Fantasy Basics: When to Draft a Quarterback

Fantasy Football Expert Rusty Reeves is getting back to the basics by breaking down when to draft a quarterback. It's not always when, but it boils down to finding the right value for the right guy.

It’s August, and that means fantasy drafts around the country will really start to crank up in the next few weeks. Every year, a critical question is asked: “When should I take a quarterback on draft day?”

It’s one of the great debates in fantasy football circles. If you want the best, you’ll potentially have to take him in the first round. Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdowns last year; drafting him early sounds like a wonderful proposition. Who wouldn’t love to have those kinds of numbers from their quarterback? However, what might happen if you load up on running backs, receivers and get your tight end before you get your quarterback? How could that strategy play out? It’s a debate worth having, so let’s have it.

First and foremost, fantasy football is all about the numbers. That is, unless you’re in a league full of guys who would take Eli Manning over Andrew Luck because, “I’m a Giants fan first.” Otherwise, it’s all about the numbers. The position that puts up the best fantasy numbers is easily quarterback. So, it’s understandable if somebody wants to snag one of the top QBs, such as Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, in the first three rounds. However, once those guys are gone, just wait. Be patient. Let the rest of your league grab Luck, Nick Foles or Matthew Stafford while you’re loading up on the T Y Hiltons and the Ben Tates of the fantasy world. Why? It’s the right thing to do, that’s why. The numbers support this approach.

If we assign six points per passing touchdown, your top two quarterbacks in terms of fantasy points per game last season were Manning (35.9 fppg) and Brees (30.4 fppg). Nick Foles was next at 26.4 fppg. As you work your way down the list, you’ll see 18 other quarterbacks who averaged more than 20 fantasy points per game. The difference between Foles, the third-best fantasy quarterback, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 21st-best, was 6.4 fantasy points per game. That’s significant, but when we look at the same rankings for wide receivers and running backs, you really see the value of these positions.

The third-best wide receiver in PPR leagues in 2013 was none other than Megatron himself, Calvin Johnson. He averaged 21.7 fppg. The 21st-best was Reggie Wayne at 14.7 fppg. That’s a difference of seven fantasy points per game. How about the running back position? The third-best running back in PPR leagues was LeSean McCoy at 20.7 fppg. The 21st-best was Steven Jackson at 12.4 fppg. The difference there was a whopping 8.3 fantasy points per game.

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

The beauty of it all is you don’t have to settle for the 21st-best quarterback. In a normal-sized league (12-14 teams), you’ll be able to get a guy who will post solid numbers for you all year long. The QB who finished 10th in fantasy last season was Andrew Luck (23.55 fppg). That’s just two points per game more than the player who ended up at No. 16, Tom Brady (21.55 fppg). There are so many quarterbacks who average at least 20 fantasy points per game, it’s silly to chase the best one.

Obviously, you don’t want to wait so long that you end up with Johnny Manziel or Ryan Tannehill as your No. 1 option. But you should feel OK if you wind up with Brady, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Tony Romo, Andy Dalton or Philip Rivers. If waiting at quarterback means you can snag a player such as Marques Colston, Stevan Ridley or Frank Gore in the middle rounds, you should sign up for that all day, every day.

Looking at a recent mock draft held by FFToolbox, our own Scott Atkins waited until the ninth round to select his quarterback. It was the 11th QB off of the board, Cam Newton. This allowed him to draft players such as Cordarrelle Patterson, Rashad Jennings, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Reed and Kenny Stills in rounds four through eight. SiriusXM’s Fantasy Executive, Corey Parson, used the same approach, loading up with Kendall Wright, Bishop Sankey, Greg Olsen and Reggie Wayne in rounds four through seven before taking Tony Romo in the ninth.

Remember to not get hung up on the names. If you’re confident in your rankings, just focus on the numbers. Will Stafford or Luck score more points than Romo or Rivers? The answer is indubitably yes. However, on average, your team will score more points with Sanders or Colston combined with Romo or Rivers than it will with Stafford or Luck combined with a Hakeem Nicks or James Jones-type of receiver. Plus, one could argue that a player such as Sanders or Colston has more “go off” ability. That means they have a better chance each week of producing a monster game for you.

This is just one strategy. No one should be faulted for trying to ride Peyton Manning to glory by taking him in the first round or two. But if you don’t grab him, Rodgers or Brees in the early rounds, do yourself a favor and “settle” for one of the guys ranked between 12 and 17 on FFToolbox’s QB cheat sheet. Later in the year, when you’re enjoying the spoils of your fifth-round draft pick, Kendall Wright, Jeremy Maclin or T.Y. Hilton, you’ll be perfectly content with the 22 fantasy points per game you’re getting from your ninth-round pick, Jay Cutler.

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