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The worth of quarterbacks in fantasy football is elastic depending on who you ask. Eight of the top ten points leaders in standard leagues were quarterbacks which gives us three takeaways.
- Quarterbacks score more points than any other position.
- Value can be found at the quarterback position in later rounds.
- Serious injuries rarely occur with quarterbacks because of the new rules to protect them in the pocket
Russell Wilson, who ranked third overall in 2014 fantasy points, had an average draft position (ADP) of 85, insane value for a middle-round pick. Most fantasy players believe in drafting quarterbacks late because value exists past the elite players, but this strategy comes at a huge risk. The difference between the top fantasy quarterback and the tenth best fantasy quarterback is 79 points, a pretty large gap by any objective measure.
Unlike the volatile nature of other positions, quarterbacks miss less games and don’t see huge dips in expected production since contemporary football is so focused on passing (it would be almost impossible for a quarterback to see a dip in production as severe as LeSean McCoy‘s 2014 fantasy season). There’s no bad strategy for drafting quarterbacks outside of waiting until so late that you are stuck with drafting rookies (Marcus Mariota), players certain to incur a season-ending injury (Sam Bradford), or dudes who clearly just filling the spot until the team finds a starter (Ryan Fitzpatrick). You can win your league with an average quarterback, but don’t make things harder on yourself than necessary.
Deflategate note: Tom Brady will be left out of this column because of his potential suspension. Some drafts will see him drop into late rounds while bold takers elsewhere will assume Brady will receive no suspension. Conventional wisdom suggests taking Brady no sooner than the sixth round of any fantasy draft (although that was true before the Deflatgate suspension). Flip a coin before clicking the “draft” button.
Drew Brees (4,952 passing yards, 33 TDs, 17 INTs)
Are the days of the New Orleans Saints high-octane offense over? The team traded Jimmy Graham in the offseason, Marques Colston now has the best hands on the team (not great, but not horrible either), and the team’s attempt to replace Darren Sproles have not worked out so far (adding C.J. Spiller could change things on that front this year). The significant, yet unsexy, improvements that will catapult the Saints back into an elite offense are present on the offensive line. The Graham trade brought Pro Bowl center Max Unger from the Seattle Seahawks, and the team invested a first-round pick in Stanford tackle Andrus Peat. Similar to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Brees can pick apart any defense with enough time to analyze the defense, an asset Brees missed over the past two years because of the aging offensive line. Expect great things from Brees this year.
Andrew Luck (4,761 passing yards, 40 TDs, 16 INTs)
Luck did not need additional weapons to vanquish NFL defenses. He got two new big toys in the offseason anyway: Andre Johnson and Frank Gore. Budding superstar T.Y. Hilton will receive tutelage from Johnson, and additional room to operate against secondaries. Frank Gore is a huge improvement over the previous options at running back despite not being the same guy he used to be. The offensive line has steadily gotten better over the years, but is still average at best. Overall, Luck is set to destroy the league again with his arms as well as his legs. If you see Luck past the first round, draft him immediately.
Eli Manning (4,410 passing yards, 30 TDs, 14 INTs)
Although Victor Cruz missed ten games during the 2014 season, Manning still had a great comeback season after an abysmal 2013 season. The number one factor for this return to greatness was the sudden emergence of rookie Odell Beckham Jr., perhaps the most talented wide receiver to enter the league since Randy Moss.
Any quarterback on a team with Beckham would be considered a top ten fantasy prospect if they had an above-average skillset. Manning is about as enigmatic as a quarterback can be, capable of stinkers and record-breaking performances from week-to-week. The New York Giants still lack talent at running back, but the same was true last year. Manning’s production will be even greater this year with Cruz available in the slot.
Peyton Manning (4,727 passing yards, 39 TDs, 15 INTs)
Honestly, it’s hard to to make a case for Peyton Manning as a top fantasy quarterback outside of saying that “it always has been and always will be.” The Denver Broncos added no exceptional offensive talent to the roster, and Manning has physically been unable to play football decently past the second half of the season for two consecutive years. One plus for Manning is the offensive line’s relatively good health coming into the season (the Broncos lost multiple starters on the offensive line to season ending injuries early in the 2013 and 2014 seasons). Manning was brilliant enough to be the sixth best fantasy quarterback in 2014 without being able to comfortably throw the ball more than 20 yards. The advice here is not to avoid drafting Manning, just don’t make him one of the first three quarterbacks taken off the board.
