- Aaron Rodgers, GB
- Russell Wilson, SEA
- Cam Newton, CAR
- Drew Brees, NO
- A quiet yet efficient season has bred this idea that Brees is no longer elite. Expect a return to the top 5, especially with Ingram missing time.
- Carson Wentz, PHI
- Deshaun Watson, HOU
- Tom Brady, NE
- This off season has been difficult for the Patriots as they have faced infighting, suspensions, and denatures. Brady will likely still be elite on the field, but his fantasy prospects take a hit.
- Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
- Kirk Cousins, MIN
- Matthew Stafford, DET
- Philip Rivers, LAC
- Jimmy Garoppolo, SF
- The 5 game stretch to finish the year was impressive, but too many quarter backs have wilted under the pressure after securing the big contract. If reports of Jimmy G’s struggles at camp are correct, caution should be taken.
- Jared Goff, LAR
- Matt Ryan, ATL
- Jameis Winston, TB
- Patrick Mahomes, KC
- The weapons are there in this high powered offense, but the difference between the potential floor and potential ceiling is where the questions begin. As likely as he is a top 10 QB, he’s a bottom tier guy who struggles in his first real action.
- Alex Smith, WAS
- Mitch Trubisky, CHI
- Dak Prescott, DAL
- Marcus Mariota, TEN
- Eli Manning, NYG
- The age is a real concern as Manning turns 38 this year and has tons of mileage on his tires, but his situation has improved immensely. Getting back OBJ and Shephard, receiving better protection, and having an effective run game should have him back in the top 20 conversation.
- Derek Carr, OAK
- Case Keenum, DEN
- Andrew Luck, IND
- This is likely to change as we approach the season and his availability becomes clearer, but for now we have him ranked conservatively, should he start the season on the roster.
- Blake Bortles, JAC
- Andy Dalton, CIN
- Ryan Tannehill, MIA
- Jacoby Brissett, IND
- Joe Flacco, BAL
- I would once have defended Flacco against the haters but I can no longer ignore the writing on the wall. One year older, and an early round addition in Lamar Jackson give Flacco very little room for error.
- Tyrod Taylor, CLE
- Sam Bradford, ARI
- Teddy Bridgewater, NYJ
- Sam Darnold, NYJ
- Josh Rosen, ARI
- Of all the rookie QB’s, Rosen feels like he’s the closest to a starting gig, mainly because Bradford is a safe bet to get injured. If you’re drafting in re-drafts, most of these rookie QB’s aren’t an option, but Rosen may be the best of the bunch.
- Baker Mayfield, CLE
- Nick Foles, PHI
- Josh Allen, BUF
- A.J. McCarron, BUF
- Neither McCarron, nor Allen, excite me much, but it’s likely McCarron’s offense for now. If you need a really deep play – he may be worth a look in the last round of your draft. Ideally he’d be a waiver wire pickup, though.
- Lamar Jackson, BAL
- Josh McCown, NYJ
Every year I run an article where I examine the what I consider to the be the most rewarding same team pairings in fantasy football. The idea, if you’re not familiar, is that by adding high tier quarterbacks with elite wide receivers or running backs you give yourself a larger share of the available points. Of course, this works best with high scoring offenses.
Last year I missed the mark a little bit with my go to; Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, as both disappointed. Luckily I planned well enough that it didn’t impact me too much (I won the league after all), but the same risks exist for any strategy as some guys just don’t show up.
But this year presents a different challenge, as the number of elite quarterbacks have dropped precipitously and the number of sure fire fantasy studs is at a questionable level. Let’s begin:
Earl Round Pairs ( Most Difficult To Manage)
Aaron Rodgers and Devante Adams: Adams is finally getting the respect he deserves, ranking 7th among wide receivers. Pairing the #7 WR with the #1 QB is a healthy strategy regardless of what team they play for, but getting extra point for yards and touchdowns shared has this pairing at the top of list. Still, it’ll cost you two of your first four picks to assemble this pairing.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown: While the jury seems to be out on Roethlisberger every year in the off season, Big Ben grinds his way to a top ten finish at the position. What’s NEVER a question is how good Brown will be when he’s on the field. The easy answer is that Brown is the safest pick in fantasy, but it will require you have a top 3 or 4 pick.
