Position Primer: Quarterback

More primers: RB Primer | WR Primer | TE Primer

By nature, fantasy owners are creatures of habit. Often times, they’re overly cautious, dogged and mule-stubborn. Force them into an ultimatum of taking an Aaron Rodgers(notes) tight spiral to the head or drafting a quarterback in Round 1 and the obstinate majority would likely opt for the former. Risking permanent head damage frankly isn’t that big of a threat.

Drafting Manning is crazy? Think again.
(Andy Lyons /Getty Images)

Roughly five years ago, the running theory – drafting RBs early and often – was pervasive throughout any virtual or physical draft room. Select Peyton Manning(notes) in Round 1 and the QB-abstaining masses would immediately declare the owner to be daft. After all, ground-pounders were widely believed to be the basic building blocks of a championship-caliber team. Unless your league scored six points per passing touchdown, managers that failed to fully construct backfields by the end of Round 4 were destined for a season filled with frustration and catastrophe. Only an incredible stroke of luck could make their teams competitive.

Flash forward to the present.

Despite the NFL’s aerial evolution, RB zealots continue to idiotically cling to traditional world-is-flat theories. Their inability to grasp reality is mind-boggling. The increased use of backfield timeshares and reliance on verticality has challenged widely accepted fantasy beliefs about quarterbacks. Once synonymous with draft patience, they’re now the centerpieces of virtual franchises. Gunslingers’ week-to-week consistency and skyward scoring averages have, and will, continue to carry owners to trophy gold. Don’t grab an elite passer early and failure could very well be an option. The game is different now. For the love of Matt Schaub(notes), accept it.

So why the sudden change?

Entering the 2010s, the NFL is a league greatly influenced by Don “Air” Coryell’s, not Chuck Noll’s, inventive philosophies. Examine the vertical trends 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

*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)

Once considered taboo, picking a QB, like Rodgers,
in the late-first is a wise move.
(Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

As the chart depicts, offensive coordinators have become increasingly air-centric over the past decade, resulting in more aggressive and efficient passers. The three most accurate seasons in NFL history were tallied from 2007-2009. Excluding misfits Matt Leinart(notes) and Jake Delhomme(notes), who could overthrow Andre the Giant on a swing pass, signal callers are threading needles with unprecedented success. The evidence is indisputable. Due to the rising aerial emphasis, especially in short yardage situations and near the goal line, yardage marks and overall QB fantasy production has spiked.

Several reasons explain the statistical tide shift. For starters, the infusion of spread elements into offensive systems has spurred more opportunities and eased the transition for inexperienced QBs. Quick slant, curl and F post patterns, common in many playbooks at multiple levels, have increased the likelihood for completions and, thusly, scoring opportunities. Also, the talent pool of gunslingers is deeper. Yes, intelligent schemes can mask true skill (see Tyler Thigpen(notes) ’08), but, due to advancements in player developmental practices, field generals are entering the league with more proficiency. Rule changes, lack of dominant Ds and tactical alterations (e.g. The Saints’ desire to throw when ahead) are also influential factors.

Obtuse fanatics who can’t see the evolving trend are simply living in the Tecmo Bowl past. Outside the standalone rushers (e.g. Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice(notes), etc.) quarterbacks are now the true amino acids of fantasy. Gone are the days of teams hoisting the hardware with a mediocre quarterback (Note: The Noise reached the pinnacle of a 12-team league deploying Jon Kitna(notes) in 2000 – Yes, the horrendous ‘Hawks version.)

Sure, every year you can uncover a QB gem after Round 7. Kevin Kolb(notes), Joe Flacco(notes), Matthew Stafford(notes) or Alex Smith could fit the bill this year. And though the per-game gap between QB1s has shrunk, uncertainties and concerns after the elite tier (post-Brady) makes selecting a top-flight passer early imperative – a laughable proposition just a handful of seasons ago. Ask yourself: Does drafting backend first-rounders Rashard Mendenhall, Shonn Greene or Larry Fitzgerald over Rodgers or Brees increase your comfort level?

It’s time to alter the typical owner’s draft DNA. The running theory is officially dead.

Quarterback – Tiers
 – Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees(notes), Peyton Manning

 – Tony Romo(notes), Tom Brady(notes), Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers(notes)

 – Jay Cutler(notes), Eli Manning(notes), Kevin Kolb, Matt Ryan(notes), Joe Flacco, Brett Favre(notes)

 – Donovan McNabb(notes), Carson Palmer(notes), Matthew Stafford, Chad Henne(notes), Ben Roethlisberger(notes)

 – Alex Smith, Vince Young(notes), David Garrard(notes), Matt Cassel(notes)

 – Matt Leinart, Matt Hasselbeck(notes), Matt Moore(notes), Mark Sanchez(notes), Jason Campbell(notes), Josh Freeman(notes), Kyle Orton(notes), Sam Bradford(notes), Trent Edwards(notes), Jake Delhomme, Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels(notes)

Top 5 Quarterbacks – Undervalued

Andy
Behrens
1.) Matthew Stafford – Buried in ADP, but this guy can make any throw and his supporting cast is talented, built for shootouts.
2.) Chad Henne – Ted Ginn is out, Brandon Marshall(notes) is in. That’s the single greatest upgrade in the history of upgrades.
3.) Donovan McNabb – Don’t love the receivers, but McNabb has had big years throwing to lesser talents (Thrash, Pinkston, et al).
4.) Vince Young – Began the ’09 season as a punch line, but finished it as a viable fantasy option.
5.) Alex Smith – With Smith’s late-draft ADP, there’s zero risk attached to the pick. Hard to dislike the Niners’ receiving weapons.

