I’m a sell out.
As an avid Colts fan, I did the unthinkable last year. I drafted Tom Brady.
I felt dirty. I felt sick to my stomach. But, I also had another feeling in my gut.
Coming off his suspension, Brady’s value was “deflated.” I truly believed he had extra motivation to prove his critics wrong.
Turns out, I was right (for once). He took his game to a whole new level after his return. He blazed a trail of revenge, and I rode its coattails all the way into the finals.
However, I learned a valuable lesson along the way.
Despite his rage-fueled destruction of the league’s defenses, I realized I didn’t need him. Don’t get me wrong: there is no denying his talent. He may be the most valuable player on any NFL roster. Yet, he wasn’t the MVP of my fantasy team.
I used three different quarterbacks in the four weeks I was without Brady. I pieced together a 3-1 start relying solely on streaming.
Although this practice is commonly used for fantasy defenses, it kept my team (and season) afloat.
Even though this same strategy can be used for multiple positions, these tips below will help you identify how to implement a quarterback streaming strategy in your own league and why it’s so effective.
Part 1: The Idea
This isn’t a new concept
Streaming refers to playing someone off the waiver wire based on the matchup. Typically, streaming is most viable when only one player from each position is active. This includes quarterbacks, tight ends, defenses and kickers. Because fantasy football owners are only using one player, there is less demand, making these positions devalued.
Defensive streaming is common. Astute owners understand that defenses are ideal to stream because their production is directly tied to the opposing team’s offense.
This same concept, however, is easily applied to quarterbacks. Quarterbacks can be streamed successfully by analyzing the opposing team’s defensive matchup. It's more than just finding one fantasy sleeper at quarterback. It's fully committing to scraping by and patching together your quarterback position.
League set-up matters
All leagues are not created equal. Owners must evaluate their individual leagues before deciding if streaming is the right approach.
Most important is roster construction. If you are in a two-quarterback league, streaming just won’t work. Knowing how other owners manage their teams is also critical. Teams carrying at least one backup will make this more challenging.
Scoring also impacts how you stream. Leagues that use four points per quarterback touchdown and/or a PPR format are well suited for streaming. These scoring systems decrease a quarterback’s value by increasing the relative importance of other positions.
Finally, waiver wire format may limit your ability to pick-up quarterbacks. Auction-based waiver systems give you greater flexibility to invest where you see fit. If you need a quarterback badly, you can simply spend more money. The more traditional model may prevent you from grabbing the player you need if don’t have a high enough waiver priority.
It takes more time and effort
Streaming isn’t for everyone. Choosing to stream (at any position) requires a commitment. It means looking ahead at potential matchups and staying active each and every week. This strategy is for hands-on owners only.
You must also be willing to take risks. You must be prepared to whiff occasionally too. Not every plan is error-proof. Owners must be willing to make assertive decisions and still be comfortable if they make a mistake.
Part 2: The Advantage
Every QB has risks
The argument against streaming revolves around the misconception that quarterbacks are the lowest risk of any position. However, this actually justifies this strategy.
Quarterbacks are the most consistent position. They get injured the least. When healthy, you know they will be touching the ball on virtually every snap. Because running backs and wide receivers are more volatile, it is necessary to draft as many as possible to ensure you get a couple that produce.
However, quarterbacks aren’t risk-proof. The table below lists notable quarterbacks by ADP and their 2016 finishes in standard scoring leagues. Just like any other position, getting a quarterback early doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed elite output.
|QB Name||2016 Pre-Season ADP (among QBs)||2016 End-of-season Ranking (among QBs)|
As you can see, drafting a top-tier quarterback in the pre-season doesn't necessarily result in top-tier fantasy production.
Options always emerge
Any fantasy owner has experienced a player suddenly coming out of nowhere. Whether you get to pat yourself on the back for stashing them on your roster or weep quietly because someone else did, fantasy football is full of surprises.
With quarterbacks, it’s not any different. Last year, four top-10 fantasy passers were ranked 10th or below entering the season. The highest riser of the bunch was Dak Prescott. A pre-season injury vaulted him into a starting role where he eventually finished sixth in standard scoring leagues.
Yet, Prescott wasn't alone. Multiple quarterbacks who went undrafted in one-quarterback leagues or were selected as backups were still playable depending on the weekly matchup.
Maximize your roster
The concept behind streaming has nothing to do with a quarterback’s talent. It’s all about cost.
When you invest in an elite quarterback on draft day, you are forfeiting any opportunity to snag another quality player at a different position. When you must play multiple running backs and wide receivers each week, having “studs” at those positions is much more valuable.
For example, Aaron Rodgers is considered the top fantasy quarterback this year, with a current ADP of 23rd overall. To add him to your roster, owners would be passing on Brandin Cooks, Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins.
