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Was Waiting on a QB Strategy Effective in 2020?

Jun 15, 2021

One strategy in fantasy football that I have championed for many seasons is not taking a quarterback in the first five rounds of a fantasy draft. My reasoning for that involves two undeniable facts. First, in most leagues, you only play one quarterback per week, versus at least three running backs or wide receivers per week. It is more important to have top-tier running backs and wide receivers when all fantasy owners are looking for elite talent at those positions than to have the best quarterback in fantasy football at a position where there are many great options.

The other reason waiting to take a quarterback in fantasy football can be beneficial is that the NFL rules favor explosive passing numbers. Usually, the 20th ranked fantasy quarterback is also the 30th ranked fantasy player overall. Many average NFL quarterbacks put up big fantasy numbers. It is relatively easy to find a quarterback that is outside the top-tier and use that quarterback to obtain great fantasy numbers against a bad fantasy defense. It is not as easy to stream running backs and wide receivers each week that are not the focal point of their offenses and obtain similar results. Their touches can be very volatile, and you end up playing a player with an extremely low floor that sees very few targets or touches for the game.

I am going to demonstrate why waiting on a quarterback is an effective strategy by looking at both last year’s fantasy results and this year’s fantasy projections. You will be able to see both how streaming quarterbacks could have worked to your advantage last year and how you can utilize this strategy to maximize your fantasy roster in 2021.

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If you look at the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks of the 2020 season, the two quarterbacks that everyone wanted to take early were Patrick Mahomes II and Lamar Jackson. Mahomes II had an ADP of 14, and Jackson had an ADP of 17. There was a huge drop-off after those two quarterbacks, Dak Prescott was the third-ranked fantasy quarterback at 47th. After Prescott, several big names were scattered in the rankings until Tom Brady rounded out the top-10 with an ADP of 81 overall.

Mahomes II and Jackson were not fantasy disappointments, both of them finished in the top-10 in total fantasy points. Mahomes was a little disappointing down the stretch, averaging 21.76 fantasy points over his final four games. That is great for a streaming quarterback, not great for a quarterback taken in the second round. Jackson was a star down the stretch. He was second in the league in fantasy points scored over the final five weeks, averaging 27.67 fantasy points per game. The problem is that even with that great finish, he was still 10th overall among fantasy quarterbacks. That shows that he did not live up to that high draft position early in the season.

For fantasy owners that were patient, there were some excellent quarterbacks taken after the fifth round. Josh Allen was the best fantasy quarterback in the NFL last year, and his ADP was 82nd. Aaron Rodgers was the MVP of the league, and his ADP was 76th. Tom Brady was the eighth-ranked quarterback, and he had an ADP of 81. Ryan Tannehill had an ADP of 132, and he was the seventh-ranked fantasy quarterback. Justin Herbert was available on waivers to start the season, and he was the ninth-ranked fantasy quarterback, and he did not even start in Week 1.

I just do not see the necessity of taking a quarterback in the first five rounds. There are so many good quarterbacks available in the sixth round or later that put up big fantasy numbers. Fantasy owners that took Mahomes II and Jackson that early in fantasy football drafts did not receive enough fantasy points compared to players available much later in fantasy drafts to justify that high draft position. The fantasy owners that took those two star quarterbacks had good quarterback production, but at the cost of an elite running back or wide receiver.

Let's say that you stayed away from those two quarterbacks but did not end up with Allen, Brady, or Rodgers. Maybe you took Prescott in the fifth round or Brees in the eighth round and had to deal with their injury issues. You may have needed to go to the waiver wire to find a quarterback after Prescott was lost for the season in Week 5, or Brees suffered an injury in Week 10 and missed a month recovering from the injury.

The waiver wire is not a bad place to find productive quarterbacks in fantasy football, which shows you can wait even longer than the sixth round to find a fantasy quarterback. Chances are that names like Baker MayfieldTaysom HillPhilip RiversDaniel JonesJalen Hurts, and Kirk Cousins were available on waivers in Week 5 when Prescott was injured. While you would not want to start any of those quarterbacks every week, streaming them can produce excellent results.

Here is what you could have done starting in Week 6 to navigate that unfortunate quarterback situation. Rivers had 25.74 fantasy points against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6 and 22.28 fantasy points against the Detroit Lions in Week 8. In between those two solid matchups, you could have streamed Baker Mayfield against the Cincinnati Bengals and picked up 30.78 fantasy points.

Then you could have claimed Cam Newton in Week 9 and tallied 24.56 fantasy points against the New York Jets. In Week 10, you could have rolled with Daniel Jones and tallied 22.16 fantasy points against the Philadelphia Eagles defense.

By that time, Drew Brees would have been injured, and you could have claimed Taysom Hill off waivers. Hill would have given you 21.57 fantasy points per game for the next four weeks and given you some stability at the quarterback position. Once Brees returned from his injury, you could have picked up Jalen Hurts for Week 14-16 and averaged 25.89 fantasy points per game. If you had a Week 17 game and were nervous that Doug Pederson was going to bench Jalen Hurts, you could have gone back to Cam Newton and tallied 37.48 fantasy points in the season finale against the New York Jets.

