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Draft Strategy

Stealing a Top 10 QB

By Kevin English 11:37pm EDT 8/7/13

Grabbing a stud QB early in fantasy drafts is still a popular strategy.  Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning all have ADPs in the first 3 rounds of 12-team leagues.  Unless the league in question has QB-tilted scoring, we won’t own any of those guys in 2013.

Of course, it still takes a productive passer to win your fantasy league. But with a little foresight, you can find one later on.

A couple of QBs usually come from backup range to finish among the top 10. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson accomplished the feat last year.  Cam Newton and Mark Sanchez – yes, Sanchez – pulled it off in 2011.

The QB position is as deep as ever. The ideal draft strategy is to load up on RBs, WRs and maybe even a stud TE early. Then grab a couple of high-upside QBs. The odds are strong that one will pan out and post starter-like numbers.

Here are 5 QBs currently being drafted outside the top 12 that have a shot to finish the season inside the top 10:

Eli Manning, Giants (ADP: 9.05, QB13)

Leaving Manning off this list would be disrespectful.

The 2-time Super Bowl MVP finished 14th among fantasy signal-callers last season.  But in the 3 seasons prior, he ranked 6th, 7th and 10th, respectively.

(Yes, past stats don’t always indicate future success.  Hear us out.)

Manning’s down 2012 made sense.  He dealt with a “tired arm” late in the season.  WR Hakeem Nicks missed 3 games and dealt with constant knee and toe ailments.  Manning couldn’t overcome that obstacle.

“He's out there playing hurt, and you love that toughness about it, that he wants to be out there,” Manning said in a January radio interview.  “But it just made it tough when you're starting a receiver who's gotta win one-on-one matchups and your deep threat and your playmaker all of a sudden kinda isn't making the deep plays and the big plays.  It can be tough to adjust to that.  And I think just our timing was off.”

Nicks has been in and out of practice with more injury problems this year.  Fortunately, the minor groin injury seems to have subsided. Nicks, while possibly exaggerating, told reporters Aug. 6 that he’s “100 percent.” 

His durability is still worth monitoring.  But entering a contract year, he’s plenty motivated to stay in peak condition.  And even if an injury strikes, the Giants hold an intriguing insurance policy in the form of 2nd-year man Rueben Randle. Few WRs have generated more training camp hype.

Manning’s tired arm was a bit unusual.  It combined with a hobbled Nicks to produce his lowest completion percentage (59.9%) since 2007.  Still in his prime, Manning should rediscover his efficiency this year.  And, as usual, if Manning can keep the turnovers down, he should have no problem entering the QB1 discussion.  He’s an ideal target if you’re unable to snag a higher-ranked QB at a value.

Andy Dalton, Bengals (ADP: 10.07, QB14)

Dalton’s team has surrounded him with weapons, adding playmakers Tyler Eifert and Gio Bernard in April’s draft.

Will that be enough, though, to pump up Dalton's yardage?  After finishing 25th in the league with 6.6 yards per attempt in 2011, he climbed to just 19th last year at 6.9 yards per throw. He also held on to the ball too long, taking 17 coverage sacks despite facing the 3rd-fewest pressures league wide, per Pro Football Focus.  The O-line certainly wasn't the problem, as PFF ranked it 2nd best in pass-blocking.He did play behind an OL that PFF ranked 2nd in pass blocking.

Young QBs often struggle to get the ball out on time, though, so we can give him a pass there.  Dalton should be more comfortable and efficient in his 3rd season.

Eifert and Bernard could help the yards per attempt as well, but A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham should already be worth bigger numbers in that category.  Green slipped from 16.3 yards per catch as a rookie to a pedestrian 13.9 last year.  Gresham has averaged just 10.5 yards per reception over 3 NFL seasons after going for 14.7 per catch in college.

The problem has been Dalton's touch and accuracy on deep balls.  He will never have the strongest arm, but OC Jay Gruden mentioned this offseason that Dalton needed to improve those 2 areas.  He'll probably need to approach 7.3 yards per pass attempt, though, to reach 4,000 yards passing.

Even if he doesn't quite get there, Dalton at least brings a little rushing upside.  He has rushed for 5 TDs over 2 seasons.  His 4 last year helped push Dalton as high as 12th in some formats.  (There's 1 big reason we know he can reach QB1 status.)  We also expect the Bengals to throw it more in 2013.

