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STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Quarterbacks

By: STATS LLC

This has been a special time for me after winning the FantasyPros expert fantasy football accuracy contests in back-to-back seasons. Thanks for all of the congratulations and kind words in the offseason. It truly means a lot, as I spend a lot of time and energy producing the most accurate projections possible. I’m gunning for a three-peat this year!

I broke down the top fantasy quarterbacks into tiers for the first installment of STATS’ 2017 season preview. The image below provides a visual of the tiers themselves to get a sense of where we rank each player versus their average draft position across the fantasy industry.

 

Tier 1

Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers is in a class by himself. His passing numbers resemble Drew Brees’ and Tom Brady’s through the air, but also being a lock for 300 rushing yards and a couple rushing TDs sets Rodgers apart. He has just about the highest ceiling/floor combo each and every week. The fact Green Bay seems content with Ty Montgomery being the No. 1 running back entering the season tells me they aren’t even attempting to become more balanced. The Packers will continue to rely heavily on Rodgers’ arm and one of the best receiving corps in football.

Tier 2

Tom Brady

Brady seems committed to playing well into his 40s, and he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. The Patriots added yet another weapon to their deep receiving arsenal for Brady, acquiring Brandin Cooks from New Orleans in the offseason. It’s even scarier to think what Brady’s production would look like if he and Rob Gronkowski were able to play a full season together – something that hasn’t happened since 2011.

Tier 3

Drew Brees
Andrew Luck

Brees might be the safest bet in fantasy football. His ceiling is a tad lower due to his lack of rushing numbers, but he adds a sense of predictability. Brees is coming off his fifth 5,000-yard passing season, and no other quarterback in NFL history has more than one.

Plenty of questions surround Luck, though. After seemingly putting off shoulder surgery for two years (most likely a torn labrum), he finally had the surgery and I have my doubts entering this season. Ironically, I had the exact same injury/surgery as him and put it off for about just as long. He was very likely playing through significant pain and limited range of motion in his throwing shoulder over the last couple seasons, and the surgery should help out his long term prospects. I know first-hand how frustratingly slow the comeback process can be, but Luck is a world-class athlete and has a chance to be fully healthy come Week 1. If you are willing to take a bit of a risk, you could wind up with the highest upside at the position.

Tier 4

Matt Ryan
Russell Wilson

Ryan entering the season projected as the fifth-best fantasy QB seems about right. He’s coming off a career year, and it’s safe to say he’ll regress a bit. Ryan will be playing under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian after Kyle Shannahan left for the head-coaching job in San Francisco, but the Falcons wisely are keeping the same exact offense and not changing their approach. Maintaining a 52.6 percent scoring rate per drive will be the issue. Having said that, even with reduced passing TDs, the yards and scoring chances will still be there, making Ryan a very safe bet to be back in the top 10 again this year.

Wilson might have the second-highest upside of any QB behind Luck. He attempted a career-high 546 passes last year, but he also set career lows in all rushing categories partial due to the myriad of leg injuries he sustained. Assuming he’s healthy heading into this year, one could argue that Wilson offers too much potential to pass up if he’s the best QB available with a drop-off at the position looming, as noted in the image above.

Tier 5

Jameis Winston

This is arguably the best value at the position, as you can also see from the chart that Winston is going a bit later than a couple guys in Tier 6. It seems as if the market is underestimating the type of breakout season a talented 23-year-old entering his third year can have. Don’t forget Tampa Bay added receiver DeSean Jackson to prevent defenses from only having to game plan for Mike Evans. My mindset is to try and steal Winston in the later rounds and add depth at other positions.

Tier 6

Kirk Cousins
Marcus Mariota
Cam Newton
Dak Prescott
Derek Carr

This begins a stretch of 10 QBs that are only separated by about 10 points from top to bottom, and their rankings are practically interchangeable from analyst to analyst. Mariota and Carr are both returning from broken legs. It seems as if this has hurt Mariota’s stock more than Carr’s, and it makes sense considering Mariota relies on his legs a bit more. However, Oakland’s addition of Marshawn Lynch could result in fewer passing chances for Carr around the goal line, where he seems to have an odd fascination with Seth Roberts and Clive Wofford for some strange reason. I also see them being in more of a “protect the lead” game flow which we have rarely associated with Raiders football for quite some time.

