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Quarterback Tiers

A look at the 2017 quarterback rankings through the lens of tiers

Reprising a repetitive refrain over the last few years, quarterback is deep this year. Deep enough that you can take a starter after a handful of teams have taken a backup and still get by at the position. This has been true long enough that the elite options might finally be the right answer. You know to not fear waiting at quarterback, but taking one of the first two quarterbacks at ADP can work this year.

ELITE QB1

Aaron Rodgers, GB
Tom Brady, NE

Rodgers and Brady are the best in the game, and their situations actually got better this offseason. Rodgers gained Martellus Bennett and Randall Cobb is healthy again. Brady added Brandin Cooks, and Rob Gronkowski is healthy again. I won’t fault anyone for taking either quarterback in the third round, or even second in quarterback-heavy scoring formats.

STRONG QB1

Drew Brees, NO
Russell Wilson, SEA

Brees lost Cooks, but his fantasy value has survived worse in the past. The team does have their best combo of running backs in a long time with the addition of Adrian Peterson, and their offensive line is missing Terron Armstead at left tackle, with rookie first-rounder Ryan Ramczyk, a better run than pass blocker, in his stead. It could be a slower start for Brees and perhaps that’s a reason to pass on him. Wilson should have a healthier Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett, and he himself should be healthier than he was in the first half of 2016. In the second half, he was a top five fantasy quarterback.

SOLID QB1 WITH UPSIDE

Marcus Mariota, TEN

The best combination of price and value might be Mariota, who has some running ability, but also will benefit from the addition of Eric Decker and Corey Davis. His excellent offensive line is returning intact. Mariota was a top five quarterback for a seven week stretch last year before running into Denver and Kansas City and then getting hurt. He can do that this year.

STRONG QB1 WITH RISK

Andrew Luck, IND

No one knows if Luck will be ready for Week 1, so you have to draft a second quarterback. We might not trust him in his first week back, and he might not be himself at first, which adds risk to his profile. Once Luck is himself, he’ll be a top 3-5 option at quarterback, assuming he keeps to his historical norms. That can justify taking him at ADP, as long as your bench is deep enough to make the cost of carrying a second quarterback negligible.

BOOM/BUST QB1

Cam Newton, CAR

Newton was QB1 in 2015 and barely startable for stretches of 2016. He had a shoulder injury surgically repaired in the offseason and also might not run as much after he got banged up last year, but that has been more than priced in considering his weekly and season-long ceiling. A season opener against San Francisco could help him get off of to a hot start.

SOLID QB1

Matt Ryan, ATL
Kirk Cousins, WAS

Ryan won’t be the elite quarterback he was last year, but his ADP assumes a big drop in production, perhaps too big. He sometimes falls as far as QB10, which he should be able at least match in terms of production. Cousins ADP also assumes a drop in production from the top 5-6 level he has been at for a good part of the last two years, although Jordan Reed’s toe issue is a material limitation on his season-long ceiling.

BOOM/BUST QB1 WITH RISK

Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
Andy Dalton, CIN
Eli Manning, NYG

Even if you slow play quarterback until the first nine are off of the board, you have candidates with a QB1 outlook left on the board. Roethlisberger’s home/road splits are worrisome, but having Martavis Bryant back gives him top three upside in any given week. Dalton added Joe Mixon and John Ross in the draft, and he’ll get AJ Green back. QB1 numbers are possible if not likely as long as his line holds up. Manning added Brandon Marshall and will be in a pass-first offense, but he needs to get out of the slump he was in during the second half of the year. There are real questions with all three of these passers, but the price is right.

LOW CEILING QB1

Philip Rivers, LAC
Dak Prescott, DAL
Jameis Winston, TB
Derek Carr, OAK
Matthew Stafford, DET

Even 12 options in, we have plenty of production left on the quarterback board. None of this group has the potential to greatly exceed ADP cost, but all can be just fine as weekly starters. Rivers has much healthier wide receivers than last year, Prescott could be asked to do more while Ezekiel Elliott is out. Winston’s offense has been upgraded, including the addition of deep threat DeSean Jackson, the running game in Oakland should be better and create more scoring drives for Carr (just sit him and Rivers vs. Denver and Kansas City). Stafford is the least exciting option of this group, but he might have the highest weekly floor.

UPSIDE QB2

Tyrod Taylor, BUF
Carson Palmer, ARI

The trade of Sammy Watkins appeared to be devastating for Taylor on first glance, but he was a near QB1 last year without a healthy Watkins at any point in the season. He’ll have an adjustment time with his new wide receivers, but his value is based mostly on his legs, and the potential for Rick Dennison to make this offense more functional this year. Palmer will hopefully get a healthier John Brown (fingers crossed) and he was much better in the second half of 2016 - if that carries over, he’ll be a value this year.

SOLID QB2

Sam Bradford, MIN
Jay Cutler, MIA

Bradford and Cutler have safe weekly floors in their solid offenses, but lack the high ceilings that make quarterbacks worth drafting as part of a committee or as a cheap QB1 option. Cutler is fascinating reunited with Gase and Bradford will be better with an improved offensive line and whole offseason with the team.

LOW CEILING QB2

Carson Wentz, PHI
Joe Flacco, BAL
Alex Smith, KC

Now we are in the bye/injury/emergency tier. There could be a few outbursts from this group, but a combination of quarterback quality and offensive limitations will keep Wentz, Flacco, and Smith from being mainstays on rosters in typical leagues.

BOOM/BUST QB2

Blake Bortles, JAX
Brian Hoyer, SF

Hoyer and Bortles aren’t going to create optimism among fanbases, but both are willing to throw 50 times when the game script demands it. Time your start correctly in DFS or a streaming approach and you can profit.

BENCH STASH

DeShone Kizer, CLE

Kizer’s deep arm and running ability make him the best bet to come off of waiver wires during the season to be a fantasy starter. The Browns are going to give him a lot of catchup game scripts once he is in. Mitchell Trubisky could be added to this tier with more performances like his preseason debut.

DESPERATION PLAYS

Denver QB
Mike Glennon, CHI
Jared Goff, LAR
Tom Savage, HOU
Brock Osweiler, CLE
Josh McCown, NYJ

You shouldn’t be starting any of this group unless you are in a superflex/2QB league.

LEADOFF STREAMERS

Carson Palmer, ARI
Sam Bradford, MIN

If you are going with a true streaming quarterback approach and waiting until at least 15-18 quarterbacks are off of the board, there are two excellent streaming options for Week 1. Palmer faces a Lions defense that has a defanged pass rush, and Bradford goes to the Superdome for a potential shootout. Palmer also has the Colts, Cowboys, and 49ers in Weeks 2-4, making him a viable option for the first month of the season.