Roundtable: Quantifying Quarterback Value

Will you be spending your cap dollars on the week's high-salary quarterbacks? Or will you be seeking value down the board?

Unsurprisingly, the two marquee matchups of the week (according to Vegas projections) provide the four top-salaried quarterback choices. Tom Brady travels to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees, while Aaron Rodgers visits Matt Ryan in Atlanta. These quarterbacks routinely offer DFSers the best chance at the week's overall QB1 - with or without Vegas calling for 50-point shootouts. But they're priced through the roof this week, typically commanding over 15% of your budget (Week 1's priciest quarterbacks took up 1-2% less, which is a fairly big gap.) Will you be spending your cap dollars on them? If so, which one(s)? Or will you be seeking value down the board? From whom?

Justin Bonnema: It's going to be difficult to ignore the elite passers in elite matchups this week, especially Tom Brady and the #AngryBrady narrative that is sure to surface. So if I'm paying up for one expensive quarterback, it will be him. The thing that concerns me is the fact that the Patriots are more than capable of running the ball and the Saints are less than capable of stopping the run. So while I can see Brady throwing a couple of touchdowns, I have to wonder how likely he is to justify his salary.  They ran the ball 30 times last week compared to 36 pass attempts. Only eight other teams had a lower passing percentage. I'll load him up in a few tournaments but will also spread my exposure by pivoting to Aaron Rodgers in other lineups. 

When not blowing the bank on quarterbacks, I have to admit that I'm intrigued by Trevor Siemian after his performance late Monday night. The Broncos are home underdogs to the Cowboys, who we know can put up points. But we also know they'll go into clock control and try to exhaust that defense, so the volume may not be there. That said, Siemian is priced as QB23 in the main slate, providing elite value. Despite facing a tough defense last week he was phenomenal under pressure, didn't try to force things down the field, and knew exactly when to pull the ball down and scramble. The over/under isn't sexy at just 42.5 points, but I can see this game blowing past that, even if the Cowboys chew clock. We all know efficiency trumps volume anyway. Only three quarterbacks had fewer pass attempts than Siemian last week, yet he finished with more fantasy points than all but three of them in FanDuel scoring and all but four in Draftkings scoring. Broncos stacks are back!

Moderator: What's the optimal Broncos stack, then?

Justin Bonnema: When I built my first lineups, I had several that featured a triple stack of Siemian/Thomas/Sanders, but I've since shied away from that. As confident as I am that this game will hit the over, it's still too early to tell how the Broncos will distribute the ball.

So the most logical stack is Siemian/Thomas. Thomas commanded 28.6% of team targets, which ranks 15th highest among all players in Week 1, and he'll likely be matched up against rookie Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie played well last week after the Cowboys lost Orlando Scandrick (who is likely out this week), but that was against a horrid Giants offense missing its best player. Either way, the combination of Awuzie and Nolan Carroll are nowhere close to the combination of Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, who Thomas faced last week.

Short version: I like stacking that game with Siemian/Thomas/Elliott. Ezekiel Elliott will have high ownership (though here's to hoping people still think the Broncos are good at stopping the run), but it still gives you a contrarian lineup up with lots of upside.

James Brimacombe: Some of the top quarterbacks in Week 1 were Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz, and Trevor Siemian, whom Justin mentioned above. All of these players came at a massive discount from the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. I prefer the New England/New Orleans matchup this week, and I feel like Brady and Brees are going to have a battle back-and-forth but don’t think I can pay up for either one in cash games at the prices. For GPPs, of course, you want to have a stack with each of the top four quarterbacks mentioned. I prefer to stack that game with going Michael Thomas and Brandin Cooks at the wide receiver spot or hit the other game with a Julio Jones and Jordy Nelson or Davante Adams stack. You can get a piece of each passing game in different ways this early in the season, it looks like the smart move is to find a quarterback in the mid-priced range. I will be looking at Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, and Sam Bradford this week for some savings, but still not giving up upside at the position.

