Deep Sleepers: Quarterbacks

The Footballguys staff digs deep for sleepers at quarterback

A fantasy draft is all about obtaining the most value with each selection. There is value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. This article specifically targets deep sleeper value (players that can be found very late in a fantasy draft). In an attempt to point out this value, we asked our staff to look deeper than the top 150 players and identify players that should significantly outperform their late draft position. These players should be your targets after the 12th round of your draft.

Player Receiving 7 Votes

Ryan Tannehill, Miami

Chris Feery: When you have a quarterback with legitimate QB1 production potential that’s going off the board as a late QB2, you have yourself a great value opportunity. That’s what we have with Tannehill, who could easily take a leap forward in his second year with Adam Gase at the helm of the club. Many were expecting a massive leap from Tannehill last year, but that didn’t pan out as he lost three games to injury. We’ll look for a leap to happen in year two, and view Tannehill as a potential steal at his current average draft position.

Jeff Haseley: Ryan Tannehill has three top-15 finishes in the past four years and is still outside of the Top 20 in ADP ranking this preseason. Miami's receiving corps is in it's prime with Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker, and Kenny Stills. Head coach Adam Gase added his former standout tight end from his time in Denver, Julius Thomas, in the offseason with the hopes of utilizing him heavily in the offense this year. When I look at fantasy quarterback options, I target high-producing offenses with talent in several areas. Miami fits the bill perfectly in my opinion, and Tannehill, who has missed only three games in five seasons, is the one who will benefit. He should be in the conversation to finish in the Top 15, but he's currently being drafted at QB23.

Andy Hicks: Ryan Tannehill isn’t being considered as a serious fantasy option in 2017, and that is a mistake. This year will be his second year with Adam Gase, and Tannehill improved as his first season with his new coach went on, despite that year being cut short by three games by injury. He finally looked to be taking command in his fifth professional season. With a strong receiving corps, that will be enhanced by the arrival of Julius Thomas, he should push borderline QB1 status. He will easily outperform his draft slot and be a more than capable fantasy backup.

Chris Kuczynski: After a full year in Adam Gase’s offense, Tannehill should be able to improve upon his game and take another step forward. With talk that Devante Parker is poised for a breakout year, and the addition of red zone target Julius Thomas, to go along with PPR star Jarvis Landry, Tannehill should have plenty of weapons around him, with the offense centered around Jay Ajayi opening up the passing game. He is a quarterback you might not want to rely on in your starting line up on a weekly basis, but from 2013 to 2015 he averaged 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, and if he had not missed the last three games of 2016, his final numbers last year would not be far off from that average.

Jeff Pasquino: Last year at this time, we were all hopping on Tannehill as a value play with his QB2 status with upside. What happened? He disappointed to a degree in 2016, throwing for only 19 touchdowns with a dozen interceptions, but he did miss three starts due to injury. There are several reasons to believe that he could improve his numbers this year, starting with the Dolphins trading for tight end Julius Thomas. Head coach Adam Gase worked with Thomas in Denver, and both Thomas and Tannehill could see improved numbers under Gase. Miami also re-signed wide receiver Kenny Stills, who will either start outside or push DeVante Parker to improve and put up better numbers. Tannehill is virtually guaranteed to start all season long with no one pushing him for the position, so I see him as a solid QB2 with possible QB1 upside in good matchups this season.

Daniel Simpkins: After disappointing statistical output capped by a season-ending knee injury, folks in the fantasy community have largely washed their hands of Ryan Tannehill, as evidenced by his current ADP. However, it’s important to remember that he was a 4,000-yard passer in 2014 and 2015 (and was on his way in 2016 before he got hurt). His situation has also changed for the better. It sounds as if DeVante Parker has finally realized he must rely on more than his God-given talent and is working harder to take care of his body, become a better route-runner, and live up to his billing as a first-round pick. Kenny Stills also was retained on a long-term deal and Jarvis Landry is back for at least one more season. The Dolphins also added Julius Thomas in free agency. Health is always a question mark with Thomas, but adding another viable red zone threat for Tannehill is just another boon for this already potent passing game. The continued improvement of the offensive line and the running game established by Jay Ajayi should help to keep pressure off Tannehill and keep the offense balanced and humming in year two of Gase’s tenure. It’s conceivable that a healthy Tannehill could put up career bests in yardage and touchdowns this year.

