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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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"I just have been going at it for 10 years and it's just a family decision and I've decided to get home and be a dad and call it a day," Orton said in a statement.

Orton, 32, was a fourth-round draft pick by the Bears in 2005. He spent three seasons in Chicago before he took over as the starter for four different teams. His 10-year career ends with a 59.5 completion percentage, 18,037 yards with 101 touchdowns and 69 interceptions in 87 games.


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