Stew Milne//USA Today Sports

Fantasy Football, QB rankings: Where should Tom Brady be drafted?

Pete Davidson
August 17, 2018 - 10:00 am
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Drafting quarterbacks is a bit of an art, and its canvas will change on a league by league basis.  One of the tenets in my yearly Rotobahn Draft Plan is to “Know Your League.”  For example, if you play in a league where folks are not all that prepared, you should be careful about how you use ADP (average draft position), because most ADP, especially early ADP, is derived from relatively prepared drafters.  In casual leagues, you generally have a lot of hometown drafters or favorite team drafters.  In leagues such as these, knowing who roots for whom is as useful as knowing ADP.  And, when it comes to QB drafting, you really want to know your league, because the way the QB runs go is often the same year to year.  Some leagues have a bunch of early QB drafters and some leagues are populated by GMs who consider waiting for their QB to be a badge of honor.  It’s good to know the lay of the land, before things are live.

One crucial element to grasp, when it comes to taking your QB, is that the decline in the other positions is far more extreme or steep than it is at QB.  So, if you are taking a quarterback in the earlier rounds, say rounds 1-4 and even a few picks into the fifth, you may be passing up something you can’t get later on.  For this reason, you should have a compelling rationale when taking your quarterback—something far more compelling than following the pack. 

“Hey, the QBs are going fast now, I better get in on it.”

That one, right there, is probably the worst reason to ever take a quarterback in a seasonal league.  That’s because, once the first few quarterbacks are gone, the costs of waiting goes down.  Once six or seven are gone (based on 2018 projections), you can wait several rounds without a material drop in projected quality.

If you look at quarterback scoring over the last five years, you’ll find roughly a 100 point drop between the QB1 and the QB12.  That seems like a lot, but if we look at the gap at running back, we find a much steeper decline.  Last year’s RB1 was Todd Gurley, who scored 319 fantasy points.  Dion Lewis was RB12.  He had 165 points total—a gap of 154.  Now consider that Lewis was still technically an RB1.  Most leagues have at least 24 RBs in lineups each week, and we’re not even taking flex players or bye weeks into account.  The RB24 last year was Jerick McKinnon at 128 points—a 191 point gap.

So there’s a cost to taking quarterbacks early.  By the way, I was kind there by using standard scoring.  If we use PPR as the baseline, the gaps in RB scoring become even more pronounced.  So, please, think long and hard about taking a quarterback when there are still elite (or even potentially elite) non-quarterbacks on the board.  They just aren’t worth as much as most fantasy GMs seem to think.  This probably comes from hearing “quarterback is the most important position” over and over while we watch the real games.  It’s true in real football, but not so much in fantasy.  There’s also a comfort level that the more causal player has with quarterbacks.  We know them far better so we feel like we are making a more informed decision than when we take some receiver from some team we don’t watch all that much.  So, it’s very much to your advantage to embrace a little discomfort, and to do what may feel instinctively counterintuitive.

One important note before we start with the rankings.  I update these rankings every few days during August at Rotobahn.com.  It’s a free site with no registration required.  So check in closer to your drafts for the best, most up to date information.  The Rotobahn rankings also go much deeper, which is good for those of you playing in 2QB or Superflex formats.  Alright, let’s get these passers into tiers. 

Tier One (1-2)

Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson

Rodgers and Wilson are pretty easy to explain in that they’ve both been the top fantasy quarterback before and have been elite options consistently.  Both are still in their prime and both have enough skill talent around them to get it done.  I did entertain the idea of putting Rodgers in his own tier,  but it’s sufficient to say that he’s my top guy.  The other plus factor for both of these players is that they don’t have top flight defenses.  This means they ought to play in more shootouts than the average quarterback, which is nice.

Tier Two (3-7)

DeShaun Watson, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees

This is a large high-quality tier with different flavors.  If you want to re-order them, be my guest.  It’s a tightly packed tier.  This group features players who all have valid claims to be ranked in the first tier.  I just feel that there are risk factors that create some separation.  Watson makes the cut, and it’s because of his weapons, his running ability and last but not least, his schedule, which is very friendly.  The NFL was even kind enough to put his second matchup with Jacksonville on Week 17—outside of the fantasy football season.  With Luck, it’s obvious that the shoulder is a potential issue, though early returns are very positive.  With Brady, we have Father Time lurking plus a Patriots team that may be a tad more conservative due to a relative lack of dependable weapons.  Amendola is gone.  Edelman is out until Week 5.  With Cam, as elite a fantasy option as he’s been, there is a new OC running the show and it’s not the guy I would have preferred.  While I expect Norv Turner to bend what he does to fit Cam’s game, you never know.   As with Brady, Brees is still a great player, but the Saints finally have a defense that can actually help them win games.  In my view, they will stay relatively run-heavy and they will keep completing a very high percentage of their passes.  That means the clock keeps running and you’ll have fewer plays run than the Saints of the recent past.  So those elite fantasy digits will be tougher to achieve.  Still, you can pretty much pencil him in for very good stats.  Brees has a very solid floor.  I expect him to be a shade better than he was last year.

