"Sure, luck means a lot in football. Not having a good quarterback is bad luck." – Don Shula
Conventional fantasy football wisdom tells us that running backs are the quintessential cornerstones to a championship. The running theory is difficult to dispute. However, if you look at the numbers, quarterbacks consistently finish in the upper echelon of total scoring more than any other position. For example, 13 of the top 20 overall scorers in performance leagues in 2005 were signal callers, including shocker Mark Brunell, who finished 20th. So why do I continuously recommend spending a myriad of early picks on runners? Two reasons: 1. The quarterback falloff from tier-to-tier is hardly dramatic 2. QB depth is deeper than Warren Buffet's pockets.
Since most starting rosters require only one quarterback, the overall drop-off in scoring is not nearly as profound at each tier when compared to running backs and receivers. Take a look at the total production percentage difference between the first and tenth overall scorers at each position over the last five years in standard performance leagues.
In other words, last year's top QB scorer, Carson Palmer, totaled just 10.6 percent more fantasy points than 10th place finisher Trent Green. Meanwhile, Shaun Alexander had a 28.2 percent margin over Mike Anderson. What does this suggest? The steady decline in values from one-to-ten for running backs are far more drastic than any other primary position, making it imperative for fantasy buffs to stick with running backs in the first two rounds in a non-points-per-reception (PPR) league.
The chart also implies that in an average year, the difference in top-10 quarterback scoring is marginal. This means you can pass on Matt Hasselbeck in Round 4 and get Marc Bulger three rounds later without losing significant production. It's not rocket science. You can wait on a quarterback.
You ask defiantly: "O.K. you balding moron, explain what happened two years ago?"
No problem. Again, based on the trends, the ridiculous Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper outbursts in 2004 were an anomaly. Due to their monster campaigns, a drafting revolution occurred last summer pushing the perception of quarterback values to astronomical heights. Regardless of expertise, most drafts saw Manning go in the top five, Culpepper around No. 12 and Chunky Soup maestro Donovan McNabb just shy of pick 20. Unfortunately, for those bandwagon jumpers that paid for 2004 quarterback career years, many donned a permanent Jon Gruden scowl come fantasy playoff time. What does this teach us? It was the patient-minded draftees who selected Carson Palmer and Tom Brady in Round 7 that were rewarded, not the Manning worshippers. Like I always say, never pull a Frank "The Tank" at Wimbledon and never take a quarterback before Round 7. Live by it.
No different from any other year, this season's bumper crop of quarterbacks can be summarized in one word: Value. With running backs once again dominating the early round draft psychology, numerous armed talents are sticking around until that six-pack buzz really kicks in.
What late-round surprises will be flame worthy? Who will put cash in your stocking come Christmas? What backups have the most upside? Here are my top QB sleepers of 2006:
Daunte Culpepper, Mia
2005 Stats: 64% PCT, 223 YPG, 6 PTD, 12 INT, 1 RTD
Y! ADP: 42.8
Lowdown: With the allure of party boats and cheap perfume behind him, Culpepper is determined to return to prominence despite recovering from a horrific knee injury. Confident he will be behind center in Week 1, Dolphins head coach Nick Saban commented in early June that he looked good running and throwing saying, "We know he's not 100% yet, but he can still do all the movements he needs to do at this point." Playing in an offense that ranked 10th in the AFC in pass attempts with 34.8 per game, Culpepper should rekindle some of the long bomb magic he had in Randy Moss with high-flyer Chris Chambers at his disposal. Taken recently in the 7th round of the Yahoo! Friends and Family Draft, look for the former Viking to be a top eight quarterback this season. If he can stay healthy, its not unfathomable he could return to his 2003 numbers of: 248.5 YPG, 25 PTDs, 11 INTs, 4 RTDs.
Kurt Warner, Ari
2005 Stats: 64.5% PCT, 271 YPG, 11 PTD, 9 INT
Y! ADP: 94.8
Lowdown: Old, brittle and with a spike-haired wife that even the colored lights of a dance floor couldn't help, Warner is my pick for the ultimate value award. Despite missing five games with a smorgasbord of injuries, Warner tied golden boy Tom Brady for the most 300-yard passing games (5) in 2005. The Cardinals offense attempted a mind-blowing 41.9 passing attempts per game – the highest in the league – and will continue to pursue points through the air. Still one of the most accurate passers in the game, completing a team-record 64.5 percent of his attempts, he possesses a skill set that can dominate at times. With the dynamic duo of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald and a vastly improved running game spearheaded by Edgerrin James, Warner is the quarterback you want to wait for. Since he hasn't played a complete season since 2001, just make sure you draft a reputable backup. A yardage machine, Warner is a borderline top five bazooka capable of 23-26 touchdowns.
