The most important position in football, and arguably the most important position in all of sports is often an improperly valued position in fantasy world. What I mean by that is a lot of leagues undervalue QB production as a product league scoring, or as a result of the simple fact you only start one of them. Despite that, how many times have you seen your fantasy league won by a guy with a lousy quarterback? Have you been in a league where the guy who was starting Jay Cutler all season won the league? If so, please write me directly because I would like to interview you about your experience! While it’s not impossible, writing off QB production in an effort to stack your team at other positions is not a recommendable strategy if you want to win your league. Without going over my championship pedigree, I will point to the fact I won the 12-team Skullking League last year while drafting last. But I digress….
If you are going to have a chance in 2016, you need a balanced roster and good value at the QB position is essential to that. While he may be the top QB in a lot of fantasy football publications; Cam Newton is likely to be drafted too high in some leagues for his production relative to a Ben Roethlisberger who will be available in mid-rounds or later. Is there going to be a substantial difference in their production at the end of the year? According to ESPN.Com projections; the difference is 49 points over the course of the season. Do you want Cam Newton in Round 1 or 2 or Big Ben for 4 pts less per week in Round 6 or later? I am taking Big Ben every day and twice on Sunday for that little difference. That is what I mean by finding value at a position without undervaluing it and drafting Kirk Cousins as your starter.
Over the course of 2016, ESPN is projecting that Cam Newton is going to outscore Tom Brady by 105 points, largely due to the 4-game suspension to start the year. However, if you look deeper into the projection; the production numbers in passing yards and touchdowns are negligible compared to Cam playing a full season. The biggest difference in production is rushing yards and touchdowns. If I am seeing a push in passing stats between the two, and Tom Brady is hopping mad coming off of suspension; I am betting on Brady’s upside to overcome the difference in rushing stats. Do I want Cam in Round 1 or do I want Brady in Round 8 or later paired with a serviceable backup like Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, or Ryan Tannehill in late rounds? I need 5 starts out of my backup with Brady as my QB so it’s a risk, but I would argue no more than Cam in Round 1 or 2. Drafting a QB to high in the NFL can kill your franchise for years to come; and it will kill your fantasy team this year too. You may draft Cam Newton and win your league; but if I were you I would hope he is drafted before it’s your pick. Not hating on Cam, he won me over last year, but have some perspective. Andrew Luck owners last season can attest to that.
On to the rankings. These rankings are based on 10-team, Snake Draft leagues that award 6 points per passing TD (not 3 point leagues).
The Top 10 Starters in the League for 2016
Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers (Fantasy Pros ADP: 24): I think he is going to go in the first round in a lot of 10-team drafts, and I believe that is too high. While I think Newton’s production will increase this year with the return of Kelvin Benjamin; he offers the best value in the third round, but worthy of a late second round pick. I would expect Cam to top 4000 yards passing with 30+ TD passes to go along with 500+ yards rushing and 6 TD’s.
Russell Wilson – Seattle Seahawks(Fantasy Pros ADP: 41): Wilson had a very productive 2015 when all was said and done. Wilson can be streaky in his week to week production; that’s something to consider when the Seahawks have the 5th toughest strength of schedule in 2016. Despite that, he should be able to post similar numbers to last season, maybe a little better. Wilson is worthy of a third round pick but offers better value in the 4th. Wilson should finish with 3800+ yards passing, 30+ TD passes and bonus rushing production of 500 yards and 3 TD’s.
Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers (Fantasy Pros ADP: 31): I think Rodgers has more upside potential this season and much better value than either Cam Newton or Russell Wilson. The loss of Jordy Nelson killed the Packers offense last year and his return is going to make a monumental difference. Definitely worthy of a late third round selection and is a steal after that. I would expect 4000+ yards passing, 35+ TD’s in 2016.
Ben Roethlisberger – Pittsburgh Steelers(Fantasy Pros ADP: 51): The Steelers were devastated by injury last season and Big Ben ultimately missed 5 games while being banged up in most other games. Despite that, he nearly topped 4000 yards passing and had 21 TD’s. Assuming the team remains healthy, Roethlisberger will be posting big numbers again this year and offers owners great value in Round 6 or later.
Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts (Fantasy Pros ADP: 43): The only reason Luck is in this position is due to Tom Brady’s suspension to start the season; otherwise he falls out of the Top 5. His numbers were awful last year, largely due to injury. However, Luck has been turnover prone his entire career and has a tendency to try an owner’s patience with stretches of inexplicably poor play; partially due to a lousy offensive line. Luck should produce 4000 yards passing and 28+ TD’s, but will likely also have 15 turnovers or more during the season. Don’t draft him ahead of the 5th round.
Carson Palmer – Arizona Cardinals (Fantasy Pros ADP: 68): Palmer had a career year in 2016 coming back from injury and will have no lack of motivation to erase the memories of last year’s playoff debacle. The Cardinals may have more weapons on offense than any team league and Palmer should be a cinch for 4000 yards and 30+ TD’s. Age and prior injuries are the only thing keeping Palmer behind Andrew Luck. Excellent value in the 7 round selection.
Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints(Fantasy Pros ADP: 58): Once again, Brees put up great numbers in New Orleans and should hit the 4000+ yard club with 30+ TD’s in 2016. At some point he will start to breakdown so owners should have a capable backup available in the event Brees suddenly hits a Peyton Manning like wall with his arm. Potential for disappointment if drafted ahead of the 6th round.
