Fantasy Football: Using Standard Deviation to Your Advantage

Michael SholtyContributor IJuly 28, 2009

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 9: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints cheers a play against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on November 9, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Every year I hear the same argument coming up among fantasy-obsessed people like you and me.

The debate?  Taking a top-tier quarterback in the first two rounds.

One side of the argument says that quarterbacks score the most points out of any position and are essential cornerstones to your fantasy success.  The other side says grabbing a top running back is important because the drop-off is so steep after the first round.

This year is no different.  There are three quarterbacks you could justify taking in the first two rounds: Tom Brady (incredible upside shown from 2007 season), Peyton Manning (king of consistency), and Drew Brees (pure awesomeness).  To get Brees or Brady you will probably have to grab them in the first round because other people are looking to grab them there, but Manning can be found in the second round almost every time.

I did some analysis of my own and I have come to the conclusion that drafting a quarterback before you get a reliable running back is a bad idea.  Let me explain.

If you have taken a math or statistics class, standard deviation is a very familiar thing for you. From the wise words of Wikipedia:

In probability theory and statistics, standard deviation is a measure of the variability or dispersion of a population, a data set, or a probability distribution.  A low standard deviation indicates that the data points tend to be very close to the same value (the mean), while high standard deviation indicates that the data are spread out over a large range of values.

Those words might not mean a lot to you, so let me explain it in a simpler way.  If you find the standard deviation of a data set (I found standard deviation of average points per game), you will find the "gap" between each position player. When a bunch of quarterbacks or running backs play similarly over a season, the standard deviation will be a low number. When there are a couple of players who exceed expectations and perform better than the rest, standard deviation increases substantially.

So with that last tidbit I threw out there, you'd think because Manning and Brees are so far away from the other QBs in terms of production, the standard deviation for QBs would be very high compared to the standard deviation of running backs, right?

This is actually incorrect.  Brees did have an amazing fantasy season last year, but when you compare his numbers to all the other top nine QBs from last year, his numbers are relatively close.

There are 10 QBs who will be drafted in the top 100 this year.  If you take their numbers from last year, the average top-10 QB scored 15.83 points per game with a standard deviation of 2.79.  When you take all the RBs in the top 100 and find their average points per game, you get 15.21 with a standard deviation of 3.05.

This tells you there are some RBs performing significantly better than others, and those are the guys available only in the first round.

I looked up Yahoo's statistical predictions for this year for QBs and found the standard deviation of the top-10 QBs to be 2.08. Of course, Yahoo's statistical predictions are not perfect, but if they even come close to what was predicted, then that means there is an abundance of QB options this year.

Standard deviation is a statistic that all statisticians have been using for ages.  It does not lie.  So because fantasy football is a game of statistics, why not use statistical analysis on your side?

Do not make the mistake of drafting Brees or Brady in the first round and miss out on one of the rare RBs who will carry your team week-to-week.

You can draft Phillip Rivers in the fifth round (second in points per game last year among QBs) or Aaron Rodgers in the sixth round (only five points less a game than Brees and bound to improve this year).  Drafting a QB later gives you a shot at the best RB and best WR so you can win your fantasy league.