Drew Brees, NO
2005 Stats: 65% PCT, 223 YPG, 24 PTD, 15 INT, 1 RTD
Y! ADP: 110.4
Lowdown: One of the most cerebral signal callers in the game, Brees is ready to jumpstart a city desperate for a winner. A pocket passer with outstanding judgment, his game is tailored perfectly for a Sean Payton offense that helped revive Drew Bledsoe last season. After tearing his labrum in the season finale, Brees is on pace to return to action when Saints camp opens later this month. With a better wide-reciever battery in Donte' Stallworth and Joe Horn, an underrated pass-catching tight end in Zachary Hilton and the electric backfield combo of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, this is one player that will get the job done at a discounted price. Amazingly underappreciated, only three quarterbacks finished with more touchdown passes than Brees last year. Totaling eight multi-TD games in '05, Brees is equipped with the intangibles to again be the most forgotten 21-24 TD passer in fantasy.
Aaron Brooks, Oak
2005 Stats: 56% PCT, 222 YPG, 13 PTD, 17 INT, 2 RTD
Y! ADP: 127.9
Lowdown: The unquestioned leader of the Aint's a year ago, fantasy owners that confided in him are still wearing paper bags over their heads. After finishing in the top eight in quarterback scoring from 2001-2004, Brooks plunged to a pathetic 15th last year throwing a meager 13 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Backtracking with age instead of advancing, the six-year starter has seen a steady increase in interceptions, a decrease in passing touchdowns and a decline in completion percentage in three consecutive seasons. Feeling reborn and excited about playing for the Silver and Black, Brooks has a new best friend in Randy Moss. Chip in his open-field mobility, the surprising soft hands of LaMont Jordan and athletic receiver Jerry Porter, and this Raider gunner has enough weapons to single-handedly destroy opponents at times. A return to the QB penthouse might be a stretch, but 20-22 TDs and 3-4 rushing scores cannot be ruled out.
Steve McNair, Bal
2005 Stats: 61% PCT, 226 YPG, 16 TD, 11 INT, 1 RTD
Y! ADP: 99.0
Lowdown: Flying the Nashville coup, McNair is ready to nest in Baltimore after a cornucopia of injuries over the last two years. Re-teamed with sticky fingered Derek Mason, McNair could rediscover the "air" label that made him one of the league's most productive passers from 2001-2003. The presence of sure-handed Todd Heap and the continued maturation of budding star Mark Clayton will also be vital assets in Brian Billick's revamped passing attack. Unable to string together a full season since 2003, the biggest key to his success will likely be the status of the Baltimore offensive line. If Jonathan Ogden and company can stay healthy, the burley legs of Jamal Lewis could find truck-sized holes, ultimately aiding McNair. For now, draft him sometime after Round 10 as a dependable No. 2 and expect roughly 18-21 touchdowns this year.
Jon Kitna, Det
2005 Stats: 59% PCT, 33 YPG, 0 PTD, 2 INT
Y! ADP: N/A
Lowdown: What Kobayashi has done for the popularity of professional eating is what Mike Martz does for struggling passing games. Under the direction of Martz, the Rams were an elite passing offense averaging 255.2 YPG, making hopes very high in the Motor City. Returning to a starting role for the first time since 2003, Kitna is a tough, wily competitor with terrific leadership qualities. Although streaky at times, he has a nice touch on his deep-ball that will be an invaluable resource in building a relationship with big play target Roy Williams – he caught four passes of 40-plus yards in '05. If Kitna can entrench himself as the starter over Josh McCown in camp, it would not be far-fetched for Kitna to fall just shy of his previous career highs of 26 TDs and 224 YPG. If you are relying on Michael Vick as your No. 1, pick him up late as high upside insurance.
Philip Rivers, SD
2005 Stats: 55% PCT, 57 YPG, 0 TD, 1 INT
Y! ADP: N/A
Lowdown: As the classic Seinfeld phrase implies, Rivers will be a fantasy "two-face." At times he will look like the sexiest player on your roster, while in others it will appear he was beaten repeatedly with an ugly stick. Drafted fourth by the Bolts in 2004, Rivers has been brought along very slowly, attempting just 30 regular season passes. Incredibly intelligent with premium intangibles, Rivers is General Patton with pocket skills. Scouts still stew about his three-quarter delivery, but veteran teammates like Keenan McCardell have stood behind him confidently in mini-camps. The potential is there for an adequate campaign, but even Drew Brees struggled in his first full-season as a starter in San Diego, throwing 17 touchdowns and 16 picks. Even with safety pins Antonio Gates and Ladanian Tomlinson, consider Rivers only as a bye-week filler this year. For those Peyton Manning owners worried about a Week 6 replacement, Rivers has a tasty matchup against the 49ers.
