Fantasy Football: Testing Quarterback Streaming Options

Carson Palmer

For those who are into the undeniable replaceability of quarterbacks in fantasy football, we salute you, and we now have a better way to identify late-round quarterbacks whose fantasy production doesn’t circle the drain when they face top-flight defensive units.

The point of waiting until the waning rounds of a fantasy draft to snag a quarterback or two is to exploit the massive and growing inefficiencies in the quarterback market. But not all late-round signal callers were created equal, as those who tabbed Carson Palmer found out in the first half of the 2013 season, while those who invested in Jay Cutler and Alex Smith fared just fine with their arbitrage plays.

I think it’s important to find which of these late-round options dominate mediocre or sub-par pass defenses, and which guys struggle mightily against top pass-defending units. None of these quarterbacks are going to be matchup proof — as if any truly are — but it’d be nice to know exactly who has a history of crapping the proverbial fantasy football bed when they face off against elite defenses.

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But how? Here’s how: The mad scientists at RotoViz unveiled a new feature last week known as the Games Split App — a fantastic tool that helps fantasy owners drill down and see just how players perform against certain competition or with or without certain players on the field.

The point of streaming quarterbacks, of course, is to play matchups — to seek guys who face clearly favorable conditions from one week to the next. Below is a table of popular 2014 streaming options and how they’ve fared against top-10 defenses over the course of their pro careers.

The “games in split” column shows how each quarterback has performed against top-10 pass defenses, while the “games out of split” column charts how they’ve done in all other games. The far right column, “difference in fantasy production,” quantifies how much better each quarterback is against defenses that don’t rank among the NFL’s best pass coverage units.

Alex Smith is the exception here. His situation in Kansas City is vastly different than his career in San Francisco, where he was nothing more than a placeholder and a guy who wasn’t asked to do much against any defense, much less top-10 pass defenses.

I’ve only included his stats from his first year at the helm for Andy Reid‘s Chiefs. Perhaps this solidifies me as an Alex Smith apologist. I don’t know.

Player Games in split/average fantasy point per game Games out of split/average fantasy points per game Difference in fantasy production
Tony Romo 25 games/18.9 points 57 games/23.2 points 18.5 percent
Philip Rivers 28 games/16.8 points 104 games/20.2 points 17 percent
Ryan Tannehill 12 games/13.5 points 20 games/18.9 points 28.5 percent
Michael Vick 21 games/16.6 points 88 games/19.8 points 16 percent
Josh McCown 11 games/8.9 points 45 games/13.3 points 33 percent
Ben Roethlisberger 50 games/17.6 points 93 games/20 points 12 percent
Andy Dalton 18 games/15.9 points 30 games/23.4 points 32 percent
Carson Palmer 53 games/17 points 85 games/19.1 points 11 percent
Sam Bradford 16 games/15.8 points 33 games/16.7 6.5 percent
Alex Smith 3 games/20.4 points 12 games/20.9 points 2 percent


  • Right to the point: Dalton absolutely cooks against non-elite defenses and posts something close to replacement level fantasy production against top-10 pass defenses. This was clearer than ever in 2013, when Dalton went ballistic against the Bills, the Lions, the Vikings — the league’s most generous pass defense — and the Jets, while struggling against a handful of pass units in or near the top-10. I think Dalton, last year’s No. 5 fantasy quarterback, represents a fine value play as the 16th signal caller off the draft board, but he’s to be avoided against teams that defend the pass better than most. Dalton could a streaming quarterback staple if his ADP remains stagnant.
  • Tannehill isn’t even a usable fantasy option against the league’s top-end pass coverage units, posting a paltry 13.5 points in 12 career games against top-10 pass defenses. Tanny avoided a few absolute clunkers in 2013 with two or three touchdown passes in games that saw him fail to crack the 200-yard mark. It’s the fantasy equivalent of lipstick on a big, fat pig, and we should be more than a little wary of Tannehill as anything but a guy we stream against generous secondaries.
  • I’m encouraged by Palmer’s numbers here, as his 11 percent difference in fantasy production shows that he can be serviceable even in the fiery fantasy football hell mouth that is the NFC West. As the 24th quarterback off the board, Palmer is essentially free. I don’t think there’s any reason to deploy him against most of his NFC West competition though. The Seahawks, who allowed just two top-12 quarterback performances in 2013, help opposing quarterbacks to 8.6 schedule-adjusted points, while the Rams limited signal callers to 11.9 adjusted points per game.
  • Romo’s 18.5-percent difference was a little on the alarming side. He’s included in this analysis because he’s technically a late-round option as the 13th quarterback being taken in mock drafts. I think new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who has deep shots incorporated into every single pass play, can make Romo an every-week play in 2014, but it’s worth noting that Romo has a fairly big gap between his splits here.
  • Bradford’s splits are nice and even and…well, stunningly mediocre.
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C.D. Carter Fantasy Football Analyst
C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.