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Fantasy Football Draft Preview: Quarterbacks

By Matt Schauf 12:56pm EDT 8/14/23

What Do QB Draft Trends Mean for You?

QBs keep going earlier. But should they?

And how should QB draft trends affect the way you handle the position?

We’re here to tackle all that.

First, let’s see where top 12 QBs have gone over the past six years …

This fantasy football draft preview of quarterbacks shows draft trends for top-12 QBs over the past six years.

The shorter the bar, the earlier the QB sits in ADP. As you may or may not be able to see (depending on how big your screen is), every guy in QB1 range of Best Ball 10s Classic (single-league drafts) ADP this year is going earlier.

(Why Best Ball 10s? Because they had the easiest ADP data to pull for multiples seasons and represent actual money drafts as opposed to mock drafts.)

The first QB off the board (Patrick Mahomes) sits very close to the top QB ADP from last year and 2020. But there’s more separation through the rest of the top 12.

Every player from QB3 through QB9 is going 12+ draft spots earlier than he did in any other year in the sample.

QBs 10-12 are all going more than 40 spots earlier than they did last year.

So not only are drafters valuing the top QBs, but the rest of the league looks scared of missing out on a QB1. Is that fear justified?

QB Scoring by Year

Let’s look at how top-12 QB scoring has trended since 2017.

Raw points per game are useful. But looking at the percentage advantage (or disadvantage) of a QB vs. the field is the best way to understand actual value.

This graph compares each ranked QB to the average (or mean) of the top 12 for that specific year -- basically showing the percentage value that each specific QB provided.

The main takeaway is that the top 4 QBs in 2022 significantly outperformed expectations, and their performances were further exaggerated by a down year for QBs 5-13. 

We will likely see a different trend in 2023, back toward the average.

Thus, the top QBs are being drafted too high in ADP.

The second graph shows the performance of QBs 13-24 vs the average of the top 24.

From this, we can deduce that QB2 scoring is reasonably flat year over year.

How Well Does Market Predict QB1s?

Whether you gain an edge by drafting that early QB will obviously depend heavily on whether that guy actually delivers top-level scoring. And it looks like we might collectively be getting better at predicting who will finish as a top-12 QB.

Check out these annual correlations between top-12 ADP among QBs and top-12 finish in fantasy points per game …

2018: 0.24
2019: 0.24
2020: 0.46
2021: 0.55
2022: 0.85

But does that 2022 jump mean we’re getting really good … or that we just got a little luck last year?

Looking at the top end correlations might help. Here’s a comparison of the top 4 QBs in ADP each year vs. their PPG finish …

2018: 0.25
2019: 0.44
2020: minus-0.56
2021: 0.52
2022: 0.39

(The negative: Lamar Jackson going first in ADP but finishing 10th in PPG.)

As you can see, “we” have done a better job at guessing the top 12 than we have the very top finishers. My two biggest takeaways from that:

  1. Fantasy drafters don’t get as fooled by the guys who leap into QB1 territory on the strength of one unsustainable stat (like TD rate).
  2. Top finishers remain tough to predict.

Sure, we know some guys likely to deliver top scores. But there's still likely to be a player or two outperforming expectations.

Targeting that guy will be key.

Are Drafters Chasing QBs Too Hard?

Let’s look at another correlation, on the way to figuring out how we should target QB in our fantasy football drafts.

This one compares top-12 PPG finish the year before with top-12 positional ADP the following year …

2019: 0.18
2020: 0.32
2021: 0.47
2022: 0.59
2023: 0.83

What’s that mean? We’re becoming increasingly likely to draft last year’s top-12 QB finishers as this year’s top 12.

That has lined up with the improving prediction of top-12 scorers from above. But remember that the correlation looks much weaker – and more inconsistent – at the top 4 level.

What’s that mean? Targeting a top-12 QB in your fantasy football draft is probably a good idea. But you don’t need to chase the very top shelf.

Who Will Fall? Who Will Rise?

Look back to last year’s QB ADP:

  • Josh Allen went first and then finished first in points per game
  • Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and Jalen Hurts all went top 6 and finished top 6. Hurts was the big value in there, scoring the second most points per game on a QB6 ADP.
  • Justin Herbert sat second in BB10s QB ADP but delivered just the 14th most points per game.
  • Kirk Cousins, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Fields, and Trevor Lawrence all finished top 10 after going well outside that range in drafts.

That lined up with 2020 and 2021, with most QBs drafted in QB1 range performing like QB1s – but with notable movement up or down and a few surprises (positive and negative).

So our keys this year (and likely going forward) will not be targeting QB at a certain spot but rather trying to avoid the landmine while targeting some players with upward mobility.

Where Do QBs Belong in YOUR League?

General advice is cool. But the Draft War Room knows exactly when a QB will make sense for YOUR draft.

 

Fantasy Football Draft Preview: Quarterbacks

1-QB Leagues

If you check out any of the “perfect draft” articles in our Fantasy Football Draft Guide series, then you’ll get a preview of how QBs are likely to fit into the draft plan for your specific league size.