Billy Volek, Ten
2005 Stats: 57% PCT, 79 YPG, 4 PTD, 2 INT
Y! ADP: N/A
Lowdown: Now that Steve McNair is out of the picture, Volek is ready to ignite a Titans' passing game that was diminutive in performance last year. Poised under pressure, the seven-year vet has an accurate, but somewhat weak arm that limits his ability to throw a highly effective deep-ball. Upbeat that he can transform David Givens and Drew Bennett into 1,000-yard receivers in Norm Chow's touch-pass offense, he could be a real bargain for fantasy owners as a second QB this season. Explosive at times in his career, Volek averaged a staggering 276.1 YPG and 2 TDs in nine starts in 2004. With raw rookie Vince Young set to push a pencil, Volek is someone you should keep on your radar in deep leagues as an inexpensive No. 2.
Josh McCown, Det
2005 Stats: 60% PCT, 204 YPG, 9 PTD, 11 INT
Y! ADP: N/A
Lowdown: Out of the desert but still second on the depth chart, McCown has the highest ceiling of any quarterback backup this year. Last year he showcased some of his wares in another pass-happy offense in Arizona, averaging 255 YPG. However, his ugly 7:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio hints at a need for improvement. A player with good size, speed and mobility, he could really thrive if Jon Kitna proves ineffective or is befallen by injury. Scouts question McCown's toughness in tight spots, but most boast about his bevy of athletic skills. If he were to start, expect him to instantly emerge as a borderline top-20 starter in Mike Martz's air-it-out offense.
David Garrard, Jax
2005 Stats: 58% PCT, 160 YPG, 4 PTD, 1 INT, 3 RTD
Y! ADP: N/A
Lowdown: Filling in for injured starter Byron Leftwich in six starts in '05, Garrard showed an impressive air and ground mix. An elusive scrambler with a rocket arm, he tallied a rushing touchdown in three of his six starts, along with four passing touchdowns and respectable 186.7 YPG average. A cheap, but slower version of Michael Vick, Garrard would be a Top-20 quarterback with a regular gig. Leftwich has yet to play a full season in his three years in the league, making this Jaguar one to track, especially in two-QB leagues.
Matt Schaub, Atl
2005 Stats: 50% PCT, 31 YPG, 4 PTD
Y! ADP: N/A
Lowdown: The man behind Ron Mexico, third-year super backup Matt Schaub will take the Falcons' air game to new heights if a turf monster bites. The subject of trade rumors in April, the former Virginia standout has looked solid in limited doses, totaling 298 yards and three scores against the New England Patriots in Week 5 of last year. Vick's proneness to run wild always makes him susceptible to injury and if he were sidelined for extensive time, Schaub could showcase his grasp of the West Coast offense. He does posses the accuracy, touch and demeanor of a middle-of-the-road tier-3 fantasy quarterback. Keep close tabs on the waiver wire if the opportunity arises.
Anthony Wright, Cin
2005 Stats: 62% PCT, 176 YPG, 6 PTD, 9 INT
Y! ADP: N/A
Lowdown: Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch, but if someone were to pull a Tonya Harding on Carson Palmer, Wright would instantly become a hot fantasy commodity. Starting seven games for the Ravens a year ago, Wright averaged a decent 226 YPG, but struggled with his accuracy throwing nine interceptions. Based more on system than skill, he could become a fair No. 3 fantasy quarterback with trash-talking Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh for targets. In an unpredictable NFL world, this cat may land on your roster at some point this season.
Scanning media reports with a fine-toothed comb, the Noise puts his fantasy spin on various tasty tidbits.
Reunited with Billy Volek full-time this season, Drew Bennett is healthy and pumped. Asked in late June about the Titans' prospects this fall, Bennett said, "There's a different feel now, and I just think it's a combination of a lot of things. I think that everyone who has been around the past two years is so frustrated with losing that it has been a very serious atmosphere this offseason. And the guys they brought in are not just good players, but they really created a good chemistry in the locker room." Volek added that Bennett is capable of, "a lot of things. I expect Drew and David (Givens) to be 1,000-yard receivers. Drew can do it – he has to stay healthy." Bennett participated in both June mini-camps and is close to 100 percent after having knee surgery in January.
