In advising “wait to draft a QB,” no one sounds particularly smart at this point — just aware of the blindingly obvious (at least for one-QB leagues). That said, some signal callers provide far more upside than others, and fantasy drafters confident in their ability to pluck value from unheralded players at other positions can choose to splurge on an elite passer.
Still, there are about 20 players here I’d be okay with as the top QB on my roster, plus a few more I could live with while working on ways to acquire better options. And who knows, maybe something unexpectedly good will emerge from the Bills’ depth chart. Okay, maybe not.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (Bye week: 7)
A broken collarbone limited Rodgers to seven games last season, so it’s hard to get too worried about the relatively poor-for-him yards-per-game (239.3) and interception-rate (2.5 percent) figures he posted in that span. Considering that in every season but one in which he has played at least 15 games, Rodgers has finished first or second in fantasy scoring among QBs (and the one outlier, in 2015, was a hardly disastrous seventh-place showing), it only makes sense to place him atop this list. The one outlier in the list above was 2015, when he finished seventh and then he threw for a league-high 40 TDs in 2016. A longtime favorite target, Jordy Nelson, is gone, but Davante Adams appears ready to make the leap to WR1 status and the Packers brought in an end-zone maven in TE Jimmy Graham.
2. Russell Wilson, Seahawks (7)
Rebounding from an injury-plagued 2016 season that saw him land outside the top 10 in QB scoring for the first time — he plummeted to 11th — Wilson finished No. 1 among all players last season in standard scoring, with only Todd Gurley topping him in PPR formats. While Wilson’s yards per attempt fell to a career low (7.2) in 2017, he led the NFL with 34 TD passes and was back to bedeviling defenses with his feet, rushing for 586 yards and three scores. Seattle has made moves to improve its offensive line, but the team took major losses on defense as the “Legion of Boom” was all but dismantled, creating conditions under which the Seahawks could call a higher percentage of passing plays than in recent memory.
3. Tom Brady, Patriots (11)
Brady turns 41 next month, lost an explosive WR in Brandin Cooks and will be without another top WR, Julian Edelman, for the first four weeks of the season. But will any of that matter much? History says probably not, as Brady has proved as remarkably consistent as he has been durable, playing in all 16 games in 14 of the past 16 years (with only 12 games played in 2016 because of his Deflategate suspension), and finishing as a top-11 QB in all but one of those seasons. That includes a fourth-place finish in 2017. New England still has kingpin TE Rob Gronkowski as well as promising new pass catchers such as WR Jordan Matthews and first-round rookie RB Sony Michel.
4. Deshaun Watson, Texans (10)
If it’s smart not to draw too much pessimism from Rodgers’s abbreviated 2017 season, it’s probably also wise not to get overly enthused about Watson’s own seven-game campaign, even though a fair amount of excitement is warranted. After all, the former Clemson star took the NFL by storm, averaging by far the most fantasy points per game (24.1) of any QB while showing the same ability to rise to the occasion he displayed in college. He is on track to make a full recovery from the torn knee ligament that ended his rookie season, but it might affect his dashing style, and a greater concern could be how far his touchdown rate falls from its ludicrously high level of 9.3 percent.
5. Cam Newton, Panthers (4)
One way to look at Newton’s fantasy finishes over the past four seasons, 17-1-18-2, is to think of him as a boom-or-bust prospect at a position marked by steady alternatives. Another way is to add in his finishes from the previous three seasons, 3-4-3, and realize that the Carolina QB is much more likely than not to turn in a top-five campaign. Known for his fantasy-friendly rushing prowess, Newton actually notched a career high in yards on the ground (754) last season, and he gets a healthy Greg Olsen back as well as a first-round WR in D.J. Moore.
6. Carson Wentz, Eagles (9)
In his second season, Wentz’s year was similar to Watson’s — electrifying and injury-shortened. But while he kept up his strong play over nearly twice as many games, his recovery timetable could sideline him for the start of this season. Would-be owners who don’t mind spending a roster spot on a rare QB handcuff could protect themselves by drafting Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles in the final rounds, and in Wentz they’d be getting someone who was leading the NFL in passing touchdowns and passer rating when he went down. The North Dakota State product was looking like the Next Big Thing in the NFL, almost literally, as he used his size and exceptional mobility to shake off or elude tacklers before launching downfield strikes. As with Watson, his astronomical TD percentage (7.5) seems certain to tumble.
7. Drew Brees, Saints (6)
A player whose touchdown percentage is likely to rise from last year, Brees threw for his fewest scores (23) and yardage (4,334) since arriving in New Orleans in 2006. That had much to do with a vastly improved defense, not to mention a top-notch RB combo in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, and those trends could continue — at least after Ingram returns from his four-game ban. Add in the fact that Brees is 39 and we might never see him threaten 5,000 yards and 40 TDs again, but he still has impeccable skills (leading the NFL in completion percentage and yards per attempt last season), talented receivers and a dome-heavy schedule.
8. Matthew Stafford, Lions (6)
As with Brees, Stafford isn’t likely to post eye-popping numbers this year but is very likely to give owners a top-10 season. That’s what he has done for each of the past three years and four of the past five, and if anything, his supporting cast has improved. Detroit has been steadily building one of the league’s best offensive lines, and if Kenny Golladay builds on his intriguing rookie season, he will join Golden Tate and Marvin Jones in giving Stafford a trio of dangerous WRs.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (7)
Talk of Roethlisberger’s injury-prone nature has been a bit overblown considering he has missed 12 starts over his past seven seasons, and at 36, he seems to have regained some enthusiasm for continuing his NFL career indefinitely. Big Ben certainly has reason to be eager for a season in which his all-universe WR, Antonio Brown, has a worthy complement in JuJu Smith-Schuster, with rookie James Washington bringing a stellar college résumé to the table as he vies for No. 3 WR duties. Of course, that spot was vacated by the talented Martavis Bryant, but he was also notoriously mercurial, and Roethlisberger will still be able to dump the ball off to his all-universe RB, Le’Veon Bell (provided he doesn’t sit out any portion of the season).
