The Biggest Gaps Between Real-Life and Fantasy Football Value


Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?


Our favorite things about fantasy football – drafting a team, bidding on the waiver wire, negotiating trades and making start-sit decisions every week for four months – have certainly helped grow the NFL.

Sometimes, though, real football and fantasy football diverge, and the fantasy community’s view of one player can be a bit different than that of NFL GMs, coaches, players and the few fans left who don’t dabble in this game.

Understanding who is better in fantasy football than in real life football can be a good tool for drafting and managing teams. We all want the uber-talented players with a ton of opportunity who check every box, but there are only a couple of those guys out there.

It’s important to know which players your leaguemates don’t value as much as they should, and which they overvalue because of talent alone. Here, we’ll cover a few players who are better in fantasy football than they are in real life and a few who are better in real life than they are in fantasy.

Better in Fantasy

Rushing Quarterbacks

If you’ve consumed any fantasy football content over the past several years, you have certainly heard about rushing ability acting as the great equalizer for quarterbacks, and it’s completely true. Top NFL QB rankings and top fantasy QB rankings look somewhat similar, but there are always a few massive exceptions, and they usually pay off for fantasy. In 2022, Justin Fields finished as the QB5 in points per game, ahead of guys like Lamar Jackson, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Hebert and Aaron Rodgers. You’d be hard-pressed to find people who believe Fields is better than all of those quarterbacks, or even any of them.

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Let’s use Lawrence as an example, who scored almost the exact same number of points as Fields in two more games. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns while only tossing eight interceptions and, overall, 83% of his fantasy points came from his elite passing productivity. On the other hand, Fields threw for just 2,200 yards and 17 touchdowns while tossing 11 picks, but a ridiculous 55% of his fantasy points came from rushing. If only passing stats were counted for quarterbacks, Fields would be irrelevant and Lawrence would’ve blown him away, but Fields’ greatest weapon led to 1,100 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns and a QB6 finish overall.

2023 Quarterbacks: Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, Anthony Richardson

Running Backs with a Massive Workload

This sounds like common sense, and that’s because it is, but sometimes running backs with practically guaranteed workloads are overlooked in favor of younger, more explosive players with upside. In 2022, the five running backs with the most touches – Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Nick Chubb – all occupied top-six spots in the RB rankings. Don’t get me wrong, I am a believer in upside, and all of those players are great, but sometimes the right pick is the simple one, even if the player with the massive workload isn’t that good.

Derrick Henry RB Tennessee Titans

Since 2014, per FTN’s rushing stats, there is a 0.96 correlation between total touches and fantasy points for all running backs and a 0.88 correlation between total touches and points per game which illustrates one important thing – these players aren’t lucking into high finishes solely based on health. They’re actually performing extremely well on a per-game basis. Essentially, more touches equals more points in every sense. So, when older or less exciting players slip down draft boards despite experiencing virtually no change to their typically large workload, take a second look and consider how reliable these types of running backs have been historically.

2023 Running Backs: Joe Mixon, Najee Harris, James Conner

Better in Real Life

Pocket Passers

As you’ll see, we get the “better in real life” section by taking the inverse of the “better in fantasy” section. Just as quarterbacks who run disproportionately dominate in fantasy football, pocket passers often get left for dead in the later rounds of drafts, or they don’t get drafted at all despite how good they are at real life football. 

For example, Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins ranked third and fourth respectively in passing fantasy points in 2022, but they finished as the 10th and 8th ranked quarterbacks on the season. If only passing stats were valid for fantasy, those two, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr and Russell Wilson would have been a lot better while players like Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields and Lamar Jackson would have been a lot worse. These pocket passers still have value if they can put up astronomical numbers, but that is typically reserved for the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow and a few others. 

2023 Quarterbacks: Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr


Running Backs with Limited Targets

Non-pass-catching running backs have become the ugly duckling of fantasy football in recent years with the growth of half and full-PPR leagues. Since 2014, a running back target is worth 1.9 times more than a running back carry, and a running back reception is worth 2.5 times more than a carry in half-PPR leagues. This is a huge reason why backs like Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler have had so much success in recent years. 

Still, old-school rushers who ground and pound their way to 1,200-plus yards or double-digit touchdowns have their place in fantasy. Their ceiling is a bit capped without the pass-catching prowess of their counterparts, but they’re typically reliable, sometimes elite, and they remain exciting because if they ever see more targets, they could be truly unstoppable. The guys who aren’t pass-catchers are usually goal-line backs as well, which adds plenty of value in its own right but comes at the expense of stability – think Jamaal Williams and his 17 touchdowns but 5.5 points per game when he didn’t score last season per the FTN Splits Tool.

2023 Running Backs: Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, J.K. Dobbins, Dameon Pierce

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