It's the most wonderful time of the year. If you're thinking about the playoffs in re-draft leagues, that's understandable but you'd be wrong. It's time that this column can focus on dynasty formats.
If you missed the Gut Check's look at stretch-run candidates, sneaky playoff options and valued players who could face troubling times in December, you now have the links for your re-draft needs.
For the next month, this column will profile five players at each position that should be targeted in various dynasty formats. Each player will fit a specific situation that is common in dynasty formats:
- Anchors: This is a premium value talent with a supporting cast that can help him deliver multiple years of elite production at the position (no worse than a top-12 player and a great opportunity for top-3 value).
- Fine Wines: Older talents that can deliver starter production for at least another year or two at a reduced cost in the ageist world of dynasty leagues.
- Emerging Forces: These players have earned playing time but have only scratched the surface of their top value.
- Futures: Young talents who have the skills but are waiting for an opportunity to put them on display.
- Rookies: College players who are eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Two other tiers of players you can also classify are "starters" and "contributors." The definitions are self-explanatory once you understand that neither tier has players that you believe have elite production potential. We won't include them for this series.
Before we get to these five quarterbacks, a short conversation about dynasty strategy is in order.
The average NFL career is a little less than three years in length. Early-round picks tend to bolster the length of the average whereas late-round and undrafted players tend to weigh it down.
Using three-year increments to assess the value of your depth chart is a good way to begin evaluating your dynasty team. These three-year increments are called Player Windows. Here are the criteria for each window length (you can adjust them as you see fit):
- One Window: When projecting the player's value beyond three years is an even greater fool's errand than normal.
- UDFAs who haven't earned any traction on an NFL depth chart.
- Players coming off a significant injury with a bad track record for successful rehabilitation.
- Veterans performing at an age where the majority of long-term starters at his position have already retired or lost starter skill.
- Two Windows: These players should have at least 4-6 years of starter skills left as long as they stay healthy and have a quality supporting cast.
- A young running back or receiver with less than four years in the league and has a good track record of health.
- A top quarterback or tight end with less than seven years in the league.
- Three Windows: Players with at least 7-9 years of starter skills left as long as they stay healthy and have a quality supporting cast.
- Rookie running backs.
- Quarterbacks and tight ends with no more than five years of NFL experience.
- Receivers with no more than three years of NFL experience.
You should assess every player with these windows and then add the value assessments to each window type:
- Anchors (these players can have one, two, or three windows)
- Fine Wines (strictly one-window players)
- Starters (capable of one, two, or three windows)
- Contributors (capable of one, two, or three windows)
- Emerging Forces (capable of two, or three windows -- most will have three)
- Futures (capable of two or three windows -- most will have three)
- Rookies (most will have three windows but could have two if enter the league with an injury history)
When you do this exercise, it should give you a clearer idea of the state of your dynasty roster. It will help you determine the strength of your team. Is it centralized and deep at a small number of positions or is it strong at the top of the depth chart at a few positions but spread thin?
This exercise should also help you determine how you should build or maintain your team. For example, this team, which is leading the league in scoring and now a serious contender, was blown up several years ago — trading away the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Peyton Manning, Antonio Gates, and a few other players about three years too early. As a result, it floundered as a below-average team and yours truly compounded the issues by trying to pinpoint specific positions from a draft spot that didn't warrant the picks.
Once yours truly opted to assess his team with this method, it became clear that for this team's situation, stockpiling quarterback talent was better than taking a chance on lesser talents at position need was a better way to go. Although none of these talents (Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes II, Russell Wilson, and Lamar Jackson) have been traded away for additional resources because the team has improved through the draft and free agency, the stockpiling is hurting other teams in need to quality passers. Eventually, this talent will lead to trades when the need arises.
This exercise should be enough to not only help you assess the players you need but the ones you can actually afford to target without hurting the overall mission of your team-building strategy.
Here are the five quarterbacks the Gut Check is targeting dynasty leagues based on these scenario types explained above.
THE ANCHOR (Deshaun Watson or Jared Goff)
Patrick Mahomes II is the easy answer if you're drafting in a startup dynasty league. He's a much tougher call if you're trying to acquire him via trade. It's not recommended unless you're in a situation where you've stockpiled first- and second-round picks to the point that you're squad own 40-60 percent of the first two rounds of the rookie draft and you can afford to give half of those picks away.
Otherwise, you're seeking a quarterback capable of top-five production every year for the next 7-10 years, and the choice becomes a tough decision between Deshaun Watson and Jared Goff. Neither has reached the age of 25, both have an excellent receiving corps, and both have games that are still on the rise.
Watson delivers the potential for strong yardage on the ground that Goff lacks. He's also paired with DeAndre Hopkins, one of the three best wide receivers in the NFL, whose game is built on route running, rebounding, power, and guile more than it is speed. It means Hopkins could have a longer career than some top receivers whose speed is a significant part of their games.
