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2014 Draft Prep: The QB landscape

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Overviews: RBs | WRs | TEs | Draft Averages | Rankings | Draft Index

In a lot of ways, the quarterback you end up with on Draft Day determines how you feel about your team for the start of the season. He could be your biggest difference maker or weekly dud.

When the draft is over, and you see Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers atop your lineup, you feel like you have a significant edge over your competition, no matter how the rest of your team turned out. And then there's the owner who gets stuck with Jay Cutler and hates their team even though the rest of the roster is stacked. Somewhere in the middle is the owner who got a great bargain on someone like Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady or Andrew Luck and has a balanced and competitive squad.

There are many approaches to drafting a quarterback. Unfortunately, there's no formula on which way works best or data to support the optimal strategy. Last year, for example, the owners who drafted Manning in Round 2 got a great deal because he led all players with a 62 percent win percentage on CBSSports.com. Brees also performed well with a 54 percent win percentage after being drafted in Round 1.

But Cutler, who was drafted in Round 11 as a backup, also had a 54 percent win percentage. And Nick Foles, who wasn't drafted at all in the majority of leagues, had a 52 percent win percentage, and he was No. 5 at his position in this category behind Manning, Brees, Cutler and Stafford.

The key for quarterbacks, like all positions, is the players you put around them. But the difference is when you draft these quarterbacks to maximize your value. And since quarterback is a deep position my choice is always to grab as much talent at running back since it's such a thin position while mixing in a few receivers and possibly a tight end before I typically target my passer.

Drafting a quarterback really comes down to a personal decision, so don't be afraid to lock up one of the elite three in Manning, Brees or Rodgers in the first two rounds if that's your choice. They are safe, reliable and, barring injury, dominate the position. Two of those three have been a Top 3 quarterback for each of the past six seasons in standard leagues, including 2009 when they finished, in order, Rodgers, Brees and Manning in Fantasy points.

The next tier of quarterbacks is deep -- Stafford, Luck, Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, Luck, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III -- and typically the route I like to go on Draft Day. These passers will all be drafted in Rounds 3-7, and your goal should be the best value pick on how far they will fall.

For example, I love the idea of drafting some combination of three running backs and three receivers or three running backs, two receivers and a tight end before drafting Romo or Griffin in Round 7. Those are two quarterbacks I'm targeting this season because of how late they could go, and here's how a team could start, building off Romo's ADP at No. 77 overall: Eddie Lacy in Round 1, Julio Jones in Round 2, Alshon Jeffery in Round 3, Shane Vereen in Round 4, Joique Bell in Round 5 and Jordan Cameron in Round 6 before Romo. I'd be thrilled with that roster on Draft Day.

After this tier, there are five quarterbacks I consider as the fallback options in Cutler, Foles, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson. These are the ones I'll consider if I wait too long to draft a quarterback and someone -- because it happens in every draft -- selects a backup before I draft a starter.

I'm fine with Cutler this season because if he stays healthy (a significant if given his track record) he has Top 10 potential based on how he played last season in his first year for coach Marc Trestman. If you combine his stats with Josh McCown, who filled in admirably when Cutler was hurt in 2013, they would have been the No. 3 Fantasy quarterback in standard leagues.

Foles and Newton fall into this category because I'm expecting a regression for each quarterback due to a change in receiving corps (Foles loses DeSean Jackson and Newton loses everybody), and Newton has a revamped offensive line and some health concerns after ankle surgery. Based on ADP, it's unlikely I'll draft either one, but if they fall I would take them as either a starter or high-end reserve.

Roethlisberger was great to close last year, and I'm expecting a big rebound campaign. And Wilson has been reliable as the No. 9 quarterback in standard leagues each of the past two seasons, but he's not a stellar Fantasy option.

If you do end up with a starter from that tier, the best thing to do is pair him with a high-end backup option. Two quarterbacks from that group will suffice, but the other quality No. 2 options are Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and Andy Dalton. I'm fine with other No. 2 quarterbacks like Alex Smith, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford, Johnny Manziel, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning, but the cutoff should be Dalton.

Palmer, Rivers and Dalton could easily be starters this year. Palmer has the chance to shine for Bruce Arians with a loaded receiving corps, and Rivers and Dalton are coming off Top 5 finishes last year. Although a significant step back is likely, they are still worth drafting and using as starters if needed.

