Most fantasy football drafts will take place in the next two weeks, and we already know which quarterbacks will be the first off the board. Denver’s Peyton Manning, New Orleans’s Drew Brees, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford will likely go in the first two or three rounds. The next wave will involve a mix of Carolina’s Cam Newton, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Indianapolis’s Andrew Luck probably snatched up by the end of the fifth or sixth round. Assuming an owner wasn’t able to select any of those seven passers with one of their first six picks, perhaps more concerned with loading up on running backs and receivers, there is still a ton of value in the later rounds.
The sleeper status of the seven QBs below is based on their average draft position from ESPN, Yahoo and Fantasy Pros mock and formal draft results. By the end of the season, its possible many owners will look back and say any of them were taken far too low. These picks are based off their potential, along with the offensive players around them and, of course, pick at your own discretion.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Coming off his most accurate and NFL-leading year with 69.5 percent of passes completed, Rivers threw for more than 4,000 yards for the fifth time in his career. His 11 interceptions were his fewest in four years. He was also fifth in the league in yards per attempt, and Rivers hasn’t missed a start since 2006. ESPN has him going in the ninth to 11 th round range, Yahoo as late as the 12 th, and on FP he’s the 15 th overall QB selected. Receiver Keenan Allen his clearly his top target, but Rivers will need to bring along tight end Ladarius Green to have a stellar year. Still he represents great value anywhere from the ninth to 12 th rounds.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
The adage goes players who sign big contracts typically don’t live up to them in the first year. But assuming he’s healthy, Cutler has arguably the best receiver tandem in the league in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery (who were one of only two pairs to each notch 1,000-yard seasons in 2013), running back Matt Forte (career-highs of 1,339 yards, 74 receptions for 594 yards and picked up 4.6 yards per carry in 2013) and the reliable tight end Martellus Bennett coming off the best season of his career (65 receptions, 759 yards, 5 TDs). Cutler’s off the board around the 11 th or 12 th round in Yahoo leagues, as late as the ninth on ESPN, and on FP he’s the 13 th passer selected. Those seem like fair selections since Cutler is coming off a shoulder injury, but in those middle rounds he’s worth the risk, especially if you’re in a two-QB league.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Another guy who signed a massive contract that left many scratching their heads. In standard Yahoo drafts Dalton is falling to the 14 th round, and if you’re in a 12-team ESPN league he’s dropping (on average) to the 10 th round. On FP he’s the 17 th QB off the board. But Dalton is fresh off a 4,293-yard, 33 TD-season, and he’s paired with receiver A.J. Green and emerging rusher Giovani Bernard (seventh among RBs with 538 yards after the catch in 2013) behind him. The 20 interceptions in 2013 are worrisome, but consider the Bengals have the 23 rd hardest schedule this season and don’t face a top 10 defense from 2013 until Week Six when Carolina visits and not again till Week 10 at home versus Cleveland. Dalton is worth a gamble in the ninth to 11 th round or lower.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
In this instance, it’s completely understandable why Flacco has dropped as low as the 13 th and 14 th round in Yahoo leagues, or 10 th or 12 th in ESPN leagues. He threw a career-worst 22 picks last year, and it was the first time his interceptions outnumbered his touchdown total (19). Receiver Torrey Smith is Flacco’s only consistent threat. But he’s still thrown for more than 3,600 yards the last six seasons, and was sacked 48 times last year (second-worst in the NFL). Second-year wide out Marlon Brown might have a breakout year and veteran Steve Smith should be a key contributor. Flacco’s worth a selection in the early teen rounds and lower, but anywhere higher is a big gamble.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Arizona has the eighth toughest schedule this year, and Palmer threw 20 or more picks for the third time in his career last season. Palmer was also sacked a career-high 41 times, and the Cardinals responded by sprucing up the o-line with 6-foot-8 left tackle Jared Veldheer. Running back Andre Ellington showed tremendous promise last season, and is now the No. 1 back, which should take some defensive pressure off Palmer. He’s going as late as the 16 th round in Yahoo and the 10 th to 11 th round in ESPN leagues. Those picks seem fair, but a 10 to 12 th round selection shouldn’t be completely ruled out.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Back-to-back years with 26 touchdowns and a 100-plus passer rating with a combined 1,028 rushing yards, and Wilson’s not exactly jetting up draft boards. He’s going in the sixth or seventh round in ESPN leagues, but Yahoo owners are averaging an 11 th round pick. That seems a bit too low, but some might be scared off by the four games Wilson will have against San Francisco and Arizona’s secondarys. Some where the in eighth to ninth round seems to be the best value.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Locker’s missed 14 games due to shoulder, hip, knee and foot injuries the last two years, and as a result he’s plummeted to a last ditch pick for ESPN owners (averaging the 170 th pick overall in standard snake drafts), and he’s ranked 26 th overall by FP. Still he showed awesome growth before the hip injury last year (60.7 completion rate, 1,256 yards, 8 TDs to 4 INTs in seven games and on pace to surpass his career highs) and Locker’s a dual threat, averaging 6.9 yards per carry off 73 attempts in three years. The mid-teen rounds seem like a fair selection, but picking up on waivers seems more likely. Locker should be your back-up in Week One, but how well he works with receivers Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter in the opening weeks could propel him to your starting lineup.