Continuing our examination of just how wackadoodle this season is shaping up to be, we come to the quarterback position -- a position of excess and, therefore, lower priority.
Because the two are usually connected, you see.
But while the former has certainly proven to be true -- beyond even what I expected with Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler returning to prominence and Sam Bradford, Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Tannehill entering the fold -- I'm not so sure about the latter anymore.
It's different from before. The fear of going without a competent player at the position is silly and has been for a few years now. But I'm sensing quarterback has become so deep, with so many good options available for every team in your league, that the need to distinguish between good, better and best is paramount.
After all, the key to winning in Fantasy is having an advantage over your opponent. How can you have an advantage at a position where everyone is equally good?
The answer, of course, is that everyone isn't equally good. Not really. They all meet the expected level of production at the position, but they don't do it at the same time or to the same extent.
When the number of players who meet the expected level of production at a position increases, it seems like a luxury at first -- an opportunity to wait longer to fill that position. But if it continues from year to year, with those players only growing in number, eventually the expected level of production at the position changes. It's exactly what Fantasy Baseball owners have encountered with starting pitchers in recent years.
And when an already high-scoring position becomes even higher-scoring, it only raises the stakes at that position. Particularly in standard CBSSports.com formats, where passing touchdowns are worth a full six points, the quarterback spot has the greatest say in whether you win or lose in a given week. It typically won't have as much fluctuation as other positions, but if your quarterback performs to one extreme or the other, what the rest of your team does is virtually irrelevant.
Now, before I stray down a path that undermines decades of Fantasy Football philosophy, let me be clear: A top running back is still more valuable than a top quarterback. The team with the biggest advantage at quarterback doesn't automatically win the league, after all. You still need advantages at other positions, and a replacement-level quarterback is a much more viable option than a replacement-level running back.
The purpose of this column isn't to compel you to shop your first-round running back for the best quarterback you can get. The purpose is to help you get the most out of a position with far too much to go around.
Basically, I just added Philip Rivers to a roster that already included Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, and looking at what all is still available at the position, I can't help but think other people are in a similar situation. Nobody wants to give up on a quarterback who can consistently deliver two touchdowns, but at the same time, a two-touchdown performance is probably the new baseline at the position. Any more than that, and you've distanced yourself from the competition. Any less, and you better hope to hit the jackpot elsewhere.
With an average of two touchdowns (passing and rushing) in his two games, Luck hasn't been bad, but he hasn't stood out like I hoped he would. Maybe that changes over time. Two games don't make a season, and if Luck goes and throws four touchdown passes at San Francisco this weekend, I won't have much of a dilemma anymore. But what if he doesn't? What if he continues with 1-2 touchdowns week after week? And what if San Diego's new offense under coach Mike McCoy relies so much on Rivers' arm that 3-4 touchdowns becomes the norm for him? Could I really pass up on him now, recognizing that possibility?
That's the differentiator right there. Granted, both classes of quarterback will have some overlap, but the 6-18 points that the 3-4 touchdown guy has on the 1-2 touchdown guy each week will decide many a matchup this season.
To get a sense of which quarterbacks fit where, I've sorted all 32 starters into three groups based on what they've done so far this season ...
The 3-4 touchdown guys (those averaging more than two touchdowns per game):
Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, Sam Bradford, Matt Schaub, Robert Griffin III, Eli Manning and Jay Cutler
The 1-2 touchdown guys (those averaging 1.5 to two touchdowns per game):
Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Drew Brees, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, E.J. Manuel, Tony Romo, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady
That basically sums up the position, doesn't it? Everyone in the first two groups is worth owning, and everyone in the last group (apart from Wilson, Pryor and maybe Tannehill, who's leading a pass-first offense now even though he doesn't have the touchdowns to show for it) isn't.
But again, two games don't make a season. I'm not classifying these quarterbacks this way forever more. I still think of Brees as being in that first group -- too much of a track record there -- and I consider Ryan, Stafford, Romo and Brady safer bets than not to join him. I also think Kaepernick's and Newton's rushing abilities elevate them over the other 1-2 touchdown guys.
But seeing the way some of those other names stack up makes the rest of the position not so black-and-white.
