As most fantasy leagues begin their drafts this weekend, owners will scour stats, schedules and rankings to hopefully come up with what the Washington Post dubbed the “perfect draft.” Setting up a 12-team standard league while employing the value based drafting principle based on FantasyPros projections, the “perfect draft” starts by taking the best player available in the first three rounds then filling in for position need. Following the fantasy rule-of-thumb, the big-name running backs were the first to go, but after the top three quarterbacks in Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers were all off the board by the middle of the second round there was a significant lull in quarterbacks selected until the sixth round.
It seems rather strange considering how much the passing game has taken over the NFL. Though running backs and receivers have long been the highest scorers in fantasy leagues, quarterbacks have emerged as rivals over the last four seasons. Consider the 5,000-yard single season barrier has been broken six times since 2011, and the 4,800-yard mark has been passed another four times in the same span.
But owners are smart not to bank on a quarterback to accomplish such feats, and instead focus on creating a more balanced roster. Only six quarterbacks have cracked 4,800-plus yards in a single season since 2011: Manning, Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and Tony Romo. While Peyton Manning and Brees are shoe-ins throw a ton this season, the others have either been inconsistent, interception or injury-prone or didn’t have enough weapons around them.
For those owners aiming to pick a quarterback in the middle rounds, let’s take a look at some of the more overrated and underrated quarterbacks for the 2014 season. The distinction of overrated doesn’t mean the player isn’t talented or even capable of emerging this year, but that an owner could find better or equal value in later rounds or with a less-heralded passer.
Of course, pick at your own discretion.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
Foles was the highest-rated passer in the league at 119.2, almost four points better than MVP Peyton Manning, last season. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was an incredible 27-2 and he completed 64 percent of his passes in head coach Chip Kelly’s lightning-quick offense. Foles accomplished all that in 10 games, but that’s a sample size too small to really consider him the eighth quarterback off the board according to FantasyPros average draft position. He does have tremendous weapons in running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, along with receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, but Foles may hit a wall now that teams have had a full offseason to study his game.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
He’s posted three straight seasons of 4,100-plus yards and a minimum of 26 touchdown passes, and Ryan of course has receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White on the other end of his bombs. But injury-prone running back Steven Jackson provides little assurances that the running game can show any signs of life after finishing dead last in the NFL in 2013. Rookie Devonta Freeman is talented enough to fill in, but he’s not battle tested enough and teams could just play back on Jones and White and dare the Falcons to run. Furthermore, it’s the first time since Ryan’s rookie year that he won’t have tight end Tony Gonzalez blasting through the middle of the field. Gonzalez totaled no less than 111 targets and 70 receptions during his five seasons with Atlanta.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Newton’s blessed with elite size and speed, and the ability to truck defensive players on scrambles unlike any other passer in the league. But injury concerns could make Newton and the Panthers hesitate on him leaving the pocket very often this season. He already underwent successful ankle surgery this offseason, which could limit his quickness from the get-go, and he suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs during Carolina’s last preseason game. Newton’s still expected to play in Week One, but staying in the pocket sucks away some his value considering he’s rushed for an average 677.3 yards per season since he entered the league. Newton also has limited targets in tight end Greg Olsen, rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin and veteran Jerricho Cotchery, following Steve Smith’s departure. Newton’s listed as the seventh QB selected, but a healthier and productive passer can be found later.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith has been one of the most accurate passers in the league over the last few seasons, and he’s coming off a career-high 23 touchdown passes in 2013. He’s playing for a big contract. But after Dwayne Bowe, who’s suspended for the first game, and top running back Jamaal Charles, there are really no viable pass catchers for Smith to target this season. It’s more likely head coach Andy Reid sticks with Charles in the running game, and Smith is relegated to game-manager duties. Smith is projected as the 19th QB drafted, but Arizona’s Carson Palmer and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill behind him are better value picks.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
There’s no questioning RG3’s seemingly boundless talent, and Washington did add the dangerous DeSean Jackson to the receiving corps this offseason. To say nothing of the stellar and reliable production of running back Alfred Morris. Coming off a nasty knee injury during the 2012 playoffs, Griffin equaled his total passing yards from his rookie year with 3,203 yards and threw only four-fewer touchdowns with 16 last season. But his rushing attempts plummeted to 86 compared to 120 his rookie year, and he totaled 489 yards and zero touchdowns in 13 games. Similar to Newton, Griffin’s effectiveness lies in his dual-threat abilities, but if he can’t run due to fear of injury he’s not nearly as threatening for a fantasy owner’s purposes. Washington’s schedule is also brutal. Playing against the NFC West this season, Griffin has to topple the mighty defenses of San Francisco and Seattle, Arizona’s secondary, and St. Louis’s pass rushers. And in Week One he’ll face Houston’s defensive ends J.J. Watt and rookie Jadaveon Clowney. Averaging as the 10th QB drafted, owners could do better with Chicago’s Jay Cutler or Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Yes, Kaepernick just signed a massive contract extension, which is typically a red flag for any player, and San Francisco posted the 30th ranked passing offense in the league last year. But Kaepernick still has talented receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis, and while he hasn’t yet clicked with Stevie Johnson, the two could make a dangerous pair. Kaepernick faced criticism similar to Foles before the 2013 season after he started only seven regular season games but nearly doubled his passing yards and more than doubled his touchdown total to 21. He has no real injury concerns, and should equal or better his 524 yards and four rushing touchdowns from last season. Kaepernick’s being taken right after RG3 as the 11th QB overall, but he’s well worth the risk two or three spots higher.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Rivers is the 15th QB drafted, even after leading the NFL in completion percentage and nearly equaling his career-high with 32 touchdown passes last season. Keenan Allen is arguably the most lethal receiver Rivers has ever played with, and both running backs Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead are healthy heading into the regular season. The Chargers offensive line is one of the strongest in the league, letting up only 30 sacks last year, and Rivers hasn’t missed a start since he took over in 2006. The schedule is worrisome (tied with the 49ers for the fourth hardest this year), but landing Rivers anywhere in the sixth to eighth round range still provides excellent value.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton posted three games with three or more picks last season, which proved costly for Cincy as they lost two of those three games by three or fewer points. But those were largely outliers for Dalton, who heaved up 4,293 yards for 33 touchdowns, and six times posted a passer rating well above 100. He clearly has the weapons in receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones, with Mohamed Sanu rising up sleeper boards, and running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill will keep defenses honest. As the 17th QB drafted, Dalton is a steal.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco was sacked 48 times last season and fired off 22 interceptions, and Baltimore only managed to keep left tackle Eugene Monroe while Michael Oher went off to Tennesseee. Still, Flacco is poised for a bounce back year with consistent deep threat Torrey Smith, emerging star Marlon Brown and veteran receiver Steve Smith. The Ravens will also play teams with a combined .461 winning percentage from last year, the fifth easiest schedule in the league. Flacco’s averaging as the 18th passer taken, which seems like a reasonable spot given his struggles last season, but should he fall that far he’s worth the risk, especially in two-quarterback leagues.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
After his rookie season Miami gave him a big name target in Mike Wallace, but the offensive line didn’t give Tannehill enough time in the pocket to find Wallace as he was sacked a league-worst 58 times. The Dolphins did spruce up the offensive line by signing Branden Albert and Shelley Smith, and possibly gave Tannehill another threatening rusher in Knowshon Moreno to pair with Lamar Miller. Moreno’s previous injury woes are a concern, but Miller could be poised for a breakout season, thus helping Tannehill. He’s averaged out as the 21st QB off the board, which by season’s end could be one of the better steals in any draft.