Few strategies are universally accepted in the fantasy industry. One example of a consensus strategy is to wait until the final rounds to draft a defense or a kicker, which analysts far and wide believe is smart due to the unpredictability, and relative lack of importance, at each of those respective positions.
Another strategy that has reached achieved a near-consensus is that fantasy owners should wait as long as possible before drafting a quarterback. Whenever I participate in an expert draft, it’s almost as if a game of chicken breaks out—no one wants to be the first to draft a QB; it has become a sign of naiveté.
So why do those in the know wait a long time to draft a passer? There are a few reasons.
Waiting on a quarterback allows owners to build strength elsewhere
Quarterbacks have gone later and later in fantasy as time has progressed and the overall fantasy universe has gotten smarter. The 12th quarterback has come off the board with the 73rd, 110th, 111th and 128th pick, respectively, over the last four years, according to average draft position data from MyFantasyLeague. Fantasy owners will tend to draft upwards of six or seven backs and receivers before drafting their backup quarterback (if they even draft one at all), which causes the signal callers in the No. 12 to No. 18 range to fall even further relative to their draft value.
By purposefully waiting until the 10th or 11th round to draft a quarterback, fantasy owners can fill out their roster with a plethora of running backs, wide receivers and maybe even an established tight end, building an advantage at those positions that will offset any disadvantage they may have at the quarterback slot. Those owners can also afford to draft backups at those other positions earlier, building the necessary depth and flexibility to overcome any injury adversity that may arise during the season.
Quarterbacks are difficult to predict on a season-long basis
Over the past four seasons, 21 of the 48 quarterbacks to finish the season in the top 12 were drafted outside the top 12 at their position. That’s 43.8% of the typical QB1s. Moreover, 38% of the quarterbacks that finished in the top six were drafted outside the top 12. In other words, there are always passers available deep into the draft that will go on to provide starting-caliber fantasy numbers.
Supply and demand
Quarterback is usually a onesie position, in that most leagues only require owners to start one. Most owners will only draft one quarterback, freeing up another roster spot for a running back or receiver. This creates a surplus of available quarterbacks, which lowers demand and causes good, productive passers to fall into the double-digit rounds on draft day. If the late-round gem doesn’t work out due to injury or poor play, in most leagues it’s possible to stream the position, which is the practice of using the waiver wire to pick up a player with a good matchup in any given week. This player could be dropped in the following week if his matchup or outlook is not as good as another player on the waiver wire. In traditional one-quarterback formats, it’s an easy, lucrative strategy to employ, and helps keep quarterback values low.
Typical fantasy scoring isn’t a good indicator of quarterback talent
In fantasy, there isn’t a large separation between good and bad real-life starting quarterbacks. We all know that Blake Bortles isn’t a good NFL quarterback, yet he has finished in the top 10 in fantasy points both of the last two seasons. Interceptions usually cost a fantasy team one or two points, which is only a fraction of their real-world cost. This allows players like Bortles to thrive in fantasy, which makes the fantasy quarterback pool that much deeper.
Late-round quarterbacks to target in 2017
It’s shaping up to be another great year to wait on quarterbacks in fantasy. Below are the six passers going off the board 12th or later in typical drafts. I’d be comfortable drafting any of them as my only quarterback, but their price is such that it’s affordable to grab two and play the better matchup every week.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Since 2014, Roethlisberger has averaged 337 passing yards and 2.11 touchdown passes per game in 19 games with both Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant in the lineup
Dak Prescott, Cowboys
As a rookie, Prescott finished the season as the No. 6 fantasy quarterback, and that was with Dez Bryant out for three games. With Ezekiel Elliott out for the first six games, the Cowboys may have to put more on Prescott’s plate in the passing game.
Matthew Stafford, Lions
Stafford is one of six quarterbacks with back-to-back top-10 fantasy finishes in the last two seasons. He has finished in the top 10 in five of the last six seasons.
Philip Rivers, Chargers
Despite all sorts of injuries to his supporting cast, as well as a career-high 21 interceptions, Rivers still finished as the No. 11 fantasy quarterback last season.
Andy Dalton, Bengals
With a healthy A.J. Green at his disposal over the last two seasons, Dalton has completed 65.4% of his passes for 261 yards (8.1 yards per attempt) and 1.57 touchdowns against 0.57 interceptions per game. Throw in 0.26 rushing touchdowns per game, and those are solid numbers for a fantasy QB1.
Carson Palmer, Cardinals
Palmer averaged 1.88 pass TD in the final eight games last year and opens with a favorable schedule that includes matchups against the Lions and the Colts in the first two weeks.
Sam Bradford, Vikings
The Vikings threw the ball more under OC Pat Shurmur, who took over play-calling duties in the middle of the season. Bradford averaged solid fantasy QB2 numbers once Shurmur had the reins of the offense. The Vikings kick off the season with an easy schedule that includes a date with the Saints at home in Week 1.