What do Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford and Colin Kaepernick have in common? Well, a lot of things, I suppose, but what are the two I’m looking for with this question? First, they’re all well-known quarterbacks whose faces any football fan could identify. Second, they were all outside the top 12 at the position in fantasy points per game last season. In other words, over the course of the entire year, they were all backups.
Eli Manning should matter in fantasy leagues. So should Rivers and Cutler and Flacco. For that matter, so should Alex Smith and Andy Dalton. Yet, in most one-quarterback formats, a lot of them can be ignored. That’s not the fault of one-QB leagues. It’s the fault of the fantasy community at large for not changing with the times. With quarterbacks and passing attacks more potent than ever before in the NFL’s history, the time has arrived for two-quarterback fantasy leagues to be the norm.
Why a two-quarterback league?
For most seasoned fantasy owners, attacking the quarterback situation in a draft and, to a lesser extent, an auction is just too easy. All you have to do is lay in wait and let a top-10 quarterback fall into your lap. When you can get Matt Ryan early in the seventh round of a 12-team league, Tony Romo at the end of the seventh or one of Eli Manning and Ryan Tannehill at the end of the eighth, you don’t really need a strategy to deal with the position. You basically just let the draft funnel one of these rock-solid options to you, and then maybe back him up with a high-upside second quarterback, like Kaepernick (141.1 average draft position), Cutler (148.3), Dalton (155.4) or Sam Bradford (109.1). A large percentage of the fantasy community is basically drafting on rote, and just changing the names from year to year. Where’s the fun in that?
A two-quarterback league turns the status quo on its head. Owners can’t afford to wait forever on the position, because the production floor at the position matters so much more when you’re starting two every week. You don’t need to have two of the top five quarterbacks to win your league, but it’s going to be awfully hard if you’re stuck with, say, Flacco and Jameis Winston as your regular starters. Everyone in your league will have to buy in at the position much earlier than in a one-QB format.
More players and more choices typically means more fun in fantasy leagues, and that’s why we play this game in the first place. Adding a second quarterback to your starting roster changes the entire complexion of your league. It makes building a winner more challenging, because you have to think more critically about how to invest your resources, not only during the draft but also as you’re making in-season transactions. Just as important, another player in your starting lineup lessens the impact of an outlier performance, giving skill a better chance to win out in its eternal struggle against luck.
If you do choose to turn your stale one-QB league into a two-QB format, allow me this piece of advice. Rather than simply adding a quarterback spot, add a flex position in which owners can place a quarterback. Ideally, you’ll always want a quarterback in that slot, but it at least gives owners the option to play a running back, receiver or tight end there if they’re totally decimated by injuries or byes.
OK, you sold me. What should my strategy be?
The first change you need to make in two-QB leagues regards, of course, your quarterback rankings. Understand that all quarterbacks will be priced higher in this format. Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers are available into the second round in standard leagues this year. They’ll likely both be off the board within the first five picks in a two-QB league. Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning will likely hear their names called by the end of the second round, while the Ryan-Romo-Eli Manning-Tannehill tier is completely snatched up by pick No. 50. You need to be ready to act if you don’t want to get left behind.
In addition to the overall paradigm shift, there are more possible strategies to pursue in two-QB leagues. In the standard one-QB leagues of old, since fantasy time immemorial to the present day you could either go for the quarterback du jour, from Joe Montana to John Elway to Peyton Manning to Luck, or wait on the position and land one of the bargains available every single year. That’s it. Those are your choices. Have fun.
Owners in two-QB leagues, meanwhile, have to consider a number of strategies, both before and during the draft, before deciding which is the best course. Do you pour your most precious resources into the position and head into the start of the season with two of the top five quarterbacks? Do you get Luck, Rodgers or Wilson to anchor the position, and then wait to try to find a bargain with your second passer? Do you repurpose the wait-on-a-QB strategy for this format by loading up on backs and receivers in the first few rounds before pivoting to the quarterback position and hoping to grab two signal callers ranked in the No. 10 to No. 16 range? Maybe you just play it straight and end up with a duo such as Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. All of these are actionable, potentially winning strategies. Your draft prep, as well as the way your draft unfolds, will help determine the path you take.
I’m in a number of two-QB leagues, and I can vouch that no one strategy is demonstrably better than the others. I was in one last year where the league champion had Romo and Wilson, who were 10th in 15th by ADP. The owner who scored the most points in that league (*cough* me), however, had Tom Brady and Flacco, and was carried by a quartet of non-quarterbacks composed of Jamaal Charles, Le’Veon Bell, Jeremy Hill and Randall Cobb. And yet the one with the best regular season record targeted quarterbacks early, grabbing Rodgers and Cutler. That’s one league where the three best teams pursued three different quarterback strategies, and all came away with a title of some sort. There’s more than one way to skin a cat in two-QB leagues.
Alright, so which one do you like best?
There’s no right or wrong answer to that question, and that’s the fun of two-quarterback leagues. If I’m in a draft, it’s going to depend largely on my draft slot. I’m not taking a quarterback over the running backs I consider elite, and that probably means I’ll miss out on Luck, and potentially Rodgers, as well. If Jordy Nelson were healthy, Rodgers would have been my No. 1 overall pick.
I’m always tempted to stick with the waiting game and try to get a pair of quarterbacks I have ranked somewhere between 10th and 14th at the position, but that can be tricky. First of all, it’s nearly impossible to pull off if you pick in the middle of every round. It’s a lot easier to carry out at either end, because you’ll know exactly when to jump in, and if you’ve gotten one of them, you can turn right around and get the other. Even then, it’s still a gamble. If there’s a run on quarterbacks after you pass for the third or fourth time and suddenly you’re faced with your No. 14 quarterback as your leader at the position, you could be in trouble.
An auction is different because of the inherent market fluctuations. It’s always possible to find a significant bargain for your second quarterback, depending on the nomination process. In general, I budget for one top-seven quarterback and another ranked in the neighborhood of 14th. I do that by calculating the mean price of my top 15 quarterbacks and then multiplying that number by 2.5. That gives me the flexibility to pursue one of the elite options if I like the way the bidding is going.
Even in a two-quarterback league, I think your resources are best spent on backs and receivers. I typically like to get one quarterback I can trust every week—think someone like Roethlisberger or Ryan this season—and then target two quarterbacks I can choose between for my second starter based on matchups. That generally means getting a pair of guys I rank between 12th and 24th at the position.
Here’s the thing, though. In one-quarterback leagues, I’m flipping the switch to autopilot, kicking back, and letting Romo or Ryan or Tannehill drop comfortably onto my team like a lazy fly ball into an outfielder’s glove. In a two-QB league, I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do until I actually have to do it. And that’s the beauty of a two-QB league.
Photos: Andy Lyons/Getty Images (Manning), Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images (Rivers), Jim Rogash/Getty Images (Flacco), Jamie Squire (Wilson), Joe Robbins/Getty Images (Luck)