The quarterback position is much easier to plan for in fantasy drafts than a skill position like running back. Injuries come into play much less often, and relevant starters rarely get demoted. Because of this, we often can optimize our QB position by looking at team schedules.
First, I recommend you check out my colleague Sean Koerner’s QB Tiers article. You can see Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are in tiers by themselves, while Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, and Russell Wilson also distinguish themselves from the pack. To get any of these players, however, you’ll have to spend a draft pick within the first six rounds, and this year you may be better served drafting skill position players in those early rounds.
Why? Because we project only a 16-point difference between our No. 8 and No. 19 QBs – less than the difference between Rodgers and Brady, for example. After the run on the initial QB1 types, other managers will scramble to draft remaining guys that are “QB1s” in their eyes, and you can sit tight and get good value. Further, you can look at the NFL schedule, using it to your advantage to pair certain borderline QBs together and patch together the equivalent of a solid QB1.
I’ll be looking at pairings of QBs with ADPs outside of the first six rounds. This excludes Derek Carr, who has a sixth-round ADP. Also, please note that we are quite high on Jameis Winston. We view him as better than Carr, but he is being taken a round and a half later. I’ll be trying to snag Winston on the cheap, but all it takes is one other owner to ruin that plan.
Here are some pairings to serve as backup plans:
Cam Newton (7th round ADP) and Tyrod Taylor (12th round ADP)
We aren’t particularly high on Newton, in part due to his schedule. Atlanta and Tampa should both have very solid pass defenses, and he sees Minnesota outside the division. If you do insist on drafting Newton, I really like pairing him with Taylor to mitigate the tough schedule.
In Week 8 when Cam plays Tampa, Taylor and the Bills play Oakland in what could be a high-scoring affair, relatively speaking. Newton’s Panthers have a bye Week 11, and Taylor has a decent matchup against the Chargers. Then in Week 14 when Carolina faces the Vikings, the Bills go up against Indianapolis.
We project starting Newton or Taylor based on the more favorable matchup each week would lead to productivity roughly equal to that of Matt Ryan, who’s a consensus Top 5 QB.
Marcus Mariota (7th round ADP) and Andy Dalton (13th round ADP)
We really like Mariota with just about any backup, given natural career progression and the number of weapons at his disposal. When it comes to his cheap backup, I love Dalton.
During Mariota’s Week 8 bye, Dalton has a matchup with the Colts (notice we’re targeting them quite a bit). The weeks of Mariota’s two toughest road games – Houston in Week 4 and Arizona in Week 14 – Dalton has two of his easiest matchups against Cleveland and Chicago, respectively.
Together, if you play the guy with the better matchup each week, they equate to about Russell Wilson, who’s going in the fourth or fifth round.
Matthew Stafford (9th round ADP) and Tyrod Taylor (12th round ADP)
There’s no doubt that Taylor is a great QB2 to draft in fantasy, so of course I’d love a duo of Newton and Tyrod, as discussed above. But Newton is relatively expensive, and you can get almost as much value by waiting and drafting Stafford later with Taylor in mind as a backup.
Taylor has an uninspiring matchup against Tampa during Stafford’s Week 7 bye, but when Stafford plays at Green Bay (in cold weather) in Week 9 and at Baltimore in Week 13, Taylor faces the Jets – I dare you to name one of their cornerbacks – and New England in a game that could feature a nice script. What makes this pairing even juicier is that when the Bills have a bye in Week 6, Stafford has perhaps his best matchup of the season at New Orleans.
These two are both cheap and quite complimentary, adding up to just about Russell Wilson’s value if you play your cards right.
Philip Rivers (10th round ADP) and Eli Manning (12th round ADP)
These two will forever be linked after being traded for each other on draft day 2004. They’re also linked here as, in my opinion, the best duo you can find after the first 100 picks.
Rivers is the clear-cut starter here, but he has some tough division games, particularly against Denver in Week 1, and against Kansas City in Weeks 3 and 15. Manning, on the other hand, has a much easier division, with none of his three opponents ranking in the top 10 in any meaningful pass defense category last season.
During Rivers’ three toughest division games, Manning has division games of his own (one against Philadelphia, two against Dallas). Also, during Rivers’ Week 9 bye, Eli gets a nice matchup against the Rams.
These two, if utilized correctly, add up to the overall QB8, though neither is considered a QB1 on his own.
Note that I do like Carson Palmer as a late option. He’s just two years removed from elite status, has a healthier John Brown at his disposal, and he’s being taken in the 13th or 14th round. He has a brutal schedule, however, when paired with any of the non-elite options.
Palmer has the same bye week as Manning, Mariota, and Bortles, and his worst matchup (at Houston) comes during both Winston’s and Newton’s byes. He also plays against Seattle during Carr’s bye. As a result, it’s tough to pair Palmer with anybody but the elite, weekly QB1s.