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2014 Draft Prep: Quarterback tiers and strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Running back tiers | Wide receiver tiers | Tight end tiers

Unless you're in a crazy deep league with 18-plus teams, everyone's going to feel good about the quarterback they draft. That's not a prediction, that's a spoiler. I've been playing Fantasy Football for nearly 20 years and I can't remember the last time quarterbacks were this deep.

We got set up to this point last year. That's when 13 quarterbacks averaged 20 or more Fantasy points per week, though that included passers like Michael Vick, Sam Bradford, Brian Hoyer and Kyle Orton -- guys who didn't play much. Another five averaged between 18.9 and 19.9 points per game. The point is that quarterbacks in all shapes and sizes, in all sorts of situations, are finding ways to help Fantasy owners. And even two that didn't -- Matt Ryan and Robert Griffin III -- figure for big bounce-back seasons.

So, it's deep. Enough to think that you can wait forever and ever to select a quarterback in your drafts? You bet, but why settle for 20 per week when you can get 25 or more per week? Over the last two seasons Peyton Manning has averaged 27.9 Fantasy points per game, Drew Brees has averaged 26.5 and Aaron 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 (brought down by last year's debacle). The cream of the crop makes a difference and you'd be lying to yourself if you didn't care about that kind of consistency.

This is an argument you'll have to settle inside your own head before you hit your draft. If you opt to go for a quarterback early then theoretically you'll get more points per week and a built-in boost against most everyone else in the league. Conceptually it's similar to why someone would draft Jimmy Graham in Round 1, except the tight end position isn't as deep.

There's a price you'll pay for taking a quarterback early, though. By taking Manning, Brees or Rodgers with a Top 36 pick you're passing on getting a top-tier player at another position. It'll lead to some anxious moments later on when you go shopping for running backs and receivers while others in your league are a step ahead at those positions. But if you do your pre-draft homework and find rushers and wideouts with Average Draft Positions between Rounds 5 and 8 that you'd be comfortable starting then you won't break a sweat.

You'll also get a little choked up when you see other quarterbacks get swiped at jaw-dropping values. Big hitters from last year and years past like Tom Brady, Nick Foles, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler and Cam Newton are going to gently fall into people's laps ... which is why the argument for waiting for a quarterback is just as good (if not better) than taking one early.

By waiting, you'll get very good or incredible value at quarterback while collecting talent at other positions. Enough to make up for the average amount of Fantasy points your passer won't get compared to the big guns? It'll depend on who you pick, but at least your early round results will make you feel good. And it's a promise that no matter how long you wait for a quarterback you will have someone fall into your lap with potential for a 20-point average staring you in the face.

Then again, it won't be a rock-solid stud you'll never ever bench save for his bye week. There's something pretty special about those guys, too.

Elite and at a value too?

Maybe you can't decide which way is the right way. Maybe you like both concepts. There's a strategy for that, sort of. It's more like a player for that.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford averaged 19.6 Fantasy points per game over his last two seasons. Weak, but last year that number was at 20.3 points per game. Still weak? Maybe, but he still posted a staggering 10 games with at least 20 Fantasy points in 2013. So how does a quarterback get to the magic number of 20 in 10 games and still average roughly that amount on a per-week basis? Simple -- Stafford played two games without Calvin Johnson and another in a ridiculous snow storm. He also had a four-game meltdown to end the season that capsized his coaching staff (but not him). If you take away that four-game finale you're looking at a quarterback who averaged 24.2 Fantasy points per week. That's pretty awesome.

This offseason the Lions rebooted the offense with the guy who coached up Peyton Manning for nine years and turned Joe Flacco around for a Super Bowl run and another guy who comes from the Saints' prolific passing attack. The Lions also drafted a potential phenom at tight end in Eric Ebron and signed a solid receiver in Golden Tate to work opposite Calvin Johnson. The rest of Stafford's supporting cast, including Megatron and the running backs, is still in tact.

It stands to reason that Stafford will put up his biggest numbers since his monster 2011 season, which would put him in the company of the elite Fantasy quarterbacks. Yes, I wrote elite. E-L-I-T-E. His average draft position? Round 4. Stafford is the best of both worlds -- a great quarterback you'll never bench at a great value on Draft Day.

Bountiful bargain bonanza

Beyond these first four are FOURTEEN players who could admirably fill your starting quarterback spot. That's not to say they're all going to produce the same amount of stats but at the very least they'll be better than "serviceable." Here's a starter's guide to every single one of these quarterbacks along with the percentage of games they had at least 20 Fantasy points in last season.

