NFL 101: Where Can We Find the Value?

Earlier this year we did a series called “Jock Talk”, which looked at ways to improve a prospective Jocker’s MLB strategy. With NFL season right around the corner, lets dive into NFL data from 2021 for some tips and tricks for the upcoming season.

Last week we looked at Multi vs Single game markets to see if there was any edge we could find (spoiler alert: there was!). Today, we are going to be looking at IPO price and position to see if we can look to find any advantages. Since our last article focused on Tight Ends, I decided to take a look at the three other relevant positions: Quarterback, Running Back and Wide Receiver. After eliminating some outliers to the data (such as Week 18 markets and players who IPO’d for $1), one thing immediately jumped off the chart: cheap QB’s.

QB average return by IPO Price (Sample size above bar)

All Quarterbacks who IPO’d Below $3 in 2021

Looking into the Data

With only 54 players meeting this criteria, I wanted to look at each row individually to try and see if there were different types of reasons as to why this may happen. After some perusing, I found two different types of situations where cheap QB’s were likely to arise:

  1. The market was down on the performance of the quarterback
  2. There was uncertainty surrounding the status of the Quarterback/who would play in the game

Within this first scenario there are a few different reasons why the market was cold on the QB. There were generally rookies (Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Davis Mills), backups getting starts because of an injury where there was no chance the starter would return (Jake Fromm, Colt McCoy, Brandon Allen, Trevor Siemian, Andy Dalton, Sean Mannion, Mike Glennon), or they were underperforming (Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, Jared Goff). In the second scenario, the QB was cheap because of uncertainty regarding the starters situation. Jacoby Brissett and Tua Tagovailoa show up multiple times on the list due to injuries/constant QB competition where nobody was really sure if one could replace the other due to poor performance or health.

The two largest ROI’s in this mini dataset both belong QB’s in the latter category. Tua Tagovailoa relieved an injured Jacoby Brissett to lead the Dolphins to victory and a 713% ROI and Trey Lance filled in for an injured Jimmy Garropolo against the Seahawks en route to a 656% return. However, there are plenty of instances of large positive returns from quarterbacks who were simply undervalued by the market. Davis Mills put up the fourth most points of any quarterback in the Week 5 main market (against the Patriots #2 pass defense no less) and Jared Goff had a 630% return in Week 1. Trevor Siemian IPO’d for a lowly $2.89 yet put up up 3 touchdowns and 214 yards (to go along with 2 picks, yes) to claw his way to finish at $8.75 and a 203% return.

Why are cheap QB’s Profitable?

So what’s the conclusion here? Well, there are a couple. First off: the combination of uncertainty, variance and risk is good in the case of QB’s where the starting situation is unclear. If you read my previous articles regarding utilizing stats in baseball, you know that having a large standard deviation is highly correlated with ROI. Quarterbacks that you can get shares of for very low prices that may have an opportunity to play large amounts of snaps are good for your portfolio because the risk is very low, but those one or two times you hit on one who plays meaningful snaps the reward is very high.

This ties right in to the second conclusion which focuses on the other class of quarterbacks: the low tier guys. So why are these QB’s linked to high returns? The answer is mainly due to one thing: volume. No matter how good a running back is, they need to be handed the ball to score points just like a receiver needs to be thrown the ball (by the quarterback) to put up numbers. The QB is the only player on the offensive side of the ball who touches the ball on 99.9% of snaps. They have final say over what play to run and who gets touches. This creates an opportunity for them to score points no matter how low the market is on them. In a related point, other than Kendall Hinton in the ill fated COVID bowl these QB’s are good. Almost any quarterback with a job in the NFL is capable of putting up respectable stat line. Combine these two factors, and any QB with a cheap price seems to be worth the flyer to me. Happy bidding!

2021 NFL Data!

Looking to do some analysis of your own? We have all the data from last year right here, so get busy because NFL season can’t get here soon enough!

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