Fantasy Football Best Ball Leagues Draft Primer: Quarterback (2023)
The easiest way to kick off any positional primer is to take a look back at what happened the year before. What worked, what didn’t work – but most importantly, addressing the “WHY” behind the successes and failures.
That’s how I’ll start the breakdown of the quarterbacks and every other position for early fantasy football drafters as we look ahead to the 2023 best ball season. Because with best ball, it’s never too early to start drafting.
2023 Best Ball Draft Strategy & Advice: Quarterbacks
Here’s what you should know about quarterbacks as you prepare for your best ball drafts.
Quarterback Advance Rates
We can leverage alive and advance rates from Underdog’s Best Ball Mania III tournament to get a better understanding of which quarterbacks (Weeks 1-14) helped teams advance at the highest rate into the playoffs (Weeks 15-17). Using alive rates and advance rates is helpful because it’s already factoring in the draft day cost of the player compared to their raw points scored.
The highest QB alive rates came from Kirk Cousins (26%, ADP QB15), Jalen Hurts (22%, QB6), Joe Burrow (19%, QB7), Trevor Lawrence (15%, QB18), Tua Tagovailoa (14%, QB17), Patrick Mahomes (13%, QB3) and Josh Allen (13%, QB1).
The important takeaway here includes that zero QBs drafted inside the top 5 (based on ADP) finished with a top-5 alive rate. Three were drafted from the QB15-QB18 range. But that’s not to say that taking a top-five QB was an entirely bad investment, with both Allen and Mahomes finishing tied for sixth in alive rate.
However, in the cases of Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson – all of them finished with sub-3% alive rates – not getting top-end production for a season’s entirety nuked teams with their expensive costs. A big part of those QBs failing was also due to injuries, whether to them or their pass-catchers. Ergo, stacking Chargers, Cardinals and Ravens was not effective in the aggregate and made it tough for teams with those rosters to make it through the regular season. But the idea behind stacking was still the correct process, as there’s a strong correlation between the top QBs and their pass-catchers in regard to positive advancement.
Case in point, Justin Jefferson had the highest alive rate at 41%. And because a lot of teams that drafted Jefferson also had Kirk Cousins, it’s no surprise to see the Vikings quarterback finish with a high advance rate. Running down the list of WRs/TEs with best-advance rates – DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Tee Higgins, Zay Jones – it’s easy to see the correlation with the optimal QBs.
Among the ten quarterbacks with the highest alive rates, eight out of 10 finished inside the top 10 in total points scored and points per game. Tua Tagovailoa and Dak Prescott missed games but posted strong points per game averages. Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff were outside the top 12 in per-game production but made up for it with longevity and availability.
For some additional context, I also looked back win rate percentage from the FFPC best ball drafts from 2021. The results were strikingly similar. Among the top-5 QBs in ADP, just one (Josh Allen) returned a top-5 win rate. The other QBs being drafted were selected from QB6-QB15 among the top seven.
Simply put, you NEED to acquire top-10 fantasy quarterback production in some form on your roster. And last year’s results suggest this can be done in a multitude of ways. You can still happily draft a top-five quarterback by ADP standards, but don’t necessarily be so gun-hoe on taking the first QB off the board. Again, Mahomes and Allen finished first and second, respectively, in points scored, but neither was the top advancing quarterback. The top advancing QBs were being drafted later but still early relative to the double-digit rounds.
I’d highly recommend a late-round “elite” quarterback approach for your first quarterback target. You want to be drafting the QBs at the back end of the elite tier of fantasy QBs to capitalize on the value while also capturing a high ceiling.
And for your second quarterback – you should draft at least two good quarterbacks in best ball – follow a pseudo-late-round QB approach. It’s probably better described as a middle-round approach considering the best hits from this past season came from the QB15-21 range (Picks 115-165). But here you are looking for a steady body that can stay healthy/active for a full 18-game season. Looking for pocket passers with high projected passing volume (perfect for stacking) or guys with mobility are the ideal targets.
