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What We Learned in 2017: Quarterback

A look back at 2017 to understand what we learned about the quarterback position in fantasy football

The 2017-18 season is in the books. In my 12 years of closely covering fantasy football, there has not been one that had more twists and turns, and tests for fantasy owners to endure. Now that the tests are over, we can go back and see what we've learned. There's a boring take about quarterback that unless you play in a 2QB or Superflex league, it's just not that much more important than kicker or defense. That reality aside, it is still one of the richest positions in the game to observe longer arc changes in the NFL, which always translate to changes in fantasy football.

1. Be open to rookies having an instant impact: Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota have all taught us this in recent years, but refreshers never hurt. Deshaun Watson was far and away the #1 fantasy quarterback from Weeks 4-8. How the Texans didn’t give him a legitimate shot to win the starting job during the summer is beyond me, but at least Bill O’Brien got that rectified (with an assist from the Jacksonville defense in Week 1. Even DeShone Kizer had some weeks that helped desperate streamers and 2QB/Superflex teams.

How to Apply This Knowledge: Study the stacked rookie class. Lamar Jackson (Louisville) is likely be a late-round pick on all of my redraft teams and target in quarterback value depressed dynasty rookie drafts. Josh Rosen (UCLA), Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Allen (Wyoming), and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) are all names to know for the draft and when we see their landing situation. Like last year’s class, this year has the potential to give us multiple long-term starters as the brightest stars in the recent Golden Age are starting to dim.

2. Sophomore Slump? No, Sophomore Jump: Carson Wentz was a top three fantasy quarterback with value only rivaled by Tom Brady and Russell Wilson at the time of his injury. Jared Goff was useful to excellent in the second half of the season, and was a Week 16 stud.

How to Apply This Knowledge: Mitchell Trubisky is graduating from a stone age offense to one led by new Bears head coach Matt Nagy, who is from the Andy Reid coaching tree that dropped the acorn (Doug Pederson) that fostered Carson Wentz’ growth. Patrick Mahomes will inherit an offense with speed, size, and power in the passing game and a rookie league rushing champion at running back, and could show us how much Alex Smith left on the table in the Chiefs offense.

3. Bad Offensive Line Plays Equals Doom Unless You’re Russell Wilson: Eli Manning and Andy Dalton both got impressive infusions of rookie talent at skill positions this offseason, but were forced to line up behind offensive lines that had the potential to resemble a collection of welcome mats. Manning lost one of the best receivers in the league and became instantly dead to us. Dalton was dead on arrival, but an offensive coordinator change gave him a faint pulse for streamers. Russell Wilson’s offense’s best rookie addition was lost for the season in Week 4, but his mobility and big play mentality kept him.

How to Apply This Knowledge: Follow offseason developments on the offensive line. The Vikings successfully rebuilt their line and passing game in one offseason. The Giants have said they are going to make the offensive line foundational in their philosophy. The Cowboys and Bengals swapped offensive line coaches. An outstanding left tackle (Patriots Nate Solder) and power guard (Panthers Andrew Norwell) could be on the market in free agency, and of course there’s the draft. The Saints getting OT Ryan Ramczyk in the first round helped them as much as any rookie after they suffered injuries at both right and left tackle.

4. Don’t pencil in full injury recoveries on schedule until we see the player look like his old self on the field: The Andrew Luck situation that sunk the whole Colts offense is most notable here. Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr failed to make the expected progression in their third years after leg injuries ended their second. Cam Newton is the happy ending story here, with a return to his best days as a runner and some shining moments as a passer after offseason shoulder surgery that was less extensive than Luck’s.

How to Apply This Knowledge: Don’t get too aggressive drafting Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck or Deshaun Watson even if the early outlook is good on their Week 1 readiness (still be open to Watson especially if he falls out of the top five quarterbacks in early drafts, especially in best ball).

5. Coaching Matters: We see this every year, but it is rarely as apparent as it was in 2017. The Kyle Shanahan (and Sean McVay) factor is real and it is spectacular. Matt Ryan regressed to levels that hadn’t been seen since the first three years of his career with Steve Sarkisian calling plays. Jimmy Garoppolo became a viable fantasy quarterback despite joining the 49ers mid-season and having Marquise Goodwin as his #1 receiver with Shanahan’s guidance. Jared Goff became a viable fantasy quarterback under McVay after being left for dead following a rookie year when he resembled road kill.