Jason Wood: I'm going to have Tom Brady lineups, for sure. Brady is coming off a terrible home loss in an uncharacteristic performance. He now faces a Hall of Fame contemporary in the closest thing to a "must win" New England will play this year. I love the setup, the narrative, and the underlying metrics (over/under, implied total). Add to that a suspect New Orleans defense that just made Sam Bradford/Adam Thielen/Stefon Diggs look like world-beaters, and Brady is too enticing to pass up, even at the high salary. Conversely, I want no part of Drew Brees. I see New England giving him fits.

As to the Rodgers/Ryan matchup, neither stands out as unavoidable value. I prefer Rodgers to Ryan, but won't be playing either this week.

Dan Hindery: I am playing a lot of GPP lineups this week, probably 25 or so. I want to have at least one or two lineups with each Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers. Each of those guys has too much upside to fade completely if entering multiple lineups. But the quarterbacks whom I am targeting most heavily are Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. I plan on having GPP ownership of at least 20% in both of those guys.

Rivers was quietly impressive last Monday in the most difficult spot there is for an NFL quarterback, on the road at Denver. He completed 67% of his passes and threw 3 touchdown passes. Now he gets to play at home against the much softer pass defense of the Miami Dolphins. Rivers is also priced almost well below the top quarterbacks, which allows the ability to fit in a lot of top options at the other positions. It also automatically creates some lineup uniqueness, since such a large percentage of the field will be paying at least $1,000 more for their GPP quarterback. 

Roethlisberger isn't quite as cheap as Rivers, but has at least as much upside. Roethlisberger has been the league's top fantasy quarterback when playing at home. He has especially impressive splits when playing against non-divisional opponents and when he has both Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown available. The Vikings defense is very good, but they are going on the road in a short week and are more vulnerable than the general public might think. It's rare to have a chance to play Roethlisberger at home with projected ownership under 5%, so I am jumping at the opportunity.

Chris Feery: I’ll be building some lineups around Tom Brady, but I’m planning on passing on the other three signal callers. While you can easily make an argument for rostering any one of them, salary cap constraints lead me to pick and choose. I’m expecting a big bounce back performance from Brady and the Patriots, and that prospect is just too enticing for me to pass up. For the other three, I’ll gain exposure to those matchups by focusing on the skill position players. Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, and Ty Montgomery are the top choices for that strategy, while Coby Fleener and Randall Cobb shape up as intriguing value plays.

Further down the salary scale, there’s a lot of value to be found at quarterback this week. Philip Rivers and Jameis Winston are two names that keep jumping out at me. You can easily build stacks with either quarterback and their respective top targets, Keenan Allen and Mike Evans, and you’ll still have plenty of cap dollars left over to build competitive rosters. For those that prefer to go bargain shopping, the aforementioned Trevor Siemian is an intriguing choice against a Dallas defense that can be burned, while Jared Goff is in a solid position to build off of his strong performance in Week 1 with a home game against Washington on the docket.

Justin Howe: I'm not sure why there's so much anti-Brees sentiment in here. Yeesh. Did we all see the same Kansas City-New England game? Alex Smith shredded them on all levels of the field, and I have to expect Brees to do similar things, if not better ones. And Brees will be at home, which has provided him an absurd historical boost. I'm no big fan of home/road splits in general, but Brees' has a hefty sample size behind it. Over the past 6 years, he's seen Superdome boosts of 13% in yards-per-attempt, 64% in touchdown rate, and 31% in overall scoring. He's topped 20 fantasy points in 13 of his last 16 there, averaging a stunning 29.8 along the way. Just last season he scorched a handful of elite pass defenses (Atlanta, Seattle, Denver, Carolina, L.A. Rams) in the Superdome; I shudder to think what he's capable of against a Patriots unit incapable of stopping anyone from throwing anything.
 
Of course, DFS strategy is just as much (if not more) about the best strategic way to construct rosters, not merely noting opportunity. Like all of the top 4 quarterback options, Brees probably fits best as a GPP QB - and I'll have several of his stacks - while the shrewd cash player mixes in cheaper options. Philip Rivers doesn't necessarily stand out, but comes noticeably cheaper than he should and makes for a strong, low-risk stack of his own with the also-cheap Keenan Allen. And Blake Bortles is ultra-affordable in some corners of the industry, needing only 12-15 points to bring cash value.