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2012 Draft Prep: QB tiers and strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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• Dave Richard's tiers and strategies: Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Kicker/DST

When it comes to quarterbacks, you must first decide when to take a quarterback, then decide who. And these will be the two biggest decisions you make on Draft Day.

Four factors will help you make the call on the when:

• What's the scoring like for quarterbacks?
• How many quarterbacks can you start?
• How many teams are in the league?
• What's your personal preference on quarterbacks?

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The more points quarterbacks get compared to everyone else, the more valuable they become. The more quarterbacks you can start, the hotter the commodity they become. The more teams in your league, the more desirable they become. These things are obvious; personal preference is not.

Some people are locked into taking an elite quarterback as soon as possible because those reliable, established ones have the tendency to score lots of points on a weekly basis and be counted on to play every game. Some people prefer to wait for a quarterback, instead picking up quality players at other positions before going with a signal-caller who might not score as consistently but still be productive. Others will wait longer for a passer knowing one will be there at a great draft value, forfeiting consistency.

The only right answer is that there's no wrong answer. Whether you decide to take a quarterback in Round 1 or 2 or wait until halfway through the draft, you're not exactly putting yourself in a dangerous position provided you can only start one and that the league has 12 or fewer teams.

Let's help figure out which way you might want to go.

Go early
Rounds: 1-2
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton
Pros: These are rock-solid starters with 20-point expectations from week to week. Of the group, only Stafford carries injury risk, but the truth is if you're taking a quarterback this early you're never going to bench him (or at least you hope not!). Therefore, it's not as necessary to draft a backup; you can always find someone to fill in on the bye week later. That opens up a roster spot for an extra player, perhaps a running back.
Cons: By spending a top-round pick on a quarterback, you pass on the chance to draft an elite non-quarterback. Statistically that might not be a big deal because quarterbacks put up a ton of points, but if you have to start two or more running backs and two or more receivers, you'll either have to get lucky in your draft or do some detective work in the middle rounds for low-end starters.
When I'll use this strategy: Leagues with 14-plus teams, leagues that start multiple quarterbacks and 12-team non-PPR leagues when I pick toward the middle/end of the first round. I'll never pick a quarterback with an early or middle first-round pick in 10-team leagues knowing everyone will have an all-star quarterback. Round 2 or maybe 3 is when I'll lift a finger for a passer in those smaller formats. If there are heavy yardage bonuses I'll lean toward this crew.

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Go early-middle
Rounds: 4-5
Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers
Pros: To get one of these guys would still mean burning a valuable pick, but not one of your first two (or maybe even four) selections. That should give you a chance to land some elite and very good talent and still get a quarterback capable of at least 15 points per week.
Cons: They're not bad, but they're not elite. Potential to be? Sure, but not quite as reliable as the first five are thought to be. But that's why you're drafting them here and not there. There are some injury risks here with Vick and Peyton Manning so getting a backup for those is a must, but the rest don't require one.
When I'll use this strategy: In most 12-team PPR and all 10-teams leagues. So basically this is the most common draft plan I'll propose, especially if I'm picking in the Top 3 overall.

Go middle
Rounds: 6-7
Quarterbacks: Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger
Pros: Excellent value -- you'll get a quarterback after you've drafted at least five starters at other positions. Plus the pressure is on your opponents to get players at those other positions while you can strategize your way into a starter. And expectations aren't too bad for these guys as they'll score close to (if not more) than the early-middle quarterbacks.
Cons: More risk with this pair than the others, though not much. Both are capable of laying an egg more than a few times during the year. Backups are necessary in case they struggle or get hurt, but you could land one in the ensuing round.
When I'll use this strategy: I don't mind waiting for Romo (not so much Big Ben) in Round 6 or 7, but I'll need the draft to fall the right way. That means I'll try to land Romo as late as possible, then follow him up with an upside-laden backup a couple of rounds later. Typically this might happen to me in 12-team leagues.

Go crazy
Rounds: 8-plus
Quarterbacks: Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Robert Griffin III, Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck, etc ...
Pros: In theory the rest of your roster will be stocked because you've waited this long. And if you hit it big with a quarterback that outperforms expectations (think Stafford or Newton last year) you should be on your way to your league's playoffs. Going with back-to-back quarterback picks using this strategy makes sense as you give yourself two options to start weekly and two chances for an overachiever.
Cons: You're committing to playing the matchups every week if you take two non-No. 1 Fantasy quarterbacks. There's significant risk as no one in this group can consistently put up over 15 Fantasy points per week. And there's definitely some uncertainty as every passer has some question marks. If you get unlucky with other players on your Fantasy team and your quarterbacks don't step up you're sunk.
When I'll use this strategy: Not often -- maybe in 14-plus team PPR formats. In fact, I'd have to wait and wait for a quarterback only to get besmirched by a rival who takes his second passer before I get my first. But I'm not opposed to going with a Cutler-Schaub battery if I'm picking near the end of a round and have picks in close proximity and can get them both.

The 4-10 split

It's understandable to want a great Fantasy quarterback. How many owners won big last year with one of the guys ranked in the Top 5? But whether you can't bring yourself to take one with a Top 24 pick or come out of the first two rounds without one because other owners ate them up, keep this idea in your back pocket.

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Basically we're looking for a quarterback in Round 4 and another in Round 10 to serve as our options for the year. The choices we'll have in Round 4 will be along the lines of Ryan, maybe Vick, Rivers and a Manning. Pair one of those guys with a sleeper in Round 10, maybe someone as good as Cutler or Luck. The basis is to lean on the guy you draft in Round 4 and hope the 10th rounder plays out of his mind and can be good trade bait.

