It's not a question of whether you want a great QB. You do. They put up the most points of any player, and having one player who can put up 25-35 points every week is a pretty obvious advantage in Fantasy. That's what the top quarterbacks can do for you year in and year out.
It's a question of whether you have to spend an early draft pick to get one of the best quarterbacks. Patrick Mahomes is probably going to be worth whatever price you pay for him, but not every early-round QB is going to be worth that. Here's what the top-12 QBs in ADP in 2020 looked like along with where they finished the season in points per game in a six-point-per-TD league:
*Played in five games
A few of those quarterbacks were bad, and most of them were quite good -- there was a clear top tier of 12 QBs last season, and nine of them came from the top 12 in ADP. But reaching for one of the first six off the board didn't guarantee elite production.
Over the past five seasons, the No. 1 overall QB was drafted inside of the top 100 on average just once -- back in 2016, when Aaron Rodgers had an ADP of 43.3. In 2020, Mahomes finished second and had an ADP of 18.6, but the other four No. 2 QB finishers also had ADP outside of the top 100; the highest a No. 3 finisher at QB was drafted was at 80.3 (Tom Brady, 2017). The average pick spent on a top-three QB finisher over the last five seasons? 119.34.
I went through the last five seasons to try to identify the true difference makers at the position and came up with 34 names, an average of almost seven per season -- defining "difference makers" as the players who outscored the top of the next tier of QB by at least as many points as that next tier QB outscored the average of QB12 through QB24. Of those 34, 17 had an ADP higher than 100, so exactly half. Considering that 33 quarterbacks were drafted inside the top 100 over that five-year span, that means your chances of getting a true difference maker at the position were about a coin flip if picking from inside the top 100.
Which is to say, while drafting an early-round QB isn't a bad idea -- you have a pretty good chance of getting a must-start Fantasy option -- it's not necessarily the best way to build your roster. You'll be passing up potential starters at running back or wide receiver to do so -- positions that require more than one starter and where depth is much more valuable. This season, for instance, drafting the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Matthew Stafford means you might be passing on Courtland Sutton, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Melvin Gordon or Ronald Jones/Leonard Fournette. Is that really worth it?
So, the late-round QB route it is!
Jamey talks about the sleeper appeal for Ben Roethlisberger, Tyler Higbee, Sterling Shepard and a couple of backup RBs on the Fantasy Football Today in 5 podcast. Listen below and follow at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts:
What to look for in a late-round QB
There are plenty of factors that go into finding a good value at QB, but one key thing to look for is rushing ability. It's not a prerequisite -- 16 of the 34 difference makers at QB rushed for at least 20 yards per game -- but it's a good place to start, because it lowers the margin for error so much.
If you aren't much of a runner, you have to be exceptional as a passer to be a true difference maker at QB. Among the 18 who were below 20 rushing yards per game, their collective per-16 game average was 4,725 passing yards and 36.8 touchdowns. The chances of fluking into that kind of season are pretty slim, and you generally need a ton of pass attempts and very good weapons around you to get there. Among the QBs being drafted outside of the top 100, you've got the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins (maybe), Jameis Winston (maybe), Tua Tagovailoa and Sam Darnold (maybe) as the only ones who really have that combination of very good weapons with potential high passing volume.
If you run, it becomes a lot easier. The running QBs on the list of difference makers averaged 4,121 passing yards and 34 touchdowns per 16 games. That's a healthy amount of touchdowns, of course, but that rushing group also averaged more Fantasy points per game. The point is, it's a lot easier to get to that elite level if a QB can run.
And those QBs are easier to find in the late rounds, because they don't need a huge amount of passing volume or quite as much receiver help to get there. Among those drafted outside of the top 100, Daniel Jones, Justin Fields, Sam Darnold, Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, Cam Newton, Taysom Hill and Tyrod Taylor (if he's starting for the Texans) could all conceivably be big enough contributors with their legs to get into that discussion if everything goes right.
You'll also probably realize that the latter group is quite a bit younger and less experienced than the first one. Which brings another obvious point: Younger QBs have a better chance of making that jump from the late rounds because they've got more room to grow, though you should also look for some of those veterans who have been high-end options in the past: Stafford, Roethlisberger and Ryan being the most obvious examples.
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So, who should I draft?
First, it's worth noting that, as of this summer, there does seem to be a bit of inflation in QB prices -- a whopping 15 are going in the top 100 in ADP right now compared to nine in 2020 and seven in 2019. That's a reflection of what a great season 2020 was for the position, as well as the hype surrounding young guys like Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence. With that in mind, I'll shift my focus to QBs drafted outside of the top 90 in ADP, which means everyone outside of the top 12 at the position.
