2013 Draft Prep: Quarterback tiers and strategies

Tiers by position: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | K/DSTs

You might say to yourself, "quarterbacks score the most points in Fantasy, so I have to have one." Or, "the last few winners of my league have done so with great quarterbacks, so I have to draft one early."

You also might say to yourself, "I like to overpay for inexpensive things." That's because the kind of person who splurges for a quarterback this summer is the same person who doesn't understand the idea of good value.

But you should not be this person. You shouldn't whip out $100 bills for things found at a dollar store and most importantly you shouldn't spend a draft pick for a Fantasy quarterback unless it's for a good value!

You can thank the four upstart signal-callers from 2012 for this. Without Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, the position would be pretty slim. But the Fantasy Gods blessed us with four fearless pigskin-chucking pioneers, all with the legs to pack on some additional stats to further benefit the bottom line of Fantasy owners.

So in light of the depth at the position, I'm applying my rule for Fantasy tight ends to Fantasy quarterbacks:

You reach, you lose.

This means if you're looking to maximize your Fantasy draft results, you won't take a quarterback until one is staring you in the grill in a round you're happy to take him in. It doesn't have to be a "too good to be true" thing, though that will happen to some owners, but it can't be a "well, I guess I better take him here" thing.

Here's my preference on where to take the Top 12 quarterbacks in Fantasy in standard 10- or 12-team league.

Drew Brees Round 2-3 Matthew Stafford Round 5-6
Aaron Rodgers Round 2-3 Andrew Luck Round 6-7
Peyton Manning Round 3-4 Tony Romo Round 7
Tom Brady Round 4-5 Robert Griffin III Round 6-7
Cam Newton Round 4-5 Colin Kaepernick Round 7
Matt Ryan Round 5-6 Russell Wilson Round 8+

I know it sounds wacky to expect someone like Ryan in Round 5 but follow the method to the madness: Let's just say you and I play in a 12-team league and you think I'm nuts for waiting. You'll take one before me, other owners will take one before me, maybe everyone else in the league will take one before me. Eventually we'll be in the middle rounds and everyone will be on the lookout for players at other positions while I snag the last starter-worthy quarterback. Unless a fellow owner is sick enough to take two passers with his first eight picks, the last one to draft a quarterback will for sure get a great value. Granted, you don't have to be the last person to take a quarterback in order to win here, just make sure you get an unbelieveable deal. Getting Brees in Round 3 qualifies. So does Ryan in Round 5 and so on.

In what types of leagues might you stray from this theory? Definitely ones that allow multiple starting quarterbacks, be it two-QB leagues or formats that allow a quarterback as a flex. In those situations quarterbacks become very valuable, and it's not uncommon to see a team spend two of its first three picks -- if not its first two overall picks -- on passers.

You'll also see quarterbacks begin going sooner than recommended in leagues with 14-plus teams because, suddenly, it's not as deep a position as you once thought. Assume that quarterbacks will get taken at least a half-round higher than where I'd take them in the above chart in those larger formats.

The quarterback-tight end dynamic

If quarterback is the deepest position in Fantasy going into 2013, tight end runs a fairly close second. But getting one of each with your first four or five picks could prove to be a big boo-boo. You're supposed to take advantage of the supply of quarterbacks and tight ends, particularly since that same supply isn't quite as rich for running backs and receivers.

So a rule I recommend following this year is as follows:

If you take a tight end early, wait for a quarterback. If you take a quarterback early, wait for a tight end.

It's okay to take one within your first five picks. Taking one of each? Not so much. You'll leave yourself thin either at running back or receiver and won't love your team after the draft. You could even find yourself scrounging for starting talent later in the season. You also could consider waiting on both a quarterback and a tight end and just go hog wild on backs and receivers in the early going. Remember, there will always be a quarterback available to draft as well as a tight end. The rushers and receivers going in Round 10 and beyond might make you ill.

The buzz

Each of the Top 12 quarterbacks (and really most of the Top 18 or so quarterbacks) are worthy of discussion, but four have more buzz than the rest.

Tom Brady, Patriots: We've come to know and love him as one of Fantasy's most reliable starters. He's wound up as a Top 3 quarterback in each of the past three seasons. He's also had Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski for much of those seasons. Welker's in Denver, Hernandez is out of the league and Gronk is very much a risk following multiple surgeries on his forearm and back. Danny Amendola was brought in to help restock the receiving cupboard, but he has a history of getting banged up and shouldn't be counted on to last all year. Add it all up and it doesn't look so good Brady.

