2014 Fantasy Football Draft Guide: Eric Mack's QB Blueprint
We say this every year, so our apologies if you are a return customer: Quarterback won't be the first position you fill on draft day—at least it shouldn't be—but it will be your most important.
With that in mind, this 2014 Fantasy Football Draft Guide quarterback blueprint is the most influential piece of fantasy content you will read all preseason. Yeah, it is Peyton Manning-2013 good.
As passing numbers go beyond the ridiculous, like they did with Manning a year ago, and the league continues to promise to crack down on illegal contact downfield and pass interference, quarterbacks will only further distance themselves from the pack as the highest scorers in fantasy football. That doesn't mean you pick the position in Round 1, though.
There are just too many good quarterbacks to do that. You can get an elite passer as late as the middle rounds. As general rule of thumb, Round 6 of a standard fantasy league is a good round to have your starter in place by.
This blueprint provides some ways to attack the position, giving you rankings, tiers, rookies, depth chart battles to watch, injury risks to weigh, breakouts, busts, sleepers, players in contract years and some overall draft-day strategies. You won't find a more comprehensive look at the position in one place on the whole dang World Wide Web.
Quarterback Rankings and Tiers from A. Rodgers to Z. Mettenberger
Before we dissect the quarterback position piece by piece, take a look at our complete rankings from Nos. 1 through 40. If you need them further broken down into tiers, they can be like so:
Tier I: The MVPs
These are the only candidates to be picked in the first two rounds of standard, one-quarterback formats. They are the consistent dropback-passing veterans you can count on to crack 4,000 yards with 30-plus touchdowns and a manageable interception total.
Tier II: Generation Next
These young stars have immense upside that will likely get them picked within the first five rounds. The problem with picking them early is they just don't offer the year-to-year consistency of those top guys. There is a leap of faith needed to guarantee they perform up to their ranking, even if anyone can envision one of these guys having a huge fantasy season.
Tier III: Last of the Starters
These quarterbacks have had big years before, but they just don't project to have the ceilings of those in the two tiers above. Everyone should have their fantasy starting quarterback by Round 7, so if you wait on a quarterback, make sure you trump that by having yours by Round 6.
Tier IV: The Backups
These well-paid veterans are the examples of how deep the quarterback position is. These guys have all been fantasy studs at times and duds at others. They are going to have big weeks this season, but predicting when they come will be too tough to slot them as starters outside of two-quarterback formats.
Tier V: Late-Round Fliers
19. Joe Flacco; 20. Ryan Tannehill; 21. Alex Smith; 22. Carson Palmer; 23. Brian Hoyer; 24. Josh McCown
You should absolutely draft a backup quarterback, but if you don't get one from the first four tiers above, you shouldn't do it until very late. Take the leftover guy from this bunch. These are also the last of the guys you should feel comfortable slotting as a starter in two-quarterback leagues.
Tier VI: Everybody Else
There are young quarterbacks with potential down here, but most of them aren't worth drafting at this point. Rookies like Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater still need to win starting jobs, while the others still need to hold on to their precarious position atop their depth charts.
Rookie QB Rankings: Johnny Manziel Is No. 1 for His Rushing Potential
- Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns
- Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
- Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
- Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
- David Fales, Chicago Bears
- Tom Savage, Houston Texans
- Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee Titans
- Logan Thomas, Arizona Cardinals
- Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots
- AJ McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals
Consider this list fluid. The rookie rankings at the quarterback position are entirely contingent on who has a starting job out of training camp, and the jury is still out in a few places—namely Cleveland and Minnesota.
If drafts were held today, here is how the rookies should go off the board:
Frankly, only the first two have a legit shot at starting Week 1 at this point. We give the nod to Manziel over Bridgewater, even if Bridgewater is more likely to open the season as his team's starting quarterback. Manziel's rushing-touchdown potential trumps Bridgewater, whom we are not convinced will be much more than a game manager for as long as Adrian Peterson stays healthy.
If you are looking longer term, Garoppolo is intriguing with the Patriots. Otherwise, you can ignore these rookie quarterbacks in fantasy leagues. There are no Newtons, Wilsons or Lucks in this bunch.
QB Position Battles: Preseason Can Still Shake Up Depth Charts, If Not Rankings
- Cleveland Browns: Hoyer was supposed to hold off Manziel until a few weeks into the season. He is doing a bad job of that. Manziel could still start.
- Minnesota Vikings: Bridgewater has closed the gap on Cassel, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Louisville product start Week 1, according to Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
- New York Jets: Smith would really have to fumble away his starting job for Vick to take it, but crazier things have happened with this franchise at this position before.
- Houston Texans: When Fitzpatrick is your No. 1, you have to be ready to consider your alternatives. Savage is currently third behind Case Keenum.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: McCown isn't truly getting pushed by Glennon, but we will see if that remains the case after the preseason action begins.