Below we'll take a look at each of the draft-worthy quarterbacks in standard 12 team leagues and break down when they should be selected compared to ADP. Maybe you'll agree with me and draft them in the same spots or you'll reach for them where they're being drafted now.

As we said, the choice is yours. It's your quarterback and your decision.

Peyton Manning, Broncos

Average Draft Position: No. 5 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 2
Other players to consider at that spot: Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham, Eddie Lacy
There's nothing wrong with drafting Manning in the first round. But there's no reason to draft him at No. 5 overall in anything but a two-quarterback league. If you expect Manning to replicate his performance from last season (NFL-record 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns), when he was 88 Fantasy points better than the No. 2 Fantasy quarterback in Brees and 170 Fantasy points better than the No. 3 quarterback in Dalton, you're going to be disappointed. The last time Manning set the single-season passing touchdown record in 2004 (49) he followed that up with a 21-touchdown decline. When Dan Marino set the record in 1984 (48) he had an 18-touchdown decline. Brady suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 the year after he set the record in 2007 with 50 touchdowns. Just keep that in mind when reaching for Manning with a Top 5 overall pick.

Drew Brees, Saints

Average Draft Position: No. 13 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 3
Other players to consider at that spot: DeMarco Murray, Le'Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard
I realize the likelihood of Brees falling to Round 3 is slim, which is why I won't be drafting him in the majority of leagues. I definitely won't draft Brees at No. 13, which is a better spot for Manning. Brees is fantastic, but we'll find out if the team does slant more toward a balanced offense after they had success running the ball at the end of last season. If Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram can perform well, maybe Brees loses a few Fantasy points a week, which would be detrimental to the owners who drafted him early in Round 2.

Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Average Draft Position: No. 15 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 3
Other players to consider at that spot: Le'Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard, Dez Bryant
I like Rodgers better than Brees this season, so if I can get him later then that would be ideal. But you see based on where Rodgers is being drafted, and where I'd want him, it doesn't match up. There's no real knock on guys like Manning, Brees and Rodgers, but one negative would be the impact of Lacy on this offense. If he's running well and playing like he did as a rookie, then maybe Rodgers doesn't meet the expectations that come at No. 15 overall.

Matthew Stafford, Lions

Average Draft Position: No. 31 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 4
Other players to consider at that spot: Alshon Jeffery, Andre Ellington, Julius Thomas
Now we're getting in the range of quarterbacks I want, but Stafford isn't worth drafting in Round 3 in standard leagues. If I can get him toward the end of Round 4, however, I would pull the trigger. I'd love to get two running backs and a receiver with my first three picks and then lock up Stafford next. With the addition of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to go with Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, and a new playcaller in Joe Lombardi, this could be Stafford's best season to date. He's on the cusp of being an elite quarterback, but you don't have to draft him as one.

Colin Kaepernick, 49ers

Average Draft Position: No. 48 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 6
Other players to consider at that spot: Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Shane Vereen
Kaepernick is another quarterback to get excited about. He got a huge contract this offseason, his top receiver in Michael Crabtree is healthy, the 49ers added another weapon in Steve Johnson and the running game and defense are battered with injuries. We could see Kaepernick be asked to do more, and he should respond with a big Fantasy campaign. He's been an upper-echelon performer when Crabtree is healthy, and we hope that duo can lead to Fantasy success. I like drafting Kaepernick in Round 6 if he makes it there.

Tom Brady, Patriots

Average Draft Position: No. 49 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 7
Other players to consider at that spot: Vernon Davis, Shane Vereen, Wes Welker
Brady is a notch below Kaepernick, Ryan and Luck this season even with Rob Gronkowski expected back at 100 percent. But I wouldn't be surprised if he rebounds and returns as a Top 5 quarterback, which is something he did each of the three years prior to 2013. The Patriots showed they could be a dominant running team last year down the stretch and into the playoffs, and Bill Belichick can easily get conservative and not ask Brady to do too much. The good thing is his value is great starting in Round 5 or later, I just prefer getting him closer to Round 7.

