Quarterback Tiers - Footballguys

A look at the 2018 quarterback landscape through the lens of tiers

It’s very difficult to make quarterback fantasy analysis in start one quarterback leagues interesting these days. If you haven’t tried a superflex/2QB league where draft strategy for quarterback becomes much more important, you should - if you’re reading this article and subscribed to Footballguys, you like challenges and stimulation in your fantasy leagues. We’ll still look at the quarterback position from the one quarterback perspective. While the reality that starting a waiver wire stream of quarterbacks is more than viable in typical leagues is sinking in and driving quarterback ADP down, the position also seems to get deeper and deeper every year. The truth is that there will be a lot of correct answers at quarterback, probably enough for almost every team in your league to have one.

ELITE QB1

If you spend an early pick on a quarterback, it should be for one of these two. Rodgers was in the top five mix when he went down in 2017, but he was the most consistent week to week of his peers, and let’s not forget that he outpaced the competition by a considerable margin in 2016 as the overall QB1. If you want a reason to avoid Rodgers, he plays all three fantasy playoff weeks (14-16) in cold weather outdoor stadiums - home vs Atlanta, at Chicago, and at the Jets. Watson was producing at a pace worthy of a first-round pick when he went down last year - an unfair advantage. Perhaps he won’t pick up where he left off because of how rare that level of production is and the improvements in the Houston defense keeping him out of shootouts, but that level of production also leaves room for a healthy amount of regression while still keeping Watson near the top of the position. He also opens with New England, Tennessee, the Giants, and Indianapolis and dodges Jacksonville in the fantasy playoffs - although he does have to travel to potential outdoor cold weather games against the Jets and Eagles in Weeks 15 and 16.

STRONG QB1 WITH ELITE POTENTIAL

This group has a wider range of outcomes than you’d like when investing early at quarterback, but that range includes QB1. Newton has a much better set of weapons this year, we just have to count on Norv Turner to deploy them in a way that maximizes the offense’s productivity and sets Newton up to succeed. Wilson is a perplexing case. The cupboard is bare of pass catchers and that’s worrisome with Doug Baldwin nursing a sore knee. The team seems to be set up to run the ball more this year. It’s still difficult to picture this team winning many games, and their gutted defense could force Wilson to play from behind a lot. His style and game script could keep Wilson among the fantasy elite, but how can you ignore the bad vibes around the Seattle offense with Brian Schottenheimer calling the shots? Luck has had a very uneventful return to practice. We still want to see him look good in the preseason, but by all accounts, he has a renewed vigor for the game and he should benefit from the addition of Frank Reich as head coach. We’re excited about Matt Nagy’s effect on the Chicago offense, and Reich is coming from a branch of the Andy Reid tree that produced Nagy. The depth at quarterback makes taking Luck basically risk-free because if he’s not viable for fantasy, you’ll have a plethora of late round options to back him up or waiver wire options to bolster your lineup.

SOLID QB1

This trio of old reliables will be reliable again this year, but their ceiling doesn’t approach the top five. Roethlisberger was the #1 fantasy quarterback from Week 10 on last year (look it up) after a slow start. He also has a potentially high-scoring trio of games at Oakland, home vs New England, and at New Orleans in the fantasy playoffs. Brady was fizzling out for fantasy in December and he’s a Gronkowski injury away from piloting a not that scary offense, but he’s still one of the best passers to go into battle with as your starter to open the season.

SLOW START QB1

Wentz was top three when he went down last year. He could be reined in a bit as he comes from a multiple-ligament tear and isn’t a lock to return in Week 1 this year, although the Eagles might have to play Wentz with Nick Foles shoulder injury clouding the picture. He draws the Rams in Week 15 and Houston in Week 16.

STEALTH solid/STRONG QB1

Smith was a top-five quarterback last year, and his situation is arguably just as good as 2017 in Kansas City as long as he acclimates well to his targets and scheme. Jay Gruden’s offense can make better use of his mobility and penchant for high percentage passes, and remember this offense made Kirk Cousins a very good fantasy quarterback. The most cost effective Plan A at quarterback is Smith.

HIGH FLOOR QB1

It doesn’t look like elite QB1 numbers are within reach for any of this group, but they are high floor players on a weekly and season-long basis. Stafford could get a bump from a full season of Kenny Golladay, but he could also take a hit if this team can score and move the ball more effectively with the running game. He does start the season with the Jets, 49ers, Patriots, and Cowboys. Cousins is in a good situation and a safe bet to a low QB1 again this year. Rivers is steady, but unspectacular and will gain Mike Williams, but lose Hunter Henry. Ryan could get a boost from Steve Sarkisian’s offense entering year two, but he won’t get back to his lofty 2016 levels. Goff will be even more comfortable in Sean McVay’s offense this year. This group represents swinging for singles at quarterback. Low risk, low reward.