Colin Kaepernick, Niners (37.5 percent)
Pros: Phenomenal athlete with a great arm. Excellent coaching staff that seems ready to let him throw more. O-line is solid. Receiving corps is healthy and stocked with talent to help Kaepernick post career-highs. Should contribute nice rushing totals to supplement passing stats.
Cons: Track record is stronger in the postseason than in the regular season. Didn't have many solid games last season, though most of his weak efforts came without Michael Crabtree. Could get injured while running the ball.

Tom Brady, Patriots (37.5 percent)
Pros: The ultimate gamer. Uses intelligence and strong arm to beat defenses. Before last season he delivered at least 35 total touchdowns over three seasons, leaning on excellent receivers to help produce consistent stats. His best threat, Rob Gronkowski, appears to be close to a return by Week 1.
Cons: Without Gronk, Brady was a shell of himself last year. The Patriots re-signed Julian Edelman and added Brandon LaFell to go with Danny Amendola and a trio of second-year receivers. Pass-catching running back Shane Vereen also returns. Brady can't produce without Gronk and at least one of them coming through weekly. Age is also a small issue.

Nick Foles, Eagles (81.8 percent)
Pros: Effective quarterback at the head of a fast-tempo, creative offense. Surrounded by good pass catchers. Touchdown-to-interception ratio has been solid dating back to college, save for his rookie year, which he obviously overcame in 2013. Will pad stats with rushing totals.
Cons: Is he a one-year wonder? Though he had nine games with 20-plus Fantasy points, many of his numbers came in a handful of games against really weak defenses. Also, DeSean Jackson was a huge key for him last year and he's in Washington now. Philly doesn't quite have a deep threat like him.

Matt Ryan, Falcons (43.8 percent)
Pros: Despite horrible Fantasy totals last year, Ryan still managed to nail down second-best career numbers in completion percentage and yardage. Can't blame him for the Falcons' meltdown. Julio Jones is back on the field after playing with Ryan for just five games last year (23.2 Fantasy point average in those contests).
Cons: Lost Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to retirement. Veteran receiver Roddy White might be healthy but is getting older. Falcons still seem to be focused on running the ball.

Andrew Luck, Colts (37.5 percent)
Pros: Considered the best young quarterback in the league. Accurate, smart, strong. Easily has the best receiving corps around him that he's ever had thanks to addition of Hakeem Nicks and return of Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen. Pads stats with rushing numbers.
Cons: Wins games but inconsistent statistically: Has just 12 regular-season games with 20-plus Fantasy points (another six with 18 or 19 Fantasy points). Colts offense still is focused on running the ball to keep defenses honest. Remains to be seen if offensive line is improved.

Robert Griffin III, Redskins (46.2 percent)
Pros: Combination of fully recovered knee and additions of playcaller Jay Gruden and deep threat DeSean Jackson provides oodles of optimism. Offensive targets around him better than they've ever been. Division isn't too tough.
Cons: Big injury risk. Previously destroyed defenses via the zone-read but now it's unknown if he'll surpass the 489 rush yards he had last year.

Tony Romo, Cowboys (53.3 percent)
Pros: Reliable Top 10 Fantasy quarterback who has averaged just over 20 Fantasy points per game over the last two seasons. Offense asks for him to throw a lot -- this year he might have to given the state of the Dallas defense. Receiving corps around him is very solid, as is his O-line.
Cons: Coming off of another back surgery, which makes him a potential injury risk. Has a history of being inconsistent (only one stretch of three-straight solid games in the last two years). His yards per pass attempt have been on a three-year decline.

Philip Rivers, Chargers (50.0 percent)
Pros: Proved 2012 was a fluke by posting big bounce-back numbers last year (completed 69.5 percent of his passes!). Head coach Mike McCoy is a savvy offensive mind. New playcaller Frank Reich, a former quarterback, should lean on Rivers. Offensive weapons are varied and capable.
Cons: Half of his eight games with 20-plus Fantasy points last year came in the first five weeks of the season. He wasn't nearly as consistent in his last 11 games, even with the emergence of Keenan Allen. With three Top 5 finishes at his position since 2008, he is considered a boom-or-bust Fantasy player.