Andrew Luck, Colts

Average Draft Position: No. 53 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 6
Other players to consider at that spot: Roddy White, Chris Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson
If you're looking for a quarterback poised for a big season it's Luck. I'm hoping Trent Richardson rebounds from last year's disappointing campaign, but if he struggles again then Luck has the tools in place to dominate. He gets Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen back from last year's injuries plus the addition of Hakeem Nicks to go with T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener. He has yet to have a dominant season in his first two years but this could be his time to establish himself as an elite Fantasy quarterback.

Matt Ryan, Falcons

Average Draft Position: No. 59 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 6
Other players to consider at that spot: Ben Tate, Jason Witten, Michael Floyd
Ryan will be one of the best bargains on Draft Day because he's getting a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White back. Ryan will miss the retired Tony Gonzalez for sure, but if you look at his production last season with Jones, he was headed toward a monster campaign. White also was banged up, and the Falcons will try and replace Gonzalez with a combination of Harry Douglas playing more and the addition of rookie running back Devonta Freeman. I'm excited for Ryan's ADP, but I think he'll move up as we get closer to the season, which foils my plans on Draft Day when he has been landing in my lap.

Nick Foles, Eagles

Average Draft Position: No. 60 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 10
Other players to consider at that spot: Michael Floyd, DeSean Jackson, Percy Harvin
I like Foles. I think he'll have a good season. But I wouldn't draft him in Round 6, and I wouldn't draft him ahead of Griffin, Romo and even Cutler. Chip Kelly's system was great last year, but there's always the chance of defensive coordinators catching up as we've seen throughout NFL history. He also loses a big piece of his offense with Jackson gone and has to hope Jeremy Maclin rebounds from last year's torn ACL, Riley Cooper can repeat last year's success, Darren Sproles fits in and Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews develop. It's a lot of ifs for a quarterback who was great for only three quarters of a season. Again, I would draft Foles as a starter this season, just not at his ADP.

Robert Griffin III, Redskins

Average Draft Position: No. 74 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 7
Other players to consider at that spot: Torrey Smith, Jeremy Maclin, Golden Tate
Griffin was the No. 6 quarterback in standard leagues as a rookie in 2012 when healthy, but he was a disaster last season coming off a torn ACL before being benched for the final three games. He's healthy again, and he has a stellar receiving corps with the addition of Jackson and Andre Roberts to go with Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed. New coach Jay Gruden has also helped Dalton become a Top 12 Fantasy quarterback each of the past two years, and Griffin has a higher ceiling than Dalton. I'll gladly gamble on Griffin in Round 7 depending on how the draft unfolds, and he's another great bargain price compared to some of the quarterbacks going ahead of him.

Tony Romo, Cowboys

Average Draft Position: No. 77 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 7
Other players to consider at that spot: Dennis Pitta, Steven Jackson, T.Y. Hilton
My favorite quarterback this season might be Romo based on his outlook and his ADP. If I can get him in this spot and I did my job the first six rounds then I usually love my team. Think about what Romo has this year. His receiving corps is comparable or better than most quarterbacks with Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams and DeMarco Murray. His offensive line has improved and his defense has gotten worse. He also has a playcaller in Scott Linehan who loves calling pass plays based on his track record in Detroit. Romo's back is a concern after a season-ending injury last year, but he is healthy now and should have a tremendous campaign. I target him in every draft when possible.

Cam Newton, Panthers

Average Draft Position: No. 88 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 10
Other players to consider at that spot: Terrance West, Terrance Williams, Lamar Miller
I'd be OK if Newton was my starter this season, but it wouldn't be with the same optimism as the past three years. He's coming off ankle surgery and has new starters at receiver and along the offensive line. The Panthers also showed the ability to run the ball with plenty of success down the stretch last season and rely on their defense, as Newton finished with 17 Fantasy points or less in three of his final four games. He's still an elite talent and has the ability to boost his Fantasy production with his legs, but let him fall to you instead of reaching based on name value. And if you draft Newton then pair him with a quality No. 2 quarterback just in case he falters.

