Finding a starting quarterback for your fantasy roster has never been this easy. Thanks to inflated passing numbers, and in turn the decline of the running game, fantasy owners can find a more than serviceable quarterback into the late-teen rounds in almost any league format.
Consider the performance of last year’s highest scoring quarterbacks. According to numbers compiled from FantasyData.com, the 32 highest-scoring quarterbacks in the 2014 season averaged roughly 14 points per week, a tally good enough for any owner’s No. 2 receiver or running back and excellent for any flex play.
That number is actually way down compared to 2013’s stats, with the top quarterbacks averaging nearly 17.8 points per week. But that average is skewed a bit because of Peyton Manning’s record 55 touchdown passes and both he and Drew Brees throwing for 5,000-plus yards.
Looking at some more tangible figures, it’s clear a bevy of points can come from even a middle-of-the-road quarterback. Yes, 11 passers surpassed the 4,000-yard mark and nine eclipsed 30 or more touchdown passes in 2014. But altogether 30 quarterbacks passed for more than 2,000 yards and 21 threw more than 18 touchdowns.
As the new fantasy season and drafts get underway, it appears owners would be wise to follow the more traditional strategy of waiting until the later rounds to find their starting quarterback. There is Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, or Peyton Manning to select in the first or second round, but the pick costs owners at the more critical positions of running back and wide receiver.
Based off the sheer number of position slots in leagues, running backs and receivers take precedence over quarterbacks. In most standard leagues, an owner can start only one quarterback whereas as many as three or four receivers or running backs can play every week, depending on whether or not said league has a flex spot or two.
So rather than risk spreading your two most important positions too thin, waiting until the eighth round or lower to take your quarterback could prove beneficial to winning your league.
Using FantasyPros average draft positions (ADP), we’ve identified the top sleeper quarterbacks that owners are neglecting in drafts before the start of the fantasy season.
And like we did with running backs and receivers, we’ll reiterate the “sleeper” definition.
For our purposes, a "sleeper" doesn’t necessarily mean "an unheralded or underrated player." Instead, it can be a player whose potential production next season, for whatever reason or bias, is overlooked or underestimated.
Here’s the list of sleeper quarterbacks for the 2015 fantasy football season.
Eli Manning, New York Giants (No. 86 overall)
Despite a poor start to last season with three touchdowns to four picks and 440 yards in the Giants first two games, Manning largely put his porous 2013 run of 18 TDs to a league-worst 27 interceptions behind him. Other than his grisly five-pick performance in Week 11, Manning only threw 10 interