Dig Baton Rouge

Fantasy Football 101

By Nick Guarisco
@NickGFantasy

With NFL teams reporting for training camp last week, the start of the football season is right around corner. Before the New England Patriots face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL season opener on Thursday September 10, millions of football fans will embark on the time-honored tradition of the fantasy football draft.

To get you ready for your fantasy football draft, DIG’s fantasy football expert Nick Guarisco will break down every position in a four-part series with the best fantasy football insight around. Strap on your helmets and pass the chicken wings—it’s game time!

QUARTERBACKS

Every summer the fantasy football industry’s experts debate the value of the quarterback position.

Proponents of the “Early-QB” strategy argue that there’s a level of stability in taking a quarterback early—both in terms of consistently achieving near expected production and in maintaining good health throughout the season—that is simply unrivaled by other, less reliable positions like running back and wide receiver. Plus, quarterbacks score the most points in the vast majority of league scoring systems.

On the other hand, “Late-Round-QB” advocates argue the economic concept of supply and demand makes spending high draft picks on quarterbacks inefficient. In theory, there are so many quarterbacks who can provide decent production on a week-to-week basis, not to mention they are easier to stream (“play matchups” with waiver wire options) that it makes more sense to wait on QB and spend premium draft picks on scarcer positions like running backs and wide receivers.

The harsh reality of the situation is that the philosophical debate is useless. The entire concept of positional “value” you read all the mainstream experts is highly overrated at best.

Simply put, it does not really matter when you pick certain key positions. What’s important at the end of the season is who you picked, not where or when you picked them.

Of course, this is not an excuse to throw a kicker parade and take Indianapolis Colts place kicker Adam Vinatieri in the first round. From a strategic point, the main takeaway here is that drafters should never lock themselves into a particular QB philosophy.

Every year is completely different. Some years I fall in love with a top-5 QB and target him early (Colts QB Andrew Luck certainly helped make my wallet thicker last season), and some years there are lower ranked QBs I feel confident enough to bank on top-10 seasons, which allows me to address the RB and WR positions earlier.

With that said, let’s discuss how I’m approaching this year’s fake football quarterback class.

Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck headline this year’s crop. They are the only two elite options; so accordingly, you’ll have to spend a second or third round pick to acquire them in most leagues.

Rodgers has finished as a top-3 fantasy QB in six of the past seven years, with the lone exception being an injury-marred 2013 campaign. The Green Bay Packers QB is the best in the game, and perhaps the surest bet in fantasy football.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNT7lQF9m6A

It’s worth noting that the Packers’ offensive starters were very healthy last season. Green Bay’s five offensive line starters played 77 of a possible 80 games, and WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, as well as RB Eddie Lacy, did not miss a single start. It’s safe to say fantasy football players will see some health regression in Green Bay that results in less efficiency, yet unless Rodgers himself gets hurt, it’s highly likely Rodgers remains among the top-2 ranked QBs by season’s end.

Luck’s supporting cast is vastly improved from last season with the additions of WRs Andre Johnson and Phillip Dorsett, which arguably gives him more upside than Rodgers this year. However, Indianapolis failed to upgrade its pathetic offensive line. Luck was knocked down 115 times last season, sadly leading the NFL in that category for the second straight season. Luck has still produced at a high level despite the unit’s deficiencies.

It’s worth mentioning Luck started stronger than he finished last season. In the first 8 games, he averaged 25 points per game in my league’s scoring (QB1 by far), throwing for 3,085 yards (342 PAYD/G) while sporting an impressive 26-9 TD/INT ratio. In his last 8 games, the Colts’ QB averaged 17.7 PPG (QB6), threw for 2,175 PAYD/G and posted a 16-9 TD/INT ratio.

Luck has the physical tools and supporting cast to avoid replicating those figures in weeks 9-17, but I’m not sure I would reach for him or Rodgers in drafts this year when taking into account the opportunity cost and my projections on certain lower-ranked QBs I favor this season.

Per the average draft position (ADP) on popular formats, the second tier of QBs consists of Denver’s Peyton Manning, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. These are players you will have to spend a mid-round pick (rounds 4-7) on to acquire. Whereas I like the two names in the middle, I think legitimate reasons exist to expect worse fantasy outputs from Manning and Roethlisberger in 2015. Furthermore, I’m fairly confident I have QBs further down in the consensus rankings who will post similar stats to Manning and Roethlisberger.

Wilson broke out last season, finishing as the third-ranked QB. Wilson is not a high-volume QB, as the Seahawks annually rank near the bottom of the NFL in pass attempts, but he is extremely efficient, and his rushing stats help buoy his top-10 status. Although his rushing line (118-854-6) last season was a career outlier, and regression there is a near guarantee (I’m projecting about 105-500-4), Wilson should make up for those lost points via red zone targets to his new weapon, tight end Jimmy Graham. Wilson is my QB3.

Drew Brees is a very polarizing player within the fantasy experts’ community. Brees is coming off a down year in 2014 finishing as QB6. This offseason Brees lost his go-to target in Graham and his primary deep threat Kenny Stills. Similar to Tony Romo last season (I already hate where this sentence is going), Brees’ numbers will take a hit purely from a volume standpoint, but he should be more efficient behind what looks to be a drastically improved offensive line and a much more effective running game.

Game-logging evidence of this exists: in a five game span where Saints’ left tackle Terron Armstead did not play, Brees compiled a weak 8-7 TD/INT ratio and averaged 15.8 PPG (QB14 if prorated to 16 games in my league’s scoring). In the 11 other games Armstead started and finished, Brees averaged 20.0 PPG (QB3) with a 25-10 TD/INT ratio.

Brees remains extremely accurate and still has the ability to be a league-winning fantasy QB. Like with Patriots’ QB Tom Brady in week four last season, talks of Brees’ old age and demise are greatly overstated, and his struggles were due largely in part to offensive line woes.

Do not let recent bias or the misery of the New Orleans Saints’ 2014 season get the best of you. Brees seems to be slipping in fantasy drafts, and I have no problem taking home-field advantage.

For the best fantasy football insight around, follow Nick Guarisco on Twitter @NickGFantasy, and be sure to inquire about his Fantasy Draft Guide. Filled with in-depth content that surpasses anything you will read from mainstream experts, there simply is not a more valuable resource to dominate your draft.

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