Tom Brady – New England Patriots(Fantasy Pros ADP: 71): By the time Brady gets back from suspension he is going to be a man on a mission. That mission will be to set the league on fire production wise through year end and lead New England back to the playoffs. The rub of drafting Brady and sacrificing 4 games is you still have to deal with a bye week (9). If your team is balanced enough and you have adequate production from your backup QB, Brady will offer excellent value in round 8. Pairing him with an Andy Dalton or Matt Ryan type is a safe play. If you want upside potential, consider pairing Brady with Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston.
Eli Manning – New York Giants(Fantasy Pros ADP: 97): This is where I start to diverge from some popular ranking sites in rounding out my Top 10. There is a cluster of QB’s in this range like Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton, etc; but none are as reliable as Eli Manning in my mind. He has one of the premier weapons in the NFL with Odell Beckham and their chemistry is only improving. Eli is looking at 4000 yards and 30 TDs in 2016. Good value in the 10th round.
Blake Bortles – Jacksonville Jaguars(Fantasy Pros ADP: 74): This is the biggest departure I have from ESPN in their rankings at QB. Among those ESPN has listed above Bortles in projected points this season was Alex Smith. Seriously? 20 TD’s, 7 picks, and less than 3500 yards last year while Bortles produced 4400 yards 35 TD’s, and yes; 18 interceptions. ESPN also lists Tyrod Taylor whose numbers are no better than Alex Smith above Bortles. That makes absolutely no sense. We can debate the merits of other guys in this spot; like Matthew Stafford (no more Megatron) and Tony “ICU” Romo, but Bortles is undervalued as a fantasy starter and will likely be available late in your draft. Anytime your QB1 comes out of the 10th round or later and produces like Bortles did last year you are in good shape. I would expect the offensive production to remain consistent with fewer turnovers this season. The Jags are a team on the rise in 2016!
Derek Carr – Oakland Raiders(Fantasy Pros ADP: 111): Carr is on the brink of becoming a legit fantasy starter every week. The Raiders are young and have plenty of explosive talent which is only going to improve with their experience last year. This is a very expensive pick for a backup in my opinion. You may never start him and perhaps only use him as trade bait after the season starts. I do think you can win it all with Carr as your starter assuming everything goes right with the rest of your squad.
Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers (Fantasy Pros ADP: 107): Rivers chucks the ball all over the place every year and ends up with fewer touchdowns than you would expect given the yardage totals he produces. He runs about as well as Bernie Kosar ever did, and his turnover numbers are less than stellar. All that said, he usually isn’t going to kill you on his own. He is the type of guy I don’t mind owning if I have Tony Romo or Tom Brady.
Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions (Fantasy Pros ADP: 144): Stafford earns a heavy discount as a starter after losing one of the most dominant WR’s we have ever seen in Calvin Johnson. I don’t think Golden Tate is an ideal WR1, and Marvin Jones is still a better WR3. Stafford is going to need to raise his game because these guys won’t be able to lift him up on their own the way Megatron always did.
Andy Dalton – Cincinnati Bengals (Fantasy Pros ADP: 121): Dalton is the Toyota Camry of fantasy football backups. He will have the occasional big game; with uninspiring, albeit effective play in other games. You aren’t winning any titles with him, but is good situational starter.
Kirk Cousins – Washington Redskins (Fantasy Pros ADP: 126): Admittedly, Cousins had a much better season than most expected in 2015. While he may replicate that performance in 2016, he is still outside legit QB1 material for fantasy purposes. I like Cousins as a guy to draft in the event I am targeting Tom Brady. It’s hard to judge exactly where he will go in this year’s draft, but my guess he is around late. Further, I am not saying he can win your team a title, but I wouldn’t rule him out of getting you close if you need to turn to your backup.
Brock Osweiler – Houston Texans (Fantasy Pros ADP: 181): Osweiler and DeAndre Hopkins could end up being one of the top QB/WR combos for years to come. We don’t know how good Osweiler can be, but we know he is considerably better than Brian Hoyer and TJ Yates. When you consider what Hopkins did with those guys, the sky is the limit this year. Then again, the Texans have thought that before about high profile backups and have little to show for it.
Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys (Fantasy Pros ADP: 94): If you end up in a QB by committee situation then Romo can have some production value; but you can’t risk your season on him being “The Guy”. I don’t personally think Romo has a lot left in the tank but he could surprise us this year; the Cowboys are not short on weapons at his disposal. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is his last hurrah with the Cowboys.
Ryan Tannehill – Miami Dolphins(Fantasy Pros ADP: 166): The Dolphins are poised to move into the top half of passing offenses this year as a result of Tannehill’s progression and the arrival of Jarvis Landry last year. While he is far from being your every week starter, he does offer excellent late round value for owners who have a low risk in needing a backup.
Ryan Fitzpatrick – New York Jets(Fantasy Pros ADP: 235): Officially the Rodney Dangerfield of NFL quarterbacks, because he gets no respect. The best thing to happen to the Jets last year (as I wrote at the time) was the breaking of Geno Smith’s jaw. Fitzpatrick has always been better than strictly backup talent, but has not been in a position as good as this one with the Jets.
Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons(Fantasy Pros ADP: 152): Here is a younger version of Philip Rivers; throws the ball a ton but does not end up in the end zone. With a disappointing 2015 performance and only 21 touchdown passes last year, Ryan is likely playing for his future as a starter for the Falcons.