Fitz on Fantasy: Grouping the Quarterback Position

Conventional wisdom preaches patience at the QB position in this year’s drafts and auctions (unless, of course, you’re playing in a 2-QB league). Good quarterbacks are abundant thanks to a flood of young talent at the position, and there’s an ample supply of competent backups with fantasy-starter upside.

With such a deep reservoir of QB talent, it would be unwise to sacrifice the chance to take a top-12 running back, a top-6 receiver or Jimmy Graham in order to grab an elite passer. But under certain circumstances, I could understand an early-ish QB grab.

Here are my quarterback rankings as of Aug. 20, broken into tiers, with some comments on the players occupying each tier and on QB strategy in general.

Tier 1

Drew Brees

Aaron Rodgers

Cam Newton

Peyton Manning

This quartet represents the crème de la crème at quarterback — the best bets to provide elite production at the position, but by no means the only possibilities for elite QB production. I’m not willing to pay the freight required to draft Brees or Rodgers. Manning, likely to be the third quarterback off the board in redrafts, is out of my price range, too. Newton doesn’t always get the respect that I believe he’s earned, which is why he’s the one quarterback I’d consider drafting from this tier. But it would take some serious draft-day serendipity for me to pull the trigger on Cam. He’d have to fall much farther than he should, and I’d only take him if I had a solid head start at the RB and WR positions.

Tier 2

Tom Brady

Robert Griffin III

Matt Ryan

Russell Wilson

Tony Romo

Colin Kaepernick

Andrew Luck

Matthew Stafford

On talent alone, Brady belongs on the first tier. The incarceration of Aaron Hernandez and the uncertain injury status of Rob Gronkowski knock him down a bit, but he still has a fabulous offensive line in front of him, the Welker-for-Amendola exchange looks like no worse than a push, and the Pats have some good young pass catchers to take up some of the slack. Brady appeared to represent a nice buying opportunity a few weeks ago, when a lot of people were knocking him down in their rankings, but the success he’s had in the preseason means you’ll likely have to pay the sticker price for him now.

The guy who I’ll be keeping an eye on in my drafts is RG3. I had him in two of my favorite leagues last year but was unable to cash in on his success due to some roster flaws. I figured RG3 was destined to be a top-3 quarterback this year, priced out of my target range. But then came the knee injury, which is now deflating his value even though he’s said to be making a speedy recovery and is on track to start in Week 1. I suspect that the injury has a lot of owners fearful because they see RG3 as a runner first. His remarkable talents as a pure passer tend to be undersold. RG3 is such a skilled passer that I think he’d be a borderline Pro Bowler even if he had the mobility of Peyton Manning. And remember, RG3 didn’t have TE Fred Davis last year and was without WR Pierre Garcon for a significant chunk of the season.

Another possible value play from this tier: Russell Wilson. The Percy Harvin injury and Wilson’s relatively modest number of passing attempts from last season will scare some people away, but I think Wilson has enough weaponry on hand, and I expect an uptick in passing attempts. The kid is a playmaker, and he produced elite numbers down the stretch last season.

The dude from this tier I want no piece of is Stafford. I explained why here.  But if you’re not interested in following the hyperlink, here it is in a nutshell: Stafford’s numbers are more about quantity than quality. His TD total will probably increase, but any regression from an absurd number of passing attempts toward something closer to normalcy would lead to a calamitous plunge in yardage.

Ryan is a super-solid fantasy quarterback, but I think he’ll be overvalued in most drafts given the depth at the position.

I think I’ve flip-flopped Kaepernick and Luck in my rankings at least three times in the last month. Two very different quarterbacks, but I like them equally.

Tier 3

Eli Manning

Ben Roethlisberger

Michael Vick

Here’s an interesting group. If you exercise extreme patience at the position, you could very well end up with one of these guys as your starter. That’s not a bad thing, provided the sacrifice at QB nets you a treasure trove at RB and WR.

Let’s dispense with any notion that Eli is a great quarterback. Yes, he’s won two Super Bowls, which in the eyes of many automatically qualifies him for greatness. I see him as more the NFL version of Robert Horry, a very good NBA player who had a remarkable knack for coming through in critical playoff moments. For fantasy purposes, Eli is streaky as hell and can be frustrating to own, but the overall numbers are usually pretty good.

Roethlisberger is a perennial value play. That figures to be the case again this year, as some owners make the mistake of thinking that the departure of WR Mike Wallace and the addition of rookie RB Le’Veon Bell will transform the Steelers’ offense into a ground-based attack. With Todd Haley at the controls, that ain’t gonna happen.

Vick is an odd fit on this tier. He has a higher ceiling and much lower floor than the other occupants of Tier 3. But with his upside, it makes a lot of sense to grab Vick if you miss out on one of the top 12 quarterbacks and then back him up with a steady, low-risk passer like Andy Dalton or Matt Schaub.

Tier 4

Andy Dalton

Jay Cutler

Josh Freeman

Matt Schaub

Joe Flacco

Sam Bradford

Alex Smith

Carson Palmer

Philip Rivers

Welcome to the fantasy-backup zone. But really, you could make a go of it with a tag-team of two QBs from this tier. This assumes that you’ve loaded up at other spots in the early rounds and will have huge positional advantages elsewhere. You can stay afloat with a couple of these guys until one of your competitors comes to you on hands and knees, begging you to trade off one of your many RBs or WRs. The upside among this fourth tier is limited, but there’s an established baseline of competence among all these guys.

Cutler may have the most fantasy potential of this group. He’s getting further and further removed from the promise he showed in Denver early in his career, but there’s still a glimmer of hope that the pass-oriented offense of new Bears head coach Marc Trestman will pump up the pouty passer’s stats.

Alex Smith is intriguing. Andy Reid runs a notoriously pass-happy offense, and the Chief’s early-season schedule is softer than the music of Maroon 5. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Smith couldn’t cut it in Reid’s offense and Chase Daniel was given a look.

Palmer and Rivers are savvy veterans with good arms, but both of them move like George Romero zombies and are playing behind bad offensive lines. Neither is a real attractive fantasy commodity, but either one might be able to hold down the fort for a few weeks until a rib is dislodged by an especially vicious sack.

Tier 5

Brandon Weeden

Ryan Tannehill

E.J. Manuel

Weeden is a modest talent, but the coach/coordinator tandem of Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner could wring some useful fantasy production out of Weeden. I’m not quite as high on Tannehill as some others are, but he’s decent enough to be worth your consideration. Manuel’s running ability gives him instant value, though his rookie passing stats won’t be pretty.

Area 51

Jake Locker

Christian Ponder

Matt Flynn

Geno Smith

Blaine Gabbert

Mark Sanchez

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.