Jason Wood: Ryan Tannehill finished QB27 last year and suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 14. Fortunately the injury – initially feared a torn ACL – was just a severely sprained ACL/MCL. The Dolphins veteran passer has passed stability tests and should be fine for the start of the season. In that case, Tannehill deserves consideration late in drafts as a high-upside QB2. Adam Gase’s offense was just starting to click after a rough start when Tannehill got hurt. In spite of the slow start and injured finish, underlying metrics supported a true breakout. Tannehill set career marks for completion rate (67%), touchdown rate (4.9%), and yards per attempt (7.7). With a trio of explosive receivers (Landry, Stills, Parker) and an above average offensive line, Tannehill has Top 10 upside. The pieces just need to fall into place.


Carson Palmer, Arizona

Sigmund Bloom: A year after being drafted as a QB1, Palmer is usually available as a backup, and not one of the first drafted, either. This year he should get a healthy John Brown back, in addition to Jaron Brown, who was pushing Michael Floyd for playing time before he got hurt. The Cardinals also open with the Lions, Cowboys, Colts, and 49ers, one of the softest opening quartets in the league. That makes him ideal as a lead-off hitter in a streaming approach.

Stephen Holloway: In Carson Palmer’s three healthy seasons with the Cardinals, he has averaged 4,393 passing yards, 28.3 passing touchdowns and 7.72 YPA. With Larry Fitzgerald returning and John Brown healthier than a year ago, there is no reason to anticipate diminished production. In those same three healthy seasons, he has finished as QB17, QB5, and QB 16. He should again perform as a high QB2 and perhaps better this season.

Jeff Pasquino: I get that Palmer is old and his numbers declined last year, but veteran quarterbacks can still put up productive numbers in the NFL these days. Palmer has Larry Fitzgerald as his top target and both John Brown and Jaron Brown to compete for WR2 and WR3 roles. Add in one of the best fantasy running backs in the game with David Johnson – who racked up 80 catches, tops of all running backs and only surpassed by 16 wide receivers – and there is plenty of passing game upside for Palmer. When you take a quarterback late, you want to see upside, and Palmer has it, even in a disappointing 2016. In nine of his 16 starts, Palmer either threw for two (five times) or three (four times) touchdowns, and multiple scores are what you want and need. Palmer had 35 passing touchdowns in 2015, so averaging two a game in 2017 is not out of the question at all. I really like him as a QB2 with strong upside for this season.

Matt Waldman: Even when people try to avoid the false narratives about quarterbacking, they fall into them. Rarely have I read or heard that significant reasons for Palmer’s declining production had to do with poor offensive line play and injured receivers. What I have seen is that Palmer lost arm velocity and playmaking ability. The Cardinals know they need a quarterback of the future, but there wasn’t any urgency to replace Palmer this year. A healthy John Brown offer a lot more assistance to Palmer and this offense. Palmer won’t be a top-five quarterback unless the Cardinals develop a third starting-caliber receiver this year—and that’s unlikely. However, if he supports Brown and Fitzgerald’s potential as fantasy starters, look for Palmer to earn production closer to the Top 12 to Top 15 passers. Considering he’s outside the Top 20 on this list, that’s value.

Players Receiving 3 Votes

Blake Bortles, Jacksonville

Andy Hicks: There are few more maligned quarterbacks than Blake Bortles, but he has delivered fantasy success, comfortably finishing as a fantasy starter over the last two years. Jacksonville really doesn’t have an alternative so it would surprise if he doesn’t play out the season and any kind of improvement has to bode well for his fantasy stocks this year. Every year, Jacksonville hopes to have a better defense and running game and every year it falls short. Either these areas improve and Bortles can relax more as a passer or they don’t and Bortles has to force the pass. Fantasy owners should benefit either way. For his current draft stock, he can be drafted as a late backup and push your fantasy starter.