Spin: Going in the 12th round on average in early Yahoo! drafts, Bennett is primed for a comeback year. Although leading the team with 58 receptions last season, the former UCLA quarterback only had three games of 75 yards or more mainly due to nagging injuries and blanketing double-teams. The physical presence of former Patriot David Givens should open up more single coverage opportunities for the gangly Bennett to exploit, especially in the red zone. Even more enticing is his platonic relationship with Volek. In seven career games with Volek behind center, Bennett has a staggering per game average of: 5.3 receptions, 96 yards, and 1.4 touchdowns. The 39th wideout off-the-board according to his Y! ADP, he will exceed expectation and be a topflight No. 3 wide receiver.
UNLEASH THE BEAST
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Willis McGahee? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
While I don't take issue with your pointing out that I have some serious question marks at receiver, there are two things in your column that are misleading. First off, I won last year with Larry Johnson, not "go figure," but because I took him in the fourth round which many people including one of our current league members tabbed a "real reach." In other words, I didn't simply luck into Johnson, but I targeted him aggressively and was rewarded for taking that risk.
The second point I take issue with is your panning of the Reggie Bush pick. I have yet to see Bush go later than where he went in this draft, and I am quite sure that he would not have lasted two more picks had I passed on him. I agree that there's a lot of hype here, much of it unjustified, or at the very least highly speculative, but your comments would only apply if someone took him mid-second round or earlier. Once you get into the third round, an upside running back and second overall pick is a no-brainer – whether he's hyped or not is irrelevant.
And while it's true that I drafted a lot of second year players and rookies as you point out, in this league, you're the rookie, and I'm the defending champ – I sincerely hope the readers remember that before emulating your self-graded A-minus draft, or doing the opposite of my C-plus one.
Finally, one draft strategy tip that I'd like to add is this: In the first two rounds, be conservative (Ronnie Brown, Torry Holt, in this case), but after that, swing for the fences. Once you get to the middle rounds and later, ask yourself only one question: "What chance does the player I'm considering have to WIN me my league?" No one remembers who finished second last year, and you should not concern yourself with merely doing better than average. Three stars and some diligent work on the waiver wire is all it takes to win your league. Get your first two early and swing for the fences late. That's why I went for Larry Johnson in Round 4 last year, and that's why I got Joseph Addai, Cedric Benson, Matt Jones, Vernon Davis, etc., late. In a 12-team league, once you've got your two 10-TD guys early, it's all about the upside.
Best of luck to you, rookie,
Chris Liss Rotowire.com
Noise: Now that's the banter I was hoping to inspire. About time someone took the mundane out of an experts league. Anytime bloodshed and civil war can be fostered among friends and colleagues, it makes for good league chemistry.
Chris, I was not aware that you took Johnson in Round 4 last year. Nice job. The point I was trying to convey was nearly everyone had either L.J. or Shaun Alexander on their championship roster. Although you selected him early, your aggressive play panned out for you. Bravo. Yours truly landed him for $8 in the Krause Publications Experts League auction last year and he nearly carried me to the land of milk and honey in my inaugural campaign.
As for the over-speculated Bush, it wouldn't have mattered when and where he was drafted, I loathe the guy. After your second round reach in the RotoWire Fantasy Guide draft, I had a sneaking suspicion that you would chase him again. Bush is oozing with upside, no doubt, but he will not be the 31st or even the 41st best player. For the reasons mentioned in last week's Noise, he is not a better selection than a Corey Dillon, Tatum Bell, or even, dare I say, jailbird Jamal Lewis in yearly leagues at that point in the 3rd round. Bush possesses freakish moves, but I just don't see him as a No. 2 stud this year. Believe me. You will hate me for owning Deuce McAllister.
The "swing for the fences" ideology is something I typically emulate. However, by going after Joseph Addai, Cedric Benson and Dominic Rhodes with consecutive picks your receiving corps suffered. Look, I like Matt Jones, but is he really going to be a trustworthy WR2? What about Chad Jackson or Roddy White as a WR3? Obviously you will be a waiver wire and trade block hawk early and often in the hopes of finding a solution. My credo: "You can lose your league in the first two rounds and win it in the middle ones," resonates well with your philosophy, but in a three-receiver league I thought you could have done a better job. That's why your draft was C-plus worthy.
To sweeten the pot, let's put a steak dinner in Vegas on who finishes higher.
Good luck to you.