Colin Kaepernick

Photo courtesy of Football Schedule

You’re going to roster a very limited number of quarterbacks compared to the other fantasy positions, but that doesn’t mean your entire strategy doesn’t revolve around the position. Not reaching at quarterback is what will occasionally allow you to reach at other positions. Unlike the Fantasy Douche, I usually have a fairly select group of runners and receivers I’m willing to target. That sometimes means grabbing a guy a round early.

But that never extends to QB. Unlike the other positions, your opponents can’t touch you at quarterback. There are simply too many and you get one of every 12 picks. When I say there are 14 quarterbacks you should build your strategy around, it means you must vet every single guy even though you probably only want two, three at most. Whenever your leaguemates leave QB value on the board, you’ll be ready to pounce.

1. Aaron Rodgers – Round 3

Unless injuries get in the way, Aaron Rodgers is going to eventually go down as the greatest quarterback in NFL history. His healthy floor is remarkably close to the healthy ceiling for otherwise elite players like Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. When you combine Rodgers’ unbelievable passing efficiency with his added rushing value, his 2011 season is less of an outlier than the years Manning put up in 2004 or Brady posted in 2007.

The Strategy: Even Rodgers represents a bad redraft bet in rounds one and two, but he’s frequently falling into the third round. In that range, his value over average trumps the importance of loading up on runners and receivers. If you go RB-RB to start, you should be able to find at least four of these 18 receivers in Rounds 4 through 10.

If you’ve read Danny Amendola and Jason Witten Dominate PFF’s Going Deep, you know value extends deep into the double digit rounds this season. By selecting Rodgers you only need to roster one quarterback until his bye week. Saving that roster spot is an underrated value.

2. Colin Kaepernick – Round 7

In 6-point touchdown leagues, Kaepernick averaged 27 points per game once he took over last season (including playoffs). That would have slotted in ahead of Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III. Had Michael Crabtree not torn his Achilles, an argument could be made for Kaep going right behind Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately, you can’t lose your star receiver and retain that fantasy value. Or can you?

Passer Receiver POS ATTS RECS YDS TDS INTS AYA
Colin Kaepernick Michael Crabtree WR 69 43 613 5 0 10.33
Alex Smith Michael Crabtree WR 58 42 492 4 2 8.31
Colin Kaepernick Randy Moss WR 30 15 199 1 2 4.3
Alex Smith Randy Moss WR 20 13 235 2 1 11.5
Colin Kaepernick Vernon Davis TE 25 16 192 1 0 8.48
Alex Smith Vernon Davis TE 36 25 356 4 0 12.11
Colin Kaepernick Delanie Walker TE 23 14 250 2 0 12.61
Alex Smith Delanie Walker TE 16 7 89 1 1 4
Colin Kaepernick Mario Manningham WR 22 15 207 0 0 9.41
Alex Smith Mario Manningham WR 35 27 242 1 1 6.2
Colin Kaepernick Frank Gore RB 14 10 106 1 0 9
Alex Smith Frank Gore RB 22 18 128 0 0 5.82

The results seem pretty clear. Kaepernick turned Crabtree, Delanie Walker, Mario Manningham, and Frank Gore into stars while hurting the values of Vernon Davis and Randy Moss. This is all bad news, since Walker is gone, Manningham is recovering from injury and Gore figures to lose touches to LaMichael James.

Of course, that’s silly. The 49ers offense exploded because Kaepernick is a superstar and the exact distribution driving the ascendance is almost certainly fluky. To be sure, he targeted Crabtree heavily and efficiently, but his success throwing to guys like Manningham and Walker pretty clearly shows the direction of causation. Kaepernick created mega-Crabtree, not the other way around.

This is sensational news for players like Anquan Boldin, A.J. Jenkins, Vance McDonald, and the aforementioned James.

The Strategy: In 4-point passing touchdown leagues Kaepernick should be your clear target if you plan to take one of the first twelve quarterbacks. He’s going to provide Cam Newton value at a meaningful discount.

3. Tony Romo – Round 8

At RotoViz we’ve focused a lot on how Marc Trestman will help Jay Cutler. In my FanSided look at the 10 Sleeper Quarterbacks, I emphasized how in 2002 Rich Gannon threw for 4,689 yards and led the Oakland Raiders into the Super Bowl. Trestman was the offensive coordinator, but Bill Callahan was the head coach, and, to the best of my knowledge, called the plays.

Jason Garrett has ceded play-calling duties to Callahan this season, and we could see an avalanche of fantasy points for everyone involved. Bear in mind that Romo’s impressive career efficiency numbers have been accumulated with far inferior offensive weapons. He’s never had a full season with a No. 1 like the current version of Dez Bryant, a No. 2 like a supposedly healthy Miles Austin. Dwayne Harris and Terrance Williams should put more pressure on defenses to account for the peripheral receivers. Jason Witten remains a machine.

