Fantasy Football 2018: Quarterback Primer (Rankings and Tiers)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 13, 2018

Alongside Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson is the only other quarterback you should consider in the first five rounds of your draft

It’s the same ol’ story every single year. Do you draft a quarterback early, or do you wait until the later rounds? The question is a bit different than it used to be, considering quarterbacks are lasting longer than they ever have before, but not for everyone. What if your league has six-point passing touchdowns? What if your league drafts quarterbacks in the top two rounds? What about Aaron Rodgers? He’s in a tier all by himself, right?

It’s not one person asking me these questions, and it’s not just this year. It’s every year. The answer, however, remains the same. While everyone else is out there snatching up quarterbacks, you’re picking up the players they should have been drafting. You’re getting players in the third-round who should’ve gone in the second-round, and players in the fourth-round who should’ve gone in the third-round. In fact, the more quarterbacks taken, the merrier.

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While it’s unlikely that you’ll see me take a quarterback in drafts, there are some opportunities for those who draft in a league full of late-round quarterback guys. But still, here’s the fact of the matter. Replacement value is everything. You cannot find guys like Jordan Howard and Joe Mixon who are slated to touch the ball 275-plus times in the eighth-round of your draft. You can, however, find a quarterback who will have just as many pass attempts as someone like Tom Brady. Sure, the efficiency of a 10th-round quarterback isn’t going to be the same, but it’s all about opportunity. Don’t pass-up guaranteed opportunity at running back and wide receiver in order to take a quarterback.

Today we’re going to be going through the rankings and tiers of quarterbacks, and giving you an idea of where they should be drafted in a standard 12-team league. While some of you will laugh and say that there’s no way that some of the elite quarterbacks fall this far in your draft, but remember, that’s your opportunity to absolutely obliterate your draft. Seriously, consider yourself lucky that your leaguemates give you an easy pass. But for most of us, we just want to know when it’s okay to start considering a quarterback selection.

Here are the links to the other positional tier lists (once they go live):

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends

Tier One (Round 3-4)

Aaron Rodgers

Anyone who tries to make the argument for another quarterback in this slot is swimming with sharks. Rodgers has shown year-in and year-out that he’s the most consistent option in the game, though the loss of Jordy Nelson is going to take some adjusting. If you recall, the one year that Rodgers struggled to consistently post top-12 numbers was 2015, when Nelson was placed on Injured Reserve. It’s not so much that Nelson was that good, but more about how much chemistry those two had and what Nelson meant to the offense. If Davante Adams continues his trajectory to superstardom and Jimmy Graham can at least be competent, Rodgers should be fine. Still, I wouldn’t consider him until the end of the third (at the earliest).

Tier Two (Round 5)

Russell Wilson

For those who suggest Wilson isn’t a top-tier quarterback, I’m not sure what they’ve been watching over the last six years. For those who want to draft Deshaun Watson in this range on a five-game sample, I suggest you look to Wilson who has now done it for six consecutive years. He’s coming off his best NFL season and it might have had something to do with him having an actual Pro Bowl left tackle protecting his blindside. He’s now finished as a top-three quarterback in three of the last four seasons.

Tier Three (Rounds 6-7)

Cam Newton
Tom Brady
Drew Brees

These are the guys who most of you are unlikely to land based on where they’re at. Brady will likely come off the board before Russell Wilson in most leagues. There will be a lot of those who think Newton belongs in the Wilson tier because he’s finished top-two twice in the last three years, but I’d urge you to re-think your strategy. Even though Newton finished as the QB2 last year, he was a top-12 performer just 50 percent of the time and actually scored less than 14.0 fantasy points in 37.5 percent of his games. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Brees find his way back into the top-three fantasy quarterbacks, but he needs his pass attempts to shoot back up to where they were pre-2017. He’s likely the safest pick of the bunch here, though Newton offers the most upside.

Tier Four (Round 7)

Carson Wentz
Deshaun Watson

By placing Watson here, you should know that he won’t be on any of my teams. When you see that he’s competing for Aaron Rodgers for the QB1 spot in early ADP, it’s kind of funny because he essentially needs to live up to exactly what he did last year. Coming back from a torn ACL, playing behind what might be the worst offensive line in the NFL, and dealing with absolute certain regression in the touchdown department, he’s extremely overdrafted. Wentz has been dropping as of late due to questions about his ACL, though I’m expecting him to suit up Week 1. He’s another one in for some touchdown regression, as his 7.5 percent touchdown rate was a number that Rodgers has hit just once in his career. This is the regression tier and I’m not paying for last year’s numbers.