In short: They can fit just about however you want them to. And it’s likely to be affected by how your league drafts the position.

Josh Allen tops our QB rankings and could top the pick recommendations in your Draft War Room as soon as the Round 2-3 turn.

The value lines up with drafting him there. And we clearly believe that he has a good chance to deliver top-level scoring as long as he stays healthy. Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to take Allen if you’d prefer to wait.

QBs with Upward Mobility

Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert carry Round 4 ADPs by our current numbers for 12-team drafts, and either makes sense in that range – even more if either stays on the board into Round 5.

Jackson and Herbert both sit clearly outside this year’s top 3 QBs in ADP, but each has the upside to finish in that territory. 

We’ve seen Jackson lead all QBs in fantasy scoring. And Herbert ranked second just two years ago.

We have both ranked ahead of Joe Burrow and Justin Fields, who sit in the same ADP range.

Wanna Wait Longer?

You still don’t need to have your QB by the time Herbert leaves the board. Behind that group sit Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson.

Lawrence made a nice leap from QB18 ADP to QB10 in points per game last year. And now he has added WR Calvin Ridley.

Watson was a perennial top-4 fantasy QB with arguably(?) less talent around him in Houston than he now has in Cleveland.

We won’t be shocked if either of these guys lands among the top 5.

Later Gems

We’re all about seeking value here rather than telling you there’s some rigid draft plan you need to follow. So maybe you’re in a spot where you’d rather – or unexpectedly need to – look beyond all the options above.

There’s an ADP gap between the top 9 QBs and No. 10 Dak Prescott, even though he has multiple top-10 PPG finishes behind him.

Geno Smith and Kirk Cousins sit just 14th and 17th, respectively, in our PPG projections. But both added receiving talent to offenses that already helped them to top-6 finishes in total fantasy points last year.

Each clearly has a path to top-12 production this year.

If you miss out – or pass – on the top 9, consider pairing up QBs from the next range. Then you can either roll with the better in-season performer or platoon the QBs week to week.

TIP

Want help finding top QB streaming options in season? The Free Agent Finder is the best waiver-wire assistant you'll find anywhere.

6-point Passing TDs

The most common fantasy scoring format awards 4 points per passing TD these days. But some give 6 (or other value-adding variations).

You might think higher scoring for TD passes makes it more important for you to grab your QB early. That’s a mistake.

Giving 6 points per TD will certainly increase QB scoring overall. But it’ll also change the way QBs score in your league.

Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, and Justin Fields will be worth less, because they derive a larger percentage of their scoring from rushing – and thus less from passing.

QBs such as Herbert, Geno Smith, Kirk Cousins, and Jared Goff, meanwhile, get a relative boost in this format.

You Can Probably Wait Longer

What does that mean for you? In many cases, 6-point TD passes actually makes it more profitable to wait longer on the position.

If the rest of your league is chasing QBs earlier, that leaves more high-value players at other positions available.

If you can stack those players and then grab Cousins or Smith, you’ll be in good shape. And unless you play in a deep league (say, more than 12 teams), you’ll likely find some streaming options on waivers beyond your draft if your starter hits a bad matchup or bye.

Of course, your Draft War Room can guide you to when value fits best in your specific draft.

2-QB or Superflex Drafts

The more out-of-the-ordinary a league setup gets, the more I lean on the Draft War Room to assess the value and determine when I should pounce at QB.

Either of these formats necessarily means that you’ll be targeting QBs earlier.

Unlike the 6-point TD pass variation, more QB starters per team drives up the positional scarcity.

But that doesn’t mean you should panic.

There are still plenty of QBs to allow two for every team in your league (assuming you don’t play in a 16-team, 2-QB league; that sounds chaotic).

Most importantly: Try to avoid getting caught up in a QB run and chasing weak value.

Check out the QB2 scoring over the past six years.

We see a couple of things here:

  1. The scoring drop isn't sharp at any point through this range.
  2. The difference from spot to spot has remained fairly constant year to year.

There will be players drafted in this range who score significantly better or worse than their draft position. But the market has gotten pretty good at judging QB, and there's no clear level at which you have to get your guy or fear missing out.

You should most likely plan to get at least one QB among your first three picks. Exactly when to make that selection – and how many to prioritize within that range – will depend heavily on your draft position and the specific player that gets to you at each turn.

Want more Superflex Strategy?

 

Late Sleepers

In multi-QB formats, you should consider spending a late pick or two on backups – specifically if he’s:

  • Behind a shaky starter
  • Behind a starter with injury risk
  • In an upside offense with good receivers
  • An upside runner himself

Some targets, in no particular order:

  • Kyle Trask (shaky starter)
  • Taylor Heinicke (unproven starter)
  • Jacoby Brissett (unproven starter)
  • Mike White (Tagovailoa injury risk)
  • Marcus Mariota (rushing upside + situational upside)
  • P.J. Walker (Fields injury risk)

Think of QB handcuff types in this format the way you do RB handcuffs in other fantasy formats.

 

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