A confession: I’m often overcome with the urge to draft a quarterback far too early, even though I’m well aware of the consequences. To err, it’s still human.
But as I wistfully recall a time in August when fantasy futures seemed so bright and hopeful, I also remember that I’m not alone. There’s a support group for early-round QB drafters, and we meet on Tuesdays. Punch and pie.
This is a subject we’ve discussed previously while looking back at the average draft positions from this past summer, and if they’ve translated into good value. And when we did that, we recalled that while Arian Foster was most commonly the first overall pick this year, Aaron Rodgers came off the board first in far too many leagues. That happened in two of my three leagues, and ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry not only advocated for taking Rodgers first overall, but he also said that Tom Brady should come off the board right behind him.
You’ll look at the current overall point standings, and see no problem with taking one of the top arms early. As we sit here a day prior to the start of Week 15, nine of the top ten fantasy scorers are quarterbacks in leagues that use standard scoring, with Adrian Peterson the only exception. So whatever, right?
No. Look at where some of those quarterbacks were drafted. Robert Griffin III was a mid-round pick, and he’s fantasy football’s leading scorer. Andrew Luck is 10th and he went much later (often around the ninth round), but more importantly, the gap in points between, say, Andy Dalton (213) and Aaron Rodgers (245) over 13 games isn’t nearly enough to justify Rodgers’ lofty first-round status, while Dalton was often still available 11 rounds later.
That’s why you need to shake your early-round quarterback addiction next year. To help in that effort, I brought JJ Zachariason aboard for this week’s Five Questions. He’s sort of fantasy’s Zen master of late-round quarterbacking since he, you know, wrote a book on the strategy, and has a blog called The Late Round Quarterback. Yeah, he seems like the man to speak with on these matters.
Before talking quarterbacks, though, we dealt with a few pressing and immediate matters as semi-final week nears.
1. After he emerged with 100 yards on 13 carries, David Wilson could have intriguing flex value with appealing matchups against the Falcons and Ravens over the next two weeks. What’s his ceiling? And are you comfortable flexing him during the playoffs in deeper leagues?
I’m comfortable flexing him in non-deep leagues as long as Bradshaw is hurting. If Bradshaw plays, however, I can’t get unbelievably excited about Wilson. Tom Coughlin doesn’t like young guys carrying the load, and the team still doesn’t trust the rookie as a third-down back. His chronic fumbling issues won’t help, either. I’d place him as a low-end flex as long as Bradshaw is moderately healthy.
2. Jason Avant is also intriguing with his 212 receiving yards over the past two weeks. His schedule is favorable too (home to the Redskins in Week 16), giving him value as a flex option. Are you a believer?
Nick Foles loves to get him the ball. Avant now has 17 targets over the last two games, and the Eagles are actually competing. Let’s be fair, though. Avant received 12 targets against a very bad Tampa Bay secondary on Sunday. When there’s not a favorable matchup, like this Thursday against Cincinnati, I’d have a hard time trusting Avant. If you can get through and are still playing fake football during Week 16, I’d see him as a nice flex option against Washington.
3. We’re not done with the low-end wide receiver possibilities yet. Who would you rather own throughout the rest of the fantasy playoffs: Josh Gordon, or Michael Crabtree?
I’m a “win now” kind of person, and because of that, I’d rather have Gordon. The Browns get Washington this week – a team that loves to give up the deep ball this year – while the 49ers face an improving New England secondary. Sure, Gordon gets Denver in Week 16, but let’s win before we think too far ahead of ourselves. Given the caliber of players we’re talking here, you should have no problem finding someone to flex in Week 16 if you’re fortunate enough to be playing then. Gordon gives you the best chance to advance as his Week 15 matchup is more favorable.
4. You’ve written at length about the late-round quarterback draft strategy, and in a year when Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton have largely failed to justify their lofty draft statuses, there will likely be far more championship teams with Ray Rice, Arian Foster, or Adrian Peterson rostered. What’s the best area of the draft to target a quarterback?
In a standard league, the final starting quarterback drafted will typically leave the draft board in Round 7 or 8. I’m usually still without one in Round 9 or 10.
“Woah, aren’t you completely screwing yourself by doing that, JJ?” No, no I’m not. The opposite is actually true.
The idea is both simple and complex at the same time. To keep it brief, think of it from a supply and demand perspective. When a group of people only need one of something, and at the same time need two or three of something else, that something else becomes massively more important. In other words, you’re starting just one quarterback in a typical fantasy lineup and two or three running backs and wide receivers, making that quarterback position less demand filled. With more “product”, there’s more room for differentiation. The difference, or gain, that you get from having one of the best products at wide receiver or running back far outweighs the advantage you’d gain from having a top quarterback product.
It’s much easier to manage one position rather than two or three. We see it every week with tight ends and defenses, as fantasy owners hit the waiver wire for the best matchup. People are afraid to do that with quarterbacks because it’s the sexiest position in football, and they think the advantage of having an elite guy is vital to fantasy success. But you can do it, and if you follow the late-round quarterback strategy, you should. You’ll not only be able to obtain a better weekly average than someone starting Aaron Rodgers week in and week out, but you’ll have the opportunity to pick up a guy like Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, or Josh Freeman early on during the season.
There’s a lot to the strategy, and correctly managing your team in-season is an important part. I always tell people that if I had to draft a team that I could never, ever touch, I’d take an elite guy in the first round. But that’s not how it works. There are ways to play the supply and demand game, and that’s why you should wait to get your quarterback.
5. Is it possible to win a league by taking that late-round QB strategy to the extreme and buying high at every other position early, and then starting the best quarterback who’s available in, say, the 10th round and beyond? Carson Palmer is this year’s poster boy for that approach, as he went undrafted in some leagues, yet he ranks 13th in fantasy points at the position, ahead of Eli Manning.
Absolutely. While this instance is anecdotal, I think it’ll shed light on this idea:
I was drafting a team in a 16-man league in August, and actually waited until Round 13 to get Christian Ponder. In a 12-team league, that’s like Round 15. Did I want Ponder? No way, Jose. People actually saw that I was waiting very late to get my starting quarterback (I love getting depth that I can later trade for lineup upgrades), and they all went on a backup quarterback draft run before my pick in the 13th. Slightly collusion-driven, but whatever. Ponder was the 22nd quarterback drafted, and he was my starter. There were plenty of guys available – including Carson Palmer – in the 12thwho I should’ve taken. Instead, I was stuck with the Vikings scrub.
What people fail to realize is that quarterback value is at its max during the draft. Once the draft is over – and we saw this a lot this year – early-round quarterbackers are willing to give up a backup for nearly anything. So, in that league, I gave up a late-round flier (Kendall Wright) and my backup, Alex Smith, for Ben Roethlisberger. A two-for-one deal that proved to be the right move. I didn’t do the right thing at draft time, but I at least proved that value lies at receiver and running back. The issue was, since the league was so deep, the manager with Roethlisberger didn’t have a solid WR3. Wright was my WR5.
It will always be that way. The perception is to get a quarterback early, but you could realistically not even draft one and take your team to the promised land.