Fantasy football, like any other crusty old American institution, has its dogma.
One of the guiding principles in our game for many years was that you did not want to be the first manager in your league to draft a quarterback. Those people were doomed. Dead money. They were newbies who could not be taken seriously.
Experts generally urged extreme patience at QB, viewing the position as a spot that only rarely delivered a difference-making individual season. Fantasy-wise, the statistical separation between early round quarterbacks and the mid-to-late-round options wasn't substantial in a typical year. We might occasionally get a break-the-game season from an elite quarterback — think Peyton Manning in 2004 or Tom Brady in 2007 — but those performances were both unforeseeable and unrepeatable.
Also, the replacement value was always high at QB. Viable fantasy starters were available on the wire each week. Better to stream the position than draft it early. Why take Brett Favre near the top when you could use that pick so much more productively, then simply roll with Jon Kitna or Jake Delhomme or Rex Grossman?
And it worked. Back in the day, I once managed to win a fantasy championship with Luke McCown as my starting quarterback, so you can't tell me this roster spot demanded significant draft capital. Clearly, it did not.
In recent years, however, we've witnessed a string of the most remarkable individual quarterback campaigns in league history; golden-ticket seasons for fantasy purposes. Patrick Mahomes set the all-time QB fantasy scoring record in 2018. Lamar Jackson set the per-game scoring record the following year. Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen each produced seasons in 2022 that rank among the top-12 historically on a per-game basis. Mahomes now has the No. 1 and No. 2 QB scoring campaigns on his resume. Twelve of the top 18 all-time fantasy seasons at this position were delivered over the past five years.
As the ceiling has changed at quarterback, so have the draft habits of competitive fantasy managers. It's easy to justify the decision to burn an early pick on this spot when the top-scoring QB each year is a potential league-winning player — the sort of player who carries teams single-handedly to the playoffs.
As of this writing, three different quarterbacks have average draft positions inside the top-25 in Yahoo leagues (Mahomes, Allen and Hurts). Two additional QBs have top-40 ADPs (Joe Burrow, Jackson) and another three are typically selected inside the first 60 picks (Justin Fields, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence).
Those ADPs hold for diamond-rated managers, too. Even the sharpest fantasy players are now grabbing quarterbacks within the first 5-6 rounds in drafts.
Ten years ago, we would have considered such behavior to be scandalous and un-expert-ly. Today, it makes you a shark.
But at the risk of appearing to be a relic from another fantasy era, I'd like to mention that it is, in fact, still possible to win a league with a mid- or late-round QB. Just ask anyone who won a title with Fields or Lawrence last year. Or with Geno Smith, a waiver add who finished as the overall QB5.
It's worth remembering that Mahomes himself was actually a late-round flier in 2018, when he erupted for over 5,000 passing yards and 50 scores. Jackson was commonly drafted outside the top 100 picks in 2019, ahead of a supernova season that wasn't all that difficult to imagine in advance.
If you're a traditionalist who intends to shop for your fantasy QB outside the first 7-8 rounds in this year's draft, here are four options capable of delivering massive totals at an affordable draft price (plus a fifth guy who's just a wild flier with upside) ...
One of the most significant open questions entering the 2023 season is whether Watson can return to anything like his pre-suspension level of play. If he does, he's probably gonna finish as a top-five fantasy option; he's already reached that range in three straight seasons, from 2018 to 2020. Watson led the NFL in passing yards (4,823) and Y/A (8.9) just three years ago and he's still only 27. Cleveland has a talented, improved receiving corps — Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, David Njoku, et al — and a competent, experienced coaching staff. Watson is also coming off a normal-ish offseason for the first time in years, which presumably should have on-field benefits. He's been the QB10 in Yahoo drafts to this point, falling outside the top-75 picks.
Jones is coming off a breakout season that was at least as notable for what he didn't do as what he did. He finished with career lows in both interceptions (5) and fumbles (6) while playing a career-high 16 games. The raw passing stats weren't exceptional, though he did complete 67.2% of his throws while working with an injured and underwhelming group of receivers. The addition of Darren Waller should help this season, assuming the 30-year-old oft-injured tight end can stay on the field.
Last season, Jones rushed for 708 yards and seven scores, the key to his QB9 fantasy finish. With that variety of rushing upside, he'd clearly have a shot at a top-five campaign if the passing totals improve.
As you probably know by now, Richardson enters the NFL as the most athletic quarterback the league has ever seen as of yet. He certainly wasn't as accomplished or productive at the collegiate level as Cam Newton (or any of the various other QBs who get mentioned as comps), but he has every trait we could possibly hope to find in a modern quarterback, including a weapons-grade arm and blazing speed. The extent to which Richardson can successfully feed multiple viable fantasy receivers is still unresolved, but his rushing talent alone is going to make him a serious weapon in our game, immediately.
— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 16, 2022
Under head coach Shane Steichen, Richardson will play in a version of Philly's QB run game. He should be universally drafted in fantasy, well ahead of his current QB16 ADP.
Let's please recall that after Tagovailoa's first eight games last season, he had thrown 18 touchdown passes and only three picks. He was averaging 283.1 yards per week and completing 71.0% of his passes. He's the guy who gets to throw to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, working under a head coach who masterfully adapts the offense to the strengths of his players. The only real concern with Tagovailoa is availability; when he plays at full health, he's a clear fantasy starter.
And then if you scroll down the QB ranks a bit, you'll eventually find this name ...
To be clear, we don't actually know at this moment that Howell is going to start for Washington. He can definitely play his way out of the job this summer. Jacoby Brissett is a threat. But if Howell lands the starting role for the Commanders, he'll have an outstanding receiving corps to work with and he'll be playing under OC Eric Bieniemy, arguably the best in the business. Howell ran for 828 yards and 11 scores in his final collegiate season, so he's a fully accredited member of the dual-threat club. He has the profile necessary to deliver a top-10 fantasy season if he manages to play 15 or more games. Howell certainly belongs in your deep league and Superflex plans.