For instance, if you drafted Vick to be your backup, as so many Fantasy owners did, do you continue to start Ryan, Stafford and Romo over him? As long as he's healthy and the Chip Kelly offense continues to take the league by surprise, I don't see how. But of course, trading Ryan, Stafford or Romo gives you no fallback in the likely event of another Vick injury, which means the best place for them might actually be your bench. Plus, with bargain-bin finds such as Bradford and Schaub outperforming them, you have to wonder just how much they'd fetch in a trade anyway.
Which brings me to my next point. Do Bradford, Schaub and, yes, Rivers really belong in this discussion? Based on what they've done through two games, with each of their offenses leaning more on the pass as part of a growing trend of pass-happy offenses across the league, would you consider sitting your intended starter for them, if only on occasion? Should you?
Ryan, Stafford and Romo are one thing, but does Luck deserve preferential treatment over them now, especially with the Colts likely to adopt a more balanced approach with the acquisition of Trent Richardson? What about Wilson or, shoot, Brady? Compared to the rest of the league, the Patriots' offense is looking positively balanced. Or what about Eli Manning? He has the touchdowns, but with seven interceptions is he still more trustworthy than that guy you just plucked off waivers? Any way you look at it, it's a mess.
My guess is you'll have to pick and choose. The few true standouts at the position -- guys like Peyton Manning, Rodgers and, yes, I'll include Brees -- remain must-starts, and a few others -- Vick, Griffin, Ryan, Stafford, Kaepernick, Romo, Newton and Brady -- should be heavy favorites each week. But with so little differentiation between the second and third tiers at quarterback now, the position, quite frankly, has become matchups-oriented.
And it stinks. The more options you have to choose from, the more potential you have to choose wrong, and if you continually choose wrong, you miss out on all the good weeks, putting you in a worse predicament than if you had just stuck with one guy.
But again, two touchdowns is the baseline for a quarterback now. If you can't trust your guy to do that with the matchup at hand, you're putting yourself at a serious disadvantage. Most likely, your opponent has someone who can.
Of course, playing the matchups is easier said than done, particularly at quarterback. Teams tend to pass more when trailing than when leading, so if the matchup is too favorable, it can actually backfire. Then again, starting the quarterback most likely to be involved in a shootout can sometimes backfire as well. Neither Ryan nor Freeman lit up the Saints, you may have noticed.
Trust me: In that league where I own Luck, Russell and Wilson ... or the one where I own Griffin, Wilson and Rivers ... or the one where I own Stafford and Bradford, I don't look forward to making that decision each week. But I think it's the way of the future, and to demonstrate that point, I asked my Twitter followers to provide me with what they anticipate to be season-long quarterback dilemmas. Let's do our best to sort them out:
Rivers vs. Luck -- @Trantice99
For what it's worth, I plan to go with Rivers this week, but I suspect it'll be a week-to-week thing, assuming the Richardson acquisition doesn't cut into Luck's production too much.
Vick or Newton? -- @yeah2low
If I'm going with Vick over Ryan, Stafford and Romo, I'm going with him over a struggling Newton. Newton showed last year why you shouldn't count him out, though. I suspect he'll be your preferred option down the stretch.
Deciding between Pryor and Brady ... sad to say. -- @NoToryousone1
Sad only because Brady underachieved against the Jets, but in the long run, this one won't be much of a dilemma. I don't anticipate the Raiders scoring too many touchdowns.
Griffin and Bradford. Agonized over it last week will again this week. Rams will have to throw a lot, right? -- @wilkinson81
With Steven Jackson gone, their offense has a different look, relying more on short passes than traditional runs. I could see Bradford closing the gap on Griffin in time. But the Redskins' defense has them perpetually in catch-up mode, which has worked wonders for Griffin's numbers.
Vick and Kaepernick. Trying to solve the dilemma by trading one. -- @knowITall_sport
Yeah, but ... for what? A third running back? Vick might fetch more than that if you find someone flipping out over his potential in the Eagles' new offense, but is it worth losing his monster production for however long he's healthy? I might just stand pat.
I have Romo and Eli Manning. -- @BoughtAndPaid9
This one should become a dilemma at some point, but I need to be convinced Manning won't be throwing three interceptions a game first.