This year's Cam?

Drafting a sure thing in Round 1 is nice, but everyone wants to land the sleeper quarterback who develops into a Top 10 Fantasy choice. While we can't guarantee that any of these quarterbacks will finish as Top 10 options, we do recognize their potential and wouldn't list them here if they couldn't get into that Top 10. Give them some thought late in drafts as a second (or even third) quarterback.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati: There's a lot to be excited about here. He's got the stud receiver (A.J. Green), the burly tight end (Jermaine Gresham), some up-and-coming complimentary targets and will run Jay Gruden's offense for a second season. He'll need his run game to play better than expected to have a chance at being a massive stat machine, but he's got the pedigree to do it. Getting over the hump vs. the Steelers and Ravens (four touchdowns, five interceptions, 50.3 comp. pct., 6.36 yards/att.) would be a must.

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay: I might not be the biggest Vincent Jackson fan but even I'll admit he'll be a huge help to Freeman's passing numbers. Bringing him in and moving Mike Williams to a No. 2 role gives the Bucs a formidable receiving threat. Throw in Doug Martin, Dallas Clark and Preston Parker and Freeman easily has the most effective pass-catching unit he's ever had. Tack on his rushing ability and the sky is the limit.

Robert Griffin III, Washington: The fit of Griffin in Mike Shanahan's offense is perfect. He's at his best when he moves out of the pocket and fires downfield. He's going to have a good receiving corps and will pick up a lot of yardage running the ball. Playing in a tough division doesn't help but you can count on Griffin delivering some impressive weeks. He's actually the best rookie quarterback you can draft in seasonal leagues, but just barely.

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis: I can't help myself: I love Luck already. He's so polished, so ready for the NFL. But his receiving corps just isn't awesome and his offensive line wishes it was average. He's going to have some tremendous stat lines and he's also going to have some nasty weeks, including Week 1 against the Bears. I am all for taking a flier on Luck in Round 10 or even 11 but wouldn't go much farther with him than that. Luck is worth taking No. 1 overall in rookie drafts -- he'll eventually be a gem for Fantasy.

Alex Smith, San Francisco: Look, the Niners didn't add Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins to boost ticket sales. They know they became too predictable and had to improve the receiving corps to keep defenses from keying in on what Smith was doing. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm but doesn't need it. A versatile up-tempo passing game should be enough to get Smith's stats higher than they've been, especially if he finds ways to use Vernon Davis like he did during the playoffs last January. He's also coming off a career-best season and has taken to Jim Harbaugh's coaching. He's better than you think.

Bye-week cheat sheet

As a service to you, the Fantasy quarterback shopper, we're pleased to present our list of backup quarterbacks to target based solely on the matchups during your starter's bye week. Print, copy or memorize this list and bring it with you to your draft to help you maximize your backup quarterback value, if you choose to carry one.

Bye-week cheat sheet
Bye Week Top 15 Fantasy QBs on bye No. 2 Fantasy QBs with projected good matchups
Week 4 Ben Roethlisberger Andy Dalton (at JAC), Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. NE), Joe Flacco (vs. CLE), Josh Freeman (vs. WAS), John Skelton (vs. MIA)
Week 5 Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford Andy Dalton (vs. MIA), Jake Locker (at MIN), John Skelton (at STL)
Week 6 Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Cam Newton Andy Dalton (at CLE), Robert Griffin III (vs. MIN),
Week 7 Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers,
Matt Ryan, Michael Vick
Josh Freeman (vs. NO), John Skelton (at MIN), Andrew Luck (vs. CLE), Carson Palmer (vs. JAC)
Week 8 Matt Schaub Matt Cassel (vs. OAK), Josh Freeman (at MIN)
Week 9 Tom Brady Joe Flacco (at CLE), Josh Freeman (at OAK), Robert Griffin III (vs. CAR), Andrew Luck (vs. MIA)
Week 10 Robert Griffin III, Aaron Rodgers Andrew Luck (at JAC), Alex Smith (vs. STL)
Week 11 Eli Manning Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. MIA), Andrew Luck (at NE), Carson Palmer (vs. NO)

Tiers, no fears

As always, this is the breakdown of quarterbacks based on expected production and settled into tiers. In your travels for a quarterback you'll see the talent pool dwindle one tier at a time. Not only should this help you identify when to make plans for a quarterback based on the dwindling talent as the draft goes on, but if you're the sneaky owner who wants to wait for a quarterback, you'll know when to make your move for a low-end No. 1 option based on the tiers drying up. Keep in mind the stats provided below are also equivalents for those quarterbacks who run more and throw less than their pocket-present counterparts.

Elite Near Elite Very Good
4700+ yards, 37+ TDs 4400+ yards, 32+ TDs 4200+ yards, 28+ TDs
Aaron Rodgers Matt Ryan Peyton Manning
Drew Brees Eli Manning Philip Rivers
Tom Brady Michael Vick Tony Romo
Matthew Stafford Ben Roethlisberger
Cam Newton   Jay Cutler
    Matt Schaub
No. 2 Upside No. 2 Less Upside Deep sleeper QBs
3700+ yards, 22+ TDs    
Robert Griffin III Christian Ponder Ryan Tannehill
Joe Flacco Blaine Gabbert Mark Sanchez
Andrew Luck Matt Cassel Matt Hasselbeck
Alex Smith Sam Bradford Tim Tebow
Josh Freeman Brandon Weeden Nick Foles
Ryan Fitzpatrick    
Jake Locker    
Russell Wilson    
Andy Dalton    
Carson Palmer    

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 and on Facebook .

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