Let’s take a look at the top of the most important position in the country’s most popular sport. Aaron Rodgers is 33 years old. Tom Brady is 40. Drew Brees is 38. Matt Ryan is 32. Moving further down the fantasy depth chart, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are 35, and Eli Manning, while outside the QB1 class, is still relevant at 36. Age truly is just a number at the quarterback position.
Quarterbacks kick off our 2017 Position Primers series. As was the case last year, and will remain the case until the standard changes, we will use this small part of the column to argue on behalf of two-QB and superflex leagues. Everyone really should be playing in fantasy leagues that require or encourage two quarterbacks in the starting lineup. Quarterback strategy in traditional one-quarterback leagues has gotten too easy in recent years, with waiting on the position the obvious move. Two-QB and superflex formats turn that on its head, presenting fantasy owners with a number of strategy avenues to pursue. On top of that, it makes all quarterbacks fantasy-relevant and turns the likes of Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford and Carson Palmer into easy fantasy starters, as they should be.
We’ll have much more on two-QB and superflex leagues this year, but, if you’re looking for a new challenge this season, one that will improve your fantasy-playing life, you should add a second quarterback to your league’s starting rosters. With that, let’s take a look at the position.
Will Russell Wilson bounce back?
Wilson sprained his ankle in Week 1 last year, and was never quite himself all season. It speaks to just how good he didn’t miss a game and still threw for 4,219 yards, 7.73 yards per attempt and 21 touchdowns while leading the Seahawks to the NFC West crown, despite losing some of the mobility that makes him so dangerous. He did suffer from a fantasy standpoint, however, finishing 13th among quarterbacks in total points and 19th in points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Given that he was a consensus top-three quarterback, it was a disappointing year that likely hamstrung many of his fantasy owners. That, coupled with the continued greatness of Rodgers, Brady and Brees, and the rise of another group of quarterbacks, has Wilson in the mid-QB1 tier by average draft position.
Wilson’s relative slide down draft boards creates an opportunity for fantasy owners. Remember, he was a top-three quarterback for two straight years, and injuries are the only reason he didn’t make a run at a third consecutive monster campaign. An Eddie Lacy-C.J. Prosise-Thomas Rawls backfield ensures that the ball will be in Wilson’s hands more than ever this season, adding volume to his already efficient game. Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham are enviable weapons, and, before last year, Wilson never rushed for fewer than 489 yards in a season. The top-three ceiling is evident, and, barring injury, the top-10 floor is, as well.
Who’s the real Cam Newton?
Newton’s fall from grace was even further and harder than Wilson’s. In 2015, Newton was deservedly the unanimous MVP, scoring 52 more fantasy points than Brady, his closest competitor at the position. Last year, however, he finished 15th among quarterbacks in total points and 13th in points per game. He wasn’t nearly as efficient or explosive through the air, throwing for about 3,000 yards and 16 fewer touchdowns, while losing nearly one full YPA. He, too, was beset by injury, and while he missed just one game, he was forced to dial it back on the ground. Newton ran for a career-low 359 yards, and though his five rushing touchdowns would set a new standard for nearly every other quarterback, they tied the worst mark of his career.
Newton is one of the hardest players to value this season, but not for the reason you might think year. It’s owes more to his MVP campaign being the anomaly, rather than last year’s downturn. We know he has that ceiling, but it was the only season in which he threw for 25 or more touchdowns, as well as one of three in which he reached 3,800 yards and 7.7 YPA. Forget about paying for that season, you can’t even consider paying for 85% of that season. It’s too great a risk. Newton, too, has a solid floor, but the Panthers sound committed to running him less this season and are focused on getting the ball out of his hands quickly, a fact reflected by their first-round pick, Christian McCaffrey. In other words, the Panthers are asking Newton to change his game this year, and while that makes all the sense in the world from a real-life standpoint, it could curb his fantasy value. Think of him as a low-end QB1.
How worried should I be about Andrew Luck’s shoulder?
Based on the information, or lack thereof, coming out of Colts training camp, very. Luck opened camp on the PUP list, and while that, in and of itself, isn’t a huge deal, the total lack of a timetable regarding when he might put on some pads and get on the field is a serious concern.