Jay Cutler, Bears (60.0 percent)
Pros: Still has one of the best arms in football. Bears offense not only effective but loaded with big, strong receivers and supplemented by Matt Forte. Was on pace to have finished eighth among Fantasy quarterbacks had he played 16 games (based on 10 games he actually played in).
Cons: Might be the most injury prone quarterback this side of Michael Vick. Had a much-improved O-line last year and still missed six games worth of time. Still has a gunslinger mentality and will have unexpected one-week meltdowns. Hasn't thrown for more than 3,500 yards or thrown 25 touchdowns since his first year in Chicago (2009).

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (43.8 percent)
Pros: Finished last season on fire, notching six 20-plus-point games in his last nine (just one in his first seven). Developed reliance on breakout receiver Antonio Brown, still has reliable tight end Heath Miller and good-hands back Le'Veon Bell. Has sported a solid touchdown-to-interception ratio over the last five years. O-line is improved.
Cons: Lost a couple of good weapons in his receiving corps (Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery). Replacements like Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant have potential but pretty much zero experience. Steelers defense expected to be improved -- combine that with the expected reliance on run game and it's likely he won't average 36.5 pass attempts per game like he did in 2013.

Cam Newton, Panthers (50.0 percent)
Pros: Incredible athlete with a good arm and obvious abilities as a ball-carrier. Coaches continue to find ways to use him effectively at the goal line. Had a career high in completion percentage and passing touchdowns last year. Posted eight games with 20-plus Fantasy points last year including five with 30-plus points.
Cons: Consistency has long been an issue with him in Fantasy. Wide receiver corps is brand new and scrapped together with low-end vets and a relatively raw first-round rookie. Rush yardage numbers dipped significantly last year. Will the coaches lean on his legs away from the end zone knowing he's coming off of major offseason ankle surgery? Offensive line is a large question mark, too.

Carson Palmer, Cardinals (31.3 percent)
Pros: Had one of his best years in 2013 under Bruce Arians in Arizona (career-high in passing yards). He's expressed confidence in himself entering his second season in Arizona and the Cards have built an offense around him that should throw a ton. Andre Ellington is a good rusher but he's better catching passes in space and two speedsters in Ted Ginn and John Brown were added to push defenses. His offensive line is much, much improved.
Cons: Palmer turns 35 this winter and has never been a reliable stat machine, certainly not in his last three seasons. Palmer also throws a bunch of interceptions.

Sam Bradford, Rams (57.1 percent)
Pros: Looked like he was en route to a breakout season last year with a 20.3 Fantasy point average through seven games. Has always been spoken about as a solid quarterback even though we haven't seen him deliver since his days in college. Receiving corps doesn't have a top-end receiver but rather a lot of versatile options that help Bradford accumulate stats. O-line is good.
Cons: Coming off of a torn ACL and could be held out of a handful of training camp practices. Has never translated good college play into the pros. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't considered a creative or aggressive playcaller.

Russell Wilson, Seahawks (43.8 percent)
Pros: Total gamer who seems to rise to the occasion in front of the Seahawks' fans. Finished as a Top 10 quarterback each season in his two-year career. Will run with the ball. Has a flashy receiver in Percy Harvin, another potential breakout in Doug Baldwin and a couple of rookies who could make a difference.
Cons: Seahawks are a run-first team, meaning Wilson shouldn't throw a ton. Harvin's not a lock to stay healthy and Baldwin isn't a lock to have a monster year (though I like him). Track record suggests he's unusable in road games. NFC West defenses don't help him out at all.

Remember one thing

There you have it. Four very appealing quarterbacks followed by another 14 passers who carry all sorts of potential.

So, now what?

Unless you're locked in on a quarterback that you absolutely must have, there's a recommended recourse for drafting the position, and it's a refrain you've heard before:

You reach, you lose

There are 18 quarterbacks you should feel anywhere from ecstatic to moderately good about (even if two are on my bust list, they're worth taking at the right spot). So why force yourself to take one if you don't have to?

Count on a bargain, the likes of which should be strongly considered even in the early stages of the draft. We're talking about Peyton Manning in Round 2 (Round 3 in a PPR) -- it's not exactly a steal but it's still too good to pass up. The smaller the league, the bigger the bargain should be thanks to the supply and demand of quarterbacks -- that's part of the reason why this year should be good for 8- and 10-team two-QB formats.

