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2011 Draft Prep: Quarterback tiers and strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Dave Richard's Strategies & Tiers: RB | WR | TE | K & DST

At the very least, Fantasy owners should know that the quarterback talent pool is very, very deep this year. If you're in a league with 12 or fewer teams expect everyone to have a quality starter.

That makes talking quarterbacks fun, but it doesn't mean there aren't a slew of topics to cover.

The case against Vick in Round 1

I don't need to tell you why to draft Michael Vick. You know already. But there's too much working against him to make him the first player you take on Draft Day:

• He's injury prone (one 16-game season, four seasons with 12 or fewer games).

• His 2010 season was beyond exceptional -- he had his best TD-to-INT ratio ever, threw for over 3,000 yards for the first time ever, rushed for a career-high nine touchdowns and completed a career-best 62.6 percent of his passes.

• NFL coaches have had extra time this season to pour through game tape and come up with ideas to contain Vick. The Cowboys improved with the addition of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the Redskins have added depth to their defensive line and pass rush. Philly's opponents will be more prepared.

• His schedule is tougher this year -- matchups against the Jets, Patriots, Bears and Falcons loom large, as do his divisional matchups.

• For whatever it's worth, one of his top receivers didn't join the team until late into the preseason with an illness.

• For whatever it's worth, he did not have a sparkling preseason, especially struggling to read blitz coverage.

• And finally, supply and demand. There simply are too many good quarterbacks in Fantasy. Sure, Vick might score more Fantasy points on average than other quarterbacks, but the drop off from Vick to the others isn't so big that it warrants first-round consideration. Miss on Vick in Round 1 and your consolation prize is anyone from Drew Brees to Matt Ryan to even Eli Manning. Miss on an elite running back in Round 1 and your consolation prize is anxiety from drafting flawed rushers.

Zegura's Fantasy facts ...
Our Nathan Zegura shares his take on four QBs you may have to decide between on Draft Day
Tony Romo: On pace for 5,011 yards and 32 TDs before getting hurt last year ... Has arguably the best pass catching trio in the NFL with Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten ... Has been Top 5 Fantasy QB on a per game basis over the last five years ... One of only four QBs along with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning to have a consistency rate of better than 70 percent and a big game rate of better than 40 percent in games played over the last two years ... Has an active quarterback 5.7 percent TD rate, which is best in the NFL and leads the league with 250-plus yards passing in 81 percent of his starts over the last two years ... The ultimate value: Despite producing at an elite level, Romo can be drafted as the ninth QB on average: three-plus rounds after Aaron Rodgers and two rounds after Brees/Brady and Manning.
Philip Rivers: Over the last three years, Rivers is third in the NFL with 12,966 yards passing, third with 92 passing TDs, first with an 8.6 yards per attempt average and has scored the third most Fantasy points period ... He is fourth in the NFL with a 71 percent consistency rate over the last three years, trailing only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, so he delivers every single week ... His passing yards have increased in each of the last three seasons, culminating in a career high and NFL best 4,710 yards last year to go with 30 scores, despite having no real wide receivers and losing Antonio Gates for six games ... Now he will get Vincent Jackson back for a full season in 2011 and in their last season together (2009), Jackson accounted for 26 percent of the team's passing yards and 31 percent of their passing scores ... Value: Rivers is a model of consistency and production at the position and yet he never gets the love of the true elite: That is good news again for you as Rivers can be had two rounds after Rodgers and typically a round or so after Brees/Brady/Manning.
Matt Schaub: Second in the NFL with 9,117 yards over the last two years and seventh with 53 TDs, making him the sixth ranked Fantasy QB during that span ... He leads the NFL with 14 games of 300-plus yards over the last two seasons ... Has the best receiver in the NFL in Andre Johnson, a great pass catching running back in Arian Foster and gets a full season out of Owen Daniels (hopefully) in 2011 ... Top 5 in both consistency rate and big game rate on a per game basis over the last three years ... Improved his Red Zone TD Rate to 26 percent last season, so if he gets back into the top 10 in Red Zone chances (as he was in both 2008 and 2009 on a per game basis) he will be back towards 30 scores in 2011 ... Little downside with Schaub: Last year he set career lows in completion percentage (63.1), yards per attempt (7.6) and Red Zone attempts per game while handing the ball off to the NFL's leading rusher in and still threw for 4,369 yards and 24 TDs (not too Schaubby) ... Great Value: Schaub is the eighth QB taken on average: three-plus rounds after Rodgers and two rounds after Brady/Brees/Manning.
Matt Ryan: Last year, Ryan was at his absolute best as he set career highs in attempts (571), completions (357), completion percentage (62.5 percent), passing yards (3,705), TDs (28), TD/INT ratio (28-9), QB Rating (91), and Fantasy finish (eighth among all QBs) ... In my TFC Quarterback metrics, he set career highs with a 57 percent consistency rate, 25 percent big game rate, 15 games with a TD, nine games with multiple TDs and six games of 250-plus yards ... He had the monster season in 2010 without a legit No. 2 receiver in the offense ... Shockingly, Ryan was not ranked in the Top 20 in passes of 20-plus yards or 40-plus yards and his 6.5 yards per attempt was 26th best in the NFL among the 31 QBs who threw it 14 times per game ... In other words, he has tons of room to get better and with addition of Julio Jones, he will do just that. If he can just get to 7.5 yards per attempt (average for a good quarterback), Ryan would throw for 4,200 yards easily, which is exactly what I think will happen ... Jones will also provide another weapon in the Red Zone for Ryan, who really only had two options last year, so look for his 22 percent Red Zone TD rate to improve as well, so I think 30-plus TDs is a lock if he stays healthy ... Value: Ryan typically is going in fifth or sixth round of drafts (earlier at some places), but is still a four-round value over Rodgers/Vick and 2-3 rounds over Brady/Manning and Brees.
Nathan Zegura provides Fantasy Football analysis at thefantasyconsultant.com and will contribute to CBSSports.com throughout the 2011 Fantasy season.