Tier Three (8-10)

Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz​, Ben Roethlisberger

Some minor concerns with this group, but in all three cases you have very good quarterbacks surrounded by strong skill talent.  Cousins is dealing with a team switch so that’s always a little concerning, but he goes to a squad with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph.  Not bad.  Wentz obviously has a great offense to play in, but he’s a mobile quarterback coming off of a major knee injury and his surgery was a month later than DeShaun Watson’s.  Early struggles are possible and he’s not yet confirmed as the Week 1 starter, though I think he ultimately will be.  Roethlisberger has loads of great weapons and he’s a skilled veteran, so you have to like his chances.  The concerns are durability and a new offensive coordinator.  He’s also got some issues with his home/road splits—performing far better in Pittsburgh than on the road, so getting a high-end backup for Big Ben makes some sense, if the price is right.

Tier Four (11-17)

Jimmy Garoppolo​, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes​, Matthew Stafford, Marcus Mariota​, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan

I have high expectations for the 49ers.  Kyle Shanahan offenses have looked pretty good in year two, and that’s where he and Garoppolo are now.  Goff has looked the part since extricating himself from Jeff Fisher.  He lost Sammy Watkins to the Chiefs, but he got Brandin Cooks as a replacement, so it’s close to a wash.  I expect incremental improvement in year three from Goff.  Mahomes is an aggressive ranking on my part, but he has such remarkable weaponry with Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, and he plays for a quarterback whisperer in Andy Reid.  If your league penalizes heavily for interceptions, peg him down a few slots, but I see a lot of raw offense happening in Kansas City this year.  Stafford is playing under new management with Matt Patricia running the show.  It’s always a bit risky from a projection point of view when you shake up the snow globe, but with most of Stafford’s established weapons still in town, I’m thinking he’s a pretty stable investment—likely to deliver QB1 performance.  Mariota is, like Mahomes, a bit of a wildcard, but if he breaks out, he could post tier two numbers pretty easily because he can score points with his arm and with his legs.  Rivers had more upside before he lost Hunter Henry for the season, but he has a lot of good young receiving talent to work with, led by Keenan Allen, who is playing at an elite level.  Ryan is coming off of a down year but he returns with all of the same weapons plus rookie Calvin Ridley.  Free from the hangover of a blown Super Bowl, I expect this offense to rebound to more typical production, with Julio Jones functioning as the tip of the spear.

Tier Five (18-23)

Mitchell Trubisky​, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Eli Manning

Trubisky is a riser and they have really added some talent around him in Chicago.  They already had a dynamic backfield duo in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.  So they bring in Allen Robinson and Trey Burton as free agents.  They then add Anthony Miller in the draft.  That’s a major upgrade, folks.  They also got rid of John Fox and brought in Matt Nagy, so the offense should be more, shall we say, 21st century?  I’m lower on Smith than consensus because I think he pays a price for leaving Andy Reid’s scheme.  Jay Gruden isn’t awful but he’s a clear step down from Reid, who has made a career out of making quarterbacks look good.  Do the names Kevin Kolb and A.J. Feeley ring a bell?  They do in Arizona and Miami, I can tell you that.  Losing rookie Derrius Guice isn’t going to help Smith either, as he works well off of the ground game, which is now getting thin.  Andy Dalton is a real bargain at the end of drafts because he’s in a much better overall situation versus 2017.  I expect him to get a boost from his young receivers and his improved offensive line.  Dak Prescott should be solid with his arm this year, but what makes him a safe bet for fantasy is his feet, and Dallas is in no position to stop using Dak’s wheels to create points.  Winston will miss the first three games on suspension, but since those weeks are all tough matchups, his overall value is not all that negatively impacted.  Just make sure you have a solid co-starter and make sure that guy has a good early schedule.  Manning is a guy you can get very late, and he’ll have a slow start to the year because his schedule is rough.  That said, the Giants, based on personnel, can create offensive mismatches better than any team in football.  Once they get past the early games and get into a rhythm, I think we’ll see very good things. 

Tier Six (24-26)

Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum

These are the last three guys you can draft and feel good about.  Sam Darnold could join this group if he wins the Jets job outright, but for now it’s still a three man race.  Carr should be helped by Jon Gruden.  As much of crackpot as he is at times, the guy can coach, and he’ll never allow the Oakland offense to look as tired and static as it did in 2017.  Bortles is wildly inconsistent, but the team around him is not.  He has a defense that will continue to give the ball back when he struggles.  That and his surrounding talent give him a solid floor and he’s not likely to lose his job.  Keenum should hold the Denver gig all season and he has some really nice talent to work with.  Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will lead the way, but they also added Jake Butt at tight end plus rookie red zone beast Courtland Sutton at wide receiver.  The backfield is deep and should be led by rookie Royce Freeman.  It’s a soft landing for Keenum, who should provide QB2 numbers.

 

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