Tiers on tap

So when are the rounds I'd consider one of these quarterbacks a bargain? You'll find them below in our annual tiers of quarterbacks. This process is meant to simplify how these players relate to each other in terms of value. It's more difficult this season because there are so many good ones, but that should make it easier to come down with a winning pick on Draft Day.

Elite Value Elite Very Good
4800+ yards, 40+ TDs 4500+ yards, 34+ TDs 4100+ yards, 29+ TDs
Rounds 2, 3, 4 Rounds 5, 6, 7 Rounds 7, 8, 9
Peyton Manning Colin Kaepernick Andrew Luck
Drew Brees Tom Brady Robert Griffin III
Aaron Rodgers Nick Foles Tony Romo
Matthew Stafford Matt Ryan  
No. 2/Upside No. 2/Less Upside Deep sleeper QBs
3800+ yards, 25+ TDs    
Rounds 10, 11, 12    
Philip Rivers Andy Dalton Johnny Manziel
Jay Cutler Ryan Tannehill Teddy Bridgewater
Ben Roethlisberger Josh McCown EJ Manuel
Cam Newton Eli Manning Jake Locker
Carson Palmer Joe Flacco  
Sam Bradford Alex Smith  
Russell Wilson    

Bye-week cheat sheet

Some Fantasy owners like to have all of their bases covered. If you're one of them, use this guide to help you determine the best backups for your starters based on matchups. Keep in mind that we only list the byes of quarterbacks most owners consider starters, and only list the matchups for potential backups.

Week 4 bye: Peyton Manning
Alternatives: Philip Rivers (vs JAC), Ryan Tannehill (at OAK), Eli Manning (at WAS)
Week 5 bye: None
Week 6 bye: Drew Brees
Alternatives: Philip Rivers (at OAK), Jay Cutler (at ATL), Carson Palmer (vs WAS), Russell Wilson (vs DAL)
Week 7 bye: Nick Foles
Alternatives: Carson Palmer (at OAK), Ben Roethlisberger (vs. HOU), Cam Newton (at GB), Andy Dalton (at IND), Eli Manning (at DAL)
Week 8 bye: Colin Kaepernick
Alternatives: Ben Roethlisberger (vs. IND), Ryan Tannehill (at JAC), Johnny Manziel (vs. OAK)
Week 9 bye: Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford
Alternatives: Carson Palmer (at DAL), Russell Wilson (vs. OAK), Andy Dalton (vs. JAC), Eli Manning (vs. IND)
Week 10 bye: Tom Brady, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers
Alternatives: Russell Wilson (vs. NYG), Alex Smith (at BUF), Joe Flacco (vs. TEN), Josh McCown (vs. ATL)
Week 11 bye: Tony Romo
Alternatives: Cam Newton (vs. ATL), Philip Rivers (vs. OAK), Carson Palmer (vs DET)
Week 12 bye: Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton
Alternatives: Jay Cutler (vs. TB), Eli Manning (vs. DAL), Russell Wilson (vs. ARI)

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Player News
Eagles' Earl Wolff, Marcus Smith limited in OTAs with injuries
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:33 pm ET) Eagles safety Earl Wolff and linebacker Marcus Smith were limited in OTAs with injuries, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Wolff is recovering from knee surgery. Coach Chip Kelly said the safety has been cleared to return, and the team is waiting for him to reach full participation in OTAs. Smith has been dealing with a pulled leg muscle.


Packers' Casey Hayward dealing with foot injury
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(9:27 pm ET) Packers cornerback Casey Hayward is dealing with a foot injury and doesn't expect to return to action until training camp, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I’ll probably take it easy into camp right now," Hayward said. "I have a minor foot thing right now. We’ll probably take it easy into camp."

Hayward said the foot "flared up" on him earlier in the offseason. He finished with 42 tackles and three interceptions last season.


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(9:19 pm ET) Ravens free safety Terrence Brooks is running after suffering ACL and MCL tears in his right knee in December, the Baltimore Sun reports.

"Terrence Brooks is doing really well," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "No predictions right now, but he looks good. He has worked hard."

Brooks is expected to open the season on the PUP list and could make his return this season.

"We're just hoping for the best, trying to get back as soon as possible," Brooks said. "We're taking precautious. We definitely don't want to rush back too fast. If you do get cleared, playing this year is definitely a goal. You don't want to rush it. For the most part, you have to be cautious and take it easy. After we get off of the PUP list, we'll see where we're at. I definitely want to get back into it, but we're taking our time. I have high hopes of being ready."