The Titans, on the other hand, drafted receiver Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick and then later added Eric Decker. Mariota now has one heck of an army chest of weapons with tight end Delaine Walker as well. He offers the most value at his current draft position in this tier.

Cousins is betting on himself playing a second straight season under the franchise tag, which I think is the smart thing to do. There are certainly question marks after offensive coordinator Sean McVay left to coach the Rams, and receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson left, too. Washington added Terrelle Pryor, though, and it still has one of the more lethal TE duos in Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. Cousins has been slipping to the low end QB1 range where he offers decent value.

It will be very important to monitor Newton’s recovery from shoulder surgery heading into your drafts. I think it’s pretty telling the Panthers offseason moves indicate less pressure on Newton’s passing game, making his shoulder strength heading into the season as less of a concern than Andrew Luck’s. Letting deep threats like Ted Ginn and Corey (Philly) Brown go and adding short range RB/WR hybrids in Christian McCaffery and Curtis Samuel is quite a shift in personnel.  The real silent killer here could mean the Panthers plan on cutting Cam’s rushing down considerably in order to slow growing concern over the number of concussions he’s sustained. I’m a hard pass on Newton this year since his inflated ADP makes it easy to target players with a higher floor in the same range.

Prescott is another fascinating player to project this year. Admittedly, his rookie production blew away even my expectations after Tony Romo went down with an injury. But I feel like Dak very much could have peaked (from a passing efficiency perspective) in his rookie season. This is why I find it tough to really give him too much of a boost in that department, even though he finally gets an entire offseason to work out some of the rookie mistakes and grow even more rapport with his receivers. I think if he were to outperform last year, it would be due to his rushing stats. He is more than capable of breaking big gains on the ground if needed – not to mention his bowling ball, contact-seeking running style near the goal line. His six rushing TDs aren’t as fluky as some may think. He is currently going right where I think he should in fantasy drafts, but if Ezekiel Elliot ends up getting suspended, that might bump him up a bit higher within the tier.

Tier 7

Ben Roethlisberger
Philip Rivers
Matthew Stafford
Tyrod Taylor
Andy Dalton

All five of these guys will have weeks where we mistake them for elite QB1 options. Sadly, that is not the case, as I think of them as elite QB2 options. While I certainly have nice things to say about each one of these guys, this is a fairly negative tier as a whole considering I feel you can make league-winning picks at other positions instead of drafting these (largely) name-brand QBs. Because of this I will try to scare you away from the Tier by just roasting all of them instead.

Get ready for another season talking about Big Ben and his potent offensive weapons, and he will continue to be Josh McCown on the road while putting up 73 percent of his season stats in the two home games Pittsburgh wears its bumble bee retro uniforms. That’s without mentioning the six games Roethlisberger will miss due to what seems like an annual knee sprain.

Rivers again starts the season with one of the top receiving corps in all of football. Of course, they’ll all be hurt by Week 5, forcing Rivers to run for his life and throw to eventual starting receivers Javontee Herndon and Dontrelle Inman.

Stafford will spend another season of his prime underwhelming us with 24 or 25 TDs in what is a very pass friendly offense.

Tyrod Taylor has sky-high upside if he were to ever see a boost in passing stats, but we will again see that curbed by Sammy Watkins’ lingering injuries and the lack of a dynamic TE in a very run-first offense.

Andy Dalton will possess a top-five receiver and top-five tight end and somehow be sitting on everyone’s bench in one-quarterback leagues week in and week out.

Boom, roasted.

EDIT: Shortly after typing this, Mike Williams is very likely to be out for his rookie season with a back injury. While I don’t think this has as big of an impact on Rivers as people may think, it just goes to show my joke roast isn’t too far off.

