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Fantasy Football Quarterbacks: The Middle Tier

Heath advocates taking a patient approach this season.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers Kickoff Ceremony
It’s almost like Rivers is screaming “hey guys, why am I not even ranked in the Top 12?”
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback is deep.

Different formats and settings always apply, and you know your league better than I do. But in general it makes sense to wait on your signal-caller this year. I experienced this firsthand yesterday in our Fake Teams PPR Mock Draft. I went early on quarterback and it was painful to see the value other teams snagged in the middle and late rounds.

What follows is a primer of sorts. I will focus on the middle tier, a grouping of players that ranges from about QB9 to QB18. It is a large and productive group. There are multiple guys not being drafted inside the Top 12 who carry that sort of upside.

To keep the word count low, I am excluding talk of the elite tier (Rodgers, Brees, Brady) and the tier just below (Luck, Ryan, Mariota, Wilson, and Cousins). That said, I feel compelled to tell you that MariGOATa is the QB8 at FantasyPros, but I would take him fourth after the big three (Rodgers, Brees, Brady) and ahead of Wilson, Cousins, and Luck (in that order). I think Mariota has that much upside in Tennessee this year.

Now for the “endless middle tier,” as I have been referring to it lately.

According to FantasyPros, the third tier ranges from QB9 to QB17, but I put it to QB18. Here are the names:

Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Derek Carr, Ben Roethlisberger, Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton...and my addition of Carson Palmer. I disagree on the order, but the major point I’d like to make is the sheer talent level of this group.

Cam Newton is only one season removed from a QB1 finish in 2015 and the Panthers just drafted some short-area quicks in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to complement Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin. I doubt Cam rushes for 600 yards or has 10 touchdowns on the ground again, but I am a believer in the evolving nature of the Carolina passing attack. Also, last year Cam was fourth in rushing yards (359) and tied for third in rushing scores (5) among all quarterbacks. That skill isn’t going to totally disappear in Cam’s age 28 season.

For my part, I like Winston, Carr, and Roethlisberger less than the field. In most every draft those guys will be selected too soon for my liking. And that’s okay, because I love the guys who come after them.

Dak Prescott has all the makings of the next great one. He has an elite offensive line, running back, and wide receiver. There’s a Hall-of-Fame tight end there, too. Dak’s situation couldn’t be much better, and in a contentious NFC East I expect plenty of fireworks this year. He was last year’s QB6, but this year he is ranked as the QB13. His solid running game and offensive line may keep some of his counting statistics down, but it will also grant him plenty of scoring opportunities and suppress his turnovers.

Philip Rivers finally has weapons! This guy as the QB14 is criminal. He is a virtual lock for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Hunter Henry are an excellent trio to throw to—better than last year’s group, when Rivers finished as the QB11. Rivers also finished as the QB11 in 2015. You should be getting the idea. He may not be a league-winner, but he is a very solid pick at his ADP.

Matthew Stafford is currently ranked 15th among his counterparts. He was the QB7 last year and the QB9 in 2015, but he’s getting no respect this season. With Ameer Abdullah back in the fold and the inevitable breakout of Eric Ebron on the horizon, Stafford has enough weapons to repeat and the opportunity to do so—he attempted 592 passes in 2015 and 594 in 2016. In the two years prior he totaled 602 and 634. He should rank inside the Top 12 on volume alone.

Where Tyrod Taylor shines is on a points-per-game basis. The injuries are par for the course for the guy who should easily lead all quarterbacks in rushing yardage this season. Missed time has hurt his final tallies, as Tyrod finished as the QB16 in 2015 (14 games) and QB13 in 2016 (15 games). However, if you pretend he played in all 16 games each season (and utilize his per-game averages from each year) he would have finished as the QB8 in 2015 and the QB7 in 2016. That is some excellent per-game punch that you can draft as the 16th quarterback off the board.

Andy Dalton’s touchdown percentage plummeted by 3.3 percent last year due to the combined losses of A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard. Now with Green and Eifert back in the fold, Dalton should crush value this season. His career TD rate is 4.6 percent, but he spiked all the way to 6.5 percent in 2015 (when his weapons were mostly healthy). Well, his primary weapons are currently healthy, so I like Dalton as a Top 15 quarterback this season (with upside for more).

Last but not least is the ageless Carson Palmer. He is the least of this tier, actually—but he makes for a really solid pick at his ADP of QB21. Even the sharps at FantasyPros have him ranked conservatively behind Carson Wentz, Blake Bortles, and Eli Manning. And those guys each have compelling upside, but I like the relative safety of Palmer and his potential with a healthier version of John Brown. Palmer is himself healthier this year after entering 2016 with a fatigued arm—multiple reports this season contend that Palmer took better care of his body this time around and that he has more zip on his passes than he did a year ago. If Palmer can take advantage of a healthier John Brown’s 4.34 speed, you’ll have yourself a quality starting quarterback for very little draft-day cost.

All of the above is my long-winded way of saying I prefer to wait on a quarterback this season. I love this “endless middle tier.” Which guy is your preferred target? Answer in the poll below or come hang out in the comments. Let’s talk some football, ladies and gents!


Which QB offers the most upside at their current ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Cam Newton, QB9
    (10 votes)
  • 11%
    Dak Prescott, QB13
    (8 votes)
  • 22%
    Philip Rivers, QB14
    (16 votes)
  • 26%
    Matthew Stafford, QB15
    (19 votes)
  • 13%
    Tyrod Taylor, QB16
    (10 votes)
  • 8%
    Andy Dalton, QB17
    (6 votes)
  • 4%
    Carson Palmer, QB21
    (3 votes)
72 votes total Vote Now