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Offseason Extra: QB tiers for 2014

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Early Tiers for 2014: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

If you leave your draft in 2014 without a very solid starting quarterback, you did it wrong.

Last year, there were 13 quarterbacks that averaged over 20 Fantasy points per game. Not all of them finished in the Top 12 -- some didn't even finish the season as the starter (example: Michael Vick). But it's a sign of the times: Quarterbacks are putting up big numbers. And they're not slowing down anytime soon.

But that's where a philosophical change should be considered. Many people -- including my colleague Jamey Eisenberg -- will tell you "Wait for a quarterback, you can get one anytime." That's true, you can get a quarterback with 20-point potential as the draft rolls on. But so will everyone else in your league.

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Suddenly it's not so special to have a 20-point potential passer. Know what is special? Getting a quarterback with weekly 25-to-30-plus point potential! It's kind of like why people chase Jimmy Graham -- he's a stud who out produces the majority of his peers by a wide margin. Elite passers like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers can also put up numbers higher than most quarterbacks on a weekly basis, and it's that kind of edge that can help your team win it all.

Over the last two seasons, Manning has averaged 27.9 Fantasy points per game, Brees has averaged 26.5 and Rodgers has averaged 25.1. Adjusting for actual games played, Nick Foles was the next highest at 22.2 per game followed by Tom Brady at 21.5 points per game. The cream of the crop makes a difference.

The problem with going for one of these three elite passers is that it'll require an early-round pick, most likely something within the first 15 picks in a standard league and the first 25 picks in a PPR. This is the same time when the elite and near-elite players at other positions get plucked. But unlike the turnover at running back and the potential inconsistency at receiver, the elite quarterbacks are pretty much the picture of consistency and dominance so long as they stay healthy -- and they mostly do.

Are they worth it? In a year where there aren't as many stud running back choices in Round 1 as the year prior, one could argue it's safer to pull the trigger on a gunslinger. After all, getting difference makers at as many positions as you can should equate to Fantasy success, and these three definitely qualify. The downside is spending a valuable pick on a position you can fill later on at a tremendous value.

And there's trickery in the specifics on when you pick these guys. For instance, if you're in a 12-team league and all three quarterbacks are on the board and you're up at 10th overall, you should pass on them knowing at least one should fall to you in Round 2. Only makes sense, right? Spend the pick on a difference maker at another position and double back for the stud passer when you're up a couple of picks later. Consequently, if you're at 10 and someone takes a quarterback ahead of your first pick then you might feel the pressure to land a stud of your own ASAP.

What happens if you decide to pass on a quarterback with a very early-round pick? Other than missing out on a big-time stat producer, nothing bad -- and that's the beauty of the position this year. It's overflowing with talent.

Free Fallin'

Expect a major gap between when the third and fourth quarterbacks get taken overall on Draft Day. How big? Potentially two full rounds.

There's already debate on who the fourth-best passer is (Colin Kaepernick? Foles? Matthew Stafford?) and they all might finish with similar averages and consistency. So with no consensus player for owners to gravitate toward and multiple passers with the same potential, why reach for one if they're all the same?

It'll take an owner who targets a specific quarterback for his roster to break the ice on when the quarterback run restarts. If you're not the guy with the targeted quarterback, then follow this rule:

If you don't take one of the Top 3 quarterbacks, wait a while.

This isn't to say Matt Ryan and Stafford won't bounce back, or that Foles won't stick in Philly. Those guys are going to be excellent, but they're not expected to greatly differentiate themselves from any of the other nine or so passers that get taken after Rodgers. The drop off is negligible. You're better off shopping at other positions and just backfill the quarterback later.

Cool to platoon?

I never liked taking two quarterbacks. I'd rather spend the roster spot on an extra running back or receiver. But if you end up picking a quarterback late, grabbing two and doubling down on your chances to have a solid passer isn't so bad.

One reason for it: The late rounds of drafts are gonna be the pits. In early mocks we've done there's been some lame talent to sift through. Everyone's reaching for backup running backs, backup receivers, low-end tight ends. Some might even chase a DST before Round 11. If you're going to chase depth, you might as well make it good depth.

