Position Primer: Quarterback

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Despite the injury risk, Michael Vick(notes) is a worthy Round 1 pick
(US Presswire)
Across portions of Fantasyland the Old West is alive and well. Snakes slither. Dust blows. Occasional lawlessness ensues. Only tumbleweed, deviant cartoon coyotes, city-swallowing Haboobs and the hardiest folks inhabit the area.

Within the QB territory, gunslingers Peyton Manning(notes), Tom Brady(notes), Drew Brees(notes), Aaron Rodgers(notes), Tony Romo(notes) and Philip Rivers(notes) have ruled over the landscape with Colt revolver in one hand, pigskin in the other. The league’s pass-happy trend – 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 rank No. 4, 8, 3 and 1 in passing yards per team per game in NFL history – has made these decorated sheriffs objects of fantasy dependability. Amazingly, since 2006, only one quarterback drafted inside the top 4(Tom Brady in ’08) has failed to churn out a QB1 yield in 12-team leagues. That’s a bust rate of just five percent. Reliable.

For owners willing to ignore the traditional belief that QBs are a dime a dozen, spending an early round pick on an elite-level passer is a sound strategy. With Michael Vick the lone exception, the investment risk is relatively low. Most within the air-minded group, excluding the elder Manning, are firmly entrenched in their primes. It’s highly unlikely they will bomb completely, unless, of course, the unpredictable injury imp bites.

However, a posse of fresh-faced talent, determined to challenge the law and reaffirm conventional wait-on-QB wisdom, has rolled into town.

Matt Ryan(notes), Kevin Kolb(notes), Josh Freeman(notes), Matthew Stafford(notes) and Sam Bradford(notes) are the Young Guns.

Every commodity within this skilled bunch oozes upside. Each has above average weapons, at least average frontline protection and supportive coaches determined to maximize their potential.

Last year, Ryan and Freeman made the biggest statistical leaps. Both finished inside the position’s top-14 in points per game in standard formats. Additional growth this year is likely. The others, too, could climb. If Kolb establishes an instant rapport with Larry Fitzgerald(notes), Stafford remains healthy and Josh McDaniels elevates Bradford’s game, it’s possible all five could vie for top-10 supremacy. Most importantly, ignoring Ryan (55.6 Y! ADP), each is going after pick 90 on average in Yahoo! leagues. That’s quite the bargain.

To hammer home why waiting on a QB, after Vick, might be a foolproof tactic, examine the chart below. :

YEARQB19DIFYPAYPGCMP%
20007-8.96.7206.958.2
20019-6.56.8205.859.0
200212-7.46.7212.259.6
20038-5.36.6200.458.8
200412-8.77.1210.559.8
20053-4.76.8203.559.5
20067-7.46.9204.859.8
200711-10.56.9214.361.2
200810-6.56.9211.361.0
200914-5.47.0218.560.9
201018-4.07.0221.660.8

*QB19 = quarterbacks that averaged at least 19.0 points per game in standard formats (4 pts/passing TD)
*Dif = points per-game difference between No. 1 and No. 12 ranked quarterbacks (10 game start minimum)

(Note: Because it greatly skews the data, Vick’s extraordinary 2010 was not included. If the high-flying Eagle falls into the back-half of Round 1, pounce. Given his scoring duality and ripe offensive environment, he’s worth every penny)

From Rodgers, the top-rated QB after Vick, to David Garrard(notes), the 12th-rated passer, the per game disparity was just 4.0 points. Because of the incredible influx of talent and the passing evolution of the league, depth at QB is the name of the game. As the chart depicts above, it’s really unprecedented.

Bottom line: Good things can come to those who wait.

What other factors should owners keep in mind when approaching QB this year? Here are five additional takeaways:

Who made who – It’s vital that owners understand the personality of those drawing up the Xs and Os. Plays called by offensive coordinators dictate scoring events on the physical and virtual gridirons. Of the passers that finished inside the QB top 12 in points per game a season ago only Ben Roethlisberger(notes) and David Garrard were products of systems that favored run over pass (Pittsburgh threw 48.2 percent of the time, Jacksonville, 46 percent). When uncovering sleepers, aim for quarterbacks in liberal, pass-centric systems who will be provided with several opportunities (e.g. Stafford, Bradford and Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes)).

Lethal weapons – Often times quarterbacks are only as good as the receivers that surround them. Yes, the great ones can turn water into wine (e.g. Peyton’s magic on Austin Collie(notes) last year), but serviceable QBs in unfavorable situations typically suffer because they don’t have an arsenal that rivals Vick’s or Rivers’. When choosing one slinger over another, let the talent level at receiver be the tiebreaker. For example, Kolb’s bevy of useful targets, the most important being Larry Fitzgerald, are more attractive than Jay Cutler’s(notes) (Roy Williams is more nincompoop than nuclear).

Spread the love – Of the signal callers that finished as Noise-certified QB1s, nine were offsprings of spread systems (e.g. Green Bay, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New England, Buffalo, etc.). Colt McCoy(notes), for example, could be a major surprise this season in Pat Shurmur’s newly implemented West Coast offense, a timing scheme that incorporates many spread elements. If his spectacular preseason debut (9-10, 135 yards, TD) is a sign of performances to come, the second-year QB is Grade-A shocker special material.