Report: OT Jake Long visits Giants Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:45 pm ET) Free-agent offensive tackle Jake Long visited the Giants on Thursday, ESPN reports.

The Giants are having to shuffle their offensive line with Will Beatty expected to miss the first part of the season with a pec injury. Long was scheduled to make $9.25 million in 2015 but was released by the Rams in March.


Saints CB Brandon Browner impressing teammates, coach
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(7:11 pm ET) New Saints cornerback Brandon Browner is having a positive impact on not just the secondary, but the entire defense. At least that's the view of defensive backfield mate Kenny Vaccaro.

"Browner's a good dude, leads by example, talks when he needs to talk," Vaccaro told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "He's real serious, kind of keeps everybody level headed and knows what we've got to work for. He's won two Super Bowls, so he knows what to do."

Sean Payton echoed those sentiments.

"He's competitive," he said. "He's driven and certainly one of the things we talked about this offseason through the draft, through the acquisition of players is the makeup and making sure that this is something we felt like was a plus and certainly with him we feel that that is a strength of his."

The Saints are Browner's fourth team in six seasons in the NFL.


Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans working way back from injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:37 pm ET) There was a bit of a discrepancy Thursday in regard to the practice participation of Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Chip Kelly said before the session that Ryans would be a full-go despite him being just seven months removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. Ryans did practice, but he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was not a full participant.

Ryans missed half of the 2014 season with the injury, but contributed to 45 tackles in eight games before going down.


Eagles QB Mark Sanchez optimistic as offseason rolls on
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) A stronger arm, greater familiarity with the offense and more confidence has Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez feeling quite good these days.

Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery two years ago that affected him early last season. He expects to be better in 2015, especially if given an opportunity to play over newcomer Sam Bradford.

"First thing, physically, I feel so much better," he told the team website. "The farther it gets away from surgery and all the reps I've had, all the rehab on through, it can only get better and stronger. So this is definitely the best I've ever felt. And then as far as the scheme, every rep, every time we sit down and watch film, every meeting, that can only help with my growth as well."

The chance to play is one reason why Sanchez chose to return this offseason to the Eagles.

"Were there other opportunitites? Absolutely," he said. "Did they look potentially good, better, similar, maybe worse? Potentially, yeah, there was some stuff out there. But when I factored it all in, I just felt this was the best spot for me. I enjoy playing for coach Kelly, I love this system, I love the tempo, I love the pace."

Sanchez also expressed a desire to remain on the team for which he threw his highest completition percentage of his career in 2014. He hit on 64.1 percent, by far a personal best.

Chip Kelly has seen a difference in Sanchez.

"I think you can see it in how he's performing out there now," he said. "He's also not learning an offense again. ... He is really comfortable in terms of the scheme."


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(6:04 pm ET) The Ravens waived/injured cornerback Julian Wilson on Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reports. Wilson suffered a broken leg on the first day of rookie camp and will miss the season.

Saints' Anthony Spencer works ahead of Junior Galette Thursday
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(6:01 pm ET) Saints linebacker Anthony Spencer worked ahead of Junior Galette in the team's base 4-3 defense, a run-heavy look that featured just three linebackers, ESPN.com reports.

"However it came out, we’re not worried about depth chart now," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "We’re putting in a defense, we’re all working hard together and getting to know each other, our teammates and what we got. But I know both those guys can play, so we’re excited about 'em."

Spencer had a career-high 11 sacks in 2012 but has managed just 24 total tackles and a half-sack in 14 games over the last two years while dealing with a major knee injury.

"I think sometimes there are tougher positions to evaluate at this time of year," coach Sean Payton said, when asked to give his early thoughts on Spencer. "But I think, No. 1, he can affect the passer. ... He’s an edge player, I think he’s very good at fitting the run, and I think he can affect the passer."


Report: Bryant participates in drills despite unsigned franchise tender
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(5:46 pm ET) Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant took a huge risk by participating in a limited portion of his team's organized team activities on Thursday, because he has yet to sign his franchise-tag tender, sources told Todd Archer of ESPN.com.

Bryant, who wants a long-term deal, has made a number of appearances at the Cowboys' offseason conditioning program but Thursday was the first day he participated in meaningful on-field work.

Bryant and the Cowboys need to work out a long-term deal before July 15 or he would be forced to play the season under the franchise tag, which would pay him $12.8 million.

In 16 games last year, Bryant caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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