Drew Brees and Michael Thomas: Despite still playing at a high level, Brees has sort of slipped behind Thomas and Alvin Kamara as the top targets in the New Orleans offense. That in no way diminishes his ability to produce in fantasy, and I’d argue is a better option than both Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but that’s a different article all together. Getting Michael Thomas, though, is the hard part. His ADP of 15 will mean drafting 1-5 will preclude you from drafting him unless you get lucky. If you do get lucky, a 6th or 7th round pick will land you Brees, who’s ADP of 69 is criminally low.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski: Draft Brady at your own risk, but if you’re confident that the off season malaise in New England won’t affect Brady’s ability to perform then have at it. The truth is that Rob Gronkowski could set records this year as the only reliable pair of hands left for Brady to chuck it up to. Sure, Edelman will be back in 4 games and Hogan has shown he can play with Brady, but Gronk should see the end zone 10-15 times this year on top of a ton of yards. Grabbing him in the 3rd round to pair with Brady in the 7th gives plenty of time to add skill players besides.
Middle Round Pairs (Easier To Coordinate)
Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin: This one isn’t as impactful in terms of fantasy because Wilson tends to supplement his passing stats with his legs. Unfortunately for this exercise, his rushing statistics can’t be taken into account. Still, Doug Baldwin is one of the leagues best slot receivers, and as a 4th round pick has a lot of value regardless. Without Jimmy Graham in the red one, he may even see a few more looks there. This one may not be the sexiest pair on the list, but they may be the most effective.
Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz: It may seem strange to see another WR/TE combo, but the fact is Wentz and Ertz seem to share a brain in the red zone, meaning a ton of points are up for grabs between the two of them. While Alshon Jeffrey may be the #1 wide out on the team’s depth chart, the true number one is Ertz. if you miss out on Gronk but you want a stud tight end, pair a 4th round Ertz with a 7th round Wentz and reap the benefits.
Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs: Wait, you say. This should be Thielen and Cousins! I’m here to tell you, not so fast. Now, I can see a scenario like in Denver years back with multiple 1,000 yard receivers, but the guy I’m targeting is Diggs in the late 4th round. He was excellent last year even though he wasn’t the top target for the Case Keenum led Vikings. Now, he has Cousins tossing the ball to him. A classic gunslinger, Cousins’ game best fits the strengths Diggs brings to the table. This is one of the least expensive pairings you can get as a 4th and a 10th gets you both players.
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones: You may have to spend a 2nd round pick on Jones, but the wait on Ryan is a bit longer than the other QB’s on this list. As the QB13, he’s being drafted in the 11th round, and I’d argue his value is sky high this year as a bounce back candidate. If you’re like me, and you see more value in grabbing high end skill players to pair with the later round QB, Matt Ryan is a slam dunk. Have him and Julio, and you’ll reap the rewards for all those yards.
Odell Beckham and Eli Manning: If you’re nervous about drafting either of these guys, I’d say you’re hardly alone. Beckham is an otherworldly talent when he’s right, but the combination of recent injury woes and an inability to stay level headed means he may fall towards the end of the first round. What I will say is that if you manage Beckham, Manning is a wonderful pairing if you waited a bit long on your QB. In the 16th round of drafts (current ADP is 152) Manning presents a conundrum. He was awful last year but much of it could be logically blamed on the terrible circumstances around him. With healthy weapons, an upgraded offensive line, and an elite RB to draw the attention, and Manning could be a surprise top 15 QB this year.
Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen: Allen proved last year that when he’s healthy, he’s every bit the stud we thought he was. Rivers remains one of the most under appreciated QB’s in fantasy, and his ADP of 112 presents tons of value. Without Hunter Henry, even more weight will be given to Allen, meaning these two could hook up for a ton of points.
Honorable Mentions: Derek Carr and Amari Cooper (a new coach could help get these two back on track). Jared Goff and Brandin Cooks (it’s a new look for Goff, but Cooks could be his go to early and often). Jameis Winston and Mike Evans (This requires a bounce back year for both, but not guaranteed). Marcus Mariota and Corey Davis (There’s so much talent between these two, it’s hard to imagine both of them laying duds this year).
BWhether your throwing an early round pick at a top 5 QB or your waiting until the middle rounds to grab a back end QB1, it’s important to remember that eventually you’ll need a second quarterback for byes and injury.