The quarterbacks will deliver exactly that -- it's plenty deep, so much so that those owners who want to have a second passer will be amazed at who's left. In our most recent mock quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers were late picks. Just for reference, Wilson finished each of the last two seasons as a Top 10 quarterback, Cutler averaged 19.8 Fantasy points per game in his first year with coach Marc Trestman and Rivers had him beat with 21.3 points per week, finishing as a Top 5 quarterback in Fantasy points and Top 10 in consistency among passers who played 10-plus games.

Take these three passers, throw in one more with immense potential in Robert Griffin III and one established vet in Ben Roethlisberger and you have five lottery tickets. You could draft two of these five with late-round picks and play the matchups from week to week.

Or better yet: Draft one late with a stud quarterback. At worst you have an insurance policy in case your starter gets hurt. At best you trade the late rounder to a quarterback needy team in Week 4 or 5 and you still have an elite starter. I'm not sure you'll land gold in trade for a passer but you should be able to elevate your team somehow -- maybe in a two-for-one type of trade.

You could do much worse in Rounds 11 or 12.

Tiers on tap

Ranking and sorting your quarterbacks will be a tough exercise. The overall depth will make it a challenge to really sort out Player A from Player B. But as things stand now, here's what we've got.

Elite Value Elite Very Good
4800+ yards, 40+ TDs 4500+ yards, 34+ TDs 4100+ yards, 29+ TDs
Drew Brees Nick Foles Cam Newton
Peyton Manning Matthew Stafford Tony Romo
Aaron Rodgers Matt Ryan Tom Brady
  Colin Kaepernick Jay Cutler
    Philip Rivers
No. 2/Upside No. 2/Less Upside Deep sleeper QBs
3800+ yards, 25+ TDs    
Andrew Luck Carson Palmer Brian Hoyer
Russell Wilson Jake Locker E.J. Manuel
Ben Roethlisberger Eli Manning Geno Smith
Robert Griffin III Mike Glennon  
Andy Dalton Joe Flacco  
Alex Smith    
Sam Bradford    
Ryan Tannehill    

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 .

Want an edge in your draft? Download the Fantasy Draft Kit App.

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Player News
Sammy Watkins risky in Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:25 am ET) The Bills haven't had a bonafide No. 1 receiver since the days of Jim Kelly to Andre Reed, but rookie Sammy Watkins has the talent to be their best wide receiver since the franchise's Super Bowl era. Sure, Eric Moulds, Lee Evans and Stevie Johnson were fine, but with the right quarterback, Watkins can be special.

Unfortunately, Watkins will be catching passes from second-year signal caller EJ Manuel. The team seems to have little confidence in Manuel being the answer at quarterback just one year after drafting him in the first round last year. Kyle Orton was pulled out of retirement and handed a pricy one-year deal, and one can easily picture the scenario where he's starting games for the team in November and December.

Will Manuel respond to the job-security threat with elevated play? His best shot is to feed his star rookie early and often. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman has made a career off shutting down No. 1 receivers, but he's not the same player at 33 as he was at 25. While he was a plus in coverage as recently as 2012, Tillman struggled on the field between injuries last year. If Watkins had a top-16 quarterback delivering the ball, I'd like him for a big game in Week 1. As it is, Fantasy owners would be best holding off on starting Watkins until the quarterback situation plays itself out for better or for worse.


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(1:04 am ET) Bills running back Fred Jackson will face a Bears team in Week 1 that did a terrible job at defending the run last season. However, his Week 1 success may not be as pre-ordained as that of running mate, C.J. Spiller.

Unlike Spiller, Jackson does much of his work without the benefit of big plays, grinding out his numbers by taking what the defense gives rather than providing a home-run threat on any down. While most of the members of the Bears back seven that was responsible for surrendering so many big plays has returned, the team has overhauled the defense line, signing three new defensive ends and drafting two rotational defensive tackles.

Two of those free-agent additions are Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, the two players that graded out as the best 4-3 defensive ends in run stop percentage last season, per Pro Football Focus. With those two players in tow and second-round draft pick Ego Ferguson taking up space in the middle, Jackson could have difficulty converting on short-yardage or goal-line situations.

It's also fair to wonder how many long scoring drives the Bills will be able to put together if Jackson and the offensive line can't stymie the line's potentially improved rush defense. EJ Manuel hasn't done enough at this point in his career to trust his ability to pick defenses apart with his arm. If the Bills have trouble finding the red zone, Jackson could wind up being a Week 1 Flex option Fantasy owners come to regret.