Quarterbacks within the Top 40 picks

The general consensus is that Vick and Aaron Rodgers make up the premier duo of Fantasy quarterbacks, with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers following closely behind. No one should be unhappy getting one of those guys to lead their Fantasy teams. In fact, there's really no reason to break them down because they all have about the same expectations and all have pristine track records.

That's why it won't be uncommon to find all of these passers going within the first 40 picks in Fantasy (expect Brady within the Top 25). Here's the key: The later you can wait within those Top 40 picks to draft any of these quarterbacks, the better off you'll be.

But it's not so bad if you miss ...

The Value Elite

If you're like me, you like to find great deals. And if you're like me, you'll wait until at least Round 4 to draft your first quarterback this year.

Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger have very good expectations -- not quite as big as the previous five quarterbacks but still very good. Their potential, however, is as strong as the first six. Romo was on his way to over 5,000 yards passing last season before he got hurt. Schaub has over 9,000 yards passing over his last two seasons and is averaging over 280 yards per game over his last three seasons. Ryan is on the brink of super stardom on a team that added promising rookie Julio Jones and plays 12 of 16 games indoors. Roethlisberger has topped 275 yards per game on average over the last two seasons, scored 46 total touchdowns over that span and has a nice slate like Ryan does. And of course, Manning is as consistent as they come but he's been bogged down by this neck problem and can't be considered safe for the start of the season. But any or all of these guys have a shot at landing Top-5 stats by the end of 2011.

So why in the world would you draft Rodgers or Vick or the other three quarterbacks early when you could wait until Round 4 and get one of these five? By the time you think about one of these passers, you'll already have a nice combination of rushers and receivers with your first few picks. And you can set your watch to these guys: none of them will go off the board until Rivers has been picked, and once Manning and Romo are selected you can expect Schaub and Ryan to follow within 15 picks and Roethlisberger another 10 to 15 picks later.

And then, there's Stafford

Probably the biggest buzz player -- at any position -- in drafts is Matthew Stafford. The guy's got a lot going for him: He's got Calvin Johnson, among others, to throw to; he's in an offense that might throw 550 or more times this year; and he's got a cannon for an arm. The con: The aforementioned cannon has been broken three times over the last two years, with Stafford playing just nine quarters of football in 2010. Stafford has surgery to correct his shoulder and there's reason to believe he won't be hindered by it again after Dr. James Andrews worked on him (Andrews performed a similar surgery on Sam Bradford before he made his rookie debut last year). Stafford doesn't have Top-10 Fantasy quarterback potential -- he's got Top-5 Fantasy quarterback potential, and that's what makes him alluring. In fact, he's pretty much like Michael Vick in that he's a high-upside passer with injury concerns, except his Draft Day price tag is far friendlier than Vick's. Keep that in mind when you start to consider him in Round 7. Just play it safe and back him up with another capable quarterback.

