Welcome to the first installment of my weekly “Overvalued and Undervalued” column. Each week, I will go position by position to help you find value and avoid some potential pitfalls as draft season approaches. For these articles, I will be using the average draft position (ADP) at fantasyfootballcalculator.com to get a baseline for where players are currently going in drafts. Please note that league format (including league size, scoring system, roster configuration, methods of acquiring players in-season, etc.) may drastically impact the value of a player. If you would like my opinion based on your league’s format or my take on a player not featured in this piece, please leave me a comment below. With that out of the way, let’s begin this series with quarterbacks.
In a Fantrax Classic Draft league with standard scoring, each team will draft a total of 18 players (10 starters and eight bench players). It is highly likely that with such a long bench, most fantasy owners will choose to draft two quarterbacks. Therefore, I will focus this exercise on the top 24 QB currently going in drafts to see where there might be some good value.
THE “STARTERS” (QUARTERBACKS RANKED 1-12 BASED ON CURRENT ADP)
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons – UNDERVALUED (5.10)
Ryan was the MVP of the NFL last season, finishing second among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. He accomplished those accolades despite attempting only 534 passes, his lowest total since 2009. The Falcons’ offense was among the most proficient in league history last season. While there is some potential for regression to the mean in terms of efficiency, Ryan’s current ADP suggests that’s already a formality. However, there’s a pretty good chance that game script may offset any potential regression to a certain degree. In 2016, Atlanta trailed only New England in percentage of fourth-quarter plays run while leading. As a result, only 17.3% of Matt Ryan’s fantasy points were scored after the third quarter. It would not surprise me at all to see Ryan approach 400+ Fantrax fantasy points once again. Considering he can be had 30 picks after Tom Brady and 19 picks after Drew Brees, Ryan is a great value pick.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders – OVERVALUED (6.07)
Carr is currently coming off the board as the sixth QB being drafted, right around the middle of the sixth round. Carr is simply being drafted higher than he should be for fantasy purposes. Carr has never thrown for 4,000 yards in a season, nor has he ever finished a season in the top 10 among quarterbacks in fantasy points. While it’s certainly feasible he adds those two notches to his belt in 2017, I would still let someone else pay for Carr at his current ADP. If I’m taking a quarterback in this range in my drafts, I am looking for more of a proven commodity. A quarterback who has done it before and is poised to do it again. Someone like…
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks – UNDERVALUED (7.09)
Battling injuries for much of the 2016 season, Wilson posted career-low totals in rushing attempts, rushing yards, total touchdowns, and total fantasy points. He also posted career worsts in yards per pass attempt and yards per rush attempt. Despite this, he finished the season 10th in total fantasy scoring. His 2014 and 2015 campaigns prove that he has top-five upside when healthy, and I expect a healthy Wilson to run the ball much more effectively, which would translate into a lot of fantasy points. While a repeat of his 2014 rushing stats (849 yards, 6 TD) may be unrealistic, even a return to 2015’s more modest totals (554 yards, 1 TD) would propel Wilson into a borderline top-five quarterback once again in 2017. He’s also increased his passing yards each season, so it’s not as if he’s a one-trick pony. Wilson is currently going eighth off the board among quarterbacks. At his current ADP, Wilson is a low-risk, high-reward investment and makes for an excellent value pick. I would draft Russell Wilson over Derek Carr 100 times out of 100 without giving it a second thought.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers – OVERVALUED (7.05)
While I expect Wilson’s rushing numbers to increase following a lackluster 2016, I do not have the same confidence in Newton. This is problematic because so much of Cam’s fantasy output is tied to his rushing stats. A woefully inefficient passer, Newton finished just sixteenth in quarterback scoring (as opposed to first in 2015) in large part because his legs did not salvage his fantasy value as they have throughout his career. Newton amassed a career-worst 359 rushing yards last season. If Newton’s rushing stats don’t improve in 2017 to former career levels, it will be very difficult to justify his current standing as the seventh quarterback being drafted. While I do expect the additions of Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to somewhat mask Newton’s ball placement deficiencies, I don’t think they necessarily make Cam a top-tier fantasy quarterback either. If you draft Newton to be your QB1, you will probably have to draft your second quarterback earlier than most as an insurance policy.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins – UNDERVALUED (8.06)
Kirk Cousins has been the starter in Washington for two seasons. In 2015, he scored a total of 345.1 Fantrax fantasy points, good for a top-10 finish. In 2016, he increased his output to 365.45 points, ranking fifth overall among quarterbacks. He accomplished this despite only ranking a pedestrian thirteenth in touchdown passes thrown. With the carrot of a long-term deal still dangling in front of him, Cousins will be highly motivated to prove he is an elite NFL quarterback. Cousins is currently being drafted as the 10th quarterback off the board, just ahead of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, two very popular breakout candidates. I have no issue with drafting Winston or Mariota as your backup/matchup quarterback. But if you need a weekly starter, Cousins is the man to target in this range.
THE “RESERVES” (QUARTERBACKS RANKED 13-24 BASED ON CURRENT ADP)
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions – UNDERVALUED (10.10) After a top-10 finish in 2015, Stafford ended up being drafted as just the 16th quarterback in 2016, as many fantasy players were leery of drafting Stafford due to Calvin Johnson’s retirement. Despite the loss of Megatron, Stafford went on to rank sixth in quarterback scoring in 2016. This is especially impressive considering that he suffered a torn ligament in his throwing hand late in the season, an injury that directly led to his lackluster numbers (3-5 TD-INT ratio) over the last four games. Fast forward to the present day and here we are again, as Stafford is currently going 15th among signal callers. I’m not suggesting that he should be going sixth, but last year’s passing statistics fell right in line with those from the past two years, so it’s certainly within the range of outcomes. In my opinion, if you take Carr, Newton, Roethlisberger, Winston, or Mariota as your QB1, you should do all you can to take Stafford as your QB2. He may become your QB1 before you know it.
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills – UNDERVALUED (11.12) Taylor outscored Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota last season. He also bested Russell Wilson and Jameis Winston in terms of fantasy points per game. However, Taylor is being drafted as a mid-tier backup while the other quarterbacks I just mentioned are being drafted as starters. I believe this is because of Taylor’s low-volume passing numbers. In today’s NFL, it’s strange to see a starting quarterback who averages fewer than 30 pass attempts per game. However, that hasn’t hindered Taylor’s fantasy production, as his rushing totals have been among the best at the quarterback position over the last two seasons. In fact, he has had at least 25 rushing yards in 19 of his last 21 games, raising his weekly floor. If his passing numbers don’t improve at all, Taylor is still a borderline top-12 fantasy QB. If they do, Taylor could be a weekly starter and an absolute steal at his current ADP.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans – OVERVALUED (14.02) I’m pretty sure that people are drafting Watson as a direct result of what Dak Prescott did in his incredible rookie campaign a year ago. It looks as though some fantasy owners are hoping for a similar return on investment from Watson. In my opinion, there’s simply no reason to take Watson in drafts. First and foremost, Tom Savage is the Houston Texans’ starting quarterback, at least for now. As such, drafting Watson could prove to be a complete waste of a pick. Secondly, even if Watson overtakes Savage in camp, he’s far more likely to have a season that resembles Carson Wentz’s 2016 season (24th in overall scoring, outside of the top-25 in per game scoring) than one that resembles Dak Prescott’s 2016 season. Let someone else take Watson. You can always pick him up on the waiver wire down the road if necessary once the owner who drafted him realizes his or her mistake.