Tier Five (Rounds 8-10)

Ben Roethlisberger
Kirk Cousins
Andrew Luck

This is the upside tier, as you draft these guys expecting some week-winning performances. But don’t get them mistaken for every-week starters, though. Roethlisberger only netted top-12 performances 46.7 percent of the time last year, which was slightly under his last few years where that mark was 58 percent of games. Still, he’s going to bust almost a third of the time. Even though Cousins averaged plenty of pass attempts with Washington, he scored less than 14.0 fantasy points in 20-of-52 games as a starter. The Vikings defense will limit his attempts, which means he’ll need to be much more efficient. Luck is the oddball of the group, because if he’s truly 100 percent healthy, he’s likely going to finish as a top-five quarterback, though his lack of talent at wide receiver has me somewhat concerned.

Tier Six (Rounds 10-11)

Matt Ryan
Alex Smith
Jimmy Garoppolo
Matthew Stafford
Philip Rivers

Here’s the “guys who are considered every-week starters, but are really just really solid streamers” tier of quarterbacks. Stop me if you’ve heard that Matthew Stafford has been a top-12 quarterback in six of the last seven seasons… I know, I know. But what would your counterpoint be to this?

Player QB5 % QB12 % QB18 % Boom % Bust %
Philip Rivers 14.6% 45.8% 70.8% 12.5% 22.9%
Matthew Stafford 14.6% 39.6% 70.8% 14.6% 29.2%

 

That’s the last three years of performance from Stafford and Rivers, yet there’s nearly three rounds that separates their ADP. When you see someone is a top-12 option less than 50 percent of the time, they obviously aren’t an every-week starter. Do you think Garoppolo is going to have better passing totals than Rivers or Roethlisberger? Neither do I, so stop drafting him above those guys. And no, Garoppolo doesn’t run the ball, so it all comes down to passing. Ryan may be safe, but he’s also just the Demaryius Thomas of fantasy quarterbacks. He won’t win you your league, but he also won’t lose it. Some have mocked Smith for his game-manager style over the years, but seeing what he’s capable last year and now with Jay Gruden, he should be considered one of the high-end streamers who might become a consistent top-10 option at the position.

Tier Seven (Rounds 12-14)

Patrick Mahomes
Marcus Mariota
Jared Goff
Mitch Trubisky

This is the “guys who might take the leap” tier. While many all on-board with Mahomes as a top-10 option, you never want to draft a guy with a breakout built into his price. The weapons are there and he plays in the right offense, but he’s played one NFL game. Some will say that Goff doesn’t belong here, but he’s going to need a lot more pass attempts if he wants to improve on his 2017 that had him finish as the QB12. He did flash some skills, so it’s possible, but as long as Todd Gurley is there, it’s hard to see a true breakout. Mariota has shown top-five upside before, but regressed as a passer in 2017. With Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor as full-time players, he could jump back into the QB1 conversation. Trubisky has a new offensive-minded head coach and will go from Dontrelle Inman/Josh Bellamy/Dion Sims starting lineup, to Allen Robinson/Anthony Miller/Trey Burton. If the talent is there (like I believe it is), it should come out in 2018.

Streamers with Upside

Dak Prescott
Andy Dalton
Tyrod Taylor
Eli Manning
Blake Bortles
Jameis Winston
Derek Carr
Case Keenum

These are the quarterbacks who I believe should be approached strictly as streamers in 2018, as it’s hard to see any of them having every-week viability. Prescott has been much better than most want to give credit, but losing Dez Bryant and Jason Witten hurts more than most think. If you believe Prescott has been overrated, this should change your mind.

Player Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % Boom % Bust %
Kirk Cousins 28.1% 46.9% 65.6% 21.9% 34.4%
Dak Prescott 25.0% 53.1% 68.8% 15.6% 34.4%

 

Those are the numbers of Cousins and Prescott over the last two years combined, but Cousins’ weapons improved this offseason, forcing many to vault him into the top-eight territory, but would Prescott be there if Bryant/Witten were still on the team? He’s been better than you think and might impress even me in 2018, but I’m legit concerned about the lack of weapons. If Taylor was guaranteed to start all 16 games, he’d be inside my top-15 quarterbacks, but Baker Mayfield is the real deal and could take over at some point. Dalton has finished top-18 in each year of his career, but has been very lackluster the last two seasons. Manning has a whole bunch of toys in the offense and could shock some people, but expecting every-week viability at this point in his career would be a mistake. Bortles always finishes top-15, but he’s not a top-15 quarterback in terms of usability. Winston could make the leap into the top-10, but is suspended for the first three games, making him undraftable. Carr has been massively overrated by the fantasy community and would need a Sean McVay-type coordinator to make him reliable, and Jon Gruden is not that. Keenum should be a stable streamer who doesn’t bust all that often.


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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