Fantasy Football QB1 Primer: Week 1
Last year 41 quarterbacks had at least one QB1 (top 12) weekly finish. That’s pretty incredible considering only 54 quarterbacks even started a game in 2016. While a handful of studs contributed a large chunk of the QB1 performances-Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and Andrew Luck accounted for over 25% of all QB1 performances-even the worst real-life quarterbacks can be fantasy relevant in the right matchup. Case Keenum posted a QB1 week. Matt Barkley couldn’t make the 49ers, but he posted a QB1 week. Kevin Freaking Hogan has never thrown a touchdown pass, but even he had a QB1 finish.
This may seem like madness, but some say chaos is a ladder. If your running backs or wide receivers bust, there may not be much you can do to fix it in season. At quarterback, there’s always a solution. To help you out, every week we’re going to try to predict the QB1s for the coming week. This isn’t a pure start/sit column-weird stuff happens every week and QB1 is a revolving door, so I’ll sprinkle in a few far-fetched but plausible QB1 predictions-but the goal is to help guide you through one of the most matchup-dependent positions in fantasy. Let’s get to it.
1) Marcus Mariota vs. Oakland
Home favorite against one of the worst passing defenses last season in the game with the highest Week 1 over/under…that’s a nice way to start the Mariota breakout campaign! The Titans have a reputation as a run-first team, and while that’s well earned, quarterback scoring isn’t driven by volume. It’s efficiency you’re after, and through two seasons Mariota is already one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league. Mariota has thrown a touchdown on 5.5% of his passes and has averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, 4th and 7th best among active quarterbacks. He’s done that with Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews as his top targets. With Eric Decker and Corey Davis now in the fold, Mariota is primed for a hot start to a big year.
2) Tom Brady vs. Kansas City
This column posts on Friday, so you’re going to have to take my word on the Thursday games. This week no one should accuse me of cheating…Brady looked bad in the season opener, going just 16/36 with no touchdowns. At age 40 Brady is almost in unchartered territory-Brett Favre is the only quarterback to average over 15 fantasy points per game at age 40+. Factor in that the Patriots invested in two free agent running backs this offseason and hung on to Jimmy Garoppolo like he was their precious, and you start to wond…no, we’re not going there yet. If he doesn’t bounce back next week against the Saints, then we may have something to talk about.
3) Matt Ryan @ Chicago
All offseason the talk about Ryan has been regression. While it’s true the reigning MVP is unlikely to match last year’s 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, and very nice 69.9 completion percentage-all career highs-the fact that he’ll regress doesn’t mean he’ll be bad. Ryan hasn’t thrown for fewer than 4,177 yards in six seasons and has had at least 26 touchdowns in five of the past six years. I like him to start hot against a below-average Chicago defense that’s going to struggle to cover up for a bad offense.
4) Aaron Rodgers vs. Seattle
This isn’t the ideal matchup for last year’s No. 1 overall quarterback, but there’s no need to panic. Rodgers has faced Seattle at home each of the past two seasons, averaging 21.75 points in those contests. My analysis: he’s good.
5) Ben Roethlisberger @ Cleveland
It almost seems too easy. At full strength for the first time in forever, Pittsburgh looks to be an offensive juggernaut. Cleveland is, well, Cleveland. But there’s reason to be concerned. Roethlisberger’s road struggles are well chronicled, and even against Cleveland’s soft defense he put up only 8.68 and 11.82 points in two of his last three games in Cleveland (his third game was a 23.76 point outburst but with two interceptions). As for the Browns’ defense, they look much improved from the team that gave up the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2016. Still, I’m happy to bet on Roethlisberger with his full cast of receivers and underrated defense setting him up in favorable spots against super-young rookie DeShone Kizer.
6) Carson Palmer @ Detroit
Palmer has been left for dead after a slow start to 2016 marred his overall numbers, but I like him to bounce back in 2017. Bruce Arians’ downfield attack is fantasy friendly, and it looks like John Brown-secretly the key to this offense-will at least be healthy for Week 1. Detroit was Football Outsiders’ worst passing defense last season, and didn’t do anything to improve over the offseason, so this is a nice spot for Palmer to put up big numbers.
7) Russell Wilson @ Green Bay
Wilson is set up for a big year after a lost 2016. He has the best weapons of his career, with Doug Baldwin firmly established as a No. 1 receiver, Jimmy Graham another year removed from his awful knee injury, and Tyler Lockett, and Paul Richardson primed to break out. His Week 1 opponent, the Packers, were a bottom 10 passing defense last year. They should be improved with better health, but I still think Seattle will be able to move the ball through the air with its aforementioned arsenal of weapons. Vegas thinks so too…this game has the 2nd highest over/under of the week and a close point spread (GB -3), suggesting a fantasy-friendly shootout.
8) Drew Brees @ Minnesota
Brees has a reputation for struggling on the road, but he averaged over 18 points per game and put up four 20+ point games away from the Superdome last season. So this looks too low. Kind of hot-takey low, especially for Week 1. The reason I’m so skittish is this Minnesota defense is legit. The Saints have an implied team total of just 22.25, which is in the danger zone for quarterbacks. If you drafted Brees you’re starting him, but I’m not expecting much.
9) Sam Bradford vs. New Orleans
All offseason there’s been buzz about Bradford’s weapons: Stefon Diggs is a WR1, Adam Thielen is a late-round steal, Kyle Rudolph is underrated, and Dalvin Cook is the top rookie running back. If any of this is going to come to fruition, we should see it right away. The Saints allowed 7.2 net yards per attempt last season, 31st in the league. Their most talented cornerback, Delvin Breaux, is out with a broken fibula. Bradford’s been allergic to touchdowns throughout his career-he has an anemic 3.4% career touchdown rate, and his first three touchdown game last season wasn’t until Week 16-but if we like the weapons in Minnesota’s offense then we should like Bradford too. If he’s not a QB1 in Week 1, it may be awhile before we mention his name here again.
10) Derek Carr @ Tennessee
Remember what I said about Marcus Mariota? This game projects as a shootout, and Carr can put up big numbers trying to keep up with Mariota in what should be a really fun game.
11) Cam Newton @ San Francisco
Most peg Newton to bounce back in a big way in 2017. I’m not as optimistic. Last year Newton averaged only 4.0 YPC, lost his job as the goal line back, and had the fewest rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns of his career. Then the Panthers got rid of deep ball specialist Ted Ginn and brought in short-range weapons Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. The plan seems to be to run Newton less and implement a quicker, shorter passing game to minimize hits on Newton. The only problem is this plan runs counter to everything he’s good at: rushing and deep balls. This is a bad slate for QBs, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in Week 1. If he isn’t a QB1 in a soft matchup against San Francisco, it’s a bad omen.
12) Jared Goff vs. Indianapolis
Remember when I said QB1 is a revolving door? And that this isn’t a pure start/sit column? Yeah, don’t start Jared Goff in your season-long league. He does make an interesting tournament play for DFS though, with a chance to slide into the top 12. The Rams are home favorites against one of the worst passing defenses in the league, who will be missing star CB Vontae Davis. Meanwhile, the Colts’ offense figures to be a total trainwreck with Scott Tolzien starting against a Rams defense I like quite a bit with Wade Phillips now in charge. My prediction: the defense puts Goff in favorable situations all day, HC Sean McVay uses his best stuff to get the offense off to a good start, and Goff looks like the sometimes competent version we saw this preseason. All of this leads to a week of talking head echo chamber narratives gushing about the revitalized Goff and wunderkind McVay, followed by the Rams reverting to a bottom feeder offense in Weeks 2-17.