Fantasy football value picks

How QBR can help you find value in fantasy football quarterbacks

Originally Published: August 23, 2012
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
Carson PalmerIllustration by DOGOCarson Palmer has a lot of fantasy potential this season with the Oakland Raiders.

STOP FLIPPING THROUGH magazines, scanning online forums and chatting up your co-workers. In fact, stop everything you're doing to get an edge in your fantasy football draft. I've discovered a new key to fantasy success: Total Quarterback Rating.

ESPN's analytics team launched QBR last year to measure all aspects of quarterback play -- capturing not only passing yards, TDs and INTs but also metrics that the NFL's passer rating doesn't count, such as rushes and sacks. It also sizes up a QB's situational performance, such as gaining enough yards for first downs. Essentially, everything a quarterback does to help his team improve its chances of winning boosts his QBR, and everything he does to hurt his team drives his rating downward. QBR is scored on a 100-point scale; Aaron Rodgers led the league at 85.2 last season.

So what can such a comprehensive and, yes, complex statistic tell you about a QB's potential in such basic categories as touchdowns and yards? A lot, actually. Of the 25 quarterbacks who were regulars in both of the past two seasons, the correlation between their passing yards in 2010 and ESPN fantasy points in 2011 is 0.30, or moderate. (Correlation is a statistic that measures the relationship between two variables, ranging from inverse, at minus-1, to perfect, at 1.) If you want to project Mark Sanchez's fantasy upside for 2012, his passing yards from last season isn't a terribly useful place to start. However, the correlation between 2010 QBR and 2011 fantasy scoring is among the highest of any stats, at 0.79. Move the data back to 2008, the first season for which full QBR data is available, and the results are similar.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.