It's not a matter of Luck: Beware the top-of-draft quarterback

Andy Behrens
It's not a matter of Luck: Beware the top-of-draft quarterback
It's not a matter of Luck: Beware the top-of-draft quarterback

Hopefully we can all agree that the surest way to take the full measure of any human being is to see how they approach the quarterback position in fantasy drafts. QB drafting is a window to the soul, basically. 

If you routinely snag quarterbacks in the first rounds of fantasy leagues, then you, sir or madam, have chosen the coward's path. That's the bottom line. At best, you're the sort of person who approaches drafts thoughtlessly. At worst, you suffer from some deeper, more profound failure of personal character. 


Yes, of course it's fair.

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Today, the mission is to break you of your ugliest fantasy habit. YOU WILL NOT DRAFT A FIRST ROUND QUARTERBACK ON MY WATCH. (Maybe on this dude's watch, but not mine.) I would prefer that you not consider a quarterback in Round 2 or Round 3, either, but we probably need to ease you into your new healthier fantasy lifestyle. It's no simple thing to quit the luxury QBs. Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers offer a level of safety and security that you won't find in the middle tiers. And hey, everyone did so fantastically well with Vick in 2011 and Peyton last season, right? 

Here's the thing: When you take Luck or Rodgers at their average draft positions (13.1 and 14.8 overall), there's an opportunity cost involved, and it's huge. You're either choosing to forgo the tier-two running backs — players like Matt Forte (11.9), C.J. Anderson (20.6) and LeSean McCoy (16.2) — or you'll be passing on the final remaining top-tier receivers — guys like Julio Jones (15.6), Demaryius Thomas (12.6) and Calvin Johnson (16.3). While it's certainly possible to find backs and wideouts in the mid-to-late rounds who will dramatically outperform their prices, we absolutely know that range is rich with 4,000-plus yard passers.

Tom Brady, a filthy steal after pick No. 60. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Tom Brady, a filthy steal after pick No. 60. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Just look at a few of the quarterbacks available outside the top-60 picks in Yahoo leagues these days:

Tom Brady, 60.7 ADP
Matt Ryan, 65.5
Eli Manning, 80.8
Matthew Stafford, 88.8
Ryan Tannehill, 93.1
Phillip Rivers, 103.4

Last season, those quarterbacks ranked tenth, fifth, sixth, ninth, eleventh and eighth in the NFL in passing yardage. All reached the 4,000-yard plateau. Three finished with 30 or more touchdowns. Five of those six passers already have all-time top-25 passing seasons on their resumés.

What I'm saying is this: You can win a fantasy league with any of those quarterbacks as your starter. Thousands of owners did it in 2014, in fact. You might recall that Ben Roethlisberger was a fantasy afterthought last season — undrafted in the Yahoo Friends & Family League — and he ultimately finished fifth at his position in fantasy scoring, tied for first in the league in passing yards. Eli was a punchline during draft season in 2014, yet he ranked eighth at his position when all the stats were in the books. More importantly, Eli was the top-scoring QB in fantasy over the final three weeks of the season, when titles were won and lost.

Unlike the actual NFL, quarterback talent isn't a particularly scarce commodity in most fantasy leagues. The vast majority of us play in formats with just 10 or 12 teams and only one starting QB slot. In those leagues, you'll find that roughly 20 quarterbacks will be owned at any given time, depending a bit on byes and injuries. Every week throughout the season, some un-owned passer will finish among the game's high scorers, usually the result of a friendly matchup or a garbage-time binge.

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Really, unless you play in a league with more than 16 teams or multiple starting quarterback spots, this position is a painless one to fill, even when injuries pile up league-wide. I won't attempt to argue that rostering Luck or Rodgers can't provide you with a positional advantage, because ... well, because math. Those guys are great; they score in bunches. They're ruthlessly productive. Luck has a setup that could yield a massive fantasy season (although he's not alone); Rodgers is a cheese-eating, back-shouldering assassin, a historically great player.

So much fantasy hardware
So much fantasy hardware

Still, my preferred way to address this position is via platoon, usually featuring a name from the Round 6-12 range (see above), plus an end-of-draft quarterback with boom/bust variability.

And that, my friends, is the pathway to a glorious trophy case like this one -->


(Seriously, look at that collection, just from last season. At some point, I feel like Yahoo is gonna ask me to spend a dollar per month to upgrade my trophy storage capacity.)

I won't go through the exercise of showing you the sort of production you might have cobbled together by platooning or streaming at quarterback last season, because that would establish grossly unreasonable expectations. Even if I convinced you that fantasy scoring at this spot was somehow more predictable than at others, I think we all understand that the NFL defies easy forecasting. None of us are going to make the dead-on correct call from a pool of QBs each week.

However, that doesn't mean you'll regret pairing Eli or Stafford or Ryan with a caddie quarterback (or with select free agent adds), then playing the matchups week to week. At this position, it's entirely possible to bridge the gap between the elite players and late-round names, without some miracle from the waiver wire.

Even in the deepest and most challenging leagues — 16-plus teams, many flexes — my tendency is to play platoons at quarterback, relying names that are unselected or disrespected in standard-size formats. Ideally, you'll identify QBs pairs with complementary schedules. (An easy thing to write, but difficult to accomplish in practice. Assessing schedule-strength in the NFL is often a fool's errand.)

Let's dig beyond the group of QBs who've been universally drafted in Yahoo leagues to date — a collection 14 passers, from Luck to Rivers — and focus on players who've been treated as replacement-level. Below you'll find a snapshot of the next 14 names, arranged according to my preseason fantasy ranks, along with schedules through Week 16. Green indicates a defense that ranked among the six most generous to opposing quarterbacks last season in fantasy; red shading indicates the six stingiest defenses for QBs.

QB platoon candidates with 2015 schedules
QB platoon candidates with 2015 schedules

Again, I feel compelled to mention that the year ahead will definitely not unfold just like the year behind us, and chasing strength-of-schedule can be a very dangerous game. The table above is simply a resource, not to be confused with a Magic 8-Ball or other wizarding device.

That said, at first glance it appears that the schedules of Carson Palmer and Sam Bradford align well in the season's first half. Palmer was on pace for 4,300 yards and 29 TDs before his knee injury last year; Bradford is directing a Chip Kelly offense that previously turned Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles into fantasy heroes. At the moment, both Palmer and Bradford have Yahoo ADPs beyond pick No. 120.

You might also notice that Jameis Winston's first-year schedule is remarkably free of red ink (although Houston in Week 3 is no layup). He's squarely in the platoon conversation for me, along with Teddy Bridgewater (weapons), Joe Flacco (system) and Marcus Mariota (wheels). But not Jay Cutler, because we're on a break.

No matter your league configuration — assuming it isn't a two-QB setup — my advice to you is to remain patient at quarterback. And when it seems like you've waited long enough, give it another round or two. The quality of the player(s) who will inevitably fall at this position is silly. It could be Romo in Round 7 or Cam in Round 8, or a suspended Brady much later. But it will definitely be someone, and you'll be glad you resisted the first-round urge.