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Spiller will be squaring off with the Bears on Sunday. Last season, the Bears turned in by far the worst run defense performance in the league. They surrendered 2,583 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per rush, both marks placing them last in the league. They overhauled the defensive line in the offseason as a result, drafting two rotational defensive tackles and signing three defensive ends.

But if those players can't keep Spiller bottled up at the line all game, he's a threat to break a long touchdown or two. While the Bears run defense was obviously porous as a unit, the back seven was particularly offensive, ranking last in Football Outsiders' second-level yardage and open-field yardage statistics. The Bears didn't do much to upgrade those two levels of the defense either, meaning plenty of broken tackles and long gains are there for the taking if Spiller can find a little daylight. He's a trustworthy RB2 in Week 1 and a must-use in any Flex conversations.


EJ Manuel will look to conquer road woes Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) Bills quarterback EJ Manuel endured what could at best be described as an uneven rookie season last year. Going 4-6 as a starter, Manuel particularly struggled on the road, where he turned in poor performances against the Jets, Browns, Steelers and Buccaneers before turning in a quality performance against the Jaguars in Week 14, his last game of the season.

Manuel opens this season on the road as well, heading to Soldier Field to take on the Bears Sunday. He'll be facing a new-look Chicago defensive line, rebuilt after the Bears defense struggled to generate a pass rush last season. Whether that pass rush can be effective could be the key to Manuel's success; the quarterback averaged 6.9 yards per attempt when under no pressure last season, but just 5.0 yards per attempt when faced with pressure.

Is there a good reason to start Manuel in Week 1? Not really. Every Fantasy team should be looking at a healthy roster heading into the beginning of the season, and there are anywhere from 14 to 20 QBs worth using over Manuel no matter the matchup. But a good performance in an unfavorable environment against a potentially improved pass rush would go a long way towards making the second-year player Fantasy relevant in 2014.


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(9/1/2014) The Patriots have been awarded safety Don Jones on waivers from the Dolphins and waived offensive lineman Chris Barker in a corresponding move.

The Patriots will likely be looking for some extra insight on their Week 1 opponent after bringing the former Dolphin into the fold. The move leaves the Patriots with six safeties on the roster.


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(9/1/2014) The Jets released cornerback Ellis Lankster and re-signed inside linebacker A.J. Edds Monday.

Report: Chris Conte to start if medically cleared
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(9/1/2014) Bears safety Chris Conte will be the team's starting free safety in Sunday's season opener against the Bills, provided he's medically cleared to play, ESPN reports.

Conte has been locked in a position battle with rookie Brock Vereen, and despite suffering a concussion during the team's third preseason game, he's done enough to be named the starter. It wouldn't be surprising to see Vereen overtake Conte in the starting lineup, with the latter grading out as a below-average starter, according to ProFootballFocus.com, who particularly struggles in run support.


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(9/1/2014) Raiders players have been told the team will start rookie Derek Carr over veteran Matt Schaub at quarterback, reports Fox Sports. Carr threw three touchdown passes in last Thursday's preseason finale while Schaub has battled elbow problems.

Oakland opens the season Sunday at the Jets.


Emmanuel Sanders a strong flex option Week 1
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Assuming Wes Welker returns from his concussion and plays Week 1, teammate Emmanuel Sanders still will be a strong flex option. Colts-Broncos is a guaranteed shootout -- the over/under is a whopping 55, highest on the board -- and Peyton Manning can support three productive Fantasy receivers with ease.

Plus, Manning has taken a liking to Sanders. When Sanders debuted in the third preseason game, the duo hooked up for 67- and 29-yard touchdowns in the first half.

"You just throw it as far as you can, and it's hard to outthrow that guy," Manning told the team's website.

Sanders finished with five catches for 128 yards on eight first-half targets, doing most of that before Welker got concussed. Sanders was not 100 percent for that game; he had just come back from a quad injury.

Now Sanders, who started building chemistry with Manning at informal Duke University workouts, "looks ready for the big stage," the website said.

"Peyton puts it on the money," Sanders said. "He takes pride in throwing the perfect football. He takes pride in being perfect all around, in general. He makes my job easy."

Manning is going to help Sanders reach a level he has not hit before, starting Sunday night.

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