Still going ...

Unless your league has 11 or fewer owners, someone's going to lose out on getting one of the aforementioned superb, reliable passers. But that doesn't mean an owner will miss out on getting stats out of their starting quarterback. Josh Freeman and Eli Manning might be undesirable compared to the aforementioned Fantasy passers, but it's more because of who else is in the Top 12 and not a reflection of their skills.

Freeman's arm came alive last year with 25 touchdowns vs. six interceptions while Manning posted back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons. Both have elite receivers at their disposal along with a powerful run game to help them out. They're really not terribly different than the first 11 quarterbacks but don't have the sharp upside that the others do. Consider them both good enough to pencil in as No. 1 options, but don't hesitate to take a backup just in case they don't deliver like you hoped for.

Quarterbacks go deep in '11

An added twist to the Fantasy quarterback class of 2011 is that there are some intriguing backup options to check out.

After Stafford was elevated earlier this summer, the hot name among the No. 2 Fantasy quarterbacks is Sam Bradford, St. Louis' young sensation. Last year he threw for over 3,500 yards with 18 touchdowns (including 17 in his first 12 games). This year he gets Josh McDaniels to coordinate his offense, and the results could be outstanding. McDaniels has been responsible for outstanding seasons by Tom Brady, Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton, so Bradford could easily be next.

Kevin Kolb in Arizona is another young passer with rich upside for owners to check into. He's got Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Todd Heap to sling to, but that's it. He'll have to cultivate the other talents but he remains a sleeper ... kind of like how he was a year ago when he was Andy Reid's prized gunslinger.

And would you believe that Fantasy stalwarts you know about such as Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton are also among the players you'll find after Round 9 or 10 in most drafts? Told you quarterbacks were deep this season.

The gutsiest QB draft strategy of all-time

I want to give you some food for thought, something you might not have put in your head. Obviously this strategy depends on your league's scoring system, so consider it with your league(s) in mind.

Because there are so many good but not elite quarterbacks this year, a Fantasy owner could conceivably pass on passers for the first seven rounds in their drafts. Then load up on them.

Here's the idea: Spend those early-round choices on running backs and receivers. Then target the two best available options from the remaining quarterbacks, with Stafford, Freeman, Eli Manning and Bradford high on your list. Then draft one more quarterback soon thereafter, potentially one of the four named here. And then, draft one more -- a Flacco, a Cassel, an Orton or a Colt McCoy.

If you had asked me months ago, I would have said drafting three quarterbacks is a bad idea. But if you're loading up at other spots, the need to pick up quality backups for them isn't as great because you're picking players you'll never bench with those early choices. You can also dawdle to take a tight end, taking advantage of that deep talent pool. Additionally, the kind of talent left at running back and wide receiver by Rounds 8 through 10 is quite unimpressive compared to the talented quarterbacks left behind. And if you strike gold with a quarterback pick in Round 8 or later, you'll greatly improve your chances of making the playoffs. Oh, and you'll have three shots at finding that quarterback.

A sample draft using this strategy picking from the fifth slot:

Round 1: Jamaal Charles Round 8: Santana Moss
Round 2: Frank Gore Round 9: Sam Bradford
Round 3: Brandon Marshall Round 10: Jimmy Graham
Round 4: Marques Colston Round 11: Javon Ringer
Round 5: Santonio Holmes Round 12: Roy Helu
Round 6: Beanie Wells Round 13: Kyle Orton
Round 7: Matthew Stafford Rounds 14, 15: A DST, a kicker

The whole theory is to mix and match quarterbacks based on their matchups during the season while leaning on the best available talent at the other positions week in and week out. It could backfire if you whiff on quarterbacks or if you take on some injuries, but that could happen with any draft strategy you use.