Let's try some simple math. Brady has averaged 4,654 yards and 36.3 passing touchdowns over his last three seasons. If we draft him hoping to hit those numbers, what would be the statistical breakdown among his offensive weapons? Sure, Gronkowski could stay healthy and have a mammoth year. Give him 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. And let's be optimistic and say Amendola plays 16 games and contributes big-time, give him 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. And let's even say Shane Vereen posts 600 receiving yards and five touchdowns, more than Danny Woodhead ever had with the Patriots.

Even if all three of these best-case scenarios play out, it still leaves 1,554 yards and nine touchdowns to be accounted for. But this is where I stray from "Tom Brady the bust" and go to "reliable ol' Tom." Through the preseason we saw Brady bring it with the likes of Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld and Aaron Dobson pitching in. These are young, talented players with pretty special skills considering their age and experience. It's a bit of a stretch but if these three rookies can step up and combine for 1,554 yards and nine touchdowns (that's a modest 518 yards and three scores each), Brady will remain a valuable person to have in Fantasy.

I do still believe Round 3 is too soon for Brady. But he should still finish as a sturdy Top 5 passer if not into the Top 3 like he's been.

Robert Griffin III, Redskins: Consider for a moment where Griffin would get picked had he not gotten hurt in last year's playoff game. Round 5? Round 4? Round 3? His incredible numbers right out of the gate made him a Fantasy legend and if not for the knee injury in January, there would be a mad rush to draft him.

Now consider that the lack of preseason reps coupled with that ugly injury has dropped him into the Round 6-7 territory. That's nearly the same area he was getting taken at this time last year, except now we've seen what he can do in the NFL. When was the last time you were able to draft a breakout quarterback in the same spot you got him at the year before?

Nothing is changing in Washington. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan hammered home the point this offseason that none of Griffin's zone-read runs caused him to get hurt. That's not going to go away. His receiving corps is back at full strength with Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis healthy. In theory, Griffin should be exactly the same guy he was pre-injury, albeit with more risk concerns than initially believed. That makes him a risk/reward absolutely worth drafting once you get into Round 7 or so. The only concession an owner should make is drafting a second quarterback soon after taking RG3 ... or making RG3 your second quarterback if he's somehow still hanging around for some reason in Round 9 or 10.

Eli Manning, Giants: So the guy has won two Super Bowls, has an excellent receiving corps and still isn't getting taken in the first eight rounds in drafts?

That's what a putrid season will do to you. Manning was taken as a No. 1 Fantasy option last season and let his owners down, posting 20-plus Fantasy points in just six of 16 games. Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman and Andy Dalton had more 20-point games and Flacco was the only one to finish with fewer Fantasy points overall.

But Manning's downfall had a lot to do with his receivers letting him down. Victor Cruz was solid but still not quite as good as his breakout season in 2011. Hakeem Nicks was in and out with injuries. Martellus Bennett was a good outlet but not a monster. It all added up for Manning, who is a great quarterback but just didn't have a lot of great options to throw to a year ago.

He should get those options back in 2013: Cruz is expected to be ready for the start of the season despite a bruised heel. Nicks is healthy, motivated to play well and get paid. No. 3 receiver Rueben Randle had a great offseason and could be poised to pick up any slack left by Nicks if and when when he gets hurt. And Brandon Myers should be able to at least replicate what Bennett offered Manning last year. Tack on a younger ground game with a pair of backs who can catch the ball and Manning has the goods around him to get back over 4,000 yards passing and close to 30 touchdowns. If there's a serious concern it's that his offensive line is banged up already and he needs good protection up front to be at his best.

Manning should be considered as either a top-of-the-line No. 2 Fantasy quarterback or a bargain-basement starter for those owners who really want to wait on a passer. There's nothing wrong with either one of those scenarios.

Michael Vick, Eagles: It's official -- Vick is Chip Kelly's starting quarterback. But it doesn't mean it's going to stay that way.

Signs point to Vick mostly running an offense focused on running the ball and short, high-percentage passes. His mobility will be key and being accurate will be very significant. We got a great look at him in the preseason but those were in games where the defenses did nothing to prepare for Chip Kelly's offense. By the time the regular season starts teams will have studied Oregon's offense and have a plan to attack Vick.