Watson is an excellent scrambler who can buy time, spot the open receiver amid the chaos, and deliver an accurate pass. This includes the crowded middle of the field as well as the deeper zones.
The upside of Watson's improvisational skill is that he can work the defense out of position and find receivers for huge plays. The downside is that his offensive line and receivers have to work much harder throughout the game and it can wear them down.
If Watson can continue gaining skill at using incremental pocket movement to avoid the rush without breaking the pocket, he'll make the offense more efficient because he'll make more throws in rhythm with the original route plans and within the reasonable allotted time linemen should be able to stop the rush. A quick tempo is also a critical part of a passing offense because it forces a defense to react faster than its comfortable doing and creates more mental errors while wearing it down physically.
The advantage Watson has over Goff is that his game is more independent of his surrounding talent. If that appeals to you, Watson is your Anchor. The advantage Goff has over Watson is that he's a more refined quarterback with equal-to-greater surrounding talent.
Despite the past two weeks against the Lions and Bears where pressure has disrupted the Rams' pocket enough times to render sub-par weeks production Goff, he's one of the best pocket players in the league. Goff has the quiet feet to maneuver incrementally from pressure and find his open receiver in rhythm.
Although not the athlete Watson is, Goff is physically and mentally a tough player who has always been unfazed by bad weeks or bad seasons early in his college and NFL career. Much has been made about the easy throws Goff gets in this offense as well as Sean McVay in his helmet pre-snap. Outside of this column, The Top 10, or Rams-related sites, little has been shown of his work that reveals why he's become one of the best quarterbacks in football.
Goff still has to learn to make better pre-snap adjustments at the line of scrimmage for Todd Gurley and his offensive line. Otherwise, that's about it. He's a skilled play-action thrower, he sees the field well, and he has an underrated deep game. The Rams cabinet of weapons for Goff to distribute the ball is full and should grow in richness after it selects more receiving talent from the 2019 NFL Draft.
If I'm choosing an Anchor, it's Goff. However, I'm giving you Watson as an alternative because I'm a fan of his game and his style is more independent of surrounding talent — think of this loosely as deciding between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
The Fine Wine (Aaron Rodgers)
There are a lot of fine wines worth choosing from the quarterback vineyard. Tom Brady appears intent to play another season. If you are in a situation where you need a top-12 quarterback and have the rest of the players needed to compete at a high level, Brady should come at a discount as a one-year option. The same could be true of Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.
Like Brady, Brees could play 2-3 more seasons behind that strong Saints' line and ground game. Ben Roethlisberger is having a career-year thanks to his skills and excellent surrounding talent. However, it's a little more difficult to trust him because he hasn't kept himself in the kind of shape that Brady or Brees has and he seems to a bit more fragile as he's aging.
Now that Mike McCarthy is gone and Aaron Rodgers will have input into the next coaching hire, Rodgers is the easy choice among the 35-and-up quarterback set. Considering that Brady is 41, Brees is 39, Rivers is 37, and Roethlisberger is 36, there are good reasons to believe Rodgers has another 3-6 years left. The fact that Rodgers is a top-10 fantasy producer without a full complement of experienced receivers at the top of their game (Davante Adams excluded) and a mismanaged ground game for much of the year is worth taking into account when evaluating Rodgers' performance.
Five years ago, I acquired Brady at a discount price because I expected 1-2 years of good play from him. He's still going, although it took an infusion of Josh Gordon and the return of Rob Gronkowski for Brady to claw his way back into fantasy starter production. Rodgers, like Watson, produces at a high level independent of his surrounding talent. Expect another 3-4 years of that kind of play from Rodgers.
At this point, it should be noted that there are a lot of quarterbacks the middle of their careers that are worth acquiring if the price is right, including Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson. Matt Ryan should have another few years of strong play as long as Julio Jones remains a stalwart primary option. If you can get any of these four at a reasonable price, it's worth considering them — even Wilson, who has lacked Doug Baldwin and despite working in a run-first system he's been the No.6 fantasy quarterback since Week 9 (which includes a sub-part Monday night affair against the Vikings). You might even get Wilson at a bargain.
Emerging Forces (Dak Prescott)
Prescott is not a conventional choice. He doesn't throw with anticipation and he doesn't stick with progression reads as well as his peers. However, there's a lot that I've grown to like about the Cowboys passer and I have no doubt that he'll remain the long-term starter for Dallas.
He entered the league as little more than a developmental option, finished with one of the best rookie seasons ever for his position, and then seen his public standing take a steady two-year slide to a low-point in the middle of the 2018 season. Despite loses to what was a great offensive line — including one of the best centers in the game — and departures of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams, Prescott has shouldered the blame for the offense's first-half woes.