Sure, you could opt to skip drafting a second QB and stream the waiver wire as the needs arise, but depending on how deep your league is you may be left with slim pickings for late bye weeks. Below we’ll examine each of the consensus QB1 selections and I’ll attempt to give you 3 targets to keep in mind when drafting your backup.
Week 5 BYES: Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins
Having the early bye, it’s important to have a backup plan in place for the bye week and any potential injury issues later in the year. Both Ryan Tannehill and Joe Flacco are available in the 17th round or later in standard drafts, and both have favorable schedules during the home stretch of the regular season. Playing the Raiders (Flacco) and the Titans (Tannehill) are particular boons considering both teams finished in the top 10 for most generous fantasy defenses for opposing QBs. If you’re interested in late picks in deep leagues or just want to watch the waivers, Josh McCown of the Jets offers very little upside but does play the Browns in week 5 so could be a valuable stand in while your QB is on their bye.
Week 6 BYES: Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott
Neither one of the guys inspires the confidence of an Aaron Rodgers despite the potential for monster seasons. The Vikings’ Sam Bradford has a nice matchup against the Packers that should feature higher scores while Blake Bortles draws the Rams in week 6. Sticking with the he’s playing the Browns theme, DeShaun Watson (should he win the starting job) will not have much difficulty putting up decent points in week 6, and aside from the week 8 matchup against the Seahawks, has very winnable games down the stretch.
Week 7 BYES: Matt Stafford
Sure, he’s not really a QB1 to most, but in 12 – 14 team leagues he very well may end up your starting QB. Alex Smith (Rnd 16) draws the raiders, and Carson Palmer (Rnd 14) draws the Rams. Odds are you’re not going to wait too long to grab a backup but if you’re convinced of Staffords abilities, McCown has another nice matchup in week 6 against the Dolphins.
Week 8 BYES: Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota
Week 8 offers a ton of value in terms of backups, and you could choose to wait until late if you grab Rodgers by drafting Mike Glennon (26th round) or Sam Bradford (playing the Browns). If you want to hedge you bets with Mariota, Andy Dalton is available in the 13th round and plays the Colts, and Carson Wentz has fallen back to earth a bit in the 14th round but could put big points but against the 49ers.
Week 9 BYES: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger
Both Brady and Big Ben are two potential top 5 (or better) fantasy QB’s assuming their health holds up. Brady (despite being older) is a far less likely injury risk but it’s something to take into account when drafting an aging QB. Matt Stafford is a relatively low risk option to add in the 11th round assuming you’re concerned about missed time. Espcecially with Roethlisberger it’s important to be realistic. If you’d rather wait, both Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill can be had at the back end of the draft (both in round 17 or later) and both have above average schedules for fantasy production. Either or is a valuable addition to your team if you drafted Brady or Big Ben.
Week 10 BYE: Derek Carr
It depends on who you ask, but Carr is a borderline QB1 who should be drafted under the assumption that he should remain consistent. Still, having a backup for a starter who’s coming off a serious leg injury isn’t a bad idea. Eli Manning may only be drafted a few rounds later, but if he falls, he’s a perfect fit for the bye week and if Carr faces any missed time for injuries. Should he go before the 14th round, DeShaun Watson could fall to you as well, and his week 10 matchup against the Rams (and other favorable matchups in this area) mean less risk. While the by week matchups aren’t as good, Bortles (Rnd 16 – against the Chargers) and Bradford (Round 18- against the Redskins) could put up sizable numbers and serve as a valuable back up for the rest of the season.
Week 11 BYES: Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston
What a murders row of “who the hell knows” in week 11, although most questions should be answered by then. Still, there’s significant injury risk to Luck and Newton, so preparing is a necessity. Bortles matchup against the Browns makes him an obvious option in the 16th round, as does the potential shootout Joe Flacco (Rnd 17) is looking at against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay, but the real crown jewel would be Carson Wentz in the 14th round; his ceiling makes for a dramatic backup but should he be needed for more than a week or two, he could produce in spades from the bench.
Of course it’s important to consider the bye weeks, but as always don’t compromise your strategy to fill in one or two weeks on the schedule. There are no worst case scenarios you’ll face that the other 9-13 teams you’ll play won’t also face, so make sure you start the best possible team and build around them as best you can.
