As we gear up for the 2023 fantasy football best ball season, it’s important to reflect on the past and analyze the factors that contributed to the successes and failures of quarterbacks and other positions. In this article, we’ll delve into the “why” behind these outcomes to provide a comprehensive draft primer for early fantasy football drafters. With the summer of best ball now upon us, let’s kick off the quarterback breakdown and get ready to DOMINATE our drafts.
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.
Two of the five QBs drafted inside the top 5 (based on ADP) finished with a top-5 advance rate.
Half of the top-8 quarterbacks (albeit QBs 5-8) with the best advance rates were drafted from the QB16-QB25 range. Jalen Hurts narrowly missed top-5 draft status as the QB6 off the board. Investing in a top-five QB based on ADP was not a bad investment. Even Lamar Jackson (QB4) had an above-average advance rate despite missing the latter half of the season.
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. However, the idea behind stacking was still the correct process, as there’s a strong correlation between the top QBs and their pass-catchers regarding 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, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Lockett, Travis Kelce – 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.
Case in point, Tyreek Hill owned the highest advance rate from Round 1 (36%) among WRs and because a lot of teams that drafted Hill also rostered Tua Tagovailoa, it’s no surprise to see the Dolphins quarterback finish with a high advance rate even with his games missed.
For some additional context, I also looked back at the win rate percentage from the FFPC best ball drafts from 2021, and 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.
In 2022 FFPC drafts, Mahomes, Hurts, Jones, Smith and Goff posted top-5 win rates, with Mahomes the lone quarterback selected with a top-5 ADP.
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 gung-ho 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.
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, it’s highly anticipated that Chicago Bears’ quarterback, Justin Fields, will make a significant leap in his performance. Not only did he finish last season as QB6 in points per game with 20.6, but during his 11 games played from Weeks 5-17, he ranked as QB5 in points per game with 24.1.
Moreover, the Bears have made significant improvements to their supporting cast in the offseason, which sets the stage for Fields to continue his upward trajectory and become a star fantasy producer in Year 3.
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, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cedric Tillman, Nick Chubb and David Njoku. Plus, Watson will benefit from an entire offseason to prepare as the Browns’ full-time starter in 2023.
Geno Smith is my other favorite quarterback in this tier, because chances are he’s not valued here by the consensus, but he should be. The 32-year-old proved all his fantasy doubters wrong in his first year as Seattle’s fully-entrenched starter, finishing as the fantasy QB6 while averaging 19 fantasy points per game (QB8). The only QBs that scored more points per game than Smith last season were Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Justin Fields, and Lamar Jackson. Additionally, all the Seahawks did during the draft was invest in No. 1 WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba. QB16 is still too cheap for Chef Geno in early best ball ADP. He should be viewed as a low-end fantasy QB1.
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.
When I first wrote this piece back in January, Russell Wilson stood out to me. I was 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.
However, he has slipped down to Q18 in my rankings due to some other quarterback risers in this tier.
Most notably, the rookie quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, Anthony Richardson. His uber-athletic ability with the right coaching staff will help unlock his sky-high ceiling. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him become the Day 1 starter with Gardner Minshew as the only competition. He is my favorite bet to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Richardson’s landing spot is by far the best among the rookie signal callers.
Outside the top three tiers, it becomes more of a crapshoot. It’s mostly filled with younger QBs (or rookies) that have 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 and QB3, 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) and FFPC win rate (9%, 14th) 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. Pittsburgh did an excellent job revamping their offensive line this season, so it shouldn’t be surprising to see Pickett take substantial strides in Year 2.
Desmond Ridder also stands out to me in the last tier. With Bijan Robinson, Kyle Pitts and Drake London at his disposal, one would think Ridder can facilitate an offense that can win games in 2023. And there’s some fantasy sleeper appeal with his game considering he offers mobility. Ridder rushed for over 2,700 yards during his four-year college career (58 per game).
That combined with elite weaponry, suggests he can make some noise as a late-round fantasy quarterback in 2023. Recall that Marcus Mariota was a top-20 fantasy quarterback last season in points per game and who can forget how well Ryan Tannehill played for fantasy under Smith’s coaching in Tennessee?
It’s an offense that relies heavily on play action and Ridder was PFF’s 3rd-highest graded QB when using play action during his final season at Cincinnati. No. 1, you ask, in last year’s class? Brock Purdy. Mic drop.