Rookie QBs And Other NFL Projection Tips With John Paulsen

Rookie QBs And Other NFL Projection Tips With John Paulsen

Jason Scavone
NFL
Props
September 17, 2023

A football player holding his helmet amid a field of abstract data representing NFL projections

 

Building or sourcing NFL projections accurate enough to beat props with is an ongoing quest for any bettor. Accurate projections are the Holy Grail, but to get them in fighting shape, it requires constant maintenance and careful attention to weekly shifts in playing time, target share, weather and more.

John Paulsen, the projections guru at fantasy and betting site 4for4.com has been maintaining their numbers for more than 10 years, and he knows a bit about it. He earned top marks from FantasyPros in 2010 and 2014, and made their top 10 for accuracy in 10 of 12 seasons from 2010-2021.

Starting today, those projections will be available for Unabated users who purchase or have an existing 4for4 subscription to load directly from the Prop Odds Screen. 

With 17 weeks of football in front of us, here are three things to look out for this season and beyond.

 

Tread Carefully with Rookie Quarterbacks

 

The Week 1 results weren’t eye-popping. Bryce Young: 146 yards, a touchdown and two picks. Sam Howell: 202 with a touchdown, fumble lost and an interception. Anthony Richardson: 223 yards with a TD and INT. C.J. Stroud got 242 but lost a fumble and didn’t throw a touchdown.

The rookies posted three of the bottom-10 quarterback ratings for Week 1 through Sunday night.

Projecting rookie quarterbacks can be unpredictable in the abstract, but they share one important characteristic.  

“They typically don’t do very well,” Paulsen said. “In general there is a subset that does do well, and they’re typically ones who can run.”

Which means rookie rushing projections are going to be a bit more reliable early in the season.

To project the rookie starters, Paulsen uses a model to adjust college stats to the pro level that leans on their final season in the college ranks, though the projections won’t start to tighten up on their passing numbers until they have a few starts in.

“We’ll know a lot more about Stroud and Young after the first couple starts,” he said. “I do have some data from Derrik Klassen over at Reception Perception. He’s doing all the quarterback charting and C.J. Stroud’s accuracy numbers were great in college across the board. So I’m a little more bullish on him long term, but this Houston offensive line is a disaster. He has some upside as a passer. Maybe a little bit more than Bryce Young.”

 

Don’t Miss the Window on Weather

 

As Mac Jones and his 2-for-3 night for 19 yards can tell you, weather can have a drastic impact on more than just full and partial-game totals. 

Paulsen adjusts his NFL projections for rainfall, wind speed and direction and other weather factors, because those can be great opportunities to get out in front of the books. 

“If you remember years ago there was that Philly blizzard and LeSean McCoy went for 200 yards. When the weather gets to be like that, you adjust by cranking down your pass attempts and cranking up your rush attempts. Vegas does react to it as it’s happening on Sunday mornings, but the totals don’t drop fast enough.”

 

Subjective and Objective Sides to Creating NFL Projections

If you’re going down the path of trying to build your own projection sets, be prepared for how much work it’s going to be. 

“I do think an approach with multivariable regression is a good way to go,” Paulsen said. “You’re leaning in on what’s happened historically with game lines, then looking at year-to-date data driving your projections on a weekly basis. But the tricky part is the distributions and assigning all these players different numbers and not falling into too many traps where a player has a hot run of three or four games.”

Some of the work can be subjective in that sense. You have to know which players have high ceilings and low floors. You need a sense of how to update your numbers around those. Paulsen would rather trust a player with a higher floor and a little upside than one with a ton of upside but a low floor. 

Knowing the difference between a player who’s simply hot and a player who genuinely hasn’t gotten an opportunity is key.

“That’s where Reception Perception really does come in for me because he charts everybody’s routes, and he was way ahead of the game on Tyreek Hill, on Tyler Lockett. If he gets on a guy and says he’s a rock-solid route runner. Now this player is starting to get playing time, or he’s starting to get play with a good quarterback, those are the players who really tend to break out.”

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