Drafting a Quarterback Too Early in Fantasy Football May Be a Losing Strategy

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 24: Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the Los Angeles Chargers in action against the New York Jets in an NFL game at MetLife Stadium on December 24, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

The quarterback position is being played at a level that NFL fans have never before witnessed. On a weekly basis, viewers are subject to the greatness of up-and-coming stars, perennial All-Pros, and future Hall of Fame inductees. Football fans see the passing yards, the touchdowns, and the accolades and make note of it for mid-August. As preseason begins, drafts are being held by fantasy football leagues across the country. In these drafts, the star quarterbacks of the league are being drafted in the first six rounds because of their undeniable talent and production. By doing this, fantasy managers are solidifying that position and ultimately making the wrong decision.

To be successful in the NFL, having a great quarterback is a necessity. Each team’s quarterback must be the leader, and the most reliable and the hardest worker on the team, everyday. Being a signal caller is time consuming and it requires tremendous effort to perfect the position. Luckily for fantasy players, all the team manager needs to do is put his sticker on the draft board or click draft. But, in what round that name is announced is truly important to the stability and potential of their roster. Using data derived from 12-man, PPR leagues (provided by FantasyFootballCalculator.com), discover why Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady are better left alone.

A Losing Proposition: Drafting Quarterbacks Too Early in Fantasy Football

In any football conversation, suggesting to pass on Brady or Rodgers will lead to laughs and baffled expressions. Fortunately for this article, fantasy football is a world of its own where running backs are actually valued (Sorry, Le’Veon Bell) and defense does not win championships. The one goal for all fantasy players is to acquire as much talent as possible during their draft. By taking a quarterback early, the chance of fulfilling that goal is much less likely.

When selecting a quarterback high in the draft, the team owner is sacrificing a top starter or needed depth in other important areas. During the season, there will be unpredictable injuries and players not living up to their full potential. Unfortunately, fantasy football does not care how much that player meant to your team. These scenarios happen to anyone and everyone, but the great fantasy players understand how to limit the risk. Below is why quarterbacks should be passed on early in fantasy drafts.

No Quarterback is Safe

There is sense among fantasy football players that quarterbacks are among the safest and the easiest predictions possible. It is simple, either the player is a good quarterback or not. The upper tier quarterbacks will pass for more yards, throw more touchdowns, and score more points. Therefore, taking a quarterback high in the draft will solidify that position for the rest of the season. Perfect, except for the fact that it is more of a gamble than expected.

Over the last four seasons, the likelihood of a quarterback drafted in the top seven rounds failing to meet or exceed their position ranking was slightly below 72%. For example, Andrew Luck was the first quarterback selected (QB1) in 2015 after a monster year the season before. The average selection of Luck was the fifth pick of the second round (17th overall), where starting wide receivers or running backs are typically chosen. Drafters of Luck were not so lucky as he finished 2015 as QB27 and only managed 160 points that season.

Taking a quarterback in the top half of fantasy drafts does not assure a fully capable starter. Among the 32 quarterbacks chosen in rounds seven or higher in the last four years, a mere seven of them have actually exceeded their draft ranking (22%). For star quarterbacks taken QB5 or higher since 2014, only 55% of them have finished the season in the top five. To dig even deeper, only 25% (5/20) of those quarterbacks actually improved their draft ranking. By drafting a quarterback early, fantasy owners are limiting themselves to a low-ceiling, low-floor player.

Where to Target Quarterbacks in Fantasy

Quarterbacks score the most points of any position in fantasy football, which makes them such a desirable option. What is lost in the interpretation is that there is an abundance of viable options every year. Over the last four years, there has been an average of nearly 15 quarterbacks-per-season who have scored 300-points or more. The average points-per-game of those 59 quarterbacks is 22.2 points. The second highest scoring and drafted quarterback of 2017 scored 22.2 points-per-game, and that was Brady.

Often times, fantasy players are scared of unpredictable, low-scoring weeks. To negate this possibility, a quarterback will be taken with a high selection. In reality, only 70% of quarterbacks who were drafted QB5 or higher have gone on to average 20-points or more per game. Meanwhile, the ninth through 13th selected quarterbacks drafted have accomplished that feat 65% of the time.

Since the beginning of the 2016 season, quarterbacks nine through 13 have either met or exceeded their draft ranking 70% of the time. Over the last four years, they have hit that mark 55% of the time. Among those who exceeded expectation since 2014, 50% of them landed in the top ten while only 11 out of 20 (55%) of the top five selected quarterbacks have finished top ten.

Based on the last four years, the sweet spot to target this range of quarterbacks have been rounds eight and nine. These rounds feature quarterbacks that may not have jaw-dropping names but they are consistent performers who do not require a large investment. In fact, over the last four seasons, QB12 and QB13 have outscored QB1 and QB3, 329.1 to 277.3 while going five to six rounds later. Maybe, just maybe, passing on Brady or Rodgers is not the craziest idea in the world.

Insurance Policies

There will be instances where a later round selection does not pan out for the owner. In fantasy football, any selection has bust possibilities. Luckily for owners, it was a ninth round selection wasted rather than a second. While scoping the waiver wire for a starting quarterback sounds daunting, it is possible to find one.

Since 2014, there has been a total of eight quarterbacks who finished as QB16 or higher that went undrafted. Among those, six have finished as a QB1 (top 12) and two of them have finished in the top four. Additionally, there have been eight quarterbacks drafted in round 11 or later that have landed in the top 12 (five finished QB6 or higher) over that same time span. Here are prime candidates for starting quarterbacks going round eight or later.

Quarterbacks to Target for 2018

1. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

Over the last two years, Kirk Cousins has had an ADP of 8.02 and 10.02 (QB9 and QB13). In both of those seasons, Cousins has blown the door off of his draft rankings, finishing as QB5 and QB6. Despite recent success, Cousins is still being drafted as QB8 for 2018. The change of scenery may worry fantasy owners, but the Minnesota Vikings have the sixth-easiest schedule for fantasy quarterbacks and a plethora of weapons at Cousins’ disposal. Cousins’ current ADP for 2018 has him going in the eighth round.

2. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

There may not be a more underrated fantasy quarterback than Philip Rivers. Since 2014, Rivers has met or outperformed his draft ranking every year. Despite continuously surpassing his ADP, Rivers has not gone earlier than round nine. The loss of Hunter Henry was a large blow, but Rivers still has an assortment of play-makers around him. Rivers is currently being selected in the tenth round, 113th overall, for 2018.

3. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

This past season marked the third year in a row that Matthew Stafford has been drafted QB12 or lower and has finished as a top 10 quarterback. In each of those seasons, Stafford has surpassed 320 points and averaged over 20.4 points per game. Stafford is currently being drafted as QB10 in the ninth round.

Later Options for 2018

4. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

A major shoulder injury kept Luck off the field in 2017, but recent reports say Luck is ready to go for the 2018 season. While the talent and previous production is there, questions about Luck’s health will shadow his fantasy prospects. Current ADP: 10th Round, 109th overall.

5. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

New offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleour, will help Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans offense flourish after being run-heavy the last few seasons. Current ADP: 12th Round, 134th overall.

6. Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears off-season acquisitions, including Allen Robinson, and hiring of new head coach, Matt Nagy, makes Mitch Trubisky an interesting option. Trubisky struggled mightily his rookie season, but with more talent around him and a more advanced offensive scheme, the former second-overall pick may be worthy of a late-round flier.

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