Whether you do a full set of projections to compare players or put your rank lists together by gut feel, every cheat sheet can be broken out into tiers. The process is simple and the rewards are many. Breaking your rankings into tiers forces you to crystallize your opinions on players. It naturally lends itself to helping you make good strategic decisions during your draft. The process helps you stay on the right side of runs, shows you which positions can be sloughed a round longer than you thought or need to be targeted early. Perhaps most importantly, tiering and then running a few mock drafts leave you prepared for every contingency during your draft and will keep you from scrambling when you're on the clock in those all-important middle rounds.
This series will walk you through our tiering process position by position this summer, including IDPs, and offer our strategic insights along the way. We'll have thoughts on whether you should go with a top quarterback or QBBC, whether you should target a top tight end over your RB3 or WR3, whether you should prioritize defensive linemen over linebackers again this year and whether there are any defensive backs worth drafting early.
Note: We are assuming a 12-team league and PPR scoring when discussing draft round estimates and ADP data.
Bloom: Elite QB with Low Risk
Tom Brady Aaron Rodgers
These two are the complete package: durable, proven, surrounded by great weapons, with an offense and coaching staff that allows them to be the focal point of the offense at all times. Yes, I have Brady ahead of Rodgers, but that's for another article.
Draft Outlook: You'll have to take Rodgers in the mid-first, but I prefer waiting to draft a quarterback. Brady in the late first is an attractive proposition, and whether it is the best strategy comes down to scoring system, league size, and your league's habits with quarterback drafting.
Elite QB with Moderate Risk
Matthew Stafford Drew Brees Cam Newton
This group can produce numbers comparable to Brady and Rodgers in theory, but there are small reasons for pause. Stafford has missed significant time in two out of his three seasons in the league. Brees will be without Sean Payton, and 2011 was well above anything he's done before. Newton could see a drop in rushing touchdowns.
Draft Outlook: Brees is going mid-second, and I'll probably pass. If he does what he did last year, however, he's a solid second round pick and worth considering in six point per pass touchdown leagues. Stafford and Newton are going early-to-mid third. In a six point per pass touchdown league, Stafford becomes a possibility after an RB-RB start.
Elite QB with High Risk
We saw something approaching 2010 Michael Vick late last season and he'll benefit greatly from the full offseason he missed last year. A healthy, locked-in Vick rivals any other fantasy quarterback in value. He carries the known risk of missing and being knocked out of games, but the deep crop of quarterbacks this year makes it easier to mitigate that risk with a good backup.
Draft Outlook: It is hard pass on Vick in the fifth. In leagues with four point per pass touchdown and point per 25 passing yards, he is probably worth taking in the late fourth, especially if you got a wide receiver in the first three rounds.
Bramel: I agree that Rodgers and Brady are in a tier by themselves, but I see less risk with Brees and Stafford than Bloom. I also have Newton and Vick rounding out a group of players I think have elite, top three fantasy quarterback upside.
I would strongly consider Rodgers or Brady any time after the back half of the first round, but have generally preferred to pass on the rest of this tier unless one happens to still be on the board in the fifth round. Regardless of how you slot the consensus top six names, it's important to decide before the draft whether you prefer an elite quarterback or elite tight end in the first five rounds. Even with the depth at wide receiver, the relative scarcity of strong running back targets means it'll be very difficult in most drafts to get away with drafting an elite quarterback and an elite tight end.
Bloom: Mid QB1 with Elite Upside, Moderate to High Risk
Matt Ryan Robert Griffin III Tony Romo
Matt Ryan has the weapons and the offense should circulate around him, but his offensive line is a question mark and the projection assumes Ryan will out-produce his track record. He looked poised to do it with Julio Jones in the lineup late last year until the playoff loss to New York. Griffin is going to run a lot and air it out. Even if he struggles, he'll get to play wide-open, catch up football. The rookie year bust risk and injury risk make him a QBBC candidate only. Romo tends to get banged up and his wide receiver corps is thin.
Draft Outlook: Romo is going less than a round after Vick, and I prefer Vick in the fourth instead of Romo in the fifth. Ryan is available in the seventh most of the time, and Griffin in the eighth. They look like perfect 1A's in a QBBC, especially when you compare them to the RB/WR available in those rounds.
Mid QB1 with Limited Upside, Low Risk
Philip Rivers Eli Manning
Rivers is steady, but his mystifying stretches of bad play last year are worrisome. Manning almost threw for 5,000 yards last year, but the Giants strive for a more balanced offense and he was too prone to duds last year to be considered truly elite.
Draft Outlook: There's no reason to target either with both going before Ryan and Griffin.
Low QB1 with Mid-QB1 Upside, Moderate Risk
Peyton Manning Jay Cutler Ben Roethlisberger
I'm a little wary of Peyton Manning coming off a year layoff with a coach that likes to run and whole new set of targets to get in sync with in Denver, but he is Peyton Manning. Cutler seems to have a sunny new reality with great targets, coaches he loves, and a big say in the offense, but the offensive line isn't much better than last year. Roethlisberger gets banged up behind a questionable line, but Todd Haley could get the offense out of doldrums, assuming Mike Wallace shows up.
Draft Outlook: Peyton is going right around Ryan, but I prefer Ryan. Cutler and Roethlisberger are your targets to be the committee partner with Griffin or Ryan.