Among the QBs being drafted outside the top 100 picks (QB15-21), the ones that moved on the most played for teams that attempted at least 550 passes. And the ones that didn’t were the Daniel Jones/Justin Fields rushing fantasy quarterbacks. Among the top-10 quarterbacks last season in total points scored, eight rushed for at least 250 yards.
Call it the 55-25 rule. Can quarterback “X” throw 550-plus times and/or rush for 250 yards? Those are your top targets.
I’ve laid out my current best-ball QB rankings/tiers so you can better recognize the groups of players you should be targeting for the highest ROI.
Andrew Erickson’s Best Ball Quarterback Rankings & Tiers
The creme de la creme of the quarterback position is the first tier. I envision scenarios where any of these guys can finish top three, if not No. 1 overall, at the quarterback position. They are proven commodities who have either already done it or achieved top-tier status in spurts. I’d do my best to acquire at least one of these signal-callers in my best ball drafts while also trying to get the best value. Therefore whichever one the market deems as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback – I likely will not be drafting except in stacking scenarios.
Justin Fields seems the most logical target factoring in his upside and price. He finished last season as QB6 in points per game (20.6). And in his 11 games played from Weeks 5-17…Fields ranked as the QB5 in points per game (24.1). The Bears are littered with cap space to add playmakers to Fields’ disposal, making him an easy candidate for a significant Year 3 leap.
I don’t feel as great about these guys finishing among the league’s top fantasy QBs because they either haven’t done it yet or haven’t done it in some time. But each has flashed the ceiling at some point which has me interested in drafting them.
Specifically, Deshaun Watson seems like a potential best-ball quarterback winner if he can recapture a QB1 overall form from his days with the Houston Texans. His return in 2022 was horrible, but it’s excusable based on so much missed time. He has weapons ranging from Amari Cooper to David Njoku and an entire offseason to prepare as the Browns’ full-time starter in 2023.
This next tier contains the steady bodies. Included are a surplus of quarterbacks who probably don’t have an elite upside – or have other glaring issues – but are still useful in the best-ball format because of the consistency they can bring to the table. It’s the sweet spot to draft your second fantasy QB2 at value. Remember, you need to draft two “good” quarterbacks in the best-ball format, which is a different approach from traditional redraft leagues.
I like Russell Wilson in this range, and I am betting on him to bounce back after a disastrous first season with the Denver Broncos. New head coach Sean Payton and healthy offensive weapons should pay dividends for Russ to return to the good graces of fantasy managers. His days as an elite asset are long gone with his decline in rushing, but what he showed without Nathaniel Hackett in the Broncos’ last two games — 8.1 yards per attempt and two passing TDs per game — have me intrigued.
Outside the top three tiers, it becomes more of a crapshoot. It’s mostly filled with younger QBs (or rookies) that been inconsistent up to this point in their NFL careers. Ideally, you aren’t selecting any of these guys as your locked-and-loaded fantasy QB2 because they come with much scarier floors. They are much better bets as QB3s. However, the risk is fully baked into the suppressed cost, making them super valuable if they drastically beat their ADP.
Mac Jones is the quarterback I am gravitating toward as a late-round option, with hopes he can carve out usage as a steady body (similar to Tier 3) at a fraction of the cost. Jones surprisingly had a pretty decent alive rate last season (7%, 12th) despite him finishing 36th in fantasy points per game among QBs. Woof. Keep in mind that when Jones operated from a clean pocket (a sticky stat for QBs from year to year), he was PFF’s 5th-highest passer. Things can only improve with Jones in Year 3 with Bill O’Brien returning to the Patriots as the offensive coordinator for the first time since 2011.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett could also experience growth in Year 2 after finishing his rookie season on a high note. From Weeks 12-18, Pickett was PFF’s highest-graded quarterback. He also added 235 rushing yards on the ground, putting him close to that desired 250 rushing yards threshold we should be aiming for our fantasy QBs to hit.
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