- These quarterbacks, typically available in the middle of fantasy drafts, can lead their owners to glory this season.
The Staples Series of the SI/4for4 Fantasy Football Draft Kit will cover the three labels fantasy owners have come to know and love over the years: breakouts, sleepers and busts. In this installment, SI’s Michael Beller and 4for4’s John Paulsen give their breakouts at the quarterback position.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (ADP: Round 7)
In his first 27 NFL games, Mariota has averaged 17.7 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues, which would have extrapolated to about what Dak Prescott scored last year as the league’s No. 6 fantasy quarterback. When his six-attempt game against the Patriots from his rookie year is removed, his average jumps to 18.3 points. He’s a dual threat who can score points as a passer (career 5.5% touchdown rate) or as a runner (career 22 rushing yards per game). With the addition of Corey Davis, the No. 5 overall pick, and TD-machine Eric Decker, Mariota now has Davis, Decker, Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker at his disposal. The Titans have invested heavily in the passing game, which is an indicator that the team is willing to open up the offense. If Mariota plays a full season, a top-five fantasy finish is well within reach. Mariota is an excellent value in the middle rounds. — John Paulsen
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: Round 7)
It might be surprising to see a two-time Super Bowl champion entering his 14th season in the league listed as a breakout, but Roethlisberger is set for a late-career bounce that will have him significantly outperforming his ADP this year. Since the 2014 season, Roethlisberger has played 19 games with both Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant in the lineup. In those games, he has averaged 337 passing yards and 2.11 touchdowns, or exactly 20 fantasy points, per game. That would have been the fifth-highest per-game average at the quarterback position in both 2015 and 2016, which might explain why he didn’t follow through with his offseason threats of retirement. Roethlisberger still has worrisome home/away splits, but with Brown and Bryant in the lineup, Big Ben should still be trustworthy in most games away from Heinz Field. He has home matchups against the Ravens in Week 14 and the Patriots in Week 15 before a road game against the Texans in Week 16, so his fantasy playoff schedule is mostly favorable, as well. As the 11th quarterback off the board in a typical draft, Roethlisberger has top-five potential if he’s able to stay healthy and on the field. — JP
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills (ADP: Round 12)
My tag-team partner in the Staple Series, John Paulsen, has Taylor as a sleeper quarterback. I’m going to see that, and raise him to a breakout. There’s no player I believe in more this season than Taylor. I mean, yeah, David Johnson, Aaron Rodgers, Antonio Brown, they’re all sure things. I’m as confident in Taylor as I am in those three, and anyone else in the league. Taylor has been a starting quarterback for two seasons, finishing ninth and eighth in fantasy points per game, respectively, those two years. Here’s the full list of quarterbacks who have been top-nine finishers both of the last two seasons: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck and Taylor. That’s everyone. Not even the great Rodgers, who is clearly the No. 1 quarterback, has achieved the feat. Taylor is efficient in the air, completing 62.6% of his passes for 7.42 yards per attempt and 37 touchdowns against 12 interceptions the last two seasons, doing it without any help from Sammy Watkins last year. He’s electric on the ground, rushing for 1,148 yards and 10 touchdowns on 199 carries as Buffalo’s starter, translating to 6.03 fantasy points per game with his legs alone. If Watkins can stay healthy, Taylor will have a true No. 1 receiver for the first time in his career, and the Bills did their quarterback a big favor by adding Zay Jones with the 37th overall pick in the draft. Not only does Taylor have top-five potential, he is going to realize that potential. — Michael Beller
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (ADP: Round 7)
Yes, Paulsen already made a great argument on behalf of Mariota as a breakout player. Here’s the thing, though. We at SI and 4 For 4 aren’t trying to hit some magical number of players in every breakout column just so we can say we gave you X number of candidates. We stand behind the players we believe in, and we don’t pump up ones we don’t for the sake of hitting some arbitrary quantity. I echo everything Paulsen said, but I’d like to drive home two key points. First, Mariota is a former second overall pick and Heisman winner who has already had a ton of success, and turns 24 years old halfway through the season. If that’s not a player clearly on the rise, I don’t know what is. Second, the investments Tennessee made in the passing game this offseason gives Mariota an impressive cache of weapons, and clearly indicate a dedication to opening up the aerial attack. This will be the last season Mariota comes at this cheap a price for a long time. He’s going to win people leagues this year. — MB