Bramel: I'm not certain Griffin has elite upside and I'd include Matt Schaub and Andrew Luck in the mid-QB1 / QBBC tiers, but I like the way Bloom has broken this group out.
Including Schaub and Luck, we're now 16 names deep on my quarterback list and I think the two rookies are strong enough fantasy prospects to consider these three tiers the strongest group of mid-QB1 / QBBC in recent memory. If you're not sold on paying the price for one of the elite six players or prefer an elite TE in the first two rounds, there's borderline elite talent to choose from here. In past seasons, you might be left to hope one of your QBBC players had a matchup you liked. This year, those who decide to take two quarterbacks in the 10-15 range may have two players that can generate a great fantasy week regardless of matchup.
I think Romo is good value in the sixth round, but I doubt I'll pull the trigger there as I expect to be drafting running back, wide receiver or an elite tight end that's sliding in that range. If I miss on my top seven, I'm sloughing the quarterback position until 10-11 have come off the board.
Bloom: Unproven Low QB1 with Mid-QB1 Upside
Andrew Luck Jake Locker
Luck will be the focal point of his offense and he is a very good athlete outside of the pocket. Things are trending in the direction of Locker winning the job in Tennessee, and he should be a good fit in Chris Palmer's offense in addition to being a threat to make some noise as a runner. Both have the risk of little to no NFL experience as a starter.
Draft Outlook: If you miss out on the Cutler/Roethlisberger tier, or just like other positions better in those rounds, these are your QBBC 1B, preferably to pair with Matt Ryan. Luck is available in 11th or 12th round, and Locker even later... for now. Just take him in the 13th and consider yourself lucky. Be ready to adjust your target round up when he is starting to be widely thought of as the starter.
Steady with Low QB1 Upside
Matt Schaub Carson Palmer Ryan Fitzpatrick Josh Freeman
4000 yards or 30 touchdowns aren't totally out of the question for any of these guys, but they have various factors that could also keep them in mediocre QB2 territory.
Draft Outlook: Schaub is a 9th/10th, Freeman and Palmer 10th/11th, and Fitzpatrick an 11th/12th round pick. I wouldn't take any of them ahead of Locker or Luck.
Possible Low QB1 with Bust Risk
Ponder showed glimpses of fantasy potential last year, but he has bust and injury risk, too. He could take a big step forward this year.
Draft Outlook: Ponder isn't even a given to be taken in a 12 team, 20 round draft. Take him a third quarterback if you are not happy with your QBBC or play in a league with a thin waiver wire.
Bramel: In mock drafts earlier in the offseason, I was targeting Locker as a high upside QB3 target late as I did Tim Tebow last year. Locker is already threatening to pass veteran Matt Hasselbeck and will have a strong set of skill position players surrounding him. If his ADP remains in the late teens – early twenties, he's a fantastic target if you've spent the capital to draft one of the elites in the early rounds.
These tiers show how crazy deep the QBBC tiers are this year. If you somehow find yourself outside your top 15 names and still searching for a QB2, you're be looking at Palmer, Fitzpatrick and Freeman. Flacco and Dalton deserve consideration here, too. All are more than capable of a QB1 performance in any given week.
Bloom: Backup QB worth rostering
Tebow has demonstrated low-end QB1 upside. He will cost you a roster spot for at least a month or so while we wait to see if Mark Sanchez will fail, so he is only a good pick if your committee is unsatisfactory or most teams carry at least two quarterbacks all year in your league.
Draft Outlook: Barely being drafted. You can get him in the round before you take your kicker and defense to close out your draft.
Possible Adequate Backups with Week to Week Upside
Joe Flacco Sam Bradford Andy Dalton
This is what I call the "no man's land" of fantasy quarterbacks. Not good enough to plug and play, but not bad enough to release. They won't significantly outproduce their ADP.
Draft Outlook: All are going in the 12th round or later. Don't bother, unless it's a very thin waiver wire for quarterbacks during the season and you are left without a backup and Luck and Locker are both gone.
Bramel: I agree with Bloom that there are too many upside prospects to draft as your QBBC options or the QB2 to your stud quarterback to leave yourself stuck with a low ceiling player. I'd add Alex Smith, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Cassel to this list, only because they're the last three players I've bothered to list on my draft board. I might also consider Brandon Weeden or a Seattle quarterback by late August, but I would much rather take a flyer on an upside running back or wide receiver than roster a player that has no shot of providing any meaningful fantasy value. I've got these names listed for consideration in 16 team or QB flex leagues only.
Bloom: Hard to see having consistent fantasy value even though they're starters
Brandon Weeden Blaine Gabbert Alex Smith Mark Sanchez Matt Cassel Kevin Kolb/John Skelton Matt Moore/David Garrard Matt Flynn/Tarvaris Jackson/Russell Wilson
Any of this group could be in the top 10 in any given week. Unless people hoard quarterbacks, you can use them as a backup based on matchup for your bye week if you have a durable elite QB1. Don't draft them unless you're in a two quarterback or quarterback flex league.
Backup QB Worth Immediate Pickup
Joe Webb Josh Johnson/Colin Kaepernick Shaun Hill Kyle Orton Matt Hasselbeck
None of these players are worth drafting expect in two quarterback leagues. They would have potential QB1 value if the starter ahead of them goes down because of running ability or the surrounding offense and their track record.
Bramel: Hill, Orton, and Hasselbeck would make my draft board if pressed into service due to injury.
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