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Faceoff: Drafting a QB

June 20th

Clayton Gray: Aaron Rodgers is a borderline first round pick, while Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Philip Rivers are often off the board in the first 36 selections. This is a shift from a few years ago when only a few quarterbacks would generally be gone in the first four rounds. What is going on? Are you on board with this change in strategy?

Jeff Haseley: I am definitely on board with this. A QB drafted relatively high has a great chance of meeting production expectations, if not exceeding them. You can't exactly say that for other positions. The bust rate for top tier QBs is very low, which makes the pick of a QB in the first 3-4 rounds a safe investment. I may not be the first person in my draft to select a QB, but if the value is strong and the draft position is right, I am all for taking a QB in the first 40 picks.

Matt Waldman: I agree with Jeff. In many leagues, I like to employ a strategy where RBs are not an early-round priority. The top QB, WR, and TEs tend to have less turnover from year to year. Although RBs are more valuable individually, most owners, writers, and experts have more difficulty predicting the best RBs. I've found that I have created strong point-scoring teams when I pick the top players at non-RB positions early. QB is definitely one of those to consider early - especially the five that you mention. Although I'm still a bit wary of Vick's conceptual skill as a pocket passer, he's come a long way and his big-play ability is too hard to pass up.

I think what's happening in the fantasy football world is a natural reaction to the cyclical nature of talent in the game. Brees, Brady, and Manning are three likely Hall of Fame quarterbacks with at least 3-5 years left in offenses tailored to them. Aaron Rodgers is a rising star in an offense capable of keeping him in the Brady-Brees-Manning stratosphere, Vick is a phenomenon, and Rivers is has the weapons and the skill to follow up with another great season. I'm looking forward to one of our staff providing a statistical analysis that either supports or refutes this thought. Until then, I'm at least focusing on taking one of four quarterbacks mentioned here in the early rounds.

Jason Wood: While I would love to disagree, I've been on board the "early QB" theme for the last two seasons, after years of more conventional thought that you could wait on your QBs. There are so few QBs that start all 16 games, and even fewer of those put up great fantasy points more often than not, so the scarcity of the position is more relevant than people used to think. For a long time, people would think that there are 32 starting QBs, so in 10- or 12-team leagues there are always options. But with the bottom third of the QBs in a state of flux week to week, there really is a much higher replacement cost than people than we want to acknowledge.

For me it's all about relative value. Let's say you have perfect QB rankings and successfully target the 8th and 9th best QBs in the mid rounds, "sharking" your league mates. Even if you got those right, you're then faced with being inferior at the position against more than half of your league in most weeks. And drafting two similar guys also invites the desire to play matchups, which I think is easier said than done, particularly early on in the season.

Jeff Pasquino: I tend to agree with Jeff and Jason. While the QBBC / wait on a QB approach used to work well, the elite tier of QBs really puts teams at an advantage in a weekly head-to-head matchup. Having a guy you can count on to be a productive QB1 for the entire season (while there are no guarantees of that) is a huge benefit. There's ancillary benefits that are often not discussed but are contributing benefits of taking a Top 5-7 QB this season. For example, taking Drew Brees or Peyton Manning gets you a QB who will be your starter for 10 weeks before their bye. That allows you to not worry too much about a backup / QB2 in most leagues - possibly at all - and let you grab more RB/WR/TE values in your draft while other teams are fretting over backup QBs. That might even give you one extra spot to grab a flyer of a player who might blow up like Arian Foster or Peyton Hillis last season. If your gamble doesn't pay off, it is not like there aren't starting QBs on the waiver wire for backup purposes. Even if you do decide to take a second QB, you can rest assured that a viable choice will still be there well after most teams have taken their backups. Since you will rarely, if ever, bench Michael Vick or Aaron Rodgers except for a bye week, waiting for your backup is perfectly fine.

Of course the big benefit is not playing the "Who Do I Start" / QBBC strategy. That works great if you have a solid choice every week, but the best made plans often go awry. I would not want to count on grabbing QB12/QB13 on my list and playing matchups every week. It is hard enough to pick the perfect lineup of running backs and wideouts every week. I for one do not need another head-scratching decision on a weekly basis.

Pulling all of that together, give me a Top 7 QB this year for sure that will be in my lineup virtually every week. During my draft, I will gladly take that extra roster spot to take a gamble on an upside player.

Mark Wimer: I'm going to go against the grain on this topic, because I think there are a number of QBs poised to move into the top five (as the upside case) or to remain among the top ten fantasy QBs (as the downside) this season, each of whom can be had in the mid-rounds of your draft:

  • Matt Ryan - Ryan was actually the eighth-best fantasy QB in the league last year, and the Falcons moved aggressively to upgrade the talent around him by trading up to draft Julio Jones (and paying through the nose to do so), and also adding Jacquizz Rodgers as a pass-catching change-of-pace back. By the second half of the season these youngsters should be acclimated to the NFL - I expect Ryan to end up among or on the cusp of the top five fantasy QBs during 2011, with a strong charge during November and December. Let other guys pay premium picks for one of the Rodgers/Brees/Manning/Vick/Brady/Rivers sextet, and target Ryan as an overlooked, no-brainer fantasy starter at QB during 2011.
  • Matt Schaub - Schaub has checked in at fourth and ninth among fantasy QBs over the past two seasons, and is a no-brainer, start-every-week fantasy QB with absolutely explosive potential in a pass-happy offense, among a pass-happy division, with mediocre-to-poor defenses from top to bottom in the AFC South. High scoring affairs from week to week, and explosive pass-catchers in Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, and Owen Daniels make him an easy selection at QB - yet he is a guy who you don't have to spend a top-36 pick on in order to add him to your roster. Just make sure you have a solid QB 2 for the weeks when Schaub is banged up (though he has played a full 16-game slate over the last two seasons, folks!) or facing Pittsburgh (week four 2011) and Baltimore (week six).
  • Josh Freeman - Freeman finished 2010 as the seventh-ranked fantasy QB, in only his second year in the league. With LeGarrette Blount now established as a very legitimate threat to run the football, and receivers like Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Kellen Winslow, Jr. to haul in his passes, Freeman should build on his impressive 2010 performance - he threw 25 TDs vs just six interceptions last year, friends, going 291/474 for 3,451 yards, with 68/364/0 rushing (5.4 yards per carry). If Freeman can sprinkle in a few rushing TDs among his 60+ carries during 2011, the guy will stroll into the top five at his position in fantasy terms.

All three of the guys are players you can rely on for between 14-16 fantasy starts during the coming season, in my opinion. In our recent staff mock draft, all three of these guys were scooped up in the eighth round. You can read the analysis of the staffers who drafted these three guys here. With such a variety of potential top-five fantasy QBs to choose from in the middle rounds, let other people waste premium picks on the "Big Six" this year.