It’s also great news for post-hype star DeMarco Murray. Can he be a rocked up Charlie Garner?

The Strategy: Most mock draft sites have Romo in the eighth round. For example, MFL has Russell Wilson’s ADP at 68, Romo’s at 82, and Eli Manning’s at 104. If you play in a competitive league, your fellow drafters will be reticent to take a QB2 with so much value on the board. Don’t reach for Romo, but try and hit him in Round 9 or Round 10. If you miss, plenty of great QBBC options are available.

4. Andy Dalton – Round 11

Andy Dalton isn’t generating any buzz in the fantasy-specific media, but drafters haven’t missed Cincinnati’s great offseason and the third year breakout candidate has seen his ADP jump. I break down Dalton’s historic start in explaining why he’ll win the breakout battle with Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill. If you want more, check out how Dalton excelled when throwing to his core receivers last season.

The Strategy: You should never take your QB2 this early, so Dalton makes a good target for those who intend to pursue the (somewhat) late round QB strategy. Most of the ADP data we have on quarterbacks comes from shallow leagues where mockers select their QB2 far earlier than is reflective of serious fall leagues. Simply by refusing to play the early QB game, you deflate the ADPs of signal-callers in the QB12-15 range. In such a case, Dalton ought to fall to you in Round 13. If he doesn’t, there are plenty of other strategies to pursue.

5. Ben Roethlisberger – Round 11

Many of you have already read Ben Roethlisberger Stealth Star and know Todd Haley’s offense should be the panacea for his fantasy woes. (This is pretty actionable info since RotoViz is the only place I’m aware of that’s pointing this out.) The trio of Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Markus Wheaton raises concerns about red zone efficiency with Heath Miller still on the mend, but Big Ben is such a huge reality talent that his TD percentage numbers have always been stronger than the talent around him suggested.

The Strategy: This may be an instance of needlessly attaching a narrative, but Roethlisberger seems to fit best in a two-headed monster with another established veteran. Last year the Ben-Eli pairing was the committee du jour. I would prefer to put him with Joe Flacco. Speaking of . . .

6. Joe Flacco – Round 12

The Ravens’ recent statements that they ‘like a lot of free agent wide receivers’ aren’t confidence inspiring. This may simply be a bit of misdirection to keep the spotlight off of RotoViz favorites like Aaron Mellette and Tommy Streeter. Hopefully, that’s the case because they certainly shouldn’t like any guys who are on the street. The RotoViz Sim Scores think Joe Flacco currently finds himself in the same place Tom Brady was in before his epic 2007 season.

The Strategy: Like all of the guys I’m featuring in this range, he should be your target several rounds after his supposed ADP. Grab him to go with Big Ben and play the matchups.

7. Jay Cutler – Round 12

I’ll defer to Charles Kleinheksel on Cutler. He’s got all you need to know on the changes in Chicago and how they’ll impact the offense. I like Cutler a lot this season, but I also liked him a lot before the failed Mike Martz experiment. While Cutler’s ADP has risen slightly of late, drafters seem to be remembering our former president’s pithy proscription: Fool me . . . You can’t get fooled again!

The Strategy: I think you have to be all-in on Cutler. If you like him, you’re probably the swashbuckling type who sees him as a viable QB1. He should be the front man for a gutty committee.

8. Carson Palmer – Round 13

Palmer’s 2012 may go down as one of the most underrated in memory. No quarterback sees as big a change in situation as the No. 1 pick from the 2003 Draft. Consider what Bruce Arians did last year with a raw rookie. Sure, Andrew Luck may be a generational talent but Palmer has quite the pedigree himself. Now compare the weapons. Larry Fitzgerald is a massive upgrade on Reggie Wayne. Michael Floyd seems poised to emerge as an even bigger upgrade on Donnie Avery. This will be a minority opinion, but I think Andre Roberts is an upgrade on T.Y. Hilton. (Check out Aaron Messing’s piece for even more on Roberts.) Then add everybody’s favorite WR/TE hybrid breakout extraordinaire, Rob Housler, and you have weapons galore.

The Strategy: As was the case with Cutler, I like Palmer as the head man in a close your eyes and take a big cut type of committee. The Cardinals start the season like this: Rams, Lions, Saints, Bucs, Panthers. You could be 5-0 in the blink of an eye. A lot of people are going to avoid Palmer because of the elite defenses in the NFC West, but the division is poised to also be explosive offensively this year, an underrated factor in projecting all of their quarterbacks. Moreover, the second tilt with San Francisco comes in Week 17.

9. Sam Bradford – Round 13

Bryan Fontaine has suggested Bradford might throw 50 touchdowns, while the Fantasy Douche contends he just needs more attempts to be a far cheaper version of Matthew Stafford. Staff Writer also compares him favorably to a similarly aged Aaron Rodgers.

