After OTA’s and minicamps wind up, the NFL will go into one last period of hibernation for beach vacations and a deep breath before becoming consumed by the season. Us fantasy football types are no different. Before training camp and the preseason start to make us question what we think we know entering fantasy draft season, it’s good to take a snapshot of our beliefs to refer back to when August hype makes the vert and horizontal hold go wicky-wacky on our TV’s. I’ll be running down my current tiers for redraft leagues (PPR) before the earth starts to move again in late July.
Quarterbacks are getting deeper every year as the NFL is in an unprecedented pass-heavy period. The elite are still worth early picks, but not in the first two rounds. Getting a QB1 outside of the top 10 is easier than ever, and winning a championship while streaming is a merit badge many (including this writer, nod to JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB)) have earned. Even a cursory look at the tiers for 2016 confirms that things are continuing to trend in that direction, which makes me hope that more follow the Pied Piper of 2QB/Superflex fantasy football Sal Stefanile (@2QBFFB) and make the quarterback position more interesting and challenging in our drafts. Until then, quarterbacks will become less essential in drafts, and breaking them out into tiers will have less value than the other positions. With that out of the way…
Cam Newton, CAR
Newton is the one quarterback I would take in the top 50 picks (depending on scoring system). The backfield is mediocre at best and will keep him squarely in focus for goal line carries. Kelvin Benjamin is back, Devin Funchess is growing as a player, and Josh Norman is in Washington, so the passing game and need for the passing game should be on the upswing.
STRONG QB1 (HIGH CEILING)
If anyone from this group is going to knock off Newton, it’s probably Brees, who has a terrific set of weapons converging around him after yet another reload. He is almost a lock to be a top five quarterback with his volume and the poor quality of his defense. The return of Jordy Nelson should help Rodgers, but it’s hard to see him at the same lofty levels we saw him at before 2015. Luck’s 2015 will leave an even more indelible mark because the Colts still have a meh offensive line despite spending the #18 pick on a center against GM Ryan Grigson’s wishes. Wilson was a league winner in the second half last year, but he was barely startable in the first half. The Seahawks pass volume is still low and could dip lower if their running game gets on track. All of these names are everyweek starters, but there could be ups and downs for most of them.
STRONG QB1 (HIGH FLOOR)
If Brady’s suspension is overturned, he will move right back up to #3 or even #2. For now, the opportunity cost of tying up an extra roster spot and draft pick to cover suspension knocks him down a tier. Rivers is ahead because he was a top 5 quarterback with Keenan Allen and Allen is back. The running game and defense probably will only force more on the capable shoulders of Rivers. Palmer will have a potent receiver out of the backfield and hopefully better health from his top three receivers, the best trio in the league. This group is “set it and forget it” just like the top five, but with a higher weekly floor, in exchange for a lower season-long and weekly ceiling.
SOLID QB1 (HIGH CEILING)
Roethlisberger would have been among the Strong QB1 ranks if Martavis Bryant hadn’t gotten suspended, but if Ladarius Green and one of Markus Wheaton/Sammie Coates steps up, he could be a value pick. His injury history is troubling, but he has the best wide receiver in the game and a team blueprint that will allow for a high octane passing approach. Cousins was a top 6 fantasy quarterback once he hit his groove in Week 7, and there’s no reason to think the Washington philosophy on offense or Cousins’ effectiveness will diminish as he plays for huge contract. These two square off in Week 1 and the score could be 51-45.
SOLID QB1 (HIGH FLOOR)
Matthew Stafford, DET
Stafford was top 6 after offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter took over, and even without Calvin Johnson, the offense should run through him. Marvin Jones has arrived to help fill the void left by Johnson and developing young targets like Eric Ebron, Theo Riddick, and T.J. will help. When the best inside runner on a team is Zach Zenner, expect the quarterback to be among the league leaders in pass attempts.
HIGH CEILING QBBC QB
We’re already to QB12-14. Bortles could remain at cruising altitude if the Jags defense doesn’t improve. Winston is slimmed down and should have a good set of weapons after a rookie year that pointed the arrow in the right direction. Mariota has potential because of his running ability, but the Titans offense seems less trustworthy than Jacksonville’s or Tampa’s to put him in high fantasy leverage gameplans. Any of this trio could finish as a mid-low QB1 and win some weeks for you, but I don’t see any reason to make them part of a Plan A in your draft, especially Bortles at his inflated top 10 ADP.
HIGH FLOOR QBBC QB
Manning and Carr don’t have the weekly and season-long ceilings of Bortles/Winston/Mariota, but they could level off as more consistent passers week-to-week and both certainly have weekly upside. As QB11 and QB12 in current ADP, there’s no good reason to draft them at ADP, but Carr opens with New Orleans and Atlanta, so he’s worth a look as a kickoff quarterback in a streaming approach if he slips.
SECOND TIER QBBC QB
Tyrod Taylor, BUF
Tannehill gets the promise of Adam Gase and a running game that will be a bare cupboard if Jay Ajayi doesn’t pan out. Dalton was a strong QB1 last year before his injury, but the loss of two of his top three wide receivers is troubling. Romo has proven QB1 level production, but the Cowboys will skew very conservative and he might have a low weekly floor. Fitzpatrick was a strong streaming option last year and he should continue to be one as long as he and the Jets get a deal done. Taylor might struggle early if Sammy Watkins is out or has a slow start early, but his running ability gives him a high weekly ceiling. Romo has the best schedule (NYG @WSH CHI @SF) if you’re looking for a streamer to kick off the season in this tier.
BYE/INJURY DEPTH WITH UPSIDE
Smith could be a sneaky streamer if Justin Houston is out for a good part of the season. He had one of the most productive stretches of his career in 2013 when Houston was out. Cutler has a tremendous pair of wide receivers, but might be held back by a conservative team mindset. Bridgewater will progress as a passer with a real #1 receiver, albeit a rookie, and he moves indoors, but the weekly floor is one to heed. Flacco is set up to throw a ton of passes this year, but is coming back from a serious knee injury. These are quarterbacks we may use in a streaming approach or bye week coverage who could end up being top 15-18 options that we keep around.
BYE/INJURY WAIVER WIRE OPTION
Matt Ryan, ATL
I just don’t trust Ryan on a week-to-week basis after last year. He could bounce back, but I won’t draft him in such a deep quarterback year.
YOU NEVER KNOW/STREAMING PROSPECTS
Even if people try to hoard backup quarterbacks to obstruct streamers, the bottom dweller fantasy quarterbacks still have potential. Griffin may get to pilot an uptempo offense and we know he adds value with his legs. Remember Nick Foles under Chip Kelly? Gabbert wasn’t terrible for fantasy last year, and he might become a more frequent runner. McCown was streamable last year and will step in if Griffin isn’t up to the task. Bradford and Osweiler are longer shots, but at least they are slated to start. I don’t see any reason to roster Jared Goff.