As futile as the exercise may seem this early, identifying sleeper candidates is one of the most important pieces of research you can embark upon. Below we’ll identify three leading candidates for you to keep an eye on before the preaseaon starts.
Eli Manning – New York Giants | ADP 127 – QB 16| Manning had a down season last year finishing as the 19th best QB, but in true Giants fashion, this offseason was about bulking up his receiving corps by adding former Bear / Jet Brandon Marshall. With the backfield in flux, Manning is going to be asked to throw it and throw it a ton. Prediction: 4,600 yards – 33 TDs – 16 INT
Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens | ADP 179 – QB24 | I was vocal in my support of Joe Flacco from a sleeper perspective even before they added Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead to his cache of weapons. With a favorable schedule and the commitment of his front office, Flacco can be expected to approach career numbers. Prediction: 4,300 yards – 25 TDs – 11 INT
Carson Wentz – Philadelphia Eagles | ADP 128 – QB 18| Coming off the board in the 13th round, second year QB Carson Wentz already proved he can operate an NFL offense. Give him a bonafide #1 WR in Alshon Jefferey and a balanced running attack featuring bruiser LeGarette Blount, and Wentz is primed to take the leap. Prediction: 4,200 yards – 28 TDs – 13 INT
Honorable Mention: Sam Bradford, Min (ADP 170+)
Over the next few days, we’ll publish a series entitled Sparknotes, each article will take a birds eye view into each NFL division and it’s most important fantasy players.
Last season saw the rookie duo of Zeke Elliot and Dak Prescott carry the Dallas Cowboys to a division championship and an 8-2 run to close the season pushed the Giants into the wild card round in what looks to be one of the most stacked divisions in football once again. Both teams have plenty to be concerned with as Philly and Washington both closed the gap in the offseason.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Carson Wentz (QB21), LeGarrett Blount (RB28), Darren Sproles (RB55), Alshon Jeffrey (WR13), Jordan Matthews (WR45), Zach Ertz (TE10)
Synopsis – While the Eagles managed a 3-0 start to the season, by the end of the year it was painfully obvious that young QB Carson Wentz needed more reliable weapons. He receives those in the form of jump ball specialist Alshon Jeffrey and bruising running back LeGarrett Blount to complement an improving Zach Ertz. Nelson Agholor falls off the radar completely, but Jordan Matthews figures to man the slot and Darren Sproles should reprise his role as the primary passing down back.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Kirk Cousins (QB7), Robert Kelley (RB31), Samaje Perine (RB35), Terrelle Pryor (WR20), Jamison Crowder (WR32), Josh Doctson (WR55), Jordan Reed (TE5)
Synopsis – One massive franchise tag later and the Washington Redskins return their wildly successful QB under center, and as the fates would have it Cousins has a new toy to play with. Converted QB Terrelle Pryor has elevated himself to WR2 status after a monster year in Cleveland and expects even better this year in Washington. Still, there are plenty of targets to go around for Crowder and a healthy Doctson. In the backfield, Kelley is expected to reprise the starting role, but rumors persist that Perine may be in line for some work should he falter.
Notable Fantasy Stars: Dak Prescott (QB9), Ezekiel Elliott (RB3), Dez Bryant (WR9) Cole Beasley (WR71), Jason Witten (TE16)
Synopsis – Prior to last year we had no idea Dak Prescott would push Elliott for the rookie of the year. This year, there are no such misconceptions as Dallas returns its potent two headed monster and hopes for a healthy year out of Dez Bryant. Under appreciated slot man Cole Beasley expects to far outperform his draft position with another 70 receptions, and the ageless Jason Witten is a safe TE2 who could score a bunch of TDs.
New York Giants
Notable Fantasy Stars: Eli Manning (QB19) Paul Perkins (RB30), Shane Vereen (RB72), Odell Beckham Jr. (WR4), Brandon Marshall (WR34), Sterling Shephard (WR54)
Synopsis – Not to be outdone by the rest of the East, the Giants went out and added former WR1 in Brandon Marshall, pointing towards a year in which Eli Manning does most of the offensive work. Paul Perkins should still see plenty of work on the ground (and Vereen on third downs) but this team is going to pass first and pass often. OBJ will still be the teams #1 but Sterling Shephard may take a bit of a hit with attention being given elsewhere.