There comes a part in your draft preparation every season where it’s time to make a decision about quarterbacks. Will you go after one of the big dogs with a premium pick? Will you take a solid guy in the mid-rounds and back him up with a late-round sleeper? This is the first in a series of positional breakdowns in which I’ll try and figure out the most logical strategies for your 2012 fantasy draft. By the time I’m done, we’ll have updated rankings to get you ready for draft season.
Rodgers: Smart Top-Five Pick?
Rather than devote a lot of time to breaking down whether spending a top-five pick on Aaron Rodgers is the right call, I’ll point you to our Draft Day Dilemmas http://www.fantasyfootballcafe.com/2012/tips_dilemma01.php article on the subject. I’m of the mind that true workhorse backs are rare commodities, and the opportunity to get one can’t be squandered. As a result, I’m passing on him in the top-half of the draft.
Brady and Brees: Smarter First Round Picks
While Rodgers isn’t getting my top-five pick, I feel a little better spending a pick later in the first round on Tom Brady or Drew Brees. The running backs generally available when Brady and Brees come off the board have a few more question marks. More importantly, selecting one of these guys at the end of the first round still leaves you available to draft from the same group of second-tier RBs in the second round to be your RB1. That can’t be said for Rodgers owners, who are settling for guys like Steven Jackson and Fred Jackson as a RB1. If you’re against the RB-RB plan at the beginning of your draft, locking into Brady or Brees is your ticket to a strong season.
Cam Newton took the fantasy world by storm in his rookie season, vaulting to elite QB status immediately thanks to 706 rushing yards and 14 rushing TDs. How likely is he to repeat those incredible number? It’s anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t bank on it, which is exactly what you have to do when you use one of your first two picks on him. Rushing TDs can be very volatile for quarterbacks; for example, Michael Vick has topped five rushing TDs three times, and he’s scored a total of four rushing TDs in the three years after those big seasons.
Newton isn’t Vick, but I bring it up to illustrate the volatility. Newton’s supporting cast didn’t get any better this season, and he’ll have to try and make big strides in his passing game with only Steve Smith (a regularly double-covered Steve Smith) to rely upon. He’s generally taken about two rounds ahead of where I feel comfortable, and I think he’s closer to the mid-round group of QB1s than Brady and Brees.
Stafford: Stay Healthy, Matthew Stafford
One season after missing most of the year with a shoulder injury, Stafford blew up in 2011, joining Brees and Brady in passing for more than 5,000 yards. In fact, aside from Brady’s three rushing TDs, he and Stafford put up virtually identical fantasy seasons. If he’s healthy, you can count on more of the same in 2012. With Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew in tow, it’s a virtual lock.
But your risk tolerance for his health is key. I personally think he’s a much safer option than Newton, and I’d be happy to take him late in the second, or if lucky early in the third. And I think fantasy owners are much better off with a Stafford and Ray Rice, Ryan Mathews, Chris Johnson or Maurice Jones-Drew than with Rodgers and a Jackson as an RB1. I tend to take a mid-level QB, but if I luck out and can grab Stafford at any point in the third, it’s too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Finding a QB1 Now
So, if you don’t have Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Newton or Stafford, who do you have? Answer: a pretty good quarterback. The reason I don’t wind up with any of the top five is that I have faith in the next class of QBs to produce quality numbers. More importantly, fantasy teams that draft Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan as QB1s do so with a great foundation of RBs and WRs in place. For the RB position especially, it’s critical to have as many reliable fantasy starters as possible, and drafting a first-round or second-round quarterback takes away one chance to get one.
Seriously, pick your poison with these guys. For my teams, I generally avoid Peyton Manning, as I don’t feel comfortable with him as a QB1 thanks to the inherent injury risk he presents. He’ll probably be fine, but I’m not willing to risk a fantasy season on it. He’d have to drop far past his ADP for me to take the risk.
However, the guy I may like most is the one usually taken last of the group, Matt Ryan. Atlanta has moved from a run-centric team to one built around the pass. Ryan has in my opinion the best 1-2 combination of receivers in the league in Roddy White and Julio Jones, as well as a reliable red-zone option in Tony Gonzalez. Michael Turner received 300 carries for likely the last time in 2011, leaving Ryan to pick up more stats filling the void. He could be the next guy to make a run at 5,000 yards and 40 TDs a la Matthew Stafford circa 2011.
Not into Ryan? Then I think you should be looking at Eli Manning and Tony Romo. Like Ryan, these two QBs have two top WRs at their disposal. Why do you think Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are both selected as top-12 WRs? Likewise, both Dez Bryant and Miles Austin can be found in the top 20 at the position (and don’t forget about Jason Witten). Manning and Romo aren’t hurting for weapons, and both have proven to be quality starting QBs in fantasy.
That leaves us with two guys. I like Michael Vick to have a nice season, but at his draft price (generally a third-round or fourth-round pick), I think teams should focus on building their RB/WR corps. Rivers represents better value, yet he doesn’t quite have the reliable supporting cast of years past. If Ryan goes a little early, though, I’d definitely grab Rivers with my next pick, as he’s the last quality QB1 you want on your team.
Griffin and Luck: Newton, Gabbert or Somewhere in the Middle?
Griffin is one of the most exciting fantasy rookie QBs ever, a guy blessed with the athleticism to be an asset in the rushing game like Michael Vick, but with an extraordinary passing arm that can keep the defenses stretched. Seriously, there’s a reason other Redskin players simply referred to him as “The Arm” at early summer workouts. I think he’s destined for fantasy greatness. If you’re the team that’s gambling on Peyton Manning staying healthy, I think Griffin is an obvious necessity as a QB2.
Luck doesn’t carry the same fantasy hype (real-life hype, yes) thanks mostly to his awful supporting staff. However, there are things to like. Security blanket Colby Fleener joins Luck in the transition from Stanford to Indianapolis. Reggie Wayne was handcuffed by poor QB play last year; he has more left in the tank than people expect. Austin Collie once thrived with Peyton Manning, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can do the same with Luck. He’s a solid QB2 option even in his rookie year.
Best of the Rest
Matt Schaub is a guy who has been solid when healthy, but he has to deal with a mediocre receiving corps, one that becomes very questionable if (or when) Andre Johnson suffers an injury. That explains his QB2 status; don’t mistake him for a QB1 that’s just been unlucky.
Ben Roethlisberger would be a lot more intriguing if he could score a few more TDs. He also carries a higher injury risk than most quarterbacks thanks to his style of play as well as the questionable talent Pittsburgh has plugged in at tackle in recent seasons.
Andy Dalton could be primed for a nice step forward. A.J. Green has the look of joining the rank of fantasy’s best receivers as soon as this year. Unless BenJarvus Green-Ellis stakes his claim as a reliable workhorse back, Dalton could be called upon to shoulder more of the offense.
Joe Flacco generally gets shuffled to the back of the QB2 line in drafts this year. Why? He was just as effective as Dalton last year. His stats are consistently reliable, and he still has room to grow, especially if Torrey Smith develops into a top option, which I think can and will happen.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and has previously written for FanHouse and Razzball. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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