For anyone who played fantasy football last season, it should be no secret that the quarterback position is deep and loaded with value ripe for the picking.
In 2014, the average weekly marginal fantasy point difference between the top-ranked quarterback, Andrew Luck (26.9 fantasy points per game, CBSSports.com scoring), and the 14th-ranked passer, Cam Newton (20.3), was just 6 points. This is music to the ears of those fantasy owners who prefer to stock up at the other positions early in drafts and piece together a quarterback by committee during the later rounds. Choosing an elite signal caller early is not necessarily a doomed approach, either, as long as your value picks at other positions pan out later in the draft.
Realistically, there are only two quarterbacks who could approach both 4,800 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2015 — Luck and Aaron Rodgers — and while the 6-point differential mentioned earlier may seem small, it can make the difference on any given week. From a consistency standpoint, the advantage of choosing early is pretty clear. For example, Luck produced 12 straight games of 20 or more fantasy points in 2014 while Newton eclipsed the 20-point mark just five times, and only three of those performances occurred during consecutive weeks.
No matter what quarterback strategy you end up deploying on draft day (we’re partial to waiting on quarterbacks in most formats), one thing for certain is that once Rodgers and Luck are off the board, maximizing value at the position should be on every good owner’s mind. How you go about doing that will be determined largely by your league’s quarterback requirements and scoring rules, but staying on top of the latest draft trends to know when that value emerges is still an essential practice.
Let’s look at quarterbacks based on their current consensus average draft position (for quarterbacks, not over all), according to FantasyPros.com, and the average round drafted, via FantasyFootballCalculator.com, and draw some general conclusions on this year’s field.
Peyton Manning (DEN) (average draft position: 3.6; average round drafted: 4.4) — Manning has been a top-five fantasy quarterback for five consecutive years, but expecting Manning, 39, to live up to his current average draft position (ADP) as third among quarterbacks seems like a stretch when you factor in his rapidly declining arm strength and the new run-heavy offense Coach Gary Kubiak is expected to run. We would put Manning’s floor at 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, which is nothing to sneeze at, but those numbers make him more of a fifth- or sixth-round pick in standard leagues.
Tom Brady (NE) (ADP: 10.4; ARD: 8.1) — A remarkable postseason run (307 yards per game; 10-to-four TD-to-INT ratio) may have something to do with his going rate as a seventh-round pick, but there are red flags for Brady, 38, that go beyond his four-game suspension. Brady’s passing yards have declined steadily over the last four seasons (5,235 in 2011, 4,827 in 2012, 4,343 in 2013 and 4,109 in 2014), and his downfield game was virtually nonexistent last year (21.4 percent completion rate on throws of at least 21 yards, 32nd ranked). We see Brady as more of a second quarterback option this year, but even that will take some courage.
Andy Dalton (CIN) (ADP: 22.3; ARD: 14.2) — Without question, Dalton underperformed for much of last season, but 26th among quarterbacks is quite low given that we can deflect plenty of blame on major injuries to receivers A. J. Green and Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert. With a full arsenal of healthy hands to work with and a reinforced offensive line, Dalton should have no problem outplaying this ranking and becoming a quality second-quarterback option once again.
Carson Palmer (ARI) (ADP: 21.8; ARD: 11.1) — You are not alone if you are fretting over Palmer’s second knee reconstruction and his knack for being injured, but with a price tag this low, you are basically getting him for free. Palmer was on pace for 4,336 yards and 29 touchdowns during the six games he was active last season, so we know he can be very fantasy-effective when healthy. If he stays healthy, he is a reasonable bet to outproduce eight of the quarterbacks being drafted ahead of him.
Eli Manning (NYG) (ADP: 11.8; ARD: 8.1) — The Giants’ new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, and his rapid-fire offense proved to be a perfect match for Manning as he posted a career-high 63.1 completion percentage to go along with his second-highest yardage total (4,410) and 30 touchdowns against 14 interceptions in 2014. With a second season under McAdoo, a full year of Odell Beckham Jr. and a real pass-catching running back swinging out behind him for the first time in his career (Shane Vereen), there is no reason Manning cannot outdo his standing last season as the 10th-best quarterback.
Ryan Tannehill (MIA) (ADP: 12.2; ARD: 9.7) — Another quarterback who responded favorably to a new offensive scheme, Tannehill posted career-best numbers in passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns and rushing yards under the first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, which resulted in a top-eight fantasy finish. With Jordan Cameron, Kenny Stills and the first-round pick DeVante Parker joining the fray, another career year from Tannehill is definitely within reach.
Jameis Winston (TB) (ADP: 20; ARD: 13.5) — Winston is poised for first-year fantasy success, surrounded by a trio of sure-handed skyscrapers in Mike Evans (6-foot-5), Vincent Jackson (6-foot-5) and the second-year tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-foot-5). With a questionable running game and an even more dubious defense, the Buccaneers should be forced to lean heavily on Winston and the passing game this year. Winston will also have the luxury of the most quarterback-friendly schedule in the game, if you buy into that sort of thing.
Teddy Bridgewater (MIN) (ADP: 17.6; ARD: 11.6) — In his final six games last season, Bridgewater completed 68.9 percent of his passes to complement a 10-to-six TD-to-INT ratio, and despite the deep-ball woes he had in college, he finished in the top 10 in the N.F.L. with a 46.3 completion rate on throws over 20 yards. The addition of Mike Wallace, a field-stretching specialist, and the emergence of Charles Johnson, whom the offensive coordinator Norv Turner praised as his best receiver back in February, gives Bridgewater a proficient receiving cast to help take his game to the next level. There is no doubt that this offense still runs through Adrian Peterson, but that also means Bridgewater will have a lot less pressure to deal with in his sophomore year.
Geno Smith (NYJ) (ARD: Undrafted) — For a second consecutive season, Smith showed promise late in the year, assembling a six-to-two TD-to-INT ratio, a 65 percent completion rate and a total of 76 rushing yards over the final four games. Running an offensive-friendly scheme under Chan Gailey, and loaded with the best receiving corps in his career in Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and the field-stretching rookie Devin Smith, Smith could quietly take a big step forward into second-quarterback relevance this year.