Jeff Pasquino: Bortles was a QB1 not too long ago, and some of that value came from consistent fourth quarter garbage time production. The joke was to never watch a game when you started him, as you would pull your hair out until that fourth quarter where he might rack up his 150 yards and two touchdowns when the game was already decided. Now the fantasy world seems to view him as a borderline QB2, which seems crazy to me after two seasons as a Top 10 fantasy producer. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are still both there as the starters, as is third option Marqise Lee. Taking Bortles as QB20 or later seems like a huge steal, but I will gladly do it.

Matt Waldman: When Bortles worked with Tom House between 2014 and 2015, he delivered a strong 2015 season despite offensive line woes. When Bortles decided that the offseason prior to 2016 was time to reenact spring break at UCF, he regressed technically and conceptually. Prior to 2017, Bortles has been working regularly with House and a second coach and the Jaguars picked up the option in his rookie deal. These are good signs for a talent who has the surrounding skill players for a redemptive season, and I think he will—even if the plan is to run the ball more. After all, I’m sure the Jaguars plan to win the Super Bowl this year, too.

Sam Bradford, Minnesota

Jeff Haseley: There are two reasons why I think Sam Bradford could outperform his draft position in 2017. One, the Vikings have assembled a formidable receiving corps in Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph. Plus if last year's first-round pick Laquon Treadwell elevates his game in year two, the Vikings will be hard to ignore on offense. Secondly, Bradford's efficiency rating of 71.6% was tops in the league. He takes care of the ball and doesn't commit many turnovers (5 interceptions in 552 pass attempts last year). The combination of Bradford's accuracy and the talent he has at receiver leads me to believe he belongs in the conversation of quarterbacks who could finish in the Top 20.

Andy Hicks: Sam Bradford was thrown into the Minnesota lineup, after spending the whole offseason and preseason preparing to play for the Eagles. He did remarkably well passing for 20 touchdowns and only throwing 5 interceptions. With a full offseason and a promising, young receiving group, Bradford could easily become a borderline starter or at least a good backup option. With Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray added to the running game and hopeful improvement from the offensive line, Bradford should be more comfortable and surprise fantasy owners.

Mark Wimer: Bradford was rushed into service by the Vikings last year after Teddy Bridgewaters' catastrophic knee injury and did a lot of learning on the job. This season, he'll benefit from a full slate of OTAs and training camp with the Vikings, and he was pretty impressive as a rushed-in emergency replacement last year (a completion rate of 71.6% in his first season with Minnesota). He'll be a quality fantasy backup who could emerge as a fantasy starter if Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen continue to develop into quality NFL wide receivers. Bradford has considerable upside from his current ADP.


DeShaun Watson, Houston

Sigmund Bloom: The quarterback battle between Tom Savage and the first-round pick Watson is far from settled and Savage won’t go away easily, but Watson should be able to win based on his legs and promise unless Savage decisively beats him in camp and preseason. He would inherit a passing game that was in the top half of the league in attempts despite poor quarterback play for the last two years. Combine that with the rushing stats he should generate and it wouldn’t be a shock to see Watson put up QB1 numbers. He should at least be a good matchup play as long as he’s the starter.

Jason Wood: The Texans have struggled at the quarterback position, and last year’s Brock Osweiler experiment completely derailed the offense. Osweiler was traded and DeShaun Watson was drafted to bring life back into an offense that ranked 28th in points and 29th in yards. The former Clemson Tiger doesn’t profile as an impact player in Week 1, but expectations for rookie quarterbacks have been upended in recent years; witness last year’s MVP-caliber play from Dak Prescott. The most compelling reason to bet on Watson this season is a look back to Houston’s 2015 passing stats: 3,833 yards / 29 touchdowns / 12 interceptions. Respectable numbers when you realize four quarterbacks – Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden – combined for the tally. With offensive gems DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller in place, Watson has the chance to be fantasy relevant as a passer and runner. All he needs to do is win the job in training camp.