Vick, 33 years old, also is no stranger to getting hurt. While in theory a quick, up-tempo offense that calls for snappy passing should keep Vick healthy, there's no guarantee he'll stay that way. One long run out of the pocket and Vick could be on the injury report. Losing Jeremy Maclin to a torn ACL also hurts his expectations.

Here's why I'm not very interested in Vick: For him to keep the job all season long, he'll have to play effectively without turning the ball over and be part of the reason why the Eagles are in the playoff hunt. If the Eagles meander around .500 they'll eventually turn to another quarterback to begin evaluating for 2014. If Vick gets hurt that also forces the team's hand to move on. I'd rather spend the pick I'd use to get Vick on a deep sleeper at running back. If you want Vick, I can't blame you, but the second you can trade him for something solid, do it because he's not promised to make it for 16 consecutive games. Quarterbacks don't always fetch a lot in trade either.

Sleepers disguised as backups

Eli Manning's situation is not unique. He's one of several quarterbacks not in my Top 12 rankings who have tons of potential in 2013.

Stud No. 1 WR?
Pass-heavy in 2013?
Top 12 QB in last 2 years?
Andy Dalton, Bengals
Matt Schaub, Texans
Josh Freeman, Bucs
Philip Rivers, Chargers  
Jay Cutler, Bears
Sam Bradford, Rams  
Carson Palmer, Cardinals
Brandon Weeden, Browns  

Bye-week cheat sheet

Ultimately, you will have to draft a quarterback. Once you do, you might start to eyeball a backup that doesn't share a bye week with the one you just took. That's what this nifty chart is for: To find quarterbacks with seemingly favorable matchups when your primary passer is taking a week off.

Week 4 bye: Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers
Alternatives: Joe Flacco (at BUF), Josh Freeman (vs. ARI), Ben Roethlisberger (at MIN)
Week 5 bye: Robert Griffin III
Alternatives: Sam Bradford (vs. JAC), Carson Palmer (vs. CAR), Philip Rivers (at OAK), Brandon Weeden (vs. BUF)
Week 6 bye: Matt Ryan
Alternatives: Josh Freeman (vs. PHI), Christian Ponder (vs. CAR), Alex Smith (vs. OAK), Philip Rivers (vs. IND), Brandon Weeden (vs. DET)
Week 7 bye: Drew Brees
Alternatives: Sam Bradford (at CAR), Philip Rivers (at JAC), Ryan Tannehill (vs. BUF)
Week 8 bye: Andrew Luck
Alternatives: Josh Freeman (vs. CAR), Ben Roethlisberger (at OAK)
Week 9 bye: Colin Kaepernick, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford
Alternatives: Sam Bradford (vs. TEN), Alex Smith (at BUF), Michael Vick (at OAK)
Week 10 bye: Tom Brady
Alternatives: Sam Bradford (at IND), Jay Cutler (vs. DET), Josh Freeman (vs. MIA), Jake Locker (vs. JAC), Ben Roethlisberger (vs. BUF)
Week 11 bye: Tony Romo
Alternatives: Jake Locker (vs. IND), Carson Palmer (at JAC), Ben Roethlisberger (vs. DET), Matt Schaub (vs. OAK), Ryan Tannehill (vs. SD)
Week 12 bye: Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson
Alternatives: Josh Freeman (at DET), Jake Locker (at OAK), Carson Palmer (vs. IND), Matt Schaub (vs. JAC), Alex Smith (vs. SD), Ryan Tannehill (vs. CAR)

2013 Quarterback Tiers

Elite Value Elite Very Good
4800+ yards, 35+ TDs 4400+ yards, 31+ TDs 4000+ yards, 27+ TDs
Drew Brees Tom Brady Andrew Luck
Aaron Rodgers Cam Newton Tony Romo
Peyton Manning Matt Ryan Robert Griffin III
  Matthew Stafford Colin Kaepernick
    Russell Wilson
No. 2 Upside No. 2 Less Upside Deep sleeper QBs
3800+ yards, 22+ TDs    
Eli Manning Michael Vick Jake Locker
Andy Dalton Josh Freeman E.J. Manuel
Sam Bradford Joe Flacco Alex Smith
Matt Schaub Philip Rivers Ryan Tannehill
Carson Palmer   Terrelle Pryor
Jay Cutler    
Brandon Weeden    
Ben Roethlisberger    

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Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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