Multi-dimensionality When valuing quarterbacks, rushing ability is the single-most overlooked asset. Quiz a fellow leaguemate which QB in 2004 was the fantasy pacesetter and he would surely answer “Peyton Manning.” Recall, that was the season the four-time MVP blew up the scene with a then-record 49 TD passes. However, in actuality, Daunte Culpepper(notes), carried by his 406 rushing yards and two ground TDs, was the king of the class that year. Outside obvious names Vick and Rodgers, Freeman, Garrard, Fitzpatrick and even Jay Cutler are sneaky sources of ground production.

Garbage Pail Kids – Among last year’s starter-worthy bunch, six benefited greatly from their team’s generosity on defense. Brady, Romo, Orton, Fitzpatrick, Garrard and Schaub played on squad’s that ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in total yards surrendered per game. In reality, many fans would change the channel in a blowout. But in fantasy, QBs trying to overcome sizable deficits is must see TV. Defensive marginality is difficult to ascertain in preseason, but usually it takes units a year or two to overcome inefficiencies. For example, if the Cowboys don’t dramatically improve on D this season – they allowed an NFC-worst 27.2 points per game last year – Romo could be in store for a monster year.

Quarterback – Tiers

    Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady
    Philip Rivers, Tony Romo

    Matt Schaub(notes), Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning(notes)

    Matthew Stafford, Josh Freeman, Jay Cutler, Kevin Kolb, Joe Flacco(notes), Sam Bradford

    Kyle Orton(notes), Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel(notes), Mark Sanchez(notes), David Garrard
    Donovan McNabb(notes)

    Jason Campbell(notes), Chad Henne(notes), Colt McCoy, Matt Hasselbeck(notes), Cam Newton

    Tim Tebow(notes), Tarvaris Jackson(notes), Alex Smith, Rex Grossman(notes), Andy Dalton(notes)
    Bruce Gradkowski(notes), Charlie Whitehurst(notes), Blaine Gabbert(notes), John Beck(notes)
    Vince Young(notes), Jake Locker(notes), Jimmy Clausen(notes), Shaun Hill(notes), Matt Moore(notes)
    Tyler Thigpen(notes), Jon Kitna(notes), Christian Ponder(notes)

 High Fives 

Brandon Funston
Which QB, given his draft cost, looks like the best bang for the buck?

1. Tony Romo: Romo is the No. 7 QB taken on average in Yahoo! drafts, yet he is very capable of pacing his position in fantasy in ’11. His fantasy PPG rate through his first five games in ’10 (prior to his injury) would have placed him third-best among QBs. His weapons are among the best in the league, and an increased workload for RB Felix Jones(notes), a dynamic receiving option, is another bullet in Romo’s chamber. Considering you can get him about a round later than the six QBs ahead of him, he’s the guy to target if you want a luxury-class QB.
2. Matt Ryan: Weapons galore and ATL ready to lossen up offense
3. Matt Schaub: No. 3 QB in ’09, No. 2 QB final five weeks of ’10
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Top 10 per game QB returns in ’10
5. Matt Cassel: KC has potential to be elite scoring offense


Andy
Behrens
Which QB, given his draft cost, carries the most risk?

1. Michael Vick: I’m just about finished having these conversations about Vick. If you didn’t see the way gameplans changed against him at the end of last season, I’m not going to convince you in 3-4 sentences. And if you don’t see any heightened injury risk to a fumble-prone QB who runs the ball 8-12 times per game and essentially wears a target … well, I can’t convince you of that either, I guess. You’ll just take him first overall, assuming he’s going to be Steve Young 2.0. Personally, I see some risk here, along with reward.
2. Jay Cutler: Bears didn’t really improve O-line or receiving corps
3. Eli Manning: We’ve seen the ceiling. It’s good, but full of turnovers
4. David Garrard: Forget Week 16, there’s no guarantee he’ll start Week 1
5. Josh Freeman: Had just one big day in 2010; priced as if he’s elite


Scott Pianowski
Who are the top 5 backup QBs?

1. Tim Tebow: It’s simple algebra here: run-first quarterbacks are dynamic fantasy sources. Tebow was the highest-scoring quarterback in fake football for the final three weeks of 2010, mostly because of his 199 rushing yards and three ground scores. And while his passing remains a work in progress, he wasn’t a total zero in that area last year, either. If at any point you hear that Tebow is going to be the new starter in Denver, drop whatever you’re doing and run to the wire.
2. Vince Young: Vick’s an injury risk; Reid’s offense, fun skill players await
3. Tyler Thigpen: The pistol made our fantasy lives happy in 2008
4. Matt Flynn(notes): Almost stole a win at New England in mid-December
5. Daunte Culpepper: A longshot on the way out; Smith is not trustable

Brad "The Big Noise" Evans has obsessed about his fantasy teams since the days when Jeff George had value. Yahoo! Sports fantasy’s resident baseball, football and bracketology expert, Brad also lends advice on the two-time Emmy-nominated webcast "Fantasy Football Live" each NFL Sunday.
Follow him on Twitter. Send Brad a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Aug 18, 2011