That's admirable leadership for a player who has been stripped of top veteran talent that can help a quarterback make pivotal in-game adjustments. Since the Cowboys added Amari Cooper — one veteran player — Prescott's production has improved. Since Week 9, he's the No.4 fantasy quarterback in the game and has the highest completion percentage (74.1 percent) in the league. He's earned a respectable 12 touchdowns and his passing yardage (1,713) is better than any quarterback that has played 6 games since Week 9 (everyone but Mahomes and Luck) with the exception of Roethlisberger (1,937).
I'll make an investment in Prescott for dynasty leagues because he may not be the quarterback who matches the NFL analyst's checklist for what makes a top passer but he can create big plays with his arm and legs and he has surrounding talent that has gotten a lot stronger during the year and should be even better in 2019. The fact that he's faced the public scrutiny for diminished play and come out the other side at the age of 25 also bodes well for a position where confidence is a massive factor in development.
Give me the battle-hardened youngster with a great young back, an excellent young receiver, and a good enough offensive line that's retooling towards excellence. It may not always look pretty but the numbers will be there and possibly at a discount.
Futures (Lamar Jackson)
For most of you, the first choice will be Baker Mayfield and I get it. Mayfield has been the No.13 fantasy quarterback since Week 9, throwing 11 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions while completing 73.2 percent of his passes. Only Drew Brees has been on par with him in the red zone this year.
It's tough to argue against Mayfield when considering that he lacks a great collection of receiving talent and the Browns still need to upgrade its tackles. I've been increasingly impressed with what I've seen from him.
Since Week 11, Mayfield is the No.20 fantasy quarterback. While he's still completing passes at a rate of 73 percent, he hasn't been as productive. Part of those woes come from a three-interception affair against the Texans two weeks ago.
Since Week 11, Lamar Jackson is the No.9 fantasy quarterback. He's not getting it done in ways that the data guys like because it doesn't match the history of predictable quarterback development. Jackson's completion percentage during this span is 58 percent and 33 percent of his total yardage has come as a runner.
Still, there are a number of reasons why you should inquire about Jackson's availability as an investment for your rebuilding efforts. One is that Mayfield will cost more. If you acquire a Fine Wine option for 1-2 years, a potentially cheaper investment in Jackson creates a low-risk situation where you hold onto capital that enables you to invest in more talents at other positions.
Two, Jackson is operating in an offense that's maximizing his legs and limiting his potential as a runner. While this sounds like an argument against Jackson in the present, remember that this offense is only about the present. The Ravens have constructed an offense that's best for the Ravens to compete this year.
Jackson is getting easy reads as a runner and passer that earn the offense yardage and keep the quarterback healthy. Many fans still hold onto the myth that running quarterbacks get hurt more often. The opposite is true; pocket quarterbacks get hurt more often because they take hits that they can't see and prepare for the impact.
Another myth is that Jackson can't win from the pocket, which the Top 10 and RSP have shown otherwise. While his completion percentage is low, did you know that Michael Crabtree (7) and John Brown (4) have more dropped passes than any tandem of starting receivers in the NFL other than T.J. Yeldon (8) and Keelan Cole (6)?
Although Cleveland's receiving corps leads the league in dropped passes, the Browns are rotating a lot of receivers in an out of the lineup, which also lends to more drops when those receivers are less experienced. The Ravens have two veteran starters that are among the worst in the league at catching the ball this year.
While Jackson's offense looks a lot like what we saw from Robert Griffin III III during his rookie year, expect Baltimore to do what Griffin hoped Washington would as his career unfolded: gradually diversify the passing game and encourage Jackson's growth as a pocket player. For the next few years, there will be a lot of debate about this subject as well as if he's capable of growing.
Ignore that noise and invest in Jackson. He's closer to Deshaun Watson as a passer with more explosive speed and quickness than what you'll hear about. If you can get Mayfield at a deal, do it. If you can get Josh Rosen at a steal and wait for the Cardinals to figure out the surrounding talent, definitely do it.
And if you can get Jackson because everyone is waiting for him to get hurt like Robert Griffin III III and tank, you could be the one laughing last and hardest in 3-5 years.
Rookies Devy (J.T. Daniels)
I haven't studied Dwayne Haskins or Kyler Murray yet. Will Grier, Justin Herbert, and Drew Lock have skills that will earn them early-round grades. However, it was the previous three classes of quarterbacks that I'd choose to re-tool a dynasty squad. Instead of giving you a rookie, we're going to go "developmental" with this pick and recommend USC rising sophomore J.T. Daniels.
Although Daniels struggled at times during his freshman year, he's one of the top prospects in the nation. People also don't always realize that Daniels essentially skipped his senior year of high school and played football at a top Division-I program — a massive jump for a young player. Daniels has all the physical tools you expect from a prototypical NFL passer.
Jackson climbs the pocket well, has a great vertical game for a young player, and he can get rid of the ball fast. He's getting Kliff Kingsbury in 2019 as its offensive coordinator. The former head coach of Texas Tech will install an Air Raid offense that should be a great match for Daniels.