Fantasy Football: Building a Top 5 Quarterback
How many times have you heard that? Well, it’s true. I’m sure you participated in a league where the owner of Peyton Manning failed to advance in the playoffs. Studs are great, but there is a reason the draft is more than the first few rounds.
Quarterback production is up these days, thus putting fantasy owners in a weird spot: draft a member of the “Big Three” (regardless of the order in which you rank them, Manning/Aaron Rodgers/Drew Brees are in a class of their own) early and assure yourself of consistent top shelf production, or wait a handful of rounds for the “next best” option and hope that that player can keep you close in the quarterback department.
I prefer to take the latter route, but only if I feel I can land an above average signal caller. Again, production is up, making past benchmarks no longer relevant. Case in point: 2013 Carson Palmer. He totaled nearly 4,300 yards and 24 touchdowns – numbers that would have made him a QB1 in all formats just five seasons ago – but left him as a middling backup (17th in standard scoring leagues) last season. So how do you sift through the gaudy numbers and determine what non-elite quarterback is going to give you the greatest value in the middle rounds?
I decided to take a look at the top 5 non-Big Three fantasy quarterbacks over the last five seasons and evaluate them in non-traditional metrics in an effort to determine what a top 5 quarterback looks like. We can agree that the top tier is three players deep and that the second tier includes nearly every other quarterback you’d consider starting in a standard league, so I’d prefer to take my chances on a player with the size and skill set that resembles signal callers that have finished atop that second tier in years past. For this study, I looked at build (height/weight), experience (age/starts), mobility (rush yards), and propensity to throw the ball to the wrong team, with the hope of building this year’s surprise quarterback.
Since 2009, the average top 5 fantasy quarterback not named Peyton, Aaron, or Drew has measured 6’4”, 230 pounds, averaging 28 years of age and 71 starts of NFL experience. In his breakout season, the “ideal next level quarterback” has averaged 13.3 interceptions with an average depth of target (aDOT) of 9.0 to go along with 228 rushing yards.
As with any study, there were exceptions to the rule, but more often than not, this next level of fantasy stud was a tall quarterback with the ability to run and the freedom to take chances down the field. Which quarterbacks enter the 2014 season with the most of these attributes? Below are the top six, with a brief write-up as to why, besides boasting a similar resume to past top 5 options, you should believe in these players.
6) A 24-year-old who stands 6’4”, weighs in at 237 lbs, recorded an 8.6 aDOT last season while running for 186 yards and throwing nine interceptions last year in his 10 starts.
This player is not being viewed as much more than a fantasy backup, but he has an explosive running back and made significant additions to his receiving corps to offset the departure of a former WR1. Not one of his three divisional foes ranked above average in defending the pass (in terms of yards allowed) last season and he (as well as his primary receivers) should benefit from continuing to gain experience. His opponents’ schedule during the fantasy playoffs (Week 14-16) is a soft one, as he faces three opponents that both ranked in the bottom nine in pass yards allowed and bottom seven in passing touchdowns allowed. He is … E.J. Manuel.
5) A 25-year-old who stands 6’6”, weighs in at 243 lbs, has averaged a 9.1 aDOT in his 20 career starts, and is projected by PFFF to rush for 240 yards and throw 11 interceptions this year.
He plays in an up-tempo offense that lost a key weapon, but has added two new faces that weren’t a part in his breakout 2013 campaign. He has an elite run game behind him, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be trusted with a heavy workload. The quick-hitting nature of this offense makes it difficult to envision him going through extended slumps, especially when you consider the division he calls home. If he can develop a deep passing game, the sky is the limit for … Nick Foles.
4) A 31-year-old who stands 6’3”, weighs in at 220 lbs, has averaged a 9.6 aDOT over the last four seasons while throwing 14.7 interceptions per 17 games over the last three years, and rushed for 200-235 yards four times in his 104 start career.
He might have the best receiving duo in all of football and they should be even better than they were a year ago. That twosome is joined by an athletic tight end who is capable of the big play should defenses leave him in single coverage. His owners get a nice benefit from the schedule, as he will be spending every week of the fantasy playoffs at home this year. His running back is a versatile threat who annually ranks among the league leaders in receptions out of the backfield. He plays in a division that features two elite pass games, making occasional shootouts possible if not likely. Jay Cutler is among my favorite value picks this season, and the fact that he fits the mold of a top 5 quarterback only supports this theory.
3) A 26-year-old who stands 6’4”, weighs in at 222 lbs, has averaged a 9.2 aDOT and 225 rushing yards over his 32 career starts, and is throwing 15 interceptions per season.
His receiving corps is not spectacular, but it is better than you think. Last year he had two running backs who didn’t offer consistent production, but ownership went out and signed him a play-making back fresh off of a strong campaign. He has made considerable growth in his first two seasons in the league, so expecting another step forward in 2014 is far from a reach. He plays in a weak division and will oppose the entire offensive-minded NFC North. Ryan Tannehill is worth keeping an eye on this season.
2) A 26-year-old who stands 6’2”, weighs in at 220 lbs, ran for 183 yards last year, and has averaged an 8.9 aDOT and 16 interceptions over his 48 career starts.
He has something that not many quarterbacks have: a truly elite receiver. While I like the other weapons on this roster, there is no denying that the raw ability and projected growth of his top target is the driving force behind this quarterback’s fantasy value. The other pass catchers on this roster have proven little in the NFL but have plenty of tools and potential to produce sooner rather than later. His versatile running back should be more involved than last season, adding a dimension to Andy Dalton’s fantasy ceiling.
1) A 35-year-old who stands 6’4”, weighs in at 213 lbs, registered an 8.6 aDOT in 2013, and has thrown 12.4 interceptions and ran for 195 yards per 16 games over his 58 starts.
He may seem a bit old to be considered a strong upside play, but he is still relatively young in terms of NFL action. He too has a top shelf receiver on his roster, but he also gained a new toy in the NFL draft that should help him duplicate some of the success he had last year. He also gets his stud RB back from injury, giving him a consistent chain-mover via the short pass and consistent run game. The tight end position remains a bit of a question mark, but his newest target has been targeted 178 times over the last two seasons and should be able to exploit smaller defenders. The drafting of Josh McCown isn’t going to be the sexiest pick, but he could prove to be the most valuable of your 2014 draft.