Fantasy football, like any other tough old American institution, has its dogmas.
One of the guiding principles of our game over the years has been that you don’t want to be the first manager in your league to pick a quarterback. These people were doomed. Dead money. These were newcomers who could not be taken seriously.
Pundits generally urged QB to be extremely patient, viewing this position as a place that only occasionally yielded a decisive result in a single season. From a fantasy standpoint, the statistical split between early-round quarterbacks and mid- and late-round options wasn’t significant in a typical year. From time to time we could get an outstanding season from an elite quarterback – think Peyton Manning in 2004 or Tom Brady in 2007 – but these performances were unpredictable and unrepeatable.
Also, replacement cost has always been high in QB. Viable fantasy starters were available online every week. It’s better to broadcast a position than to draft it early. Why take Brett Favre in the lead when you can use this choice much more productively than just playing with Jon Kitna, Jake Delom or Rex Grossman?
And it worked. I once managed to win a fantasy championship with Luke McKeown as the starting quarterback, so you can’t tell me that this spot in the roster required significant draft capital. It is clear that this is not the case.
However, in recent years we have seen some of the most remarkable individual quarterback campaigns in league history—golden ticket seasons for fantastic purposes. Patrick Mahomes set the fantasy QB scoring record in 2018. Lamar Jackson set a scoring-per-game record the following year. mahomes, Jalen Hurts And Josh Allen each produced seasons in 2022 that are historically ranked in the top 12 by number of games. Mahomes now has 1st and 2nd QB scoring campaigns on his resume. Twelve of the top 18 fantasy seasons in this position have aired in the last five years.
As the quarterback ceiling has changed, so have the drafting habits of competing fantasy managers. It’s easy to justify the decision to burn an early pick at this spot when the highest scoring QB every year is a potential league-winning player – the player who single-handedly leads teams to the playoffs.
At the time of this writing, three different quarterbacks are mid-drafts in Yahoo’s top 25 leagues (Mahomes, Allen, and Hurts). The two additional QBs have a top 40 ADP (Joe BurrowJackson) and three others are usually selected from the first 60 picks (Justin Fields, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence). These ADPs are also valid for diamond-rated managers. Even the sharpest fantasy players are now grabbing quarterbacks during the first 5-6 rounds in the draft.
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Ten years ago, we would have considered such behavior blatant and inept. Today it makes you a shark.
But at the risk of sounding like a relic from another fantasy era, I’d like to point out that it’s actually still possible to win a league with QB mid or late rounds. Just ask anyone who won a title with Fields or Lawrence last year. Or with Geno Smithfailure to add who finished as general QB5.
It’s worth remembering that Mahomes himself actually flew in the late round in 2018 when he gained over 5,000 passing yards and scored 50 points. In 2019, Jackson was usually picked outside of the top 100, ahead of the supernova season, which wasn’t too hard to imagine ahead of time.
If you’re a traditionalist who’s intent on buying your fantasy QB outside of the first 7-8 rounds of this year’s draft, here are four options that can bring in huge sums at an affordable price (plus a fifth guy who’s just crazy flying from the top)…
Deshawn Watson, Cleveland Browns
One of the biggest open questions ahead of the start of the 2023 season is whether Watson can return to his pre-suspension level of play. If he does, he will probably be in the top five fantasy options; it has already reached that range for three consecutive seasons, from 2018 to 2020. Just three years ago, Watson led the NFL in passing yards (4,823) and Y/A (8.9), and he’s still just 27 years old. Cleveland has a talented, improved receiving body – Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, David Njokuand others – and a competent, experienced coaching staff. Watson is also playing a regular off-season for the first time in years, which should presumably be a benefit on the field. He was currently QB10 in Yahoo’s draft, missing the top 75 picks.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Jones is finishing a breakout season that was remarkable not only for what he did, but also for what he didn’t do. He finished with career lows in both steals (5) and fumbles (6), while playing a career-high 16 games. The raw passing stats weren’t exceptional, though he completed 67.2% of his shots while working with an injured and unimpressive group of receivers. Addendum Darren Waller should help this season, assuming the 30-year-old tight end, often injured, can stay on the field.
Last season, Jones rushed for 708 yards and scored seven points, key to his fantastic QB9 record. With this variety of rushes, he clearly has a chance of getting into the top 5 if his passing numbers improve.
Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts
As you probably already know, Richardson enters the NFL as the most athletic quarterback the league has ever seen. He certainly wasn’t as experienced or productive at the university level as Cam Newton (or any other QB that is referred to as comps), but he has all the traits we could hope to find in a modern quarterback, including a weapon hand and lightning speed. The extent to which Richardson can successfully feed multiple viable fantasy receivers is still undecided, but his dash alone will immediately make him a serious weapon in our game.
Under head coach Shane Steichen, Richardson will play a version of the Philly QB run. It should be universally selected in fantasy, well ahead of its current ADP QB16.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
Let’s remember that after the first eight games of last season, Tagovailoa had 18 touchdowns and only three picks. He averaged 283.1 yards per week and completed 71.0% of his passes. He’s a guy who can quit Tyreke Hill And Jaylen Waddle, working under the guidance of a head coach who masterfully adapts the offense to the strengths of his players. The only real issue with Tagovailoa is accessibility; when he plays with full health, he is clearly starting fantasy.
And then if you scroll the QB rankings a bit, you will eventually find this name…
Sam Howell, Washington Commanders
To be clear, we don’t actually know at the moment that Howell is going to start in Washington. This summer, he will definitely be able to leave work. Jacoby Brisset is a threat. But if Howell is given a starting role for commanders, he will have an outstanding receiving corps to work with and play under Eric Beniemi, arguably the best in the business. Howell ran for 828 yards and scored 11 points in his last collegiate season, making him a full member of the double threat club. He has the profile needed to have a season in the fantasy top 10 if he manages to play 15 games or more. Howell certainly belongs to your deep league and super flexible plans.