Brad Evans
1.) Tony RomoDez Bryant’s(notes) setback doesn’t damage Rambo’s prospects for a career year. His improved accuracy, decision making and numbers suggest possible top-3 campaign.
2.) Matt Schaub – Leads the league in passing, outperforms Peyton Manning in points per game yet still is going some 20 picks after the Colts wonder? Can you say bargain?
3.) Alex Smith – Extrapolate his ’09 numbers over a full season and he was a poor man’s Kurt Warner(notes). Given the environment, expect a nice numbers uptick.
4.) Matthew Stafford – Megatron, Burleson and Best … sign The Noise up. If Detroit’s defense doesn’t improve, think 3,600 yards, 23-26 TDs.
5.) Chad Henne – Three 300-yard games over final five weeks suggest a breakout. Signing Marshall may have sealed the deal.

Brandon Funston
1.) Ben Roethlisberger – As much as I loathe tossing plaudits his way, it’s looking like Big Ben is likely to have his suspension reduced to four games and OC Bruce Arians is raving about him in camp, even suggesting he might still be a 4,000-yard man.
2.) Tony Romo – Has more fantasy points per game than Peyton in two of past three seasons and is setup for a career year, yet you’ll rarely see him go in the top 4 at his position this draft season.
3.) Chad Henne – He was a top-12 fantasy quarterback for the final five weeks of ’09, and that was without Brandon Marshall.
4.) Carson Palmer – Cincy played it conservative (5th-fewest pass attempts) in Palmer’s first full year back from injury, but he was a top-nine fantasy QB in each season from ’05-’07, and he’s got a re-stocked cupboard in the receiving corps.
5.) Matt Cassel – There’s a full-season of Jamaal Charles(notes) and the added x-factor element of burner Dexter McCluster(notes) to help out Cassel this season – I have a feeling he’ll be a sneaky-good fantasy backup.

Top 5 Quarterbacks – Overvalued

Andy
Behrens
1.) Kevin Kolb – Great situation, but he’s being drafted as a fantasy starter, leaving little room for profit. And this was painful.
2.) Jay Cutler – High interception totals are a given in Martz’s offense, so Cutler isn’t a great fit in every format. The ADP scares me off.
3.) Philip Rivers – Rivers is great, no doubt. But the V-Jax situation is a worry, and he’s being drafted before Romo, Schaub.
4.) Carson Palmer – He has the best receivers money can buy (in 2007), but this is a running team until further notice.
5.) Kyle Orton – Drafted in a surprising number of leagues, considering his talent (modest) and his receiving corps (sketchy).

Brad Evans
1.) Philip Rivers – The potential prolonged holdout absences of Vincent Jackson(notes) and Marcus McNeill could transform San Diego into a more run-centric team.
2.) Carson Palmer – Addition of T.O. and Jermaine Gresham(notes) boost Palmer’s value very little. Conservativism will reign supreme once again in Cincy.
3.) Joe Flacco – Sexy pick among pundits, but The Noise isn’t convinced he will make a major leap. Keep in mind he totaled eight games of 200 yards or less in ’09.
4.) Donovan McNabb – Injury susceptibility and dated options at running back push the veteran into QB2 territory. Ceiling: 20-22 TDs.
5.) Jay Cutler – If he isn’t a paraplegic by season’s end it will be a miracle. Turnover problems and sketchy WR options don’t inspire QB1 confidence.

Brandon Funston
1.) Philip Rivers – With the V-Jax holdout, he’s overrated in any league in which he’s taken among the top 6 at his position.
2.) Matthew Stafford – If you take out the game against the Browns, he had 8 TD passes in nine games. No doubt about the upside, but it’s a major leap of faith to draft him with the intent of actually using him a decent amount.
3.) Alex Smith – Getting a lot of love for how he stepped up in ’09, but he threw almost exclusively out of the shotgun, and the jury is still out on how he’ll do with an increased emphasis on playing under center this season.
4.) Donovan McNabb – I’ve always felt like McNabb never got the respect he deserved in Philly, but I want nothing to do with him given the players he has to work with in Washington this season.
5.) Matt Ryan – I’m a huge fan of his skills as they pertain to reality, but he’s a bit overrated on the fantasy side – has thrown for more than 250 yards in just six of 30 career games.

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 Wednesday, Aug 4, 2010