Fantasy Football Sleepers & Values: Quarterbacks
Updated August 20, 2014
If there's one theme that has been (almost) universally accepted by the fantasy football community over the past few seasons, it's that the quarterback position is extremely deep. The NFL has become a passing league and there is no shortage of quality throwers even when we get into the #15-#20 range in the rankings.
As a result, the prevailing recommendation is to wait as long as possible to draft a QB, either by targeting one of the last few fantasy starters off the board or by ignoring the position until the later rounds and either stream the position (plucking QBs with good matchups on a weekly basis) or play Quarterback By Committee (i.e. drafting 2-3 QBs late in the draft with the idea that you'll play the best matchup each week).
Those owners in multiple leagues may want to consider drafting one of the top 12 in the middle rounds in order to minimize their weekly waiver wire work. I typically fall into this category due to the sheer number of leagues I'm in (along with my weekly duties here at 4for4). Going QBBC will also work, but owners will still have to decide which quarterback to start, adding another decision they have to make every week.
However, owners who don’t mind the work (or are only in 1-2 leagues) will find that streaming quarterbacks or playing QBBC can result in solid QB1-type output without having to spend an early- or middle-round pick on the position on draft day. This means that owners can draft another mid-round RB/WR/TE who just might be the difference between winning a championship. For example, Josh Gordon, Antonio Brown, Pierre Garcon, Ryan Mathews, Jordy Nelson, DeSean Jackson, Vernon Davis, Eric Decker, T.Y. Hilton, LeVeon Bell, Anquan Boldin and Jordan Cameron were all drafted in the 5th to 8th rounds last year and they were all difference-makers at their respective positions.
Meanwhile, Russell Wilson (8.01, QB8), Andy Dalton (10.12, QB4), Philip Rivers (14.04, QB5), Ben Roethlisberger (11.12, QB10) and Alex Smith (13.12, QB13) were all drafted in the 8th round or later and offered up starting-caliber fantasy numbers. Moreover, Nick Foles, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler/Josh McCown, Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill were drafted late (or not at all) and each had nice stretches of play throughout the season; that means that they were useful as part of a streaming strategy. In the case of Foles, once he won the starting job in Week 6, he was the #4 QB the rest of the way.
Owners who draft a QB in the early or middle rounds may miss out on the next Josh Gordon or Antonio Brown. With this in mind, here are several Values (being drafted in the 8th-10th) and Sleepers (11th round or later) who should be useful-to-good in 2014.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks (11.01)
I recently outlined The Case for Wilson, but suffice it to say, he’s going to be one of my favorite targets this season if his 9th/10th round ADP holds. His detractors say that the Seahawks don’t throw the ball enough and point to his poor performance in the 2013 fantasy playoffs, specifically in divisional matchups against the 49ers and the Cardinals. But he has finished top 9 in each of his first two seasons in the league, and I’d like to remind everyone that he dropped 23.7 points on the 49ers in Week 16 of the 2012 season (after laying 39.4 on the Bills in Week 15), so we shouldn’t let recency bias scare us off. Yes, owners may need to stream another QB in weeks when he has very tough matchups, but if that’s the cost of getting a probable top 10 QB in the other 12-13 games, I’ll take it. Depending on what ADP data we’re looking at, he’s going in the QB11 to QB15 range. If he’s still around after all the other teams have drafted a QB, he could slip into the 10th round or later. Adding him to a team that is stacked at the other key positions is simply unfair.
Jay Cutler, Bears (9.09)
Cutler was the #6 QB through the first six weeks, but finished with the #22 PPG on the year. His early season play is more representative of his potential in Marc Trestman’s offense, assuming he can stay injury-free. Like Romo, injuries are key for Cutler, who has missed 12 games in the last three seasons after not missing a single game from 2007 to 2009. In Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett, Cutler has a ton of receiving talent around him and Trestman loves to throw. But will he hold up physically?
Tony Romo, Cowboys (9.11)
Much has been written about how Romo will thrive under new “Passing Game Coordinator” Scott Linehan. Under Linehan, the Lions threw the ball 62.2% of the time in the last two seasons. Over the same span, the Cowboys threw it 64.3% of the time, so the Cowboys may not be that much more "pass happy" under Linehan, though the total number of plays they run may increase, helping the offense as a whole. The Lions have averaged 1,105 plays in the last two seasons, while the Cowboys averaged just 968 plays, so Detroit ran 14% more plays than Dallas over that span. In other words, the offensive pie has been bigger in Detroit. This bodes well for Romo and Co. if Linehan’s system translates. The key with Romo is his surgically repaired back. If he holds up, a top 12 season seems likely.
Philip Rivers, Chargers (11.02)
Rivers was written off by many after a substandard 2012 campaign, but he bounced back in a big way with a #5 finish in 2013. In fact, he has finished in the top 10 in five of his last six seasons, so why is he the 14th or 15th QB off the board? Malcom Floyd has been cleared to play and Ladarius Green is coming on, so the receiving corps should get a boost. The only real concern is the loss of OC Ken Whisenhunt, who guided Rivers to his bounce back season. New OC Frank Reich was Rivers’ QB coach in 2013, and he should be able to carry the baton.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (12.01)
Despite losing Mike Wallace to free agency, Big Ben finished as the #10 QB in 2013. It was his eighth straight top 17 finish, so Roethlisberger might be one of the safest picks on draft day. The arrival of Martavis Bryant and Lance Moore should offset the loss of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, though it looks like the Steelers are expecting Markus Wheaton (who posted just 6-64 in 12 games as a rookie) to start in Sanders’ place. The Steelers do plan to use more no-huddle in 2014; Roethlisberger played well in no-huddle last year, posting a better YPA (7.5 vs. 7.2) and TD% (6.1% vs. 4.3%) in the hurry-up. Roethlisberger was the #4 QB from Week 9 on, so there is reason to be optimistic about his upside under third-year OC Todd Haley.
Andy Dalton, Bengals (12.02)
For a guy who has finished progressively higher (#17, #12 and #4) in his first three seasons, Dalton doesn’t get a whole lot of respect. He’d be ranked higher this year if not for new OC Hue Jackson’s propensity to run the ball. However, Jackson’s 2011 Raiders threw the ball 52.9% of the time with Carson Palmer under center, which isn’t too far off the Bengals’ 55.0% pass rate in 2013. While we’re expecting fewer pass attempts, Dalton should still be a quality option once the rounds hit double-digits.