- Oakland Raiders: Schaub showed last season he is always one miserable performance from a benching. Carr isn't quite ready to challenge him, though.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: They might want to keep Bortles as the backup all year, but Henne is their No. 1. That just won't be possible.
If you ask any head coach in the NFL, they will say they know who their starter at quarterback is. Consider that coach speak. That position is always being evaluated, especially in training camp and during the preseason.
Here are the teams whose current listed starter will feel the heat if he doesn't perform in the coming weeks (ranked by relative fantasy impact if there is a change at the top of the depth chart):
Injury Risks: Losing Your Starting Quarterback Can Prove Devastating
Your quarterback is going to be the highest-scoring player on your roster. If he is not, he just isn't good and neither is your fantasy team.
Losing him can have a cataclysmic effect on your season; therefore, you should be out to minimize risk. Consider this fair warning on these potential high-upside passers.
Age-Related Injury Risks
Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Carson Palmer
I don't care who you are: Father Time is undefeated. It takes longer for some, but eventually he always wins. These quarterbacks have all reached age 33 or higher, which means they are at the age where breaking down is a greater possibility. One funny twist or big hit can leave them missing games for an extended period.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton's offseason ankle surgery is behind him, but Jake Davidow of SportsInjuryPredictor.com is still skeptical. Davidow runs an advanced injury analytics company that assesses risk, using historical injury data, complex regression algorithms and mathematical forecasting tools. Newton is one of his top three quarterbacks most likely to sustain injury.
Davidow cites a repaired ankle, a quarterback who relies on his mobility—putting himself in danger—a revamped offensive line and a entirely new receiving corps as reasons Newton won't hold up. Less flexibility, less time to throw and fewer targets capable of getting open are bad, bad things—especially for a quarterback who is still a bit wet behind the ears at age 25.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Unlike Newton, who has played 16 games in each of the past three seasons, RG3's potential for injury is far easier to see. He has had a major knee reconstruction and hasn't played a 16-game season in either of his first two years, although missing the last three games of 2013 was a product of former head coach Mike Sham-ahan. RG3 has huge upside, but you need to wait until Round 6 to accept the risk.
Davidow tells us:
Players who have two ACL surgeries on the same knee have a substantially higher incidence of corresponding ligament damage along with re-injuring the ACL again; think Danario Alexander. While Griffin is a year removed from the second surgery, a player as mobile and edge-aware as Griffin will always carry an elevated level of risk due to his compromised right knee.
Makes complete sense to us, and we didn't even need history and math.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Locker is Davidow's No. 1 injury-risk quarterback for the second consecutive year. In case you are in a two-quarterback league and want a player who might gain a job due to injury, you might consider Zach Mettenberger as a real dark-horse pick.
Check out Locker's injury history Davidow has compiled for us:
- 2008 (college)—Fractured thumb on throwing hand
- 2010 (college)—Fractured ribs
- 2012 (NFL)—Separated (non-throwing) shoulder required surgery in the offseason
- 2013 (NFL)—Sprained hip
- 2013 (NFL)—Lisfranc fracture
What's next? Don't wait to find out. Avoid this modern-day Glass Joe.
- Cutler, Chicago Bears (various)
- Hoyer, Cleveland Browns (knee)
- Bradford, St. Louis Rams (shoulder)
- Manuel, Buffalo Bills (knee)
- Manziel, Cleveland Browns (stature and aggressive playing style)
- Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars (various)
- Schaub, Oakland Raiders (various)
Breakout: Andrew Luck Is Ready to Take a Huge Step This Season
If you are looking for a player on the verge of taking a step into fantasy superstardom, look no further than Luck. Yeah, that is an easy answer to many, perhaps, but year three is when his premium name will be matched by elite fantasy numbers.
Luck hasn't thrown for 4,500 yards yet. He has just reached 23 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. You can make a case his hype exceeds his production.
Luck has gradually developed, despite all of the gratuitous praise already heaped on him. His postseason performance in the rally over the Kansas City Chiefs last January showed what he is capable of: fantasy ridiculousness (the good kind).
Throw in the fact he has a dynamic set of targets in veteran Reggie Wayne, offseason free-agent acquisition Hakeem Nicks, burgeoning third-year star T.Y. Hilton and exciting third-round pick Donte Moncrief. Oh, he also happens to have two emerging, young tight ends entering their third season in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
There are just too many weapons to cover, even if the running game just isn't reliable in Indy yet. Actually, you should love Luck because the running game is sketchy. It is all on his shoulders.
A monster season of 4,500 yards, 30-plus touchdowns, five-plus rushing TDs and single-digit interceptions is coming his way. Make it come your way by picking Luck by the time Round 5 rolls around.