The Strategy: Bradford isn’t my guy. I’m not convinced the uber-McCluster will vault Bradford to fantasy prominence and believe Jared Cook may not be a sleeper. But you don’t want to ignore a guy Fontaine and DuPont are so high on when he also comes this inexpensively. If you’re an upside drafter, he makes a sexy co-captain with Dalton. If you want both safety and upside, pair him with Roethlisberger or Flacco.

10. Matt Schaub – Round 14

If Ron Jaworski can’t convince you, then I probably can’t either. Schaub’s lack of buzz is a good example of the way people draw a conclusion and then dig in behind it. Every Schaub blurb on RotoWorld includes a reference to how the end of 2012 clearly showed him to be on the descent.

I love RW, but couldn’t the same thing be said about Peyton Manning’s 2010? About Tom Brady’s recent playoff losses? About Drew Brees and the acid rain of interceptions he lobbed in the middle of 2010? Or again in 2011? Or during their three game losing streak toward the end of last season?

Since Schaub’s overall numbers rivaled his more heralded counterparts, is it more likely that his decline was an inevitable sign of the end? Or is it more likely that having Kevin Walter as your No. 2 can create some really ugly small sample results?

Maybe I’m the obstinate one. Do you want a quarterback on a team that only runs the ball in the red zone?

The Strategy: Don’t bother with Schaub unless you think he has some big games in him. There’s nothing worse than a boring QB2. If you do think DeAndre Hopkins changes the equation, he makes a great fit in a committee with Cutler, Palmer, or Dalton.

11. Alex Smith – Round 15

Alex Smith looked like a game manager next to Colin Kaepernick for the same reason a mid-career Tom Brady would have looked like a game manager next to a peak season Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. For the same reason Matt Ryan would barely look like a game manager next to Robert Griffin III.

You know who finished with a better QB Rating than Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees last season? Yeah, Alex Smith. He did that despite playing in a conservative, largely weaponless offense. Just wait until you see what he does with Andy Reid calling plays, Dwayne Bowe catching passes, and Jamaal Charles breaking off 70 yard runs.

The Strategy: Just pick him. He’s got so much excess value at this point the rest of your roster composition hardly even matters.

12. Jake Locker – Round 16

I know this isn’t going to be an incredibly popular take, but Locker wasn’t as inaccurate as people think last year. According to PFF’s charters, he finished in a virtual dead heat with Stafford and Eli Manning. He actually finished ahead of guys like Cam Newton, Joe Flacco, and Andrew Luck.

It’s not particularly likely that Locker suddenly puts it all together, but the Titans have spent the entire offseason trying to cobble together a scheme that fits his talents. As Frank pointed out in his excellent piece on Chris Johnson, Tennessee will probably incorporate some read-option. It makes no difference if your quarterback can’t play, but Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, and Justin Hunter combine to represent a dark horse entry in the NFL’s Best WR Corps category.

The Strategy: It’s basically all upside here. I like him better than E.J. Manuel for the Hydra approach.

13. Brandon Weeden – Round 16

This is for the Norv Turner fans. I’m always reading how Turner was a failure as a head coach but remains an elite offensive coordinator. This seems like the repetition fallacy to me – San Diego finished 9th in defensive yards allowed last year and 31st in offensive yards gained – but if I’m wrong, you want Brandon Weeden at these prices.

If Josh Gordon is going to break out this year, and Greg Little is going to break out, and Jordan Cameron is going to break out, and Trent Richardson is going to catch 60 passes, then Weeden almost has to have high end QB2 value.

The Strategy: Weeden has plus matchups in Weeks 5 through 8, a bye-heavy stretch that occurs after Gordon’s suspension is over. Pick the Browns’ QB off of waivers after Week 3, use him as needed during that stretch, and then trade him before the schedule gets more difficult.

14. Geno Smith – Round 16

I recently participated in a dynasty startup where Smith was taken after Tyler Wilson and Matt Barkley. Hmmm. This is the low point in Smith’s valuation, at least for the foreseeable future. He’s not going to get any cheaper until he proves himself to be some disturbing cross between Mark Sanchez and JaMarcus Russell.

Early reports on Smith haven’t been favorable, but keep in mind that Cam Newton failed to separate himself from Jimmy Clausen during 2011 training camps. They opted for him anyway, and the Jets will pick Smith this season. They have literally nothing to lose but more games they would lose regardless.

Oh, and the idea that Wilson and Barkley would go before Smith in any type of draft is patently absurd.

1)      To see why college stats give us some sense of a passer’s NFL future, check out Blame Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, and the Risk of Drafting a QB.

2)      To see why Smith compares favorably to current NFL starters, check out Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, and Managing Reward.

3)      For a fuller examination of the scouting myths surrounding Smith, feel free to peruse Cracking the Geno Code.

Strategy: In 10 Sleeper Quarterbacks I suggested using a final bench position on Smith and waiting for him to emerge. Rookie signal callers have played a huge role in the fantasy stretch run the last several years.

Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.

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