No matter the size, structure or scoring system of their league, fantasy owners will face the same conundrum when considering drafting a quarterback early this year: Their fellow league members are going to find comparable value many rounds later.
The proliferation of pass-happy offenses, read-option schemes and high-scoring games means owners no longer need to spend a premium pick on a fantasy QB. There are enough candidates for 3,500-plus yards and 25-plus touchdowns to stock two full 12-team leagues.
Signal-callers have routinely emerged from the fantasy woodwork in recent seasons, going from mid- and late-round picks to fantasy stars. Record-setting rookies Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson are just a few examples.
The quarterback will be a fantasy owner's top scorer most weeks, so while it's important not to miss on the pick, it's also unwise to bite too soon when there's great position depth.
Let's take a closer look at the best quarterback draft strategies, notables at the position and the complete rankings and projections for the 2013 starters.
Quarterback draft strategies
1. Go all-in early. Think this contradicts the lead to this primer? Well, there's a caveat. This spring, expert mock drafts saw elite quarterbacks slip to Round 2. If that trend holds, it would justify switching gears from the aforementioned approach and grabbing a top-tier passer. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning aren't worth drafting in the middle of Round 1, but they become smarter picks than the scraps at running back and receiver in the second and third rounds. Those passers will deliver consistent production; their counterparts at other positions can't deliver that same guarantee.
2. Wait for the leftover read-option QB. Newton, Wilson, Griffin and Colin Kaepernick are all capable of rising to elite fantasy status this season. Odds are, however, that not all of them will. What's more, pocket passers aren't going away. Fantasy owners understandably want to be a part of the new-wave craze, but the smartest strategy is to wait for the last guy from this group, not to pounce on the first.
3. Bank on an undervalued stud. Does getting 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns from the quarterback position sound good? Questions about the Patriots' offense have Tom Brady slipping to a position of extreme value, while owners continue to wait too long to pounce on Matt Ryan's statistical potential. Brady can turn water into wine regardless of his receivers, while Ryan boasts the best receiving duo in the league. If these two are sitting around in Round 5, pounce.
4. Be the last to draft a QB. This is only a bad strategy if it's a widely-held strategy. Passers like Luck and Tony Romo are routinely falling into Round 8. In a standard league, an owner can be the last to draft a starting quarterback and still get one of those guys. Not bad at all. The key here is to find that perfect window after everyone else has drafted a starter but before everyone else starts drafting backups.
5. Double-barrel the position in middle rounds. Owners who miss out on the elite passers and have to settle for a backend starter can increase their chances of striking it rich by immediately taking a second passer. Missing on one guy becomes less of a concern; hitting on both becomes a luxury that allows owners to pick a weekly starter based on matchup or offer up a passer as trade bait.
• Reach: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers. Someone is going to draft a read-option quarterback too early. One may even go off the board before the Falcons' Ryan. That would be a mistake. These new-wave quarterbacks are exciting, but they lack the elite supporting casts and have to make plays with their legs because the plays aren't there down the field. And of course, that style of play tends to increase a quarterback's injury risk. Of all the read-option passers, Kaepernick scares me the most. He's coming off a Super Bowl run, leading to huge hype and expectations. That means that as good as he is, he'll likely be overvalued in drafts. Plus, Kaepernick lost his leading receiver, Michael Crabtree, to a serious Achilles injury. Kaepernick has great potential, but he's a relatively inexperienced quarterback on a run-first team. Don't reach.
(One note on the young guys, in general: Quarterback is a veteran position. It takes years to become a Brady, a Brees or a Rodgers. Don't discount the old guys in favor of the recent rookie superstars. After all, that didn't work out so well for those who went all-in on Newton a season ago.)
• Steal: Eli Manning, New York Giants. Manning is coming off a disappointing year by his standards, and as result he's being drafted as a fantasy backup in standard 12-team leagues. That makes him a mega-steal. Last year, Manning was dealing with injured receivers and tight ends; this year, he'll have a healthier Hakeem Nicks and a Victor Cruz operating under a new contract. Nicks and Cruz have top-five potential at the position and offseason addition Brandon Myers should can help Manning at tight end. Manning is going to be drafted as a backup, but he'll perform like a starter.
• Injury-risk: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins. RGIII's knee surgery might not cause him to miss any regular-season games, but his style of play and his team's usage will always put him at risk. Sure, the Redskins say they will protect him more and avoid putting him in peril with read-option runs into linebackers, but if they really do that, they'll be limiting Griffin's best asset: his legs. Griffin has the potential to be a top-three fantasy scorer if he's 100 percent, but the injury risk he brings makes it unwise to target him before Round 5. Owners who do draft Griffin should strongly consider handcuffing him with backup Kirk Cousins. RGIII could be a game-time decision for more than a few games again this season.
• Top rookie: E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills. The first quarterback off the board in April's NFL draft figures to be the only rookie with a legit chance at winning a starting job in training camp. The Bills have an elite running back in C.J. Spiller and a solid No. 1 receiver in Stevie Johnson, but even so, it's hard to see Manuel providing the kind of returns the rookie quarterbacks of the past few years have produced. He is little more than a late-round flier in two-quarterback leagues. His long-term ceiling is dubious as well, so don't overvalue him in keeper leagues.
Quarterback tier explanations
1. The MVPs. These elite pocket passers have the right mix of talent, scheme and supporting cast. They're the No. 1 weapon on their respective teams every week and fantasy owners will never bench them aside from an injury or a bye week.
2. The new wave ... plus one. Before Brady lost all of his weapons, this tier was going to be solely comprised of the mobile, read-option, new-age quarterbacks. They boast high ceilings because of their running skills, but their supporting casts limit their value. Brady's supporting cast is what makes him a Tier 2 passer instead of a Tier 1 passer this season.
3. The remaining pocket monsters. These final three starters in a standard 12-team league lead pass-heavy attacks and have the potential to be elite in any given week. Their supporting casts are strong, but they don't offer the consistency of the two elite tiers.
4. Backup pocket passers. The first tier of backups in a standard league features passers who can put up big numbers in a given week -- or spend a lot of time handing off to the running back. Game situations dictate their performances, making them matchup plays.
5. Draft-worthy fantasy backups. These players bring varying degrees of upside, but can't lead a fantasy team on a regular basis. They're worth considering as backups in standard leagues or second starters in two-QB formats.
6. Potential late-round fliers. These passers are starters in the NFL, but they likely won't drafted in fantasy leagues. Still, there's potential here: This group produced the likes of RGIII, Luck and Wilson last year. Smart owners will consider that rookie class the exception, though, not the rule.
7. Position battle competitors. This final set might win a starting job in training camp, but their ceilings are no better than a tier or two higher even if they win. Only desperate owners will need to consider these passers.
Quarterback rankings and projections
|Fantasy football quarterback rankings and projections for 2013|
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