Prior to 2012 fantasy drafts, two ESPN fantasy experts had two different perspectives on early draft strategy. Matthew Berry, AKA the "Talented Mr. Roto" endorsed snagging a top-5 QB, Cecil Lammey, NFL Insider and FootballGuys.com analyst, promoted what he called "stud running back theory".
Three weeks into the fantasy season, the question of whether or not to draft a premium QB with an early pick in the first round of drafts seemed to have been answered "No" . At that time I wrote a Fantasy Falderal item for this site titled "The first-round QB debate is settled". Top-teir QBs had gotten off to a slow start. On the flip side, top-5 backs were proving their worth. So, it seemed as though the issue was resolved. As fantasy players gear up for the playoffs, though, there's less clarity on the matter.
For the sake of reflection let's look at the performances of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford, the four QBs thought to be potentially worthy of a top-12 overall selection, versus Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeShean McCoy and Chris Johnson, the consensus top four RBs.
How do these two groups compare in terms of reliability and overall scoring?
For reference I am using the South Stands Denver Fantasy Football League (SSDFFL) in which passing TDs are worth 5 points and rushing TDs are worth 6. This is a PPR league. Fractional scoring is allowed, but I will round point totals off for this article.
In that league Aaron Rodgers is the top overall player with 347 points. Brees is the second scorer with 345 points. Brady is fourth with 321 points and Stafford is seventh with 286 points. The top four pre-draft QBs have produced an average of about 325 points each.
In this league, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer are all near the top of the scoring heap, also, having produced an average of 302 points. Robert Griffin III falls just outside this group becuase there is no premium on QB rushing yardage. Of this group, only Matt Ryan was widely considered to be a top-10 "lock". The others are all round 5-6 type selections or, in Palmer's case, a late round flier, yet the group has produced almost 90% of the points the top-4 QB selections have.
The stud RBs, Foster, Rice McCoy and Johnson, are all amongst the top ten RBs in scoring after nine games, having produced an average of 124.5 points. A number of surprise performers have also cracked the top ten, however. Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and Marshawn Lynch, all considered high-upside plays prior to the draft, have averaged 132.5 in accumulated points. Of this group only Doug Martin was likely to have slipped past the second round in drafts. Still, Martin, along with players like CJ Spiller, Willis McGahee and Alfred Morris are examples of guys that could be doing very well for fantasy players that did opt to select an early QB.
After week three I had come around to the idea that Cecil Lammey's "stud RB theory" was nails. I am beginning to waiver now. Part of this is because Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have slowly risen back to the top eschelon of fantasy performers. Each started out slowly, but has proven to be a safe investment as the season has gone by. Guys like RGIII and Andrew Luck have been nice surprises, but it's clear that the QBs selected in the first round have lived up to expectations. There is a pretty big dropoff for QB production between the top six 2012 QBs and the next grouping.
The dropoff at RB occurs after the top five, two of whom, Doug Martin and Trent Richardson, could have been drafted as late as the third round in some 12-team leagues.
It's tough to question the validity of drafting a QB early. What has become abundantly clear, however, is that drafting WR is the first round has not worked out. Calvin Johnson, the traditional RD1 WR has been an enormous disappointment.