With the NFL season winding down and the fantasy playoffs nearly upon us, I wanted to take a deep dive into my own rankings, position by position. Over the next few weeks, beginning with quarterbacks, I’ll share my current line of thinking on the value of each position along with some of the key players from said position.
With the disappointing play of many of the most highly valued quarterbacks around the league, this has been yet another season that helps prove the popular “late round quarterback” strategy is the way to go when building a dynasty team. With big name players like Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning underperforming, fantasy players have been turning to, and greatly appreciating their “backup” quarterbacks like Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer and Derek Carr. All three of these, and a few other surprises are currently QB1s on the season.
Considering many of the top scoring quarterbacks are in the back half of their career, or potentially even nearing retirement, I don’t expect many of these quarterbacks to gain much value come the 2016 off-season. Instead, I expect the redraft mindset of waiting, waiting and then waiting a little bit longer before selecting your quarterback to be fully welcomed by a large number of dynasty owners. If drafts do play out this way, expect the top players, Luck and Rodgers, to take slight hits. Last off-season, it became the norm to see Luck coming off the board among the first twelve picks. After all, the Colts loaded up on offensive weapons and expectations were sky high. I would be surprised if that continues after another 16 game title serving as a reminder that waiting until the end of drafts can be nearly as fruitful in the short term, and I do mean the end of drafts. Dalton, Palmer, Jay Cutler and many others were all drafted outside of the top 200 in September mock drafts.
With this in mind, you have a couple of options as you build your new teams this coming off-season. First, you can be the first or second to grab a quarterback, taking Luck or Rodgers, or even Cam Newton, with one of your first three selections. You can expect this to be a rewarding pick in the long-term as each should have several years left as a fantasy starter, but you might not see much difference on a year to year basis with the players falling to the end of the drafts.
The other choice is obviously to wait until later, making other positions a priority as you build your team. This can pay off in a big way, if you hit on the Palmer or Dalton types, but others selected in the same range include Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco and Peyton Manning, so this is far from a flawless strategy. The other concern with waiting on quarterback is the year to year uncertainty. Even teams starting Palmer each week will face some questions this off-season as far as who they will start next season.
Let’s move on to some specific players with thoughts on how to value them in existing and startup dynasty leagues. I’ll sort these according to my most current rankings.
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My friend Karl Safchick doesn’t believe there is a top tier when it comes to dynasty quarterbacks and it’s hard to disagree with him, considering the play of Luck and Rodgers this season.
Andrew Luck, IND
This has clearly been a terrible season for Luck. Even before he suffered the injury that caused him to miss the past several games, he had already become a poor fantasy option, throwing 12 interceptions in just seven games. Perhaps the most telling number is the Colts’ record with Luck as compared to his backup, veteran Matt Hasselbeck. When Luck starts, the Colts are 2-5 this season, while Hasselbeck has led the team to a 4-0 record in his starts. The team’s schedule obviously plays a big role in that, but it is still disheartening for Colts’ fans. Luck is set to return later this month and the team has a plum schedule as they make a push for the playoffs. With games against Tennessee, Miami and Jacksonville in the season’s final month, Luck has a chance to get his dynasty value back to normal if he can get back on the field.
I still value Luck as my top quarterback in dynasty leagues, but the small gap between he and Rodgers has become even smaller, while Newton has shown he belongs in the conversation as well. I have Luck in many leagues and don’t consider him a player I will be trying to sell, but I expect his name to still carry enough value that he won’t be a buy low target either.
Aaron Rodgers, GB
Things have not gone quite as poorly for Green Bay’s Rodgers, but he’s not exactly living up to expectations either. While Rodgers is the QB4 on the season, he has four games outside of the top 12, including two outside the top 24. Rodgers is clearly missing his top receiver, Jordy Nelson, who has not played this season after suffering a torn ACL in the pre-season. Randall Cobb and Davante Adams were looked to as Nelson’s replacements, but both have struggled lately and Rodgers has few other options than to continue giving them targets and hoping they hold onto the ball.
Rodgers is still solidly my QB2 and due to the play of Luck, he may actually be closer to moving up my ranks, rather than down them. I expect Rodgers to be firmly in the second round of startup drafts this off-season.
