Fantasy football 2015 draft preview: Quarterback position primer
The quarterback is the first position real-life general managers think about, but it typically doesn’t get top billing in fantasy football. Running backs have forever been kings in the fantasy universe, and wide receivers have joined them in recent years. Waiting on the quarterback position is a ubiquitous, time-tested strategy in fantasy leagues of all stripes. At the same time, the rise of the passing game in the modern NFL has turned quarterbacks into fantasy scoring machines. Last year, the top six quarterbacks all had more than 300 points in standard-scoring leagues, and five more had 280 points. Despite that, quarterbacks still don’t get the attention backs and receivers do early in fantasy drafts, with just four having their names called in the first 50 picks of an average draft.
There are multiple ways to attack the position. Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck are widely seen as the top two options on the board, and you’ll have to pay to get them. Russell Wilson rounded out the top three last year and could be in line for the best season of his career. Ben Roethlisberger had the best season of his career in 2014, and Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are still getting the job done. Going deeper, Eli Manning and Ryan Tannehill have huge upside this year, while Matt Ryan, Tony Romo and Cam Newton should all again be reliable fantasy starters. The position may not feel as important in fantasy as it is in real life, but finding the right one can help lead you to a championship this year.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers: Andrew Luck may have led the position last season, and chances are he’ll be the best quarterback of the next 10 years, but we only care about this season for now. For my money, Rodgers is still the best player in the NFL. You already know about all of Rodgers’s exploits, so we don’t really need to go over them, but let’s do it anyway: Since becoming the Green Bay starter in 2008, he has never had fewer than 3,900 yards in a season in which he played at least 15 games. He has racked up at least 8.0 yards per attempt five times and has 139 touchdowns in his last 56 games, good for nearly 40 every 16 games.
Rodgers also has the best receiving tandem in the league at his disposal in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, and Eddie Lacy is turning into a star alongside him in the backfield. Put Rodgers on the Raiders or the Browns, and they’d likely be Super Bowl contenders. That’s the kind of guy you want leading your fantasy team. With apologies to Luck, Rodgers remains atop the quarterback mountain in 2015.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins: Tannehill took a major step forward last season, but it wasn’t quite a full breakout. This is the season that he will make that leap. Tannehill’s heading into his fourth season in the league with the right sort of trend line. He has improved each season, topping out at 4,045 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 311 rushing yards last year. Tannehill also threw just 12 interceptions in 2014, the lowest total of his three years in the league, and finished as the No. 8 quarterback in standard-scoring leagues, ahead of Tom Brady, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers.
The 27-year-old Tannehill is getting better individually, and the offense around him in Miami is likely to be the best it has been in the last four seasons. The Dolphins acquired Kenny Stills from the Saints, signed tight end Jordan Cameron away from the Browns, and drafted DeVante Parker out of Louisville. That trio of targets joins holdovers Lamar Miller and Jarvis Landry in what could be sneakily good offense. Whether or not it is depends on Tannehill taking the next step in his development, becoming the sort of player who can carry both real-life and fantasy teams. Don’t bet against Tannehill achieving that feat.
Eli Manning, Giants: Manning is coming off a 4,400-yard, 30-touchdown season in which his top two receivers spent all of six quarters on the field together. He’s also coming off the board just inside the first 100 picks in a typical draft. That’s criminal, especially when you consider that older brother Peyton has an average draft position 55 slots higher. Odell Beckham Jr. completely changed the equation for Manning last year, giving him an all-world talent lined up out wide. If Beckham played all 16 games last year, Manning may have pushed 5,000 yards. Not only was he without Beckham for the first month of the season, Manning also played without Victor Cruz for the final 10 weeks after the veteran tore his patellar tendon. That means he’ll have both of them on the field Week 1 for just the third time since the Giants drafted Beckham last year.
In addition, Manning has a new weapon in the backfield this season. Giants running backs caught just 62 passes last year, the seventh-lowest total in the league. They signed Shane Vereen in the off-season as the remedy for that issue. On top of all that, the Giants defense is likely to force Manning to throw 600 times this season to keep up with the opposition. Manning is a near lock to throw for at least 4,000 yards and should surpass his career-high 32 touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger could lay claim to this spot as well, but Manning’s incredibly cheap price tag was too much of a bargain to ignore.
Drew Brees, Saints: Let me first state what should be obvious: Brees is not yet at the end of the line. Last year’s supposedly disappointing season saw Brees throw for 4,952 yards and 33 touchdowns. He did throw 17 interceptions, but picks have always been part of Brees’s game. The Saints could run more this season, but they’re not about to throw it back to a bygone era. Having said all that, grabbing Brees at his expected draft-day price, which should be around No. 55 overall, is a bit too rich.
The Saints shipped Jimmy Graham to Seattle, robbing Brees of his top target from the last four years. They also traded Kenny Stills to Miami, leaving Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks as the only meaningful players returning from last year’s offense. The Saints did bring in C.J. Spiller to join Mark Ingram in the backfield, and they expect Josh Hill and Nick Toon to handle larger roles this season, but there’s no doubt that Brees’s supporting cast isn’t what it has been over the last few seasons. It’s also worth noting that Brees is 36 and heading into his 15th season in the league. Even the great ones slow down eventually, and Brees is likely entering that phase of his career.
Sam Bradford, Eagles: Bradford’s injury history is especially troubling this season, since he’s at the center of one of the fantasy community’s favorite offenses. That offense has turned him into a chic sleeper pick, but it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to the significant injuries in his past. Bradford has had each of his last two seasons cut short by ACL tears in his left knee, playing a total of seven games in the two years combined. A persistent ankle sprain cost him six games in the 2011 season, and his last season at Oklahoma was cut short due to a shoulder injury that had to be surgically repaired.
Bradford isn’t going to cost you much on draft day, and he’s admittedly a worthy lottery ticket. Understand, however, that there’s no quarterback in the league who is more prone to injury than the new Eagles starter. Not only should you keep that in mind when considering Bradford for your team, but it’s something you have to think about before selecting DeMarco Murray, Jordan Matthews, Ryan Mathews or Zach Ertz, too.
Rookie To Watch
Jameis Winston, Buccaneers: Winston and Marcus Mariota were the first two picks in this year’s NFL draft, and they’ll likely be inextricably linked throughout their careers. Winston gets the nod here because he landed in a better spot, as far as their respective 2015 fantasy prospects are concerned. Winston enjoys a pair of great weapons, with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson potentially among the league's top receiving duos. The Buccaneers used a pair of second-round picks on linemen, grabbing tackle Donovan Smith out of Penn State and guard Ali Marpet from Hobart. Austin Seferian-Jenkins should be more involved in his second year and, at 6'5", 260 pounds, he could be another imposing weapon in the red zone alongside Evans and Jackson.
Winston isn’t likely to finish inside the QB1 class, but he’s definitely worth drafting in all fantasy formats. Winston is especially intriguing in two-quarterback leagues, where your second quarterback can often make your season. The Florida State product and Heisman winner has top-20 upside at the position.
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