For years we’ve been telling you to wait to draft your quarterbacks, and for years you haven’t been listening. Every year, so-called “expert” drafts see high-end starting quarterbacks fall to the middle rounds while the vast majority of drafts otherwise have quarterbacks routinely going off the board in the second round.
And I’m starting to think we were wrong and you all were right.
The 2022 edition of the CBS Sports Fantasy Football Draft Guide magazine is going to be on newsstands in the coming weeks, and in that magazine you’ll see what you usually see in our mock drafts: Quarterbacks lasting much longer than they will in most drafts. The one exception? I took Josh Allen in the second round. Three full rounds before the next QB taken.
And you’re going to see that a lot from me this draft season. OK, maybe if I know I’m drafting with Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, Heath Cummings and the rest of the Fantasy Football Today QB Haters Club, I might try to wait until, say, the third round to take a QB. But I’m probably going to be one of the first people to take a QB in most of my drafts this season, is the point.
Why did I have a change of heart? I wrote about that for the magazine, and I have the research to back it up for you in today’s FFT newsletter. I wanted to put this piece out there before I go through my top-24 players for the 2022 season in the coming days, because I wanted to make sure you all understand why I’m going to have Allen (and possibly Patrick Mahomes, I haven’t quite nailed that one down just yet) in the first two rounds of my rankings.
So you can look for that top-24 breakdown soon, along with a recap of the most interesting things I saw from minicamp reporting over the past few weeks. We’ll also be doing an offseason mailbag soon, so make sure you send your questions to Chris.Towers@ViacomCBS.com with the subject line “#AskFFT” to be included.
Now, here’s why I changed my tune on early-round quarterbacks:
The case for early-round QBs
For the longest time, Fantasy analysts have been arguing that, though quarterbacks do score the most points of any position, prioritizing them in drafts wasn’t the optimal strategy because you could always find viable starters in the later rounds or on waivers. And the data bore that out – from 2016 through 2019, more than half of all top-12 weeks in six-point-per-pass-touchdown scoring came from quarterbacks who were drafted outside of the top 12 in ADP that season. Top-12 quarterbacks in ADP accounted for just 46.6% of all top-six finishes, too.
Being one of the first people in your league to take a quarterback gave you an edge in the past, but it wasn’t enough to justify the price. Not when you had multiple later-round quarterbacks capable of putting up big performances. In 2019, Lamar Jackson (QB15 in ADP), Dak Prescott (QB18), and Matthew Stafford (QB24) all had at least five top-six finishes; 2018 saw Patrick Mahomes (QB15) and Jared Goff (QB16) do it; 2017 had Carson Wentz (QB18) and Josh McCown (QB30), while Alex Smith (QB23) added 10 top-12 finishes of his own.
Things have changed pretty dramatically over the past couple of seasons. Between 2020 and 2021, 51.4% of all top-12 finishes came from those first 12 quarterbacks drafted each season. But it’s even more dramatic at the high end, where 67% of all top-six weekly finishes came from a top-12 QB in ADP. Kirk Cousins (QB17) was the only QB picked outside of the top 13 to have more than three top-six finishes or seven top-12 finishes, and only two others had even six top-12 finishes.
Think about it this way: Who were you comfortable streaming last season if you found yourself stuck in that position? Derek Carr had his moments (seven top-12 finishes), as did Carson Wentz early on (six), though he flamed out pretty epically in the end. But guys like Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Trevor Lawrence, Daniel Jones, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston just never emerged as reliable weekly options as we’d hoped.
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Of course, it’s not just that the streaming options didn’t live up to expectations last season. It’s also that the bar for streaming viability keeps getting higher. In 2021, the No. 12 QB in points per game averaged 21.6, a mark that was below 20 in each of 2016, 2017, and 2019; in 2018, the No. 12 QB averaged 20.6, a relative boom year.
None of this is to say it’s impossible to win without an early-round quarterback. It does mean you have to be intentional about the position, though. You used to be able to just ignore the position until late and still end up without much of a deficit, but it’s getting harder and harder to do so – 17-18 points per game from your QB spot isn’t going to cut it when half the league is getting 25-plus.
