Find Your Edge: Week 16 - When Backup QBs Become Starters

Director of Data and Analytics, Kevin Cole, returns with a look at how past DFS slates can yield valuable insights to roster construction, decision making, and winning strategies for the coming slate of games. This is a big deal. We’ve collected a massive amount of data on past DFS slates, and Kevin is going to help you “find the edge” buried deep within them.

Week 16

Each week this column looks through the thousands of NFL contests and millions of historical entries in our ResultsDB to find nuggets of info that you can use in upcoming contests.

This week, we’re going to look deeper into the historical success rates of rostering cheap quarterbacks who were elevated into starting roles either due to injuries or late-season starter rest. This week, Taylor Heinicke is going to start in place of Cam Newton, and he sports a dirt cheap salary of $4K on DraftKings. There’s also a small chance Aaron Rodgers sits, though he’s declared himself good to go.

Beyond Heinicke this week, there’s always the possibility that teams with little to gain in Week 17 will sit starters next week. This analysis will give you a jump on using historical data to contextualize the attractiveness of those options.

We spent some time in previous Find Your Edge articles looking at success rates and leverage for different positions by pricing tier, and we did a similar exercise a few weeks ago with cheap and chalky running backs.

Historical backup QBs who become starters

I screened all of the biggest DK contests from each week 2016-present and found 70 quarterbacks fitting the following parameters:

  • Highest actual ownership in the contest for quarterbacks on their team
  • Not the highest salary for quarterbacks on their team

Here are the results of the search listed in chronological order. The “Winners” column represents the ownership percentage for these players on the top 0.1% of entries for the respect contest that week. The “Leverage” column is simply winner ownership divided by field ownership represented as a percentage.

There are some highly owned quarterbacks, but they are mostly starters returning from injury or much-hyped players like Dak Prescott in 2016.

To best get an idea of where Heinicke could perform this week, you can glance through the long list and find some comparable names. There were a ton of similar injury elevations in 2017.

The numbers in aggregate

When we bring together all the numbers, we get a bigger picture of the average performances of the group.

There were more misses than hits in the group (37.5% hit rate, hit defined as leverage above 100%), and the average winner and field ownership levels are fairly small. As you’d expect, these are high-risk options that need to be well considered.

Pricing in prior years may have been a bit slower to react to news, so removing players like Dak Prescott who made the list for multiple weeks in the beginning of 2016 makes sense.

When you restrict the list to only the cheapest options (below $5K), the summary results change slightly.

What this means is that these cheap backup quarterbacks aren’t necessarily more likely to hit than not, but they haven’t been totally wasted selection with leverage approaching 100%.

We didn’t find a week-winning secret in the numbers, but the figures above will give anyone considering an elevated backup QB something to digest.

About the Author

  • Kevin Cole (colekev)

  • Kevin Cole previously worked on Wall Street as an equity and credit analyst before transitioning to data-related sports analysis. For a number of years, Kevin has specialized in creating predictive sports models that includes published work at Pro Football Focus, Rotoworld, numberFire, and RotoViz. He is now the Director of Data and Analytics at RotoGrinders.


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