Aaron Rodgers is ranked as the top fantasy quarterback this season, but that doesn't mean he should be a top fantasy pick.
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  • Quarterbacks were once as important in the fantasy game as they are in real life, but things have changed dramatically this decade.
By C.D. Carter
July 16, 2018

You don’t remember the fantasy football industry climate in 2011 because you’re young and unencumbered by the memories of fantasy’s Stone Age, when we wore loincloths and smashed people’s skulls with clubs if they didn’t lock down an elite quarterback.

It wasn’t just controversial in those days to say you were going to punt at the quarterback position. It was heresy, punishable by the greatest extent of groupthink law. Mainstream fantasy analysis said without a wisp of a doubt that one had to draft a top-three or top-four quarterback if one was going to compete in their fantasy league. Without one of these guys on your team, you were cooked, done, playing for second place.

That’s why JJ Zachariason’s Late Round Quarterback book was a seminal work that can’t possibly be appreciated by someone who wasn’t immersed in the fantasy football world of 2011-2012 (you might get mad online reading this, insisting you have used the late-round quarterback approach for decades, though that probably means you waited until the seventh round to take a quarterback and were deemed deranged by your league mates who burned first- and second-round picks on the position). To buck so forcefully—and correctly—against the stated norm of an entire industry was as brave as it was smart. JJ’s my man—I do a very mediocre podcast with him during the NFL season—but even if he weren’t, I’d marvel at his insistence that quarterback was being comically overvalued in an era where fantasy writers overreacted to prior-year stats by an immeasurable factor.

Which brings us to the topic at hand: Quarterback average draft positions, and how they’ve changed over the past eight years to reflect the concept that, yes, the quarterback position is largely replaceable in fantasy football outside of wild campaigns like Peyton Manning’s 2013, Cam Newton’s 2015 or Tom Brady’s 2007. The lessons of the past almost-decade seem to have stuck with the fantasy football hive mind. Usable quarterback performances are available every single week on your local waiver wire, top-scoring quarterbacks can be had in the middle and late rounds, and the supply-and-demand aspect of the game means onesie positions—spots where you start just one player—are massively devalued in traditional leagues (I know—not in your league).

Let’s take a peek at how quarterback drafting has changed since the days of hyperventilating fantasy players going scorched earth in hopes of attaining a top-scoring quarterback.

QBs Drafted by Round, 2011-2017
Year First Second Third Fourth Fifth Sixth Seventh Eighth Ninth Total
2011 1 2 2 1 0 4 1 1 2 14
2012 3 1 1 1 2 1 2 2 2 15
2013 0 0 2 1 2 3 2 1 2 13
2014 1 2 0 1 1 2 2 2 3 14
2015 0 1 1 0 2 3 3 2 1 13
2016 0 0 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 12
2017 0 1 1 1 1 3 1 2 2 12

The early-round hysteria reached its peak in summer 2012, as absurd 2011 quarterback production—much of it from mid- and late-round options—broke the brains of drafters worldwide. Disastrous results from that season permanently changed the quarterback market, though we still see folks taking their chances on a second- or third-round quarterback instead of a top-end receiver or running back.

Remember: it’s never the season to take a quarterback early. Not this year. Not next year. Not ever.We see that, basically, the same number of quarterbacks are coming off the board in the front half of a 12-team draft; the concentration has shifted from the first four rounds to rounds five through nine, the range where QB1 Russell Wilson was drafted in 2017. Drew Brees emerged from the sixth round in 2016 to lead all passers but one in fantasy scoring. Cam Newton, 2015’s QB1, sported an ADP in the 10th round. Andrew Luck was 2014’s top-scoring quarterback after being taken in the sixth. In short, depressed quarterback ADPs mean it’s possible—even likely—that we can nab a top-one or top-two signal-caller in the middle rounds of a draft. Using that sort of draft capital at the quarterback position is still not superb process, but it’s not nearly as odious as taking a quarterback in the opening rounds.

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The Average of the Average

Averaging out the ADPs of the quarterbacks taken in the first half of fantasy drafts over the past seven seasons provides a few teachable lessons for 2018.

QB ADP Since 2011
Year QBs Drafted Rounds 1-3 QB ADP Through Nine Rounds ADP of First QB Drafted
2011 5 4.06 1.09
2012 5 4.11 1.03
2013 2 5.07 3.07
2014 3 5.05 1.10
2015 2 5.07 2.05
2016 2 5.09 3.11
2017 2 5.07 2.11

We once again see the steep drop-off in quarterbacks taken in the first few rounds, along with a massive dip in the ADP of the first signal-caller off the board. Newton going at the very end of the third round in 2016 as the first quarterback drafted would have been utterly unthinkable one year before that. In 2011, news of this quarterback ADP drop would’ve sparked riots across the fantasy world.

The middle column is noteworthy. It shows that since the wildly uninformed days of yesteryear—2011 and 2012—quarterback valuation in the front end of the draft has remained stable. The correction was made, but there was no further correction—no trend line showing a steadily decreasing overall ADP among quarterbacks taken in the first nine rounds of a draft. This indicates people are still ready and willing to take a swing on the position in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds, which might’ve paid off in recent seasons. That tingly feeling is the results-based analysis hitting your bloodstream.

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Many of our league mates are simply not willing to wait until the final rounds of a draft to fill that quarterback spot. The sight of its emptiness causes a physical reaction to those who build their fantasy squads as if they’re real NFL general managers, and not nerds playing a game within a game. My take: Unless your 10- or 12-team draft is on the eve of NFL opening day, forgo drafting a quarterback at all—along with a kicker and defense, and maybe a tight end—to stock up on running backs who might fall into opportunity in the waning days and weeks of August. Contribute to the falling ADPs of quarterbacks by not drafting one at all. A startable option will always be there, waiting for you on the wire (I know—not in your league).

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