10. Kirk Cousins, Vikings (10)
Cousins has finished higher than 10th in QB scoring in each of the past three seasons, and now he goes to a team featuring the receiving talents of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph. He slots in at this slightly lower point because it still remains to be seen how he performs in a new environment, having left Washington and offensive-minded Coach Jay Gruden for a Minnesota team with a staunch defense and commitment to a conservative attack. The Vikings’ offensive line could also struggle a bit, giving the team further reason to prefer a ball-control style, but its weapons are too good to think Cousins won’t thrive.
11. Andrew Luck, Colts (9): If it looks like his surgically repaired shoulder will hold up — and if and when we see Luck actually throw passes downfield — his ranking will likely rise, but for now it is meant to reflect his risk/reward status.
12. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers (11): That there’s so much excitement for a guy who threw just six TD passes in his five starts last season might seem odd, but Garoppolo showed great command in completing 67.1 percent of his passes while throwing for more than 308 yards per contest.
13. Marcus Mariota, Titans (8): He disappointed in 2017 but figures to benefit greatly from a coaching change in Tennessee that includes the addition of offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who helped engineer the Rams’ dramatic improvement last year.
14. Philip Rivers, Chargers (8): Rivers annually keeps his owners more than competitive at the position and he has a very nice-looking WR corps, but volume could be a slight issue if the Bolts’ defense lives up to its billing.
15. Alex Smith, Redskins (4): He shocked many with his suddenly aggressive play last season in Kansas City, but Smith has been on an upward trend for years and he should be able to sustain a high level of play as Cousins’s replacement.
16. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs (12): Owners could be in for a roller-coaster ride with this first-year QB, who has athleticism and arm strength to spare, plus a terrific group of receivers, but whose inexperience and aggressive instincts could lead to big week-to-week swings.
17. Jameis Winston, Buccaneers (5): After averaging over 300 yards passing in the 11 full games he played last season, and likely set for positive TD regression, Winston would be a contender for QB1 draft status except, of course, for his three-game suspension to start the season.
18. Matt Ryan, Falcons (8): Speaking of positive TD regression, Ryan should throw for some more scores after following up his 38-TD, NFL MVP campaign with a 2017 season in which he threw for just 20 touchdowns. He embodies the quality depth at QB.
19. Jared Goff, Rams (12): Okay, we now can be sure he’s not a bust, but is Goff the QB1 he finished as last year? He threw just 477 passes but was very efficient, leading the NFL at 12.9 yards per completion, and the likelihood that he doesn’t hit on as many big plays and that defenses start to figure out Coach Sean McVay’s schemes diminishes Goff’s chances of returning to the top 12.
20. Dak Prescott, Cowboys (8): Prescott was predictably unable to repeat the remarkable efficiency he enjoyed as a rookie, but while he still managed an 11th-place finish last year, he was QB23 from Week 10 on and now will be working with a distinctly unimpressive receiving corps.
21. Blake Bortles, Jaguars (9): A mediocre talent but not as terrible as his many critics contend, and one with useful rushing totals, Bortles’s biggest problem going forward might be an imposing Jacksonville squad that fails to let him pad his stats in garbage time.
22. Derek Carr, Raiders (7): Carr’s TD passes have dropped from 32 to 28 to 22, his supporting cast is questionable, and the jury is very much out on whether back-from-the-booth Coach Jon Gruden is fully plugged into this decade’s offensive concepts.
23. Mitchell Trubisky, Bears (5): By bringing in Coach Matt Nagy and much-needed pass catchers, Chicago has spurred hope it can make a Rams-like leap in Trubisky’s sophomore season, but that’s probably a bit too much to ask.
24. Eli Manning, Giants (9): His recent stats give cause to worry that Manning is about to fall off the performance cliff, but the Giants are committed to him and have assembled a fearsome-looking array of weapons.
25. Andy Dalton, Bengals (9): His fifth-place finish in 2013 is an increasingly distant, and bizarre, memory. Dalton has settled in under coach-for-life Marvin Lewis as a favorite of no one but the late-round-QB crowd.
26. Case Keenum, Broncos (10): Denver saw enough of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch to rightly view Keenum as a major upgrade, but the rest of us should simply see him as just competent enough to restore Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to fantasy relevance.
27. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins (11): The last of the job-secure QBs, Tannehill wasn’t exactly setting the league on fire even before missing all of last season with a knee injury, but he offers a modicum of upside.
28. Tyrod Taylor, Browns (11): With running ability that has made him an occasional asset in fantasy, and a strong arm that could pair well with Josh Gordon, Taylor could keep No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield pinned to the bench longer than some Browns fans want.
29. Sam Bradford, Cardinals (9): It’s probably less a question of when he will give way to hotshot rookie Josh Rosen and more a question of when his body will gave way to injury, but Bradford is a good bet to play well as long as he remains upright.
30. Joe Flacco, Ravens (10): Flacco has been given an improved supporting cast and will likely be given time to show he can take advantage of it before Baltimore considers replacing him with rookie Lamar Jackson.
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