Cam Newton, CAR
We probably shouldn’t be surprised with the performance of the Panthers’ Newton, who has played well enough to earn a great deal of support in the league’s MVP race. His play also has him currently scoring as the QB2 in fantasy leagues, behind only Tom Brady. Newton was a top five fantasy quarterback for the first three seasons of his career before falling off the pace in 2014. Now, even with his top receiver Kelvin Benjamin out of action, he’s again near the top.
Newton is dangerously close to cracking the top tier and considering he’s the only player in my second tier, that makes the gap between the top three quarterback and the rest of the pack a massive one.
For me, this third tier is huge and there is very little difference between the players at the top and bottom of this group.
Jameis Winston, TB
Just a few games into his career, former Florida State quarterback Winston is playing well and is already being ranked inside the top ten dynasty quarterbacks, and is even high than that for me. As you might know, I value younger players very highly and while the quarterback position can be the exception to this, I would easily prefer Winston, who is demonstrating a very high ceiling, over the older players ranked below him. While some might agree with me, I don’t think this is the popular opinion and because of that, Winston is likely to fall behind veterans like Matt Ryan or Ben Roethlisberger during off-season drafts.
Marcus Mariota, TEN
Many of the same things can be said about both Winston and Mariota, this year’s top two draft picks and top rookie quarterbacks. Mariota has been very impressive at times this season, though he can’t match Winston’s numbers of the season. Part of that is due to some missed time with an injury, but it also has to do with Mariota’s lack of weapons on offense, as compared to Winston. With hopes of an improved running game and a more refined Dorial Green-Beckham in 2016, Mariota should improve. I expect his dynasty value to be similar to Winston’s this off-season, which make him a strong consideration near the lower part of the top 100 players. If the price on either Mariota or Winston become too much, it will be easy to pass on them for safer and much cheaper options later in the draft. If either are sniffing the fifth round of startup drafts, or equivalent trade value in existing leagues, acquiring them won’t be worth it.
Russell Wilson, SEA
Once considered the runaway favorite as the dynasty QB3, Wilson has fallen off the pace a bit this year after his rushing numbers have declined. In 2014, Wilson was the QB3 with over 36% of his fantasy production coming via rushing statistics. For comparison, the two quarterbacks ranked ahead of Wilson last season, Luck and Rodgers, posted only around 11% of their fantasy production via the run. Believe it or not, this season an even higher percentage of Wilson’s fantasy numbers are coming on the ground. His 399 rushing yards account for less than 20% of his total fantasy numbers, mainly because he has yet to find the end zone as a runner this year after scoring six touchdowns a year ago.
Wilson will be a player I consider selling this off-season. I know many still consider him the third best option behind Luck and Rodgers, but he’s firmly in the middle of the pack for me and I’d rather spend up for an elite passer, or punt the position altogether and wait it out.
Matt Ryan, ATL
Much has been said about the struggles of Luck, Rodgers, Manning and others, but Ryan seems to be getting a pass, but at QB18 on the season, he shouldn’t be. In September, Ryan was being drafted as the QB6, but has let his fantasy owners down, providing just four top 12 performances on the season. Of those four, only one was in the top eight fantasy quarterbacks of the week. There’s little reason Ryan should be struggling. After all, he does have one of the top receivers in the game to throw the ball to and has an elite running game led by breakout star Devonta Freeman.
Ryan is far from done, but he is now firmly in the tier of the “older” quarterbacks like Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning, and he should be valued as such.
Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
Despite a pair of injuries that have forced Roethlisberger off the field, this has been one of his better seasons. He’s been dominant, throwing to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant and while his missed games have him far down the list of this season’s fantasy quarterbacks, he’s averaging over 23 fantasy points per game, behind only Brady, Newton, Palmer and Rivers. Health has always been a concern for Roethlisberger, but considering his cost compared to others, he’s worth the risk. With the depth of this tier, Roethlisberger could fall outside of the top 100 in startup drafts, making him a steal.