Players Receiving 1 Vote

Joe Flacco, Baltimore

Ryan Hester: Do you know how many quarterbacks had more passing attempts than Flacco last season? One! And that player (Drew Brees) had only one more attempt than Flacco did. Flacco also only threw touchdowns on 3.0% of his attempts, putting him around the likes of Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brock Osweiler, and Carson Wentz. Jokes are made about Flacco being elite, but he’s better than those players. And his volume isn’t likely to decrease too significantly, considering the only notable transaction in the running back group was pass-catcher extraordinaire Danny Woodhead. He’s dirt cheap and will register at least a handful of top-15 weekly performances.

Brian Hoyer, San Francisco

Darin Tietgen: Pierre Garcon was my value play wide receiver and falling in line with that is my deep sleeper at quarterback, for many of the same reasons. Hoyer's not the quarterback of the future for the Niners, but for the time being, this could be a fantasy dream. The 49ers offense doesn't have many stars, but it really won't need them to produce fantasy numbers. All they need is Kyle Shanahan getting guys in the right spots for Hoyer to deliver the ball. Hoyer was terrible in Cleveland, but still put up 3,000+ passing yards in 2014. In 11 games in HOU in 2015, he had an almost-respectable 19 to 7 touchdown to interception ratio. And finally, with a terrible Chicago team in 2016, he threw for almost 1,500 yards (and six touchdowns with no interceptions) in just six games. He will be a huge value in 2017.

Cody Kessler, Cleveland

Ari Ingel: Played better than most expected last season and could end up being a capable game manager this year behind a much improved offensive line, which is a top-3 unit now. The losses of tight end Gary Barnidge and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor does hurt though, as I believe that Kenny Britt is a slight downgrade from Pryor, and it remains to be seen how quickly tight end David Njoku can transition to the NFL game. There is no denying Njoku is a freak athlete and has a bright future, but the transition to tight end in the NFL from college is not always easy. Barnidge could have provided a veteran safety blanket for Kessler and a great mentor for Njoku. Nonetheless, the key here for Kessler is second-year receiver Corey Coleman. If he has a great offseason, and can emerge as the lower case version of Odell Beckham Jr Jr that many expected, Kessler has a chance to put up consistent numbers especially if they get running back Duke Johnson Jr more involved in the screen game. The biggest wild card is stud-wide-receiver Josh Gordon, who has yet to be reinstated and there is still a chance the Browns trade him away. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was my favorite in the draft, but ideally he sits and learns for a year, something even his college coach at Notre Dame stated. Then again, he could also prove doubters wrong and be this season's Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott. I love what the Browns are building. This team has weapons, especially if Gordon returns and Coleman emerges, but it is probably a year until it all comes together.

DeShone Kizer, Cleveland

Sigmund Bloom: Recent years have shown us that relying on rookie quarterbacks in fantasy leagues isn’t as crazy as once imagined. The key is running ability, which is a given for Kizer, who ran for at least eight scores and 472 yards in each of his two seasons at Notre Dame. He probably won’t begin the season as the starter, but considering Cody Kessler’s durability issues and low ceiling, and Brock Osweiler being Brock Osweiler means that it won’t be long before we see him. The Browns also should have a strong interest in seeing what Kizer can do before making a decision on whether to spend a first-round pick on a quarterback next year.

Trevor Siemian, Denver

Ari Ingel: Siemian still has to beat out Paxton Lynch for the starting job. While Siemian played okay last season, he still had a QBR of just 55 and a -7 DVOA, a metric by Football Outsiders that represents value per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations. Reason for pessimism is the lack of talent at both tackle positions. Reasons for optimism is that last year was essentially his rookie season, he has three great receivers in Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and rookie Carlos Henderson to go along with two quality veteran running backs in C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles. New offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, should also help Siemian develop.

Alex Smith, Kansas City

Mark Wimer: The Chiefs found a dynamic, young playmaker in Tyreek Hill last year. They also have an excellent tight end in Travis Kelce and a fine pass-catching back in Spencer Ware. Also, the Chiefs drafted a heir apparent at quarterback this past April - Patrick Mahomes - who will likely step into the starting lineup after a year of holding the clipboard for Smith during 2017. This all means that Smith is going to be motivated to earn his next NFL contract during 2017, and he has an able set of playmakers to help him post a solid NFL season. He is the sort of quarterback who has high upside for 2017, and he comes very inexpensively.

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