Luck had labrum surgery in January, shortly after the Colts fell short of the playoffs for the second straight season. He hasn’t thrown a ball since then, and there’s no telling when that will change. Training camp isn’t the time when teams are dodgy with good news. Everyone is a Super Bowl contender at this point of the season, remember? If the Colts had concretely positive news to share about Luck, they would. Their silence and business-as-usual attitude is telling.
There’s no doubt as to what Luck can be when he’s healthy. The problem, though, is that we might not see him throw a pass before fantasy draft season arrives. If that’s the case, and his ADP keeps him in the same neighborhood as Brees, Wilson, Matt Ryan and the like, there’s just no possible way a fantasy owner can make that pick. Unless we get legitimate good news from the Colts, rather than hand-waving and nothing-to-see-here’ing from GM Chris Ballard and head coach Chuck Pagano, Luck will be a tough sell in fantasy circles.
What does Dak Prescott have in store for year two?
Prescott was the single greatest surprise in the 2016 season, rising from fourth-round pick, to necessary starter, to Cowboys savior, to Offensive Rookie of the Year, all in a matter of seven months. Prescott threw for 3,667 yards, 7.99 YPA and 23 touchdowns against four interceptions, while picking up 282 yards and finding the end zone six times on the ground. He led the Cowboys to a 13–3 season, was the No. 6 fantasy quarterback in standard-scoring leagues and pushed Tony Romo into a CBS booth next to Jim Nantz. That’s not bad for a guy in his rookie season.
All that, however, is in the past. Prescott’s ADP has him as the eighth quarterback off the board in a typical draft, ahead of, in succession, Marcus Mariota, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins. No matter how good he was last season, that’s lofty company. On the plus side, Prescott starts the year with a healthy Dez Bryant. If his No. 1 receiver can remain healthy all season, he’ll have better overall weapons than he did a year ago. Prescott was remarkably efficient last year, and that’s the surest path to consistent quarterback success, from both real-life and fantasy perspectives. Running backs and receivers can live on volume, but quarterbacks thrive on efficiency.
Past success is no guarantee, and Prescott does not yet have a bankable track record. At this stage of his career, last season should still be seen as a ceiling, not a floor. Given the other options available when he typically comes off the board, that viewpoint would likely have a fantasy owner passing on Prescott.
Can Ben Roethlisberger figure out his road woes?
It’s hard to pull off the Fun with Blind Resumes game we love at SI.com when a player’s name is in the section headline, but we can still try. See if you can identify the players in the following three pairings.
QB A: 1,915 yards, 70.8% completion percentage, 8.47 YPA, 20 TD, five INT
QB B: 1,904 yards, 59.4% completion percentage, 6.73 YPA, nine TD, eight INT
QB A: 2,088 yards, 65.4% completion percentage, 8.59 YPA, 16 TD, seven INT
QB B: 1,850 yards, 70.8% completion percentage, 8.19 YPA, five TD, nine INT
QB A: 2,778 yards, 68.2% completion percentage, 8.85 YPA, 23 TD, four INT
QB B: 2,174 yards, 66% completion percentage, 7.4 YPA, nine TD, five INT
Any guesses? The overall performance suggests two different quarterbacks, but in every pairing, QB A is Roethlisberger at home, and QB B is Roethlisberger on the road. The veteran’s road struggles have turned what should be a reliable weekly starter and made him a risky proposition half the time.
To be sure, there is far more fantasy good with Roethlisberger than there is bad. Even with his issues away from Heinz Field, he has ranked eighth, 11th and sixth among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game the last three seasons. He has arguably the two best non-quarterback skill players in the league at his disposal in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. He stirs the drink in what should be one of the most potent offenses in the league. Roethlisberger will be drafted in 100% of fantasy leagues, and will start more often than he won’t. That is as it should be.
And yet, even in one-quarterback leagues, any Roethlisberger owner must have a second option for weeks the Steelers leave Pittsburgh. No matter how many reasons there are to believe in him, he has thrown up too many duds on the road to be completely trustworthy. It doesn’t mean his owners automatically bench him when the Steelers head out for a road game, but they would be foolish, with all we have seen the last three years, to commit themselves to him every single week.