None of these moves required a Ph.D. in fantasy football. Playing against the Jaguars, Bengals, Lions, Texans, and Jets last year were usually solid decisions in fantasy football. What that waiver wire maneuvering did for your team is netted you a total of 326.95 fantasy points from Week 6 to Week 17 or an average of 27.24 fantasy points per game. That would have been more fantasy points than Josh Allen averaged on the entire season.

I am not naïve to the challenges of streaming quarterbacks. Those scenarios I gave you would mean that you threaded the needle correctly every week. It means that you had the waiver wire position to claim those quarterbacks and not worry about another owner with a higher waiver wire position claiming the quarterback.

Sometimes good matchups do not pan out, and the later you wait to take a quarterback, the lower the floor is going to be for that player, even in great matchups. The advantage to just going with Patrick Mahomes II or Lamar Jackson is that you just plugged in that quarterback for the season and did not have to worry about poor performances. Those elite quarterbacks have such high floors that you usually do not need to worry about a single-digit game at quarterback. Streaming quarterbacks do not always produce, and a bad week at quarterback can cost you if you go up against a more stable quarterback that week.

It is still my opinion, though, that quarterback is the easiest position to hit a home run in later in the draft, and it is the easiest position to stream if your decision does not work out in your favor. It is a worthwhile gamble to wait on a quarterback until after the fifth round. Josh Allen, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers all had great seasons, and they were all available after the eighth round in many fantasy drafts. Your chances of finding a steal at quarterback after the fifth round are very good, and if you make the wrong pick, you can easily recover on the waiver wire and still compete for a fantasy title. I would rather have that problem than not having enough good running backs or wide receivers and having to stream players at those positions due to injuries and poor depth. Having to stream multiple running back and wide receiver positions each week with role players for the entire season is a great recipe for missing the playoffs.

As for coming up with a good quarterback strategy this year, I think there are several good directions you could go outside of taking a quarterback early in your fantasy draft that will allow you to dominate fantasy leagues. Russell Wilson has an ADP of 66, and he should be available in the sixth or seventh round. You can spend a draft pick on him and have a very good chance of drafting a top-10 quarterback. Wilson has been in the top-10 eight of his nine seasons, and the one season he was not in the top-10, he ranked 11th.

You could pair him with Matthew Stafford, who plays the Tennessee Titans in Week 9 (Seattle bye week), a team that was 29th against fantasy quarterbacks last year. Stafford is the 98th overall player, and he will likely be available in the 10th round. You could pair Wilson with Baker Mayfield at the 133rd pick, who had 30.8 fantasy points at Cincinnati last year and plays at Cincinnati in Week 9 this year. You could pair him with Carson Wentz at the 134th pick, who plays the New York Jets in Week 9, a team that ranked 30th against fantasy quarterbacks. Wentz also plays in one of the best divisions for fantasy quarterbacks, as the Houston Texans (19th), Jacksonville Jaguars (28th), and Tennessee Titans (29th) against fantasy quarterbacks all reside in the AFC South. Any of those combinations should allow you to have a great fantasy quarterback matchup every week.

Otherwise, if you want to be even more aggressive and wait longer for a quarterback, I think Trevor Lawrence offers a lot of potential as the 121st overall player. Even though Jacksonville does not figure to be a very good team this year, Lawrence should play immediately, and he has a great schedule against the bad defenses of the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans and a last-place schedule. His team is not very good, they will likely be behind a lot this year, and he should have to throw the ball a ton. He may not end up being a very efficient player, but a good fantasy option due to volume and garbage time fantasy production.

After him, Daniel Jones is going 138th in fantasy drafts, he plays against the bad defenses of the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, and he plays a Carolina team in Week 7 that was 23rd against fantasy quarterbacks in 2020. Week 7 is the bye week for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Lawrence plays the Indianapolis Colts on the Giants bye week, who were 11th against fantasy quarterbacks. It is not a great matchup, but certainly not an impossible one.

The bottom line is that 20 quarterbacks tallied 250 or more fantasy points, and five quarterbacks were still taken in the first round of the NFL Draft this year. Passing numbers are at an all-time high. Many of the quarterbacks that are not elite throwers can generate fantasy points running the football, and the streaming combinations at quarterback are endless in fantasy football. It is easier than ever to stream marginal quarterbacks against bad fantasy defenses than any other position. While some people will go with the comfortable pick of an elite fantasy quarterback early in fantasy drafts, the fantasy owners that are willing to load up on running backs and wide receivers early and take quarterbacks later in the draft have the chance to have a deeper team that is better positioned to make the fantasy playoffs and win a fantasy championship.

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Derek Lofland is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Derek, check out his archive and follow him @DerekLofland.

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