The main purpose of fantasy football is for fans to mirror what goes on week after week in the NFL to win their leagues. You’re the general manager, and your team lives and dies by your decisions. Thus the trends and styles of the real NFL directly dictate the terms of the increasingly popular phenomenon year after year.
But when it comes to drafting and managing your roster, there’s maybe no better example of a fantasy dichotomy than the importance of quarterbacks. Last season, the six highest-scoring fantasy players in ESPN leagues were quarterbacks. All told, eight of the 10 highest scorers were signal callers, with only two running backs (former Cowboy DeMarco Murray and Steeler Le’Veon Bell) making the top 10.
If you had an Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers, chances are you either won your league last season or were at least in contention throughout and in the playoffs.
But according to FantasyPros.com’s rankings and average draft positions (ADP) for the quickly approaching 2015 season, the first quarterback off the board is Luck at No. 15 overall. Instead the first five picks are all running backs, followed by three wide receivers and another two rushers to round out the top 10.
It seems odd, but what we’re really dealing with is the effect of scarcity. In today’s NFL most quarterbacks are asked to throw a ton per game, so having even a mid-lever passer would result in perhaps 15 points on average from the position.
A consistent and versatile running back, like the Kansas City Chiefs Jamaal Charles or Vikings Adrian Peterson, is far harder to come by. Consider no running back has led the league in rushing in back-to-back seasons since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and 2007. Whereas Rodgers, Luck, Denver’s Peyton Manning, New England’s Tom Brady, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, and New Orleans’ Drew Brees are consistently in the top 10 in terms of yards and touchdowns thrown.
Thus owners are sticking to the tradition of scouring the draft for a quarterback between the second and eighth rounds. It’s a strategy that makes sense, and is proven, which is why the three quarterbacks below could be worth your roster’s while when drafts get under way in a couple of months.
Based off their ADPs and statistics in previous years, these three passers appear to be undervalued right now and could be steals come draft day.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
With the addition of wide receiver Steve Smith, 2014 proved to be a big bounce back year for Flacco. He put up 27 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and came 14 yards short of his first 4,000-yard season. He wound up as the 17th highest-scorer in ESPN leagues. In 2013, Flacco dealt with turnover problems, tossing 19 touchdowns compared to 22 interceptions -- the first time in his career that interceptions exceeded TDs.
There’s plenty of reason to believe Flacco won’t slide back, and might improve next year. He gets 1,200-yard rusher Justin Forsett back, and Smith showed no signs of slowing down last season even at the age of 36. There was the loss of Torrey Smith to San Francisco in free agency, but there’s lots of young talent at receiver to help Flacco. Baltimore burned a first-round pick on UCF’s Breshad Perriman, and Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Lorenzo Taliaferro should build off their play from last season.
Flacco’s ranked as the 20th quarterback and 167th player off the board, which is far too low, but a perfect spot for owners who want to build their running back and receiver corps in the first eight or so rounds.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Last year was supposed to be huge for Dalton. He got a huge contract after throwing for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns, but his production precipitously declined in 2014 with 3,398 yards and 19 touchdowns to 17 picks. Eight of Dalton’s 17 interceptions last season came in the final six games of the season.
He’s now the last ranked quarterback in FantasyPro’scom rankings, which is incredible considering the talent around him. For one, Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green missed three games and wasn’t completely healthy for most of the season. He should recover and be Dalton’s No. 1 target again.
Furthermore, the Bengals have arguably the best young tandem of running backs in the league in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Together they accounted for 1,804 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. They also racked up 70 receptions for 554 yards and seven more scores. Those two will keep defenses on their toes, and free up time for Dalton and Green to connect.
Dalton’s also a threat on the ground, with 11 career rushing touchdowns, equaling his career-high with four scores last year.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Health concerns have been Palmer's main drawback, but out of 11 years in the NFL he really hasn’t missed too much time. Out of a potential 176 regular season games, Palmer’s missed 31, or 17.6 percent. He’s not exactly an ironman, but Palmer’s been subjected to unfortunate knee injuries that just sometimes happen to players.
Entering the 2015 season, he is coming off a torn ACL suffered last season, but Arizona’s coaches are already raving about his recovery and production in OTAs. According to NFL.com, he went 25-for-35 in 11-on-11 drills Tuesday. Palmer’s accuracy has always been pretty solid, having dipped below 60 percent only once in his career, and that was only over four games in 2007. Furthermore, during Palmer’s first year in Arizona he was healthy and threw for 4,274 yards and 24 touchdowns. That year the interception total was a high 22, but his offensive line also allowed 41 sacks. This year Arizona made upgrades via free agency to help out the o-line in Mike Iupati and A.Q. Shipley
And Palmer does have an excellent trio of receivers in veterans Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, and the budding speedster John Brown. Running back might not be an issue either with Andre Ellington also projected to return to top form after requiring hernia surgery late last season. But if he struggles, Kerwynn Williams showed tremendous flashes last season and could also help out Palmer.
As the No. 23 passer off the board, Palmer’s certainly worth consideration as your backup next season and maybe a starter as the season goes on.