So, you have a few options you can go with on Draft Day. You can lock in high-end QB play with one of Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes, both of whom are worth drafting as early as Round 2 in all formats, with Allen likely to go a few picks ahead of Mahomes. Mahomes is as good as anyone in the league at his best, but he wasn’t at his best often enough last season amid a midseason swoon, and now he has to deal with life without Tyreek Hill for the first time. That’s enough to knock him down half a tier for me.
You can wait a few more rounds for one of the Justin Herbert/Joe Burrow/Lamar Jackson/Kyler Murray tier, or wait a few more rounds for the likes of Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Jalen Hurts, or Aaron Rodgers. If you go that path, you’re probably taking a QB in the first six rounds, and that should probably be the only quarterback you take in the draft. My favorites based on where they are likely to go, for what it’s worth, are Jackson, Murray or Wilson, or Stafford if he falls a bit further than the rest.
Or you can wait. The thing about that is, that list already takes us through the top 11 in current ADP. Based on the past few years, at least, we’re already starting to run out of options. Tom Brady remains a high-level player, but he could be without three of his top four receivers from last season to start the year, which is a concern. Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr have top-12, but probably not top-six, upside. Deshaun Watson has top-six upside but may not be able to play for much or all of the season pending results of the investigation into allegations against him. If you take any one of that group, you probably want to pair them with another high-upside option just in case.
Or, you can say “screw the trends” and go all-in on late-round quarterbacks. Trends aren’t destiny, after all, and there are still plenty of quarterbacks with upside who could crash the party the way Jackson, Allen, Mahomes, and Murray have done in recent seasons.
If you’re going to look for late-round quarterbacks, you want guys who either have rushing upside or significant pass-volume potential. Or, ideally, a mix of both.
Here are my five favorites to look for:
We saw Lance start two games last season, and he had 120 yards on 21 carries in those two games, so that’s pretty much all you need to know. The 49ers are committed to him as the long-term starter and he’s surrounded by one of the best groups of playmakers in the league, with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle especially standing out as two of the best after-the-catch receivers in football. I have concerns about whether Lance will be able to get the most out of the pass catchers here, but if you’re looking for someone with the potential to be the next Allen, he’s your best bet.
In terms of physical gifts, Fields is right there with anyone at the position. The question is whether his rookie struggles were due to some inherent limitations in his game or the fault of the situation he found himself in. I’m willing to bet the coaching staff in place now will be more willing to use him as a rusher after the previous staff so rarely used him in read-option concepts. The problem is, Fields’ corps of playmakers is one of the worst in the league, so he’ll have to do a lot of the heavy lifting on his own. That brings us back to the questions about his inherent limitations. I might be willing to draft Lance on his own, but Fields requires a Carr or Cousins to pair him with – a high-floor option, in other words, because his might be in the basement.
I expected Tagovailoa to make a leap last season thanks to an improved supporting cast, so there’s some risk of making the same mistake again. However, Tyreek Hill is one of the best playmakers in the league, and he pairs with Jaylen Waddle to give Tagovailoa the swiftest receiving duo in the game. Tagovailoa leaned more heavily on RPO concepts than any passer a year ago, so he needs to take a step forward to become a more complete passer. But if he does, this could be a hard offense to stop.
Lawrence had the kind of rookie season that makes you seriously reconsider a prospect’s chances of making an impact. He led the league in interceptions and averaged just 6.0 yards per attempt, ranking last or nearly last in pretty much every relevant statistical category – including just three top-12 finishes in Fantasy. However, he was also stuck with a coach who was clearly overmatched at the NFL level and a pretty bad collection of pass-catchers. The Jaguars invested heavily in upgrading the latter, bringing in Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram in free agency, and new coach Doug Pederson helped turn Carson Wentz’s career around following a similarly lackluster rookie season.
Jones has stagnated as a passer, but he continues to flash upside as a rusher, so we’ll follow the Giants‘ lead and give him one last chance. This is as much a bet on new head coach Brian Daboll as anything else, though it’s also worth noting that the Giants actually have a pretty intriguing group of playmakers if they can stay healthy. That was a problem for each of Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, and Kadarius Toney last season, but there’s some upside here if that trio is on the field and Daboll lives up to the hype.