Philip Rivers, SD
After a hot start to the season, Rivers and the Chargers’ offense as a whole, has quickly cooled off. That’s not a major surprise given the rash of injuries suffered by San Diego pass catchers. Keenan Allen is out for the season and Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green, Stevie Johnson and Malcom Floyd have all missed games. Add in a non-existent running game and Rivers has little hope. He’s still been good enough to rank as QB4 on the season, but that might surprise those of us who don’t have him rostered. Rivers is in the same group as many other older signal callers in this tier and could be acquired for as little as a second round pick in many leagues. Not a bad price for a starting fantasy quarterback.
Derek Carr, OAK
After a poor rookie season, many were ready to compare the Raiders’ starter to his older brother, David Carr. The younger Carr has turned things around in year two though, thanks to a whole new trio of receivers. The Raiders signed free agent Michael Crabtree over the off-season before adding rookies Amari Cooper and little known Seth Roberts and they’ve helped push Carr into the top 12 scoring quarterbacks. With a young offense, there’s little reason to expect Carr to fall off this pace, but not everyone is ready to believe in Carr as a fantasy starter, meaning he’ll still be a value in startup drafts.
Andy Dalton, CIN
Seeing a young quarterback, such as Carr, break out can be surprising, but when a player who has been in the league for a few years begins scoring at a higher rate than normal, it’s a major shock. This is the case with the Bengals’ Dalton, who is currently the QB5 on the season. Dalton has scored as a QB1 in eight of eleven games this season, meaning he is not only putting up points, but doing it at a consistent rate. Dalton’s value has increased with this strong performance, but not nearly to the level of many of his fellow quarterbacks. For most, I expect Dalton would be at the bottom of this list. The Bengals also have a relatively young offense around Dalton and AJ Green, Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill aren’t going anywhere.
Blake Bortles, JAX
Along with Carr, Bortles also had a terrible rookie season for the Jaguars. With the addition of running back TJ Yeldon and a fully healthy Allen Robinson, there was hope for some improvement from Bortles, but I don’t think anyone expected this. Bortles is the QB8 on the season and as the leader of that exciting young Jaguars’ offense, has room to continue to grow. As my twelfth ranked quarterback, I might be underrating Bortles long-term.
Teddy Bridgewater, MIN
One young quarterback who has not shown improvement in year two is Bridgewater, who had become a popular pick as the fifth or sixth quarterback off the board late in the off-season. While the Vikings are playing well, Bridgewater has been in full “game manager” mode and is currently the QB23. He hasn’t even really been a strong option in 2QB leagues. Wide receiver Mike Wallace has been a major disappointment as well and other than surprise rookie Stefon Diggs, Bridgewater doesn’t have a consistent pass catcher. Expect Wallace to be replaced this off-season and maybe Bridgewater improves in year three.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA
Bridgewater’s main competition for the role of “young quarterback on the rise” last off-season was the Dolphins’ Tannehill, but he too has been mediocre, totaling just three top 12 games this season. The Dolphins loaded up on pass catchers last off-season, adding DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron to go along with Jarvis Landry. That group, along with a nice surprise in the form of Rishard Matthews, haven’t helped Tannehill to breakout and now some in the organization are reportedly calling Tannehill a game manager. At this point, I’ve given up on Tannehill becoming a top end fantasy starter and would look to sell if owned him.
Tom Brady, NE
Deflategate and the four game suspension handed down by the NFL to Patriots’ quarterback Brady had many fantasy players giving up on the future Hall of Famer as a dynasty option. In August dynasty mocks, Brady was the QB19, being drafted behind Sam Bradford and Kaepernick. Brady’s age (he’s currently 38) is the only reason to to discount him in dynasty leagues as he continues to roll along despite the loss of many of his top offensive weapons. Brady is in a similar spot to Peyton Manning a year ago. Given his age, he has essentially no value to non-contending teams, while he could be a huge difference maker for contender. Entering his 39-year-old season in 2016, expect Brady to again be a huge value this off-season.
Tony Romo, DAL
With a pair of serious collarbone injuries, Romo’s value is quickly fading. There has been some speculation that the Cowboys could look for Romo’s replacement as soon as this off-season, though owner Jerry Jones recently disputed that rumor. Regardless, Romo’s value is sinking and he will be a prime target of mine this off-season in both existing leagues and startup drafts.
