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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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Player News
Packers WR Jordy Nelson post-surgery: 'Everything is going well'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:55 pm ET) Packers standout wideout Jordy Nelson admitted Thursday to having hip surgery in the offseason, but downplayed its significance.

Nelson attended the OTA session, but did not participate aside from throwing the ball around a bit.

"Everything is going well," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "...We're just going to continue to progress ... I don't have any worries about anything that's of importance down the road."

Nelson did state that if the hip wasn't bothering him last year, he wouldn't have opted for surgery. "Just an opportunity to get some things cleaned up," he added.

The veteran is coming off his most productive season. He established career-highs in receptions (98) and yards (1,519).


Eagles RB Murray to Randle: 'Hopefully he can taste some of that meat'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:48 pm ET) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray and his former teammate Joseph Randle have an interesting back-and-forth going on, per csnphilly.com.

Randle, who backed up Murray as he lead the NFL in rushing, has recently said Murray "left a lot of meat on the bone" last year. 

Murray rushed for 1,845 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, helping the Cowboys become one of the most potent offenses in the league.

"Hopefully he can taste some of that meat this year," Murray said of his former teammate.“They’re a good team. Hopefully he can get a chance to run behind that line and do some good things. But I’m not worried about it. I didn’t hear about it until now. It’s not a big deal.”

The Cowboys will use a multi-running back system with Randle leading the way. He rushed for 343 yards and three touchdowns as Murray's backup last year.


Michael Oher wants to bounce back with Panthers
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:29 pm ET) Panthers left tackle Michael Oher thinks he's in the perfect place for his career to bounce back, per the Charlotte Observer.

Oher, who is coming off his worst season as a pro, signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Panthers this offseason. Now on his third team in three years, Oher doesn't want to let any of his new teammates down.

“It seemed like they wanted me,” Oher said. “I got the (same) feeling going into my rookie year of not wanting to let guys down and guys with a winning culture. For me, it’s about getting back to the basics and fundamentals of doing everything right. Looking myself in the mirror knowing what I have to do and getting better from within.”

Oher started his career with four solid seasons as a Raven before nagging injuries began to hamper him in 2013. He signed a four-year deal with the Titans last offseason but injuries continued to plaque him while there. The Panthers gave Oher another chance to prove himself this offseason, and currently list him as their starting left tackle.
“I’m doing everything in my power to make that happen,” Oher said. “I know that I have the abilities and I’m going to put in the correct amount of work to get the job done. It’s just being around more guys who are willing to do the same.

“It’s definitely about culture in the NFL. That wins you football games alone.”


Report: Broncos will sign offensive tackle Ryan Harris
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:22 pm ET) The Broncos have agreed to terms on a contract with offensive tackle Ryan Harris, according to a report from ESPN. 

This move is a necessity now that left tackle Ryan Clady is likely lost for the season due to a torn ACL that he sustained in practice on Wednesday.

This move brings Harris back to the organization he started his NFL career with as he played with the Broncos, which drafted him in the third round, from 2007-2010. 

Harris was with the Chiefs a year ago and started 15 of the 16 games he appeared in. 


Standout snags Thursday give hope to Panthers WR Stephen Hill
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:15 pm ET) Panthers wide receiver Stephen Hill flashed some of the potential Thursday that he never reached with the Jets. He caught three deep balls, beating starting cornerback Josh Norman on one of them.

But such achievements are quickly forgotten in May. If Hill doesn't produce when training camp and the preseason games roll around, he will be in the same predicament he has been in since August.

That's when he was waived by the Jets and landed on the Carolina practice squad. And that is not where a player with his talent belongs. But Hill, a second-round selection in 2012, only caught 45 passes for the Jets in his first two seasons combined, so he must prove his worthiness all over again.

Quarterback Cam Newton ran downfield to congratulate Hill on his catch against Norman, which pleased the wideout. He was encouraged by his performance.

"Today was pretty good," he told the Charlotte Observer. "I made a couple big plays, but still need to work on some things when it came to individuals."


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(4:09 pm ET) Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is taking his time while rehabbing his injured hamstring. 

Benjamin, who was turning heads at OTA's this time last year, is concerned with getting back to the field 100 percent healthy.

"I'm getting a lot of mental reps right now," Benjamin said. "Right now, it's about getting healthy and getting back on the field.

"It's up to the trainers. Right now they're just taking their time with it."

The Panthers want to be careful with their second-year player.

"Kelvin tweaked it a couple of weeks ago. Coming out of a break, he slipped a little bit on the wet turf and strained it," coach Ron Rivera said. "We're being a little bit cautious, but the unintended consequence that's been a plus has been getting [Devin Funchess]snaps."

Benjamin set a rookie record with 1,008 yards receiving last season.


Jets announce release of quarterback Matt Simms
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(4:01 pm ET) The Jets released quarterback Matt Simms, the team announced on Thursday.

Simms, who was buried in the depth chart with the Jets, has played in four career games, completing 19 of 39 passes for 195 yards a touchdown and an interception.


Game slowing down already for Steelers rookie LB Bud Dupree
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(4:00 pm ET) Steelers rookie linebacker and first-round pick Bud Dupree needed all of three practices to sense a difference in his development as an NFL player.

The game is already slowing down.

"The first day was kind of fast for me and the rest of the rookies, but I feel like we are adjusting well and learning the plays on the go," he told the team website. "I think I am adjusting fast to the playbook. I know a lot of it right now, but I want to keep on learning."

Much has changed since rookie minicamp. The game definitely speeds up when the veterans arrive.

"All the vets already know where they are going, know their assignments already," Dupree said. "They have been through a lot of game experience so they know what to expect. Me and the rest of the rookies are just going on what we see right now."

Dupree is especially tuned in to what his fellow linebackers are doing. He is taking their advice in adjusting to a new defense.

"All the fundamental things you need to learn playing football and learning the plays more precise so you don't have to think about it while you're on the field. Just small things like that."


WR Lance Moore hopes to revive his career with the Lions
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(3:52 pm ET) Wide receiver Lance Moore is used to defying the odds.

He went undrafted in 2005, he was signed and cut by the Browns, the Saints signed him but thought so little of him they sent him over to NFL Europe. Moore overcame all of that to enjoy nine seasons with the Saints, which included a pivotal role in the team's Super Bowl championship in 2009.

Moore is now trying to revive his career after finding himself on his third team in as many seasons, per ESPN.com.

Moore signed with the Steelers after the Saints released him, but after not being able to establish a role within the Steelers' offense he was released. The Lions signed Moore to a one-year contract in early May. 

“At this point in the game, I just want to play,” Moore said. “I’m not really exactly looking for the biggest pay day. I’m looking for an opportunity to go in and play and help the team win. Detroit made sense for me for numerous reasons."

Moore has 360 career catches for 4,479 yards and 40 touchdowns in his 10-year career.


Packers' Mike McCarthy wants Matthews to play multiple positions
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(3:29 pm ET) Packers coach Mike McCarthy emphasized during organized team activities that outside linebacker Clay Matthews will play multiple positions this season, per the Journal Sentinel.

"Clay Matthews is a great pass rusher. He's going to continue to play as many different positions as we can get out of him," McCarthy said. "We need to utilize him as much as we can. Talked to Clay a couple times early in off-season program and meetings he's been through. He's moving around."

Matthews spent a lot of time playing on the inside of the defense last season and in his exit interviews he said the coaching staff discussed keeping him at multiple spots.

Matthews recorded 61 tackles, 11 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Packers last season.


 
 
 
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