Jay Cutler, Bears

Average Draft Position: No. 89 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 9
Other players to consider at that spot: Terrance West, Terrance Williams, Lamar Miller
Cutler is typically my break glass in case of emergency option on Draft Day because of how long I tend to wait at times for my quarterback. But he's a good one to wait for. The offseason reports have been positive, and he played well last season when healthy. The problem is he's become injury prone, and it's hard to trust him for 16 games. The Bears, however, signed Cutler to a long-term extension and didn't invest in a backup quarterback with much talent or experience. So they're all in on Cutler, and he could pay big rewards with how Jeffery developed to complement Brandon Marshall along with Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett. Cutler will almost certainly outperform several of the quarterbacks being drafted ahead of him if he's able to start all 16 games.

Philip Rivers, Chargers

Average Draft Position: No. 104 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 13
Other players to consider at that spot: Devonta Freeman, Zach Ertz, DeAngelo Williams
Rivers was great last season with a Top 5 finish in Fantasy points. He could do it again, sure, but I'm expecting some regression. He has some talented receiving options with Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates, and getting Malcom Floyd (neck) back is a plus. But Rivers was amazing early last year and then faltered late with just three games with more than 18 Fantasy points in his final eight outings as the team became run dominant, and I don't want to rely on him as a starter. He's a great No. 2 quarterback to pair with Cutler, Foles or Newton, but you won't win your Fantasy league with Rivers as your starter for the majority of the season.

Russell Wilson, Seahawks

Average Draft Position: No. 109 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 12
Other players to consider at that spot: Mike Evans, Danny Woodhead, Dwayne Bowe
I'm not advocating for Wilson as a starter even though he was the No. 9 Fantasy quarterback each of the past two seasons. But he is a good fallback option and someone to draft as a high-end No. 2 quarterback. Two things working in Wilson's favor are his usage could increase, and Fantasy owners should know when to trust him. If Marshawn Lynch isn't at the same level this season because of contract issues or from being overworked in 2013, and if Christine Michael fails to deliver as a sleeper, then Wilson could be asked to throw more, which should help his Fantasy value, especially with a healthy Percy Harvin. Also, we know Wilson has been great at home and indoors the past two years with at least 18 Fantasy points in 15 of 23 games. Based on that, I would take Wilson as a high-end backup and spot starter on those weeks when he's poised for success.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

Average Draft Position: No. 117 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 12
Other players to consider at that spot: Rueben Randle, Jeremy Hill, Ladarius Green
Most Fantasy owners don't realize Roethlisberger was the No. 10 quarterback in standard leagues last season because he was a disappointment early in the year. But he closed the season on a high level with at least 20 Fantasy points in five of his final seven games. It will hurt losing Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, but the Steelers are counting on a healthy Heath Miller and improvement from Markus Wheaton. They are also high on rookies in Martavis Bryant, Dri Archer and Justin Brown. Le'Veon Bell is also a weapon out of the backfield, and Roethlisberger could easily repeat another Top 10 finish. He's one of the best buy-low candidates this season.

Andy Dalton, Bengals

Average Draft Position: No. 127 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 13
Other players to consider at that spot: Anquan Boldin, Jeremy Hill, Kelvin Benjamin
Dalton, like Rivers, surprised Fantasy owners last season when he finished as a Top 5 quarterback. He was solid the past two years and has a quality receiving corps led by A.J. Green, Marvin Jones (when healthy) and Giovani Bernard. But new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wants to emphasize the run and have more ball control, meaning Dalton could lose some attempts and, as a result, production. He'll still have some big weeks, but the consistency won't be there if the Bengals defense is again stout as expected. Like Rivers, I don't want Dalton as my starter for the whole year, but he is a good No. 2 quarterback to pair with a shaky starter.

Carson Palmer, Cardinals

Average Draft Position: No. 131 overall
Where I would draft him: Round 12
Other players to consider at that spot: Ladarius Green, Antonio Gates, Heath Miller
I'm excited for Palmer this season. He appears to be a good fit for Arians' offense and showed that last year with his production following the bye in Week 9. He's only enhanced his comfort this offseason and has a stellar receiving corps in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Ellington. The best thing about Palmer is you can draft him late as a No. 2 quarterback and just stash him on your bench until needed. Or you can shop him in trade with the owner who reached for Foles or Newton and is upset and in dire need of quarterback help. I plan to spend a late-round pick on Palmer whenever available because the upside should be there if he plays as expected.

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