Eli Manning, NYG
While older brother Peyton has gotten all the attention for his poor play and injury, it’s Eli who is quietly having a stellar season. He’s a top ten fantasy quarterback and has once again locked in on wide receiver Odell Beckham. The Giants have no running game to speak of and their second wide receiver, usually Rueben Randle, has been inconsistent, yet Manning continues to produce. He’s not flashy, but he’s a solid QB1 for another season or two, and should come very cheap.
Matthew Stafford, DET
After his worst season as a pro in 2014, Stafford has been able to bounce back somewhat this season. A poor start to the season and changes on the Lions’ coaching staff had many expecting the Lions to part ways with Stafford following the season, but the quarterback has been hot recently and the Lions are winning some games, not to mention the overall lack of good options to replace him. There has been enough Stafford hate to drive down the price, but given his rank on my list, he’s one of the players I’m least confident in as my starter.
Drew Brees, NO
Brees just won’t go away, and for many, that’s a good thing. He’s currently the QB11, despite the Saints’ moves last off-season, shipping off tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills. The Saints were left with an again Marques Colston and youngster Brandin Cooks. Both have put up some big games, making Brees still dynasty relevant, but his age combined with the Saints’ fading offense has me passing on Brees. Both he and Stafford and close to the fourth tier of quarterbacks.
I won’t cover all of the tier four quarterbacks, but there are some who deserve a mention, namely new Broncos’ starter Brock Osweiler, who after only two starts is close to cracking the third tier and bypassing Brees and Stafford. Osweiler is just 25 years old and looks to be Denver’s starter going forward, so there is a lot of upside there. Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer is another older quarterback who continues to perform, yet be undervalued. At 35, maybe he should still be valued amongst players like Brady and Brees.
Working on this has reminded me of just how many options there are at quarterback and it should be relatively easy to acquire two of these players, especially in a new league where quarterbacks should be falling to the middle and later rounds of drafts.
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Difference of opinion I guess. I put Carr above Winston and Mariota. Great receiver in Cooper, very good receiver in Crabtree and solid running game with Murray. That young nucleus looks very promising and Carr has that Gunslinger mentality that typically bodes well for fantasy owners. Lots of yards and TD’s with some int’s mixed in
Yeah, I don’t think that’s far off at all. Carr has been really impressive this year.
Agree to disagree, both are good but jameis will someday be great!
Until you steal me again…
Cutler deserves to be in the middle of the 3rd tier. He’s playing great, has excellent weapons and came back in 10 days from a 4 week injury.
Interesting & informative piece Ryan.
It’s fascinating to me how so many view Matt Ryan as a top 5 or 6 dynasty QB, yet view Stafford down in the 15-20 range. Including myself. Earlier in the year during the depths of Stafford’s struggles, I tried to trade Stafford + ? for Matt Ryan. Really glad now that it didn’t work out. Why? Glad you asked.
Sure Stafford’s had his struggles and there’s a fair amount of uncertainty in motown, but even this year in one of his worst ever he’s outscored Ryan in fantasy points. Stafford is 27 and Ryan is 30. Most concerning for me is Ryan already has every piece of the puzzle, including a killer run game, the best WR’s in the league, a decent O-line, good coaches, and yet still seems to find a way to struggle & disappear for huge chunks of the season every year.
Stafford has shown that when he has a decent run game, reasonable O-line protection, he’s *at least* performed to Matt Ryan’s level and very often better. Therefore, the facts seem to support Stafford being ahead of mr Ryan, even if it’s not a very exciting choice. Stafford should win a productivity tie based on youth if nothing else.
Stafford is a volume passer. They had to bring in yet another guy that would be a WR1 on any other team in the league just to run opposite the best receiver in the game over the last 5+ yrs he could have a viable second option. That’s not a good thing.
If Stafford was any good he would have elevated whoever was on the other side well before they added Tate. They tried it with Broyles and several others. Tate can operate fine when Calvin Johnson is injured, but Stafford isn’t very good.
I agree that Stafford is pretty volume dependent, but under no circumstances would Golden Tate be a WR1 on ANY other team. I don’t think that’d be true for 20 teams.