Late QB philosophy can still pay off

Fantasy football, like any other crusty old American institution, has its dogma.

One of the guiding principles of our game for many years was that you didn’t want to be the first coach in your league to sign a quarterback. These people were doomed. Dead money. They were beginners who could not be taken seriously.

Pundits have generally urged extreme patience at QB, seeing the position as a place that has only rarely delivered a standout individual season. From a fantasy perspective, the statistical separation between early-round quarterbacks and mid- and late-round options was not substantial in a typical year. We could sometimes get a break-the-game season from an elite quarterback — think Peyton Manning in 2004 or Tom Brady in 2007 — but those performances were both unpredictable and unrepeatable.

Also, the replacement value was always high at QB. Viable fantasy starters were available on the wire every week. Better to broadcast the position than to draft it early. Why take Brett Favre near the top when you could use that pick much more productively then just roll with Jon Kitna or Jake Delhomme or Rex Grossman?

And it worked. Back then, I once managed to win a fantasy championship with Luke McCown as my starting quarterback, so you can’t tell me that roster spot required significant draft capital. Clearly this was not the case.

In recent years, however, we’ve seen a series of the most notable individual quarterback campaigns in league history — from golden ticket seasons to fantasy ends. Patrick Mahomes set the all-time QB fantasy scoring record in 2018. lamar jackson set the scoring record per game the following year. Mahomes, Jalen hurts And Josh Allen each has produced seasons in 2022 that rank among the top 12 historically per game. Mahomes now has the No. 1 and No. 2 QB scoring campaigns on his resume. Twelve of the best 18 fantasy seasons of all time at this position have been delivered in the last five years.

As the cap has changed at quarterback, so have the drafting habits of competitive fantasy managers. It’s easy to justify the decision to burn a first pick in this spot when the top-scoring QB every year is a potential league-winning player — the kind of player who single-handedly leads teams to the playoffs.

As of this writing, three different quarterbacks have average draft positions in the top 25 Yahoo leagues (Mahomes, Allen and Hurts). Two additional QBs have the top 40 ADP (Joe TerrierJackson) and three others are usually selected from the top 60 choices (Justin Fields, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence). These ADPs are also valid for diamond-rated managers. Even the sharpest fantasy players are now grabbing quarterbacks in the first 5-6 rounds of drafts.

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Ten years ago, we would have viewed such behavior as outrageous and unprofessional. Today, that makes you a shark.

But at the risk of sounding like a relic from another fantasy era, I’d like to mention that it’s, in fact, still possible to win a league with a mid- or late-round QB. Ask anyone who won a title with Fields or Lawrence last year. Or with Geno Smitha waiver addition who finished as QB5 overall.

It’s worth remembering that Mahomes himself was actually a late-round flyer in 2018, when he busted for over 5,000 passing yards and 50 scoring. Jackson was often drafted outside of the top 100 picks in 2019, ahead of a supernova season that wasn’t that hard to imagine in advance.

If you’re a traditionalist intent on buying your fantasy QB outside of the first 7-8 rounds of this year’s draft, here are four options capable of delivering massive totals at an affordable price (plus a fifth guy who n is just a wild flyer with upside down)…

One of the biggest open questions heading into the 2023 season is whether Watson can return to anything like his pre-suspension level of play. If he does, he’ll likely end up in the top five fantasy options; he’s already reached that range in three straight seasons, from 2018-2020. Watson led the NFL in passing yards (4,823) and Y/A (8.9) just three years ago and he’s not is still only 27 years old. Cleveland has a talented and improved receiving corps — amari cooper, Elijah Moore, David Njoku, et al – and a knowledgeable and experienced coaching staff. Watson is also coming off a normal offseason for the first time in years, which should likely have some on-court advantages. He’s been the QB10 in Yahoo’s drafts so far, not making the top 75 picks.

Jones is coming off a standout season that was at least as remarkable for what it doesn’t do as he did. He finished with career lows in interceptions (5) and fumbles (6) while playing a career-high 16 games. Raw passing stats weren’t exceptional, although he made 67.2% of his shots while working with a group of injured and disappointing receivers. The addition of Darren Waller should help this season, assuming the often-injured 30-year-old tight end can stay on the pitch.

Last season, Jones rushed for 708 yards and seven scores, key to his fantastic QB9 finish. With this variety of upside down rushes, he would clearly have a shot at a top-five finish if pass totals improve.

As you probably know by now, Richardson comes into the NFL as a the most athletic quarterback the league has ever seen. He was certainly not as accomplished or productive at the collegiate level as Cam Newton (or any of the various other QBs that are mentioned as comps), but he has all the traits we could hope to find in a modern quarterback, including a military-grade arm and blistering speed. The extent to which Richardson can successfully power up multiple viable fantasy receivers is still unresolved, but his rushing talent alone is going to make him a serious weapon in our game, immediately.

Under head coach Shane Steichen, Richardson will play in a version of Philly’s QB running game. He should be universally drafted into the fantasy, well ahead of his current ADP QB16.

Please remember that after Tagovailoa’s first eight games last season, he had thrown 18 touchdown passes and only three picks. He was averaging 283.1 yards per week and completing 71.0% of his passes. He’s the guy who can throw Tyreek Hill And Jaylen Waddle, under the direction of a head coach who masterfully adapts the attack to the strengths of his players. The only real concern with Tagovailoa is availability; when he plays at full health, he’s a clear fantasy starter.

And then if you scroll down the QB ranks a bit, you’ll eventually find this name…

To be clear, we don’t really know at this time that Howell will be leaving for Washington. He can definitely play his way out of work this summer. Jacoby Brisset is a threat. But if Howell lands the starting role for COs, he’ll have an outstanding receiving corps to work with and he’ll play under OC Eric Bieniemy, arguably the best in the business. Howell rushed for 828 yards and 11 scores in his final collegiate season, so he’s a fully accredited member of the dual-threat club. He has the profile to deliver a fantastic top-10 season if he manages to play 15 games or more. Howell is definitely in your deep league and super flexible plans.

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