Aaron Rodgers (4,381 passing yards, 38 TDs, 5 INTs)
Six quarterbacks threw for more yards than Rodgers, yet he was the No. 1 fantasy player because only threw 5 interceptions. We’re not going into detail about how ridiculously good that is right now, but just know that’s nearly unheard of for a quarterback playing 16 games. It’s also incredibly valuable in fantasy football because Rodgers isn’t costing the team points by turning the ball over, an overlooked factor when deciding who to draft. Even better, the Green Bay Packers’ offense is mostly intact from last season, and added rookie wide receiver Ty Montgomery who some scouts believed was a first-round prospect (drafted in the third round). If you can take him, you probably should. In the worse case scenario, Rodgers is excellent trade bait to get what you really want.
Ben Roethlisberger (4,952 passing yards, 32 TDs, 9 INTs)
If last year feels like an anaomly for Big Ben, that’s because it was. He hit career-high in completion percentage, completions, attempts, passing yards, total quarterback rating, yards per attempt, and matched his personal-high for touchdowns. The partnership between Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley is finally paying record dividends after years of turmoil. Antonio Brown‘s recent explosion to stardom has only helped matters. No one saw this coming in 2014 or Roethlisberger’s ADP would not have been 121. As always, the Pittsburgh Steelers have an average offensive line so expect Roethlisberger to play through some crazy injuries.
Tony Romo (3,705 passing yards, 34 TDs, 9 INTs)
Can the Dallas Cowboys’ running backs approximate with the production of the departed DeMarco Murray? Probably not, which is bad for Cowboys fans, great for fantasy owners of Romo. The team will be able to move the ball no matter what thanks to their outstanding offensive line, but a less potent running game means more passing attempts for the man appropriately nicknamed by Stephen A. Smith as “an accident waiting to happen.”
Romo has been a top 10 fantasy quarterback since he became the full-time starter. We’d have legitimate cause for concern if the Cowboys lost Dez Bryant. Romo won’t win a fantasy league title for you, but he definitely won’t be the reason you lost, just like in real football.
Matt Ryan (4,694 passing yards, 28 TDs, 14 INTs)
Ryan keeps sneaking into a slot for top 10 fantasy quarterbacks. At some point that has to mean something although I’m not sure what (same with our next guy). Having Julio Jones and Roddy White apparently creates a quarterback stat-stuffing machine. That’s all we need him for anyway. There are no standout players on offense beyond those three and the Falcons offensive line hasn’t sdown much promise in the last two years, giving up 75 sacks in two years. Don’t put a lot of faith into Ryan, but if he’s the best quarterback left on the board, the good ones are running out.
Matthew Stafford (4,257 passing yards, 22 TDs, 12 INTs)
Stafford played well last year, but the fantasy numbers were below his 2013 totals (4,650 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 19 interceptions) across the board. We should hand Stafford a mulligan since Calvin Johnson missed three games in 2014 and played most games hurt. Every quarterback’s numbers would drop in that situation. That’s not to argue that Stafford is an elite quarterback. The potential is certainly present, but he’s not there yet. A healthy Calvin Johnson can easily bring Stafford’s numbers back to 2013 levels and beyond.
Russell Wilson (3,475 passing yards, 20 TDs, 7 INTs)
Counting Wilson as a top 10 quarterback can seem ridiculous at first glance until you keep two things in mind.
- In 2014, Wilson accumulated 849 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns with only 118 rushing attempts.
- Jimmy Graham was acquired by the Seahawks via trade, a huge upgrade at the tight end spot.
- And a bonus reason: Motivation
Wilson and the Seahawks are on a mission the same way the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs were after they blew the previous 2013 NBA Finals. Like Rodgers, Wilson is a great bet because the team runs everything they do on offense through him, and he doesn’t turn the ball over. One-thousand rushing yards is not out of the question for Wilson so he will definitely be one of the first quarterbacks off the board.
Additional notes: Smokin’ Jay Cutler‘s teammates and former teammates are already in mid-season form, calling him a “top-tier quarterback” and lamenting his lack of responsibility (also this is Cutler’s fifth different group of offensive coaches since he joined the team in 2009; just avoid this situation like the plague). The 49ers were never an offensive powerhouse and now Jim Harbaugh isn’t there to help Colin Kaepernick, draft him at your own risk. Jameis Winston will struggle early, but look to pull him off waivers soon after the draft or early into the season. Do not draft quarterbacks from the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, or Buffalo Bills. Philip Rivers will be available in late rounds so don’t pick him up before you have to.