Quarterback Tiers

A look at the 2015 quarterback crop for fantasy leagues through the lens of tiers

As the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league, the intrigue and strategy at quarterback gets thinner (2QB/Superflex leagues are the future!). There are more than twelve projected QB1s for fantasy, and even the next 10 or so options after that large group are viable in a QBBC/streaming approach. That doesn't mean that nailing a quarterback pick or knowing exactly when it is right to still pull the trigger on an early quarterback is a lost art or lacking value in a fantasy league. Let's check out this year's prospects.

SUPER ELITE

Andrew Luck, IND

If Luck can throw for 40 touchdowns with Hakeem Nicks and Reggie Wayne on his last leg as major targets, and Trent Richardson as a big part of his backfield, what can he do with Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and TY Hilton? I understand if you take him in the second (or even first in 6 point per pass touchdown leagues) so you can reap the benefits. He has the potential to be a league winner.

ELITE

Aaron Rodgers, GB

Rodgers could tick up a little if the Packers don’t blow so many teams out at Lambeau, allowing him to shut it down early in the second half, but otherwise Rodgers is a what you see is what you get pick. He’s not a bad pick by any means, but if you can get Luck within a round of Rodgers, Luck is the easy pick.

KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR

Russell Wilson, SEA
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
Peyton Manning, DEN
Tom Brady, NE

This group should have some gap over “the pack” at quarterback, but also have some gap between them and the elite/super elite. Although if any of them are elite at year’s end, it shouldn’t surprise us. Wilson has the best target of his career with Jimmy Graham, although John Evans of the great Xs and Ys podcast brought up a good point about Seattle’s likelihood of asking Wilson to run less now that they have so much money invested in him. Roethlisberger is at the center of a perfect storm similar to Luck, but we haven’t seen him be an elite fantasy quarterback yet. Manning was elite until his injury last year, but he is also in an offense that might ask less of him and slow down the game compared to Adam Gase’s. Brady may or may not miss up to four games.

THE QB1 PACK

Matt Ryan, ATL
Tony Romo, DAL
Drew Brees, NO
Philip Rivers, SD
Cam Newton, CAR
Eli Manning, NYG
Ryan Tannehill, MIA
Matthew Stafford, DET
Carson Palmer, ARI
Sam Bradford, PHI

These quarterbacks all have potential to transcend this tier, but they also could remain a notch below the six above them. Ryan has a new offensive coordinator, but one that could also revive the running game. Romo could pass more if his outstanding running is hampered by the lack of a proven back. Brees doesn’t have a big time set of weapons any more, but he’s still a chucker. Rivers has the weapons, but has never really flirted with elite fantasy production and seemed to struggle a bit in the second half of the year. Newton is inconsistent, but has two possibly ascendent talents at wide receiver. Manning might key an uptempo pass-heavy offense with a poor defense to keep games low scoring, but has been very inconsistent from game to game during his career. Tannehill and his offense should take a step forward, but he needs to gel with his new weapons and Branden Albert needs to stay healthy. Stafford has two great receivers and a new toy in the backfield, not to mention last year’s #10 overall pick hopefully developing, but he hasn’t been a “good” quarterback consistently for a while. Carson Palmer and every Eagles quarterback under Chip Kelly have produced at a low QB1 level, it’s just a question of staying healthy.

With 15 QB1’s, it is easy justify waiting on a quarterback. Just make sure to be willing to take one of this group at QB8 or QB9 if you really like them. Don’t let your league choose your quarterback for you if you have clarity on your favorite low QB1 option.

MATCHUP QB1/PRimary QBBC MEMBERS

Teddy Bridgewater, MIN
Andy Dalton, CIN
Colin Kaepernick, SF
Jay Cutler, CHI

Bridgewater is the “safe” member of this tier, although the Vikings offensive line could be an issue and they seem to love to feed the running back (Adrian Peterson this year) near the goal line. Dalton, Kaepernick, and Cutler are shakier bets from week to week, but they offer higher weekly upside. Dalton has a ridiculous set of weapons, but shrinks in big moments and games. Kaepernick could be unleashed as a runner, but could also be presiding over a dumpsterfire this year. Cutler just lost one of his new weapons, and might be the dumpsterfire for the Bears, but he also has four good weapons intact and plays on a team that will be behind a lot.

Hopefully you’re only looking at this group in DFS or as a quarterback in a streaming/QBBC approach, but they will all have a handful of top 5-10 weekly starts.

FIRST TIER STREAMERS/BYE/INJURY/EMERGENCY QB

Jameis Winston, TB
Robert Griffin III, WAS
Joe Flacco, BAL
Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ
Alex Smith, KC

You don’t want to be forced to rely on these quarterbacks, but if you totally slough the quarterback position, these are your first line streamers. Winston has an atrocious offensive line, bold mindset, great pair of receivers, and weak schedule. Griffin has speed, a good offensive coach, no healthy tight ends, but otherwise good skill players around him. Flacco has a great offensive line, running game, and offensive coordinator, but probably the worst set of weapons in the league. Fitzpatrick has a great offensive coordinator, “can do” attitude, and receivers, but can be overwhelmed by good defenses. Smith could have a much more vibrant offense this year with a full-speed Kelce and Maclin, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The range of outcomes for this group in any given week is wide, even in good matchups, but they will hit in at least a few games this year if you can time their starts correctly.

This is a good place to point out that 15 QB1s plus four QB1 matchup/QBBC plays should mean that you don’t need to try the highwire act of QB streaming this year. Even if 20 quarterbacks go off of the board in the first 100 picks of your league, that just indicates a waiver wire that is likely too thin for streaming to be viable. You might be more likely to turn to streaming if you lose your QB1 (Palmer and Bradford owners take note), but there’s no need to have it as your Plan A.

WAIVER WIRE SPEED DIAL/SECOND TIER STREAMERS

Derek Carr, OAK

Blake Bortles, JAX

Tyrod Taylor, BUF **if starter**
Marcus Mariota, TEN
Johnny Manziel, CLE **if starter**

Carr and Bortles could make strides in year two, but I don't want to have to start them in even the best matchup if I can help it unless they really are brand new quarterbacks this year. Taylor, Mariota, and Manziel all offer running quarterback Konami Code (cheers Rich) bonuses. Yes, in Manziel and Taylor’s case, if/when he becomes the starter.

BOTTOM OF THE BARREL

Nick Foles, STL
Josh McCown, CLE
Houston QB
Matt Cassel, BUF **if starter**

Abandon hope all ye who enter this tier.