming a rare sight. In 2017, only 8 quarterbacks threw for more than 4,000 yards (Brady, Rivers, Stafford, Brees, Roethlisberger, Ryan, Cousins, Smith). This is the least number of quarterbacks hitting the mark since 2010; when only 5 quarterbacks threw for 4,000 yards. Since then there have been: 10 (2011), 11 (2012), 9 (2013), 11 (2014), 12 (2015), and 13 (2016). The sharp drop, to me, represents an intentional move away from pure passing offenses; teams are instead opting for a balanced approach. Brees, for example, threw for 4,334 yards in 2017; this was his lowest total passing yards since 2005. This is due, directly, to the emphasis on Kamara and Ingram. This move isn’t limited to New Orleans. It is, however, diluting the value of pocket passing quarterbacks across the league, who are relying on large passing yards to break into fantasy relevance.

Value Comes from the Low ADP of Rushing Quarterbacks

The key to this article is that rushing quarterbacks are undervalued. For this, I’m considering any quarterback who rushed the ball more than 50 times; which leaves us with Smith, Wentz, Bortles, Wilson, Newton, Taylor, Prescott, and Mariota. Of these 8 quarterbacks; 6 finished 2017 with a positive value (ADP-Position Rank). Smith and Wentz finished the season as the 2 most valuable quarterbacks, and Bortles, Wilson, Newton, and Taylor made it so that 6 of the top 9 most valuable quarterbacks were rushing quarterbacks; twice as many as non-rushing quarterbacks. Although 4 rushing quarterbacks finished in the top 5 in terms of position rank in 2017 (Wilson, Newton, Smith, and Wentz); only one was drafted in the top 5 in positional ADP (Wilson, POS ADP of 5). Rushing quarterbacks were disrespected in ADP in 2017; they should not be treated the same in 2018.

Rushing Attempts are a Better Gauge of Success, Compared to Passing Attempts

I’m a big proponent of playing volume-based running backs. The reason being, that I believe that having opportunity can often outweigh talent. Although this mindset is often tied to running backs, and wide receivers, it also ties into quarterbacks; but only when it comes to running the ball. The 5 quarterbacks who threw the ball the most in 2017 were Tom Brady (581 attempts), Phillip Rivers (575 attempts), Eli Manning (571 attempts), Matthew Stafford (565 attempts), and Ben Roethlisberger (561 attempts). Only Tom Brady, however, finished as a top 5 fantasy quarterback. The other 4, top 5 finishers all finished in the top 5 of rushing attempts for quarterbacks. When looking at quarterbacks, it proved much more reliable to judge value based on rushing volume; instead in passing volume in 2017.

Blake Bortles: The Perfect Case Study

If nothing else in this article has sank in, this should do it. Blake Bortles, by all measures of the eye, is painful to watch from a fantasy and all-around football perspective. Bortles has a career average of just 3,731 passing yards per season, and a career TD:INT ratio of 90:64. He has an average QB rating of 80.2. Yet, Blake Bortles has finished the last three fantasy seasons as: QB 4 (2015), QB 9 (2016), and QB 13 (2017). This is due, in large part, to his ability to rush the ball. Bortles has at least 310 rushing yards in every season of his career and averages 56 attempts per season for 352 rushing yards. He also has 7 career rushing touchdowns. Bortles, although not thought of as a pure rushing quarterback, has finished, essentially, as a QB1 the last three seasons because of his ability to rush the ball. Without his rushing points in 2017 (32 for yards, 12 for touchdowns) he would have finished as QB 21; just behind Jacoby Brissett. In 2016, he would have lost 53 points (35 for yards, 18 for touchdowns) and would have finished as QB 24 instead; just behind Sam Bradford. Bortles is the perfect example of fantasy value; he isn’t flashy and it’s not exciting to draft him but he’s severely underrated; as most rushing quarterbacks are.

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Published by

Matt Hicks

Matt’s writing is focused on dynasty and devy fantasy football. He loves blending his experience writing research in the field of education with fantasy football stats. Matt currently lives in Baltimore, MD and graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. You can follow Matt on Twitter: @TheFF_Educator

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