I'm not telling you this is the right way to draft quarterbacks this year, just that it's one way to draft quarterbacks this year.

Two-quarterback leagues

We've seen a rise in formats that either start two quarterbacks or start a quarterback and a flex that can be a quarterback. Obviously, the more quarterbacks you can start, the greater emphasis there is on drafting them.

It is very common to see signal callers dominate the first two rounds of two-QB drafts simply because of need. You'll also see more than 32 quarterbacks taken in the entire draft. Your best strategy is to plan on taking a quarterback with your first pick unless there's a big steal at running back waiting for you. If that happens, then consider taking two passers with your next three or four picks. If you take a quarterback first, then the pressure isn't on to take another so soon, and you can probably even value-hunt another passer before the end of Round 4.

Brad Smith and Joe Webb: Game changers?

The Bills signed Brad Smith, a career wide receiver, and listed him as a quarterback. The Vikings kept Joe Webb on their roster as a quarterback but might line him up at receiver this year. If you're in the stages of a draft (namely a two-QB draft) and are desperate for help, consider Smith first and then Webb. Smith is expected to see a good amount of playing time for the Bills but not always under center. Webb might not get the same kind of playing time but could still work his way into the mix if injuries befall Vikings players like last season. Smith is particularly interesting because of that guaranteed playing time, but he'd have to be on the field a lot and record a glut of stats in order for him to be considered for Fantasy use in standard leagues. Nevertheless, these are new options in an ever-changing game for Fantasy owners to just remember, if not utilize.

The Tiers

By popular demand, we're posting our quarterback rankings into tiers. Now owners can get a feel for what expectations are out there for a passer, and who else at the position has those same expectations.

Major Elite Elite Value Elite
350+ FPTS 320+ FPTS 290+ FPTS
Aaron Rodgers Tom Brady Peyton Manning
Michael Vick Drew Brees Tony Romo
  Philip Rivers Matt Schaub
    Matt Ryan
    Ben Roethlisberger
Very Good No. 2 Upside No. 2 Less Upside
260+ FPTS 230+ FPTS 210+ FPTS
Matthew Stafford Joe Flacco Colt McCoy
Josh Freeman Sam Bradford Kyle Orton
Eli Manning Jay Cutler Mark Sanchez
  Matt Cassel Donovan McNabb
  Kevin Kolb Cam Newton
    Chad Henne

Annual Bye-Week Cheat Sheet

This might be the only reason why you clicked on this page: Our annual quick-reference chart of who's playing who when the starting quarterback you draft is on bye. We've compiled a list of the best No. 2 Fantasy quarterbacks based on their weekly matchups from Week 5 to Week 11. This should help you draft an ideal backup quarterback in about 15 seconds.

Bye QBs on bye No. 2 Fantasy QBs with projected good matchups
Week 5 Tony Romo Jason Campbell (at HOU), Jay Cutler (at DET), Andy Dalton (at JAC), David Garrard (vs. CIN)
Week 6 Philip Rivers Jason Campbell (vs. CLE), Joe Flacco (vs. HOU), Colt McCoy (at OAK), Alex Smith (at DET)
Week 7 Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Michael Vick Matt Cassel (at OAK), Joe Flacco (at JAC), Rex Grossman (at CAR), Tarvaris Jackson (at CLE), Colt McCoy (vs. SEA), Cam Newton (vs. WAS), Kyle Orton (at MIA)
Week 8 Josh Freeman, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan Andy Dalton (at SEA), Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. WAS), Rex Grossman (at BUF), Tarvaris Jackson (vs. CIN), Donovan McNabb (at CAR), Kyle Orton (vs. DET), Alex Smith (vs. CLE)
Week 9 Matthew Stafford Matt Cassel (vs. MIA), Rex Grossman (vs. SF), Matt Hasselbeck (vs. CIN), Kevin Kolb (vs. STL), Colt McCoy (at HOU), Kyle Orton (at OAK), Mark Sanchez (at BUF)
Week 11 Drew Brees, Peyton Manning,
Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub
Sam Bradford (vs. SEA), Joe Flacco (vs. CIN), Chad Henne (vs. BUF), Colt McCoy (vs. JAC), Donovan McNabb (vs. OAK), Cam Newton (at DET)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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