Player Pivots: Andrew Luck to Ben Roethlisberger
Every season the phrase “opportunity cost” gets tossed around in fantasy football circles. While perhaps derived from economics, this phrase holds true with nearly any value-based decision. In fantasy football, the game is won often not by who you pick, but when you pick them. Positional and absolute value, often in terms of average draft position (ADP), drive offseason discussion as managers draft and trade before the season begins.
One particular reason for opting not to select a player is that one feels there is similar value to be had later in the draft. Fantasy players must weight the costs and benefits of player X at and ADP of 55 vs player Y at an ADP of 105. In this series, we’re going to discuss two players per position who you can “pivot” away from to a specific other player selected later in drafts.
All draft data comes from FantasyFootballCalculator’s 12 team PPR redraft ADP. The criteria for the pivot player will be a player selected at least five rounds (60 picks) later for quarterbacks and at least three rounds (36 picks) for the other positions. Let’s begin with the first player pivot.
Andrew Luck: QB2; ADP 41.2
This time last season, Andrew Luck seemed to be the ultimate boom/bust option at quarterback. After not playing an entire season, Luck’s range of outcomes were massive. However, the former number one overall pick proved to his doubters that there is nothing to be concerned about. Luck threw the most passes in a single season he ever has in his career during the 2018 season. This, in large part, helped bolster the NFL comeback player of the year to a QB5 overall finish.
With another year removed from injury and a healthy offseason, fantasy drafters are pegging Luck as a top-tier option. This is certainly for good reason. At this lofty cost, however, there is a clear pivot player who drafters should be targeting later in drafts. Coming off a fantastic season in his own right, the later quarterback to pick is…
Ben Roethlisbeger: QB16; ADP 114.8
In 2018, Big Ben led the NFL in both passing attempts (675) and passing yards (5,129). Andrew Luck, for reference, finished second in passing attempts (639) and fifth in passing yards (4,593). A large part of Roethlisberger’s QB4 overall finish in 2018 was based on this incredible volume through the air. Andrew Luck similarly benefited from immense passing volume.
A hot topic of conversation this offseason about the Steelers is not if their passing volume goes down, but rather by how much. Roethlisberger will be hard pressed to see another close to 700 passing attempts in 2019. That kind of volume does not historically repeat year over year. However, with all likelihood, the Steelers will once again be one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL. The difference in projected volume for each quarterback should not be enough on its own to warrant this massive ADP difference.
Volume might be king in fantasy football, but not all players can make the same use of that volume. Looking at Luck and Roethlisberger’s historical fantasy outputs, the two have posted similar weekly consistency. Over their careers, Andrew Luck has proven to have a slight edge in top five weeks and a larger edge in top 12 weeks. That’s certainly one reason Luck ranks so much higher than Roethlisberger in ADP.
You are probably reading this and wondering why historical data is even relevant for Roethlisberger, as he just lost one of the best wide receivers of all time from his receiving personnel. This is a valid concern and one that drafters are surely considering when letting Big Ben fall in drafts. However, let’s examine the comparative situations these two quarterbacks find themselves in 2019.
Playmakers on Offense
At wide receiver, the Steelers have a core unit of Juju Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Donte Moncrief. There are others, of course, but these three project to see the vast majority of wide receiver targets. Meanwhile, the Colts have a main three consisting of TY Hilton, Devin Funchess, and rookie Parris Campbell.
If one were to base these units solely on redraft ADP, the Steelers come out slightly on top. Smith-Schuster (WR6), Washington (WR46), and Moncrief (WR57) compare favorably to Hilton (WR9), Funchess (WR45), and Campbell (WR53). One might call this a push, at worst. Let’s look at each comparison individually.
- Smith-Schuster and Hilton both are incredibly efficient per-target receivers.
- Devin Funchess and Donte Moncrief are both veterans who struggled to get a second contract from their first teams. Each receiver was efficient at times but ultimately failed to make a lasting impact in multiple fantasy seasons to date.
- James Washington and Parris Campbell were/are among the highest rated receivers in their respective draft classes. Both players have second-round draft capital. Interestingly enough, both players were also the seventh receiver taken in their draft class. While Campbell has the athleticism – 4.31 40-yard dash and 99.3 percentile pSPARQ score – Washington wins in both breakout age (18.4) and dominator rating (33.3%).
Moving on to running backs, it’s clear to see the Steelers have more proven options out of the backfield. Second-year running back James Conner managed to catch 55 balls out of the backfield in 2018. Both efficient catching the ball (77.5% catch rate) and in total yards per reception (9.0), Conner emerged as more than just an opportunity-based receiver. Add in Jaylen Samuels, who caught 26 of 29 targets in limited work last season, and this backfield combination accounted for 100 targets in 2018. On these targets, they managed to record 81 receptions for 696 yards and four touchdowns.
The Colts backfield has capable pass catchers as well. While Marlon Mack has not been used much in the passing game, Nyheim Hines more than makes up for any receiving weaknesses Mack may have. Hines caught an outstanding 63 passes as a rookie. This total ranks fourth among all rookie running backs since 2010. The players Mack is behind? That trio is Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffery, and Alvin Kamara. Nyheim Hines is not the caliber player those three are. However, Hines has already proven to be one of the best receiving specialists in the NFL. Comparing similar statistics for the duo of Mack and Hines, they managed to see 107 targets in 2018, catching 80 for 528 yards and three touchdowns.
Rounding out our position-by-position breakdown of each team, Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron have a clear lead on Vance McDonald in terms of proven production. However, both Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron only have one truly good season from a fantasy perspective. Ebron managed to post high-end TE2 numbers in his time at Detroit and broke out last season to finish as TE4 overall. Meanwhile, McDonald broke out in his own right to a TE10 season long finish. The Colts get the edge at tight end, but the gap may not be as large as one might think.
So, we’ve discussed that passing volume is projected to be similar for both the Steelers and Colts in 2019. Each team has a similar set of wide receivers: an efficient per target player, a journeyman, and an unproven second-round pick. The Steelers have an edge at running back receiving production, but the Colts get the edge at tight end production. These two offenses are very similar.
If there are two offenses with similar weapons projected for similar volume, the quarterbacks should be priced similarly if they are remotely comparable talents. Andrew Luck has historically been the better quarterback. He’s proven that with consistency charts and season-long fantasy finishes. That’s why he’s going higher in drafts; he should be! However, there is a quarterback you can select far later in drafts that have an incredibly similar 2019 profile. His name is Ben Roethlisberger.