With that in mind, here are my top QB targets if you want to wait:
By the time we get to the hottest days of Fantasy Draft season in late August, Tannehill may have shot up boards. But for now he qualifies, and let me say this: I am fully endorsing the idea that his ADP should rise. The addition of Julio Jones doesn't necessarily guarantee the Titans will throw more, but it would make a lot of sense. And Tannehill has been a viable Fantasy starter each of the last two seasons even in a low-volume offense. Now he's throwing to two of the best WRs in the league in Jones and A.J. Brown, both of whom are equally adept at beating a defense over the top or making a big play with the ball in their hands after a shorter throw. Tannehill's job has never been easier, and he should be a must-start QB this season.
Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars
Lawrence has the ability to do it all. He was tabbed as the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft way back in his freshman year at Clemson, and he's proven to be an elite passer and a more-than-capable rusher, with 17 touchdowns and 766 yards in 25 games over the last two seasons. The Jaguars have enough talent for this to be a soft landing, and Urban Meyer got pretty incredible results from his quarterbacks in college. Rookie QBs often struggle, but Lawrence is set up to be the exception to the rule.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
We know the Steelers are going to throw the ball a bunch, and we know they have one of the best WR trios in the league with Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool. The big question is whether Roethlisberger is still capable of making the most of that kind of situation. He was 14th in points per game at the position last season, so we'll need more than the dink-and-dunk artist we saw in 2020. If he plays better a full year further removed from elbow surgery, Roethlisberger is set up to be a star again. If not, well, then we might be at the end of Roethlisberger's career.
Justin Fields, Bears
Even in an era where QBs are much more athletic than ever before, Fields stands out -- he's 6-foot-3, 227 pounds and ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at his pro day. Vince Young, Colin Kaepernick and Jeff Driskel are the only QBs to have ever run a 4.57 or faster at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds or more at the combine, so even accounting for some fudging of the numbers at the pro day, this is a truly special athlete. And he was incredibly productive in his time at Ohio State, passing for 5,373 yards and 63 touchdowns and adding 867 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in 22 games. He could be a Deshaun Watson or Josh Allen kind of player.
Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins
There seems to be a sense that Tagovailoa was a lot worse than he actually was as a rookie. He wasn't great, mind you, but he wasn't Jared Goff or Carson Wentz or Mitchell Trubisky-bad as a rookie. And that was coming back from a serious hip injury, starting midseason, and playing with a pretty limited pass-catching group. Now he has one of the more talented groups around, with Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle joining DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki. That's a foursome that has the potential to make big plays on any given snap, and the Dolphins were actually more pass-happy than the average team when you account for game context last season. This could be a very aggressive passing game, and Tagovailoa was every bit Joe Burrow's equal as a prospect before his injury. This could be the QB breakout of the 2021 season.
Jameis Winston, Saints
I'm fine with either Saints QB winning the job in camp because I would view either one as a potential difference maker, but my preference would be to see Winston take the job, because I think he would raise the ceiling of this offense as a whole. Sean Payton is sure to put him in position to succeed with a ton of easy throws, but Winston is always going to be a gunslinger at heart, and that means there's always going to be huge upside when he's at QB. He's turned the ball over too often in his career, but Winston has been a pretty efficient quarterback otherwise, and I think we would see the best of him with the Saints.
Cam Newton, Patriots
Sure, maybe Mac Jones becomes the "QB of the Now" rather than of the future, but I think the odds are still in Newton's favor to win the starting job in camp. In his first three games before coming down with COVID-19, Newton was averaging 25.2 Fantasy points per game, and he was doing that with inarguably the least talented group of pass catchers in the NFL. The Patriots might still be bottom five in the NFL in that regard, but the additions of Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne should make this a much better group of receivers to work with. Newton proved he's still a dangerous rusher -- especially near the goal line -- and I think it's entirely possible he's in that must-start QB group if he wins the job out of camp.
Taysom Hill, Saints
Hill is the perfect No. 3 QB in a two-QB league, and an excellent final-round pick in a best-ball format or any league with deep benches. Because if he does end up starting for the Saints, he'll probably be ranked as a top-12 QB for me. His rushing ability is that valuable. In his four games as a starter, he averaged 23.1 Fantasy points, and that was while being thrown into the starting lineup to replace Drew Brees. If he wins the job out of camp, they're going to have an offense even better suited for his unique skills, and he might just be a threat to rush for 800 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.