Jay Cutler, Bears (ADP: 11.08, QB17)

Cutler’s an easy punching bag for many fantasy fanatics.  He throws too many picks.  He takes too many sacks.  And, well, he’s kind of a hothead.

While we won’t argue the latter claim, the others lack merit.  Cutler appeared in 15 games last season and tossed 14 INTs.  From a fantasy perspective, that’s not a value-crushing total.  It doesn’t approach his old mistake-prone ways, either.  Cutler posted 18 INTs in 2008 (his final year with Denver) and 26 in 2009.  That number dipped to 16 in 2010.

The trend is clear.  Cutler, still a risk-taker, has reined in his INTs. Now, it’s Marc Trestman’s turn to try and extract Cutler’s potential.  And in an offense featuring dynamic pieces such as Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, we like his chances.

Many question Trestman's background in the Canadian Football League.  It’s not an ideal resume booster, but his reputation as a QB guru is undisputed. The early signs in Chicago are encouraging.

“I think he's doing an excellent job,” Trestman said of Cutler.  “I think he's practicing very efficiently.  He's throwing the ball away and there's nothing wrong with that with the defense that we have.  He's checking it down a lot during the practices; all of us have seen that, finishing his progressions.”

Cutler's renovated O-line will provide some relief.  The battered QB took 38 sacks last year – again, in 15 games.  And according to Pro Football Focus, he faced pressure on 37.5% of his drop backs.  Only 4 QBs were harassed more often.

New arrivals LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Matt Slauson and RG Kyle Long inject the line with pass-blocking talent.  It’s easily the best unit since Cutler joined the Bears.

We might witness a slow start.  Chicago opens with a tough draw against the sack-happy Bengals.  When the dust settles, though, we won’t be shocked if Cutler’s name graces the top-10.

Sam Bradford, Rams (ADP: 13.11, QB23)

In addition to Bradford's initial player profile, we recently touted him in our Sleepers article.

We all know the upgrades and positive signs around Bradford at this point.  It's up to him and the Rams to turn that into regular-season production.  If Bradford's ready to pilot this offense and distribute the ball effectively, he'll bring strong upside.

He'll probably need a little TD luck to reach the top 10, but Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Chris Givens possess the talent to create such "luck." 

Josh Freeman, Bucs (ADP: 13.05, QB21)

We’re not especially high on Freeman’s talent.  He’s displayed spotty accuracy – plus shaky pocket poise – in each of his 4 pro seasons.  We won't discount his QB1 potential, though.

Quietly, he finished 2012 as fantasy’s #13 QB.  He tallied career highs in yards (4,065) and TDs (27).  In fact, he finished 10th league-wide in yardage, only 230 behind Aaron Rodgers.

Sure, his season wasn’t flawless.  Freeman tossed an unhealthy 17 INTs, including back-to-back games with 4 picks. He added an ugly 10 fumbles.

His scatter-shot arm appeared far too often, and it led to a horrid 54.8% completion rate.  Among 16-game starters, only Mark Sanchez and Andrew Luck completed passes at a poorer clip. 

But we should see a more efficient Freeman in 2013.  Prior to last season, his career completion percentage stood at a respectable 60.4% -- and it grew steadily from 2009-2011.  Then, he lost OC Greg Olson last offseason.  Mike Sullivan, formerly the Giants’ QBs coach, replaced him.  The transition proved bumpy.

Sullivan will again direct this offense, but early reports indicate Freeman’s familiarity with him will come in handy.

“He’s [Freeman’s] clearly a notch above where he was last year,” HC Greg Schiano told NFL Network. “Josh came into camp much more comfortable, and you can see it by the way he’s throwing the ball.”

With one of the NFL’s top WR duos, Freeman’s set up for success. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams provide big-bodied deep threats and attractive red-zone options.

Some might point to the Bucs’ run-first offense as an upside-capper, but Freeman ranked 9th in the league in pass attempts last year.  Aaron Rodgers sat 10th.

Ultimately, we’re not trusting Tampa’s former 1st-rounder as a standalone starter.  However, we will consider him a committee option with a chance to sneak into the top 10.

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