Bust: Young Nick Foles Commands a Great Offense, but a Run-Heavy One
Foles is this year's Kaepernick. We warned everyone last summer about the dangers of Kaep, but they still selected him among the elite passers despite one partial season as a starting quarterback. They wound up regretting that decision.
As talented as Kaep and Foles are, and as potentially awesome as the numbers look, they are still quarterbacks heading elite rushing offenses. You might not realize this, but Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense is run-heavy. It always has been, even back to his Oregon days.
The Eagles led the NFL in rushing a year ago. Now, Foles did capitalize on pulled-up safeties and tempo, throwing for an eye-popping 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions, despite starting just 10 games. But, those kinds of numbers are improbable to repeat for anyone, especially a still-raw 25-year-old only now entering his first full season as a starter.
The potential for Foles is huge long term. It is why so many love him in fantasy. The potential to go bust is there as well.
We won't advise you to avoid a talent like Foles no matter what, but in most leagues you are better off taking a steady veteran later over the high-risk, high-reward Foles early. If you want a veteran to go with, just click to the next slide.
Sleeper: Matt Ryan Is Due for a Nice Rebound Campaign
We have been waiting for Ryan to blow the top off fantasy football and become a No. 1 overall candidate. Some might say there is a reason we have been left waiting for so long: He has capped out.
Capping out at 4,500 yards and 26 to 32 touchdowns is pretty darn good, but we tend to believe there is greatness there still, especially because the Atlanta Falcons are a pass-happy team with a sketchy running game and a defense that renders a lot of shootouts.
The best news is Ryan is merely the 11th-ranked quarterback by FantasyPros.com's average draft position consensus. You can make Ryan one of the last starting quarterbacks picked in fantasy and expect a baseline of 4,150 yards and 26 touchdowns, numbers he hasn't dipped below in four years. There should be value placed on consistency and a high floor.
Ryan is arguably this year's best fantasy sleeper, regardless of position.
Contract Years: Andy Dalton Signing Leaves Alex Smith as Top Pending Free Agent
- Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs: A less sturdy defense could force Smith into more shootouts, which would make him a great fantasy backup or a strong second option in two-quarterback formats.
- Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals: He is in the right system and has the right supporting cast to succeed, but he is a bit long in the tooth at age 34. Also, that division has some rugged defenses to play six of his games against.
- Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns: If he doesn't beat out Manziel in camp, his contract year will be rendered moot.
- Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans: This is a make-or-break year for him. He is closer to be jobless than being anyone's long-term answer.
- Ryan Mallett, New England Patriots: We list him here only because of his potential if Brady goes down or if the Pats trade Mallett to, say, the Houston Texans this season.
Fantasy footballers love following the money. You might not get a whole lot of traction out of picking a contract-year quarterback this season, but here are the top quarterbacks currently slated to be free agents at the end of the year and therefore motivated to post the best numbers of their careers:
This list was compiled from Spotrac.com's 2015 free agents.
Draft-Day Strategies: There Is More Than One Way to Skin a Quarterback
You don't need to be a fantasy insider to know you can wait on drafting your quarterback. The problem is, if everyone follows that advice, someone will eventually have to pick theirs.
We conclude this quarterback blueprint with some of the draft-day strategies to employ at slotting this paramount position this year. Every league and every draft tends to be different. Here are a few ways to adjust on the fly:
1. Draft Your Quarterback Late
Clearly, there is value to be had in those second- and third-tier passers—right down to the talented Kaepernick, who came in at No. 13 in our rankings. You can load up on running backs and wide receivers early—maybe even Round 1 tight end Jimmy Graham—and still potentially strike gold with a Ryan or Kaepernick late.
Guys like Dalton and Rivers had huge seasons as late-round picks a year ago. Those years still don't even slot them as projected starters in a standard 12-team league that starts one quarterback.
2. Go All-in Early
There is still something to be said for relative certainty. Since your quarterback scores so many points, you might want one of the top-tier guys. They tend to have far less of a chance to go bust on you versus the running back you have to select in first two rounds.
If you pick a quarterback early, you will start him every week (save for his bye) and you won't need to suck up a roster spot on a backup. Use the waiver wire on your starting quarterback's bye week and that roster spot can go to a flier on a running back or wideout.
3. Double-Barrel QBs in Mid-Rounds
Because there are so many good fantasy quarterbacks—and so many like to wait to pick theirs—you can really suck up fantasy market shares by picking a pair of top-12 passers in the middle rounds. Say, Round 6 and 7 go with a high-ceiling threat like Griffin and a steady option like Brady with back-to-back picks.
Then, you can play the matchups with the highest-scoring position on your roster. You get the best of both worlds.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.