Scoring data also supports this premise. The difference between Prescott, who finished sixth in standard scoring leagues, and the 20th-ranked quarterback (Joe Flacco) was only about 45 points. By comparison, the difference among skill players over this same range was 65 points.
Elite rushers and pass catches will always be more valuable to your fantasy team in standard scoring leagues.
There’s little difference between QBs from week-to-week
When you stream, you’re likely playing a below-average quarterback. But, you aren’t playing one in just any matchup; you’re choosing a quarterback who has a favorable matchup. While your pick-up may have limited upside, their floor is also raised. Playing against a bad defense levels the playing field.
The chart to the below examines how quarterbacks performed against both good and bad pass defenses last season. While the top-10 quarterbacks consistently scored more than their lower-ranked counterparts regardless of the defense, owners can still capitalize by streaming.
|QB Group (by season point total)||Avg. points / game vs. top half defenses||Avg. points / game vs. bottom half defenses|
|QBs 1 - 10||18.6||20.2|
|QBs 11 - 21||15.9||18.1|
Quarterbacks who finished 11-20th overall scored an average of 18.1 standard points against defenses in the bottom half of the league. The top-tier quarterbacks scored an average of 18.6 points against the best defenses. This means a lower-ranked quarterback who has an encouraging matchup will produce near-identical totals as an elite option would when facing an above-average defense.
Finding a quarterback with an ideal matchup neutralizes any elite quarterback with a poor matchup. (And, this doesn’t even factor in any advantage you have from selecting a running back or wide receiver early instead of a quarterback.)
Part 3: The Execution
Matchups, Matchups, Matchups!
The data above proves what you may have already suspected: Matchups are key. Don’t become overwhelmed with end-of-the-season totals. If you are streaming, you will be picking up quarterbacks almost weekly. Embrace a “tunnel vision” approach when analyzing quarterbacks; look only at each week individually and not the season as a whole.
The best quarterbacks to stream will surface as the season progresses. In-season data on opposing defenses will be your best tool for evaluating potential pick-ups. Examining last season’s numbers can at least point you in the right direction though.
A quarterback’s fantasy strength of schedule (SOS) is created by adding the fantasy points allowed by each player's opposing team. This, when combined with passing defense metrics, reveals six streaming targets entering 2017:
1. Jameis Winston
Currently being taken as the 11th quarterback (96th overall), Jameis Winston benefits from a loaded receiving corps, which includes superstar Mike Evans, incoming free agent DeSean Jackson, breakout tight end Cameron Brate and rookie O.J. Howard.
His 2017 fantasy SOS is fifth ranked among all passers. It only gets better after Week 8; he plays nine straight games against the league’s worst 2016 defenses. These passer-friendly matchups include two games versus division rivals Atlanta and New Orleans—both were in the bottom five of passing defenses last year.
This will help make him a valuable streaming option during the second half of the season.
2. Sam Bradford
Despite finishing outside the top 20 fantasy quarterbacks last year, Bradford still has tremendous streaming upside. His second-best fantasy SOS has him playing eight games against the league’s worst defenses. His opening matchup versus New Orleans, who allowed the most passing yards of any team, makes him playable right away in Week 1.
3. Joe Flacco
Baltimore threw the ball a ton in 2016. Joe Flacco posted career highs in pass attempts and yards. This alone makes his upside high in any given week.
Flacco’s matchups down the stretch may be the best of any quarterback. He plays Cleveland (Week 15) and against Indianapolis (Week 16). In the heart of the fantasy football playoffs, these games keep Flacco relevant as a streaming choice.
4. Blake Bortles
Blake Bortles (163 overall ADP) is another possible fit. He finished eighth last season in standard leagues and plays multiple games against Indianapolis (Weeks 7 & 13) and Tennessee (Weeks 2 & 17). Games against Cleveland (Week 11) and San Francisco (Week 16) should give him opportunity yet again.
In his nine games against below-average defenses, he scored more than 18.6 points in five of those games.
5. Matthew Stafford
His ADP is puzzling. Matthew Stafford was the seventh fantasy quarterback last year but is being drafted as the 14th passer taken. He hasn’t finished outside the top 11 in five of his six NFL seasons. Ranking at least ninth in touchdowns every year but one, Stafford’s low ADP drops him into streaming status. This is a victory for fantasy owners employing this strategy.
If you get Stafford cheaply, you may want to hold him. Stafford plays Atlanta (Week 3), New Orleans (Week 6) and Cleveland (Week 10). A familiar theme is emerging; all three of these teams are atrocious against the pass.
6. Mike Glennon
If he holds off rookie Mitch Trubisky, Mike Glennon could be a hidden gem. He is now going undrafted in most leagues despite offering the fourth-best fantasy SOS and seven games against the league’s worst defenses. His value is tied to his ability to stay on the field. If he does, he also has a strong schedule for the playoffs: Detroit (Week 15) and Cleveland (Week 16).