2014 quarterbacks fantasy preview
The perception that quality fantasy football quarterback depth is as great as it has ever been has some validity, but in some ways the past year represented a downward trend for the position, at least among top starters.
After two seasons in which the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks averaged 300 or more fantasy points and at least five passers racked up a season total of 300 or more points, 2013 saw the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks tally an average of 289 points and saw only two passers reach or exceed the 300-point bar.
That trend might not change this season, and thus makes fantasy quarterback management as important as ever, so let's take a look at each of the major players at this position and get an idea of where they should be valued in most draft rooms.
There are many reasons to think Drew Brees could have a season akin to Peyton Manning's record-setting 2013 campaign. He has an upgraded receiving corps that includes a potential year-two breakout wide receiver (Kenny Stills) and a pro-ready rookie (Brandin Cooks). Add that to a highly favorable schedule (seven games against teams that finished in the bottom quarter of the league in fantasy quarterback points allowed last year), and the sky is the limit for Brees. ... Aaron Rodgers is a bit riskier selection than in past years because of the state of his receiving corps (James Jones is in Oakland, Randall Cobb is an injury risk, Jermichael Finley might or might not be back) and because the Packers have one of the strongest rushing attacks in the league and will lean on that aspect of their offense quite often. ... Peyton Manning trades a hugely favorable schedule this past season for a much more difficult one that includes four games against NFC West defenses. The Broncos might have a better overall offense this year, but that likely won't translate into equal fantasy numbers for Manning. ... Cam Newton has placed in the top four in quarterback fantasy points in each of his three pro seasons and has done so with subpar or questionable pass-catching talents. The rebuilt Carolina receiving corps isn't going to be a hindrance to his reaching that level once again.
The next tier
On the edge of QB1 status
Backups with upside
Ben Roethlisberger lost Mike Wallace last year and now loses Emmanuel Sanders. Talented as he is, it will be hard to rate Roethlisberger any higher as long as the Steelers keep asking him to deal with these personnel changes. ... We're soon going to find out how much of the Bengals' passing success was due to Andy Dalton and how much was due to Jay Gruden. My gut feeling is Dalton owners are not going to like the answer to that question. ... Alex Smith proved that a low vertical pass volume (7.9 vertical attempts per game, good for 44th) doesn't preclude a solid fantasy football point showing (238 points last year, good for 15th). Smith could be an incredible bargain as a next-to-last-round QB2 or QB3 candidate in many draft rooms. ... The Dolphins' new offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, is dedicated to finding myriad methods to get Mike Wallace the ball. If he succeeds, Ryan Tannehill could have some incredibly strong fantasy games. ... Carson Palmer operates in a Bruce Arians offense, so a ton of vertical passes (213 last year, tops in the league) is par for the course. The development of Michael Floyd is another big potential plus. Bad news is bad decisions are also a part of Palmer's game, as his 2.2 percent BDR tied for 32nd. ... Only three of Eli Manning's interceptions last year were the result of a bad decision. The Giants' new West Coast offense will be a transition, as will adjusting to many new pass-catchers, but the potential for QB1 performance is there. ... Josh McCown was an injury replacement for Cutler and posted more fantasy points per game (16.4 for McCown, 14.6 for Cutler). In Tampa, he has a great receiving trio of Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans (who had superb metrics at Texas A&M) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who at times in college looked ready to be the next Tony Gonzalez.
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It all starts with Brees, as he is the only quarterback worth paying a first-round premium for in standard scoring leagues.
Once Brees is off the board, the depth of quality fantasy quarterbacks means that their relative value will decline at about equal level through the rest of the draft. In other words, the cost/reward value of picks will stay roughly constant in every round, so don't feel rushed to pick a passer if your team has a pressing need elsewhere.
A caveat to this line of thinking is fantasy quarterback upside potential is much higher than at any other position of the draft. For example, if Robert Griffin III returns to his 2012 performance level of 303 fantasy points, it will be a 103-point upgrade over his 2013 performance level of 200 fantasy points.
That might mean one can justify taking a high-upside quarterback early in a draft, but another option here is to approach it like many NFL teams do with their draft picks and go for a numbers approach. The owner who takes RGIII, Tannehill and Manziel might not look to have a slam dunk QB1, but that owner will have three players to rotate into a starting QB role, and if one of these pans out to his high-end potential, the payoff could be substantial. An alternate approach could see a bona fide QB1 selected to assure a certain performance level and then two lower-cost, high-upside picks in later rounds to aim for a potential 300-point candidate.
This same approach can be used in the auction strategy realm. Paying for a top-flight passer can be worth it at certain price points (especially Brees), but the biggest bang for the buck can occur in the later rounds. While other owners are vying to cull through the second-tier running backs and backup wideouts, wise auction owners will save some funds to make sure they can outbid those owners for the low-cost, high-upside quarterbacks.
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