Fantasy football, like any other old American institution, has its dogma.
One of the guiding principles of our game for many years was that you didn’t want to be the first manager in your league to draft a quarterback. Those people were doomed. Dead money. They were novices who could not be taken seriously.
Experts generally called for extreme patience at QB, viewing the position as one that rarely produced a difference-making individual season. Fantasy-wise, the statistical separation between early-round quarterbacks and mid-to-late-round options wasn’t significant in a typical year. We can occasionally get a break-the-game season from an elite quarterback — think Peyton Manning in 2004 or Tom Brady in 2007 — but those performances were both unpredictable and unrepeatable.
The replacement value was also always high at QB. Viable fantasy starters were available on the wire every week. It is better to stream the position than to draft it early. Why take Brett Favre near the top when you could use that pick so much more productively, then just roll with Jon Kitna or Jake Delhomme or Rex Grossman?
And it worked. Back then, I once managed to win a fantasy championship with Luke McCown as my starting quarterback, so you can’t tell me this roster spot required significant draft capital. It clearly didn’t.
In recent years, however, we have witnessed a number of the most remarkable individual quarterback campaigns in league history; golden-ticket seasons for fantasy purposes. Patrick Mahomes set the all-time QB fantasy scoring record in 2018. Lamar Jackson set the scoring record per match the following year. Mahomes, Regret hurts and Josh Allen each produced seasons in 2022 that rank among the top 12 historically per game. Mahomes now has the No. 1 and No. 2 QB scoring campaigns on his resume. Twelve of the top 18 fantasy seasons ever at the position were delivered over the last five years.
As the ceiling has changed at quarterback, so have the competitive habits. It’s easy to justify the decision to burn an early pick in this spot when the top-scoring QB every year is a potential league-winning player — the kind of player who single-handedly carries teams to the playoffs.
As of this writing, three different quarterbacks have top-25 average draft positions in Yahoo leagues (Mahomes, Allen and Hurts). Two additional QBs have top-40 ADPs (Joe BurrowJackson) and three more are typically selected within the first 60 picks (Justin Fields, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence).
These ADPs also apply to Diamond-rated executives. Even the sharpest fantasy players are now grabbing quarterbacks within the first 5-6 rounds of drafts.
Ten years ago we would have considered such behavior scandalous and inexpert. Today it makes you a shark.
But at the risk of sounding like a holdover from another fantasy era, I’d like to mention that it’s actually still possible to win a league with a mid- or late-round QB. Just ask anyone who won a title with Fields or Lawrence last year. Or with Geno Smitha waiver add, who finished as the overall QB5.
It is worth remembering Mahomes himself was actually a late-round flier in 2018, when he broke out for over 5,000 passing yards and 50 scores. Jackson was generally drafted outside of the top 100 picks in 2019ahead of a supernova season that was not so difficult to imagine in advance.
If you’re a traditionalist who intends to shop for your fantasy QB outside of the first 7-8 rounds of this year’s draft, here are four options capable of delivering huge totals at an affordable draft price (plus a fifth guy who is just a wild flier with upside) …
One of the most significant open questions heading into the 2023 season is whether Watson can return to anything resembling his pre-suspension level of play. If he does, he’ll likely finish as a top-five fantasy option; he’s already reached that mark in three straight seasons, from 2018 to 2020. Watson led the NFL in passing yards (4,823) and Y/A (8.9) just three years ago, and he’s still only 27. Cleveland has a talented, improved receiving corps — Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, David Njoku, et al – and a competent, experienced coaching team. Watson is also coming off a normal offseason for the first time in years, which should presumably have benefits on the field. He has been QB10 in Yahoo drafts to this point and falls outside the top-75 picks.
Jones is coming off a breakout season that was at least as remarkable for what he did not do do as he did. He finished with career-lows in both interceptions (5) and fumbles (6) while playing in a career-high 16 games. The raw passing stats weren’t exceptional, though he completed 67.2% of his throws while working with an injured and underwhelming group of receivers. The addition of Darren Waller should help this season, assuming the 30-year-old oft-injured tight end can stay on the field.
Last season, Jones rushed for 708 yards and seven scores, the key to his QB9 fantasy finish. With this variety of rushing upside, he would definitely have a shot at a top-five campaign if the passing totals improve.
As you probably know by now, Richardson enters the NFL as the most athletic quarterback the league has ever seen. He certainly wasn’t as skilled or productive at the collegiate level as Cam Newton (or one of the various other QBs being mentioned as comps), but he has every attribute we could hope to find in a modern quarterback, including a weapons-grade arm and lightning speed. The extent to which Richardson can successfully feed multiple viable fantasy receivers remains to be seen, but his rushing talent alone will immediately make him a serious weapon in our game.
Under head coach Shane Steichen, Richardson will play in a version of Philly’s QB run game. He should be universally drafted in fantasy, well ahead of his current QB16 ADP.
Let’s keep in mind that after Tagovailoa’s first eight games last season, he had thrown 18 touchdown passes and just three picks. He averaged 283.1 yards per week and completed 71.0% of his passes. He is the one who has to throw Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, who works under a head coach who masterfully adapts the attack to the strengths of his players. The only real concern with Tagovailoa is availability; when he’s playing at full health, he’s a definite fantasy starter.
And then if you scroll down the QB ranks a bit, eventually you’ll find this name…
To be clear, we don’t actually know at this point that Howell will start for Washington. He can definitely play his way out of the job for the summer. Jacoby Brissett is a threat. But if Howell lands the starting role for the Commanders, he’ll have an excellent receiving corps to work with, and he’ll be playing under OC Eric Bieniemy, arguably the best in the business. Howell ran for 828 yards and 11 scores in his final collegiate season, making him a fully accredited member of the dual-threat club. He has the necessary profile to deliver a top-10 fantasy season if he manages to play 15 or more games. Howell definitely belongs in your deep league and Superflex plans.