How to Apply This Knowledge: Mitchell Trubisky will get the benefit of budding offensive genius Matt Nagy in Chicago. McVay and Shanahan disciple Matt LaFleur will run the offense for Marcus Mariota in Tennessee. Todd Haley could give the Cleveland offense a semblance of order and effectiveness. Josh McDaniels will bring a fresh perspective to the Colts offense. Jimmy Garoppolo will probably be overdrafted with the brimming optimism regarding his last five games.

6. It's time to Stop Laughing at Case Keenum, Nick Foles, and Blake Bortles: Keenum was best known for reviving Andre Johnson’s fantasy stock in Houston for a brief moment, Foles was best known for a seven-touchdown game and flourishing under for Chip Kelly for a longer moment, and Bortles was best known for production in garbage time. Keenum was a solid QB1 for much of year, Foles had one of the best back-to-back performances in playoff history, and Bortles helped fantasy teams win titles as a matchup streamer in December.

How to Apply This Knowledge: Combined with the rookie and second year relevance at quarterback, it’s more ammo for the idea that you can wait at quarterback and stream unless you find someone that clicks and suffices as your #1 for the rest of the year. Even if your draft picks don’t click, there are lots of potential sources for quarterbacks that exceed expectations.

7. Downgrades at Running Back can be Downgrades for the Fantasy Quarterback, but upgrades at Running Back can be Downgrades For the Fantasy Quarterback, too: Drew Brees gains Alvin Kamara, who is a weapon in the passing game, but his weekly and season-long fall as the Saints run their offense through their backfield. Of course, the downgrade from Brandin Cooks to Ted Ginn could be a factor in this change. Dak Prescott lost Ezekiel Elliott to a six-game suspension and his production cratered. Of course, problems on his offensive line during this stretch and the overall downgrade in the line from 2016 to 2017 could be a factor in this change.

How to Apply This Knowledge: If the Steelers don’t retain LeVeon Bell, it could be seen as a boost for Ben Roethlisberger in fantasy terms while actually shrinking the offensive pie to a greater degree than it increases the size of Roethlisberger’s slice. Teams that have two quality complementary backs like the Saints could downplay the importance of downfield passing. A rising tide of better offensive production and efficiency should lift the quarterback’s ship no matter the source, as Blake Bortles showed us this year. There is no one size fits all takeaway, but instead just stay aware of the range of possibilities of bottom line fantasy effects of offseason changes and their results.

8. Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number: 35 used to be old for a quarterback and a sign that the cliff could be coming soon unless you were Brett Favre or got a late start like Kurt Warner or Rich Gannon. In 2017, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and even Josh McCown were relevant fantasy quarterbacks at 35 or older.

How to Apply This Knowledge: Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, and Rivers all showed no signs of falling off and probably shouldn’t be discounted in 2018 drafts based on the clocking ticking another year forward.

9. Alex Smith Can Hear Us (and it’s good to be his backup): Patrick Mahomes dazzled in the preseason and many openly wondered if Mahomes could take over before the end of the season if Smith continued to be held back by his overly safe play. Smith came out and lit up the Patriots in the season opener, and ended up being a top fantasy quarterback. Of course, Mahomes still played in Week 17 and Smith (with assistance from Andy Reid) lost a big lead in the playoffs. Nick Foles joined Colin Kaepernick as a former Smith backup to make the Super Bowl, and Mahomes will attempt to be next.

How to Apply This Knowledge: Smith gets the benefit of more quality offensive and quarterback coaching in Washington, although without Sean McVay, the offense wasn’t as good in 2017 (it also had to deal with turnover at both wide receiver positions and injuries to Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson and too many offensive linemen). While he doesn’t have Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce, Smith could at least be streamable, and worth more than he was expected to be worth coming into 2017. Mahomes may well unlock value in the Chiefs offense that Smith could not with his rare arm talent and derring-do, although he won’t have the benefit of Matt Nagy’s playcalling now that he’s in Chicago.