HIGH CEILING QB1

This group has a wider range of outcomes, which could provide more bang for your draft buck, but also leave you looking for another option during the season. Garoppolo was excellent in a small sample size and cracked Jacksonville’s pass defense. Mahomes has a huge arm and creativity to preserve value Alex Smith wasn’t getting out of the Kansas City offense until last year, and possibly build on it with the addition of Sammy Watkins. One warning on Mahomes - he gets the Ravens, Chargers, and then the Seahawks in Seattle during the fantasy playoffs. Mariota goes from exotic smashmouth to an offense built by Matt Lafleur, a freshly minted offensive coordinator fresh off of stops under Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan.

stealth hot start/finish QB1

Bortles beat up tomato can defenses during the fantasy playoffs to help teams win titles last year. This year, he goes to Tennessee, gets Washington at home, and then travels to Miami in the fantasy playoffs and could be your leadoff batter in a streaming approach with the Giants, New England, Tennessee, and the Jets to open.

STEALTH high floor QB1

Dalton’s fantasy numbers dried up in 2017 due to a terrible offensive line and running game. He also had no rushing scores for the first time in his career - after averaging three a season coming into 2017. Dalton was a low QB1 before AJ Green went out in 2016 and before he got hurt in 2015. This year, the offensive line has two new starters at key positions, John Ross appears ready to contribute after a lost rookie year, and Bill Lazor has had an entire offseason to install his offense after salvaging something from last year’s disaster once he took over in Week 3 last year. You can also draft Dalton as your Week 1 starter vs Indianapolis to pair with Eli Manning and duck Jacksonville.

VIABLE MATCHUP PLAYS

You don’t want to rely on these quarterbacks every week, but a combination of two or three of them can put up low QB1 numbers if you time the starts right. Dak Prescott was magnificent before Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension last year and he has rushing touchdown additional upside, but the Dallas pass offense could be sub-functional this year. Manning has a strong #1 running back, tight end, and wide receiver. As long as Mike Shula is effective and Manning finds his game, Manning might level off as a low QB1, but you have to draft another quarterback to avoid Jacksonville in Week 1. Trubisky might not be quite as quick a study as Jared Goff, Matt Nagy might not be the wizard that Sean McVay was last year, the Bears additions on offense might not be as good as the Rams additions last year, but the parallels are impossible to miss. Trubisky is also a better runner than Goff, but early reports point to some bumps in the road. Taylor might be a QB1 this year with his running ability, track record in limited Bills offenses, Todd Haley’s track record for maximizing offensive production and the surrounding talent in the Browns offense and he might be massively overlooked right now. Tannehill is healthy but in an uninspiring offense. Keenum might be a surprise in an offense with a pair of receivers not far off the duo that helped him become relevant in fantasy leagues for the first time last year. The Raiders have a dumpster fire scent about them, so Carr seems unwise to rely on. Flacco is as healthy as he has been for three years and has Lamar Jackson lighting a fire under him a la Mahomes/Smith 2017, but Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill aren’t walking through that door in Kansas City.

DELAYED GRATIFICATION

Winston was set to be in the stealth QB1 tiers with Alex Smith and Andy Dalton until his three-game suspension got handed down. His numbers were marred by his mid-season injury, but he was actually a top-six quarterback from Weeks 13-16. Is it worth drafting him and clogging up a roster spot to get one start in the first five weeks? The reward will be modest, and the cost might be missing a key waiver wire pickup or struggling to a slow start while you start a subpar option waiting for Winston. Taylor (PIT @NO NYJ), Trubisky (@GB SEA @ARI), and Tannehill (TEN @NYJ OAK) are cheap and have early schedules that aren’t too daunting to pair with Winston.

BENCH STASHES

Joe Flacco and the Ravens will have to crater for Jackson to see the field, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. Jackson has running ability at quarterback that we haven’t seen since the days of Michael Vick and the offensive coaching staff in Philadelphia is the one that helped Vick rise like a phoenix out of the ashes in Philadelphia. Insta-add Jackson the moment John Harbaugh re-affirms the team’s faith in Flacco after a bad loss due to Flacco’s mistakes.

DESPERATION PLAYS

McCown was actually a solid fantasy option for a good stretch last year, but his hold on the starting job is tenuous and signs point to Darnold starting Week 1. Bradford is an injury risk in any game he starts. You don’t want to start a Bills quarterback this year.