Tier 8 

Eli Manning
Blake Bortles

The Giants added Brandon Marshall in the offseason which should help Eli Manning have a bounce-back season. They still have a non-existent running game, making Manning nothing more than floor insurance – meaning he won’t finish as a bottom-five QB this season. He caps out as maybe an elite QB2.

Bortles makes more sense to draft in this range as he’s going a couple rounds later. It also makes sense to take more of a gamble on what is likely a backup QB in most leagues. Bortles has always been sneaky due to the gap in his real life value vs. fantasy value. While he tends to throw the ball to the other team a bit too much – and I would never recommend rooting for him on TV live because he is difficult to watch sometimes – he somehow gets it done in the box score. Much like Rodgers, Bortles is a safe bet for 300-plus rush yards and 2 rush TDs a season.

The best way to convince yourself to take Bortles is to think of him as just that – a poor man’s Aaron Rodgers. It’s the pretty significant drop-off in passing stats that creates the production gap, but he has displayed a very sneaky high celling/floor combo, with back-to-back top-10 finishes among QBs the past two seasons. His only downside(s): the addition of rookie running back Leonard Fournette will certainly make Jacksonville a bit more balanced, and its defense may very well shape up to be one of the better units in the NFL, possibly creating more positive game scripts that would take away the garbage-time stats Bortles loves.

Tier 9

Carson Wentz
Ryan Tannehill
Carson Palmer

We are moving into the lower end of the QB list. I would say this is the last real tier with any upside, outside of DeShaun Watson. Wentz should only improve with his 2nd year leap that will also be bolstered by an improved supporting cast. I don’t see LeGarrette Blount’s addition to be much of a threat, as Ryan Mathews was a pretty consistent vulture last season. I don’t anticipate Blount to impact his TD% rate too much.

Tannehill is another QB that leans on his legs a bit more than most, but he’s also coming back from an ACL injury. It’s tough to see Tannehill making that leap we’ve been waiting for – especially now that his rushing production may have peaked. The Dolphins have finally enlisted their trust in Jay Ajayi as a workhorse back in what is an increasingly run-first offense.

Carson Palmer came on strong at the end of last season throwing for two or more TDs in six of his last seven games. This late in the draft you can certainly do worse than a trusty veteran who should have increased health/talent at WR and has arguably the best fantasy RB in David Johnson, who takes pressure off Palmer and catches tons of dump-off passes that pad Palmer’s stats.

Tier 10

Joe Flacco
Alex Smith
Sam Bradford

It can’t get much more boring than this batch of guys. The only benefit of this trio is we can probably accurately predict their end-of-season stats the closest. This certainty provides a life raft for people not willing to jump into the deep sea to take a chance on a raw talent with as much uncertainty as Deshaun Watson. I am about to explain why it might be worth taking the plunge.

Tier 11

Deshaun Watson

Tier 10 was the last batch of guys that are locked in as “real-life” QB1s. The rest are guys that are either in a position battle, or what we expect to be stop-gap situations. And Jared Goff.

Out of all of those guys, I feel Deshaun Watson is the only one worth actually considering for one-quarterback leagues. While he might be less likely on paper to outscore Flacco, Smith, and/or Bradford, I think the smart move is to pass on the safe options and gamble on Watson. Think about it. You know exactly what you are going to get out of those three: Steady yet below-average production with the occasional “blow up” game where they maybe throw for 300-plus yards and 2-3 TDs. They provide insurance if your starting QB gets hurt.

What intrigues me about Watson is he is being drafted as if he will start around 13 games. I think that’s fair and would peg his over/under around 13.5 games started. However, his upside is a mid-range QB2 and possibly even higher depending on how quickly he adapts to NFL defenses. We can learn from recent history to not overlook dual threat QBs in their rookie season, with Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Dak Prescott as recent examples.

If you snag Watson as a high-upside QB2 late and, say, after Week 7 it seems like he won’t pan out, you can probably still find an Alex Smith-type QB on the waiver wire. This is why it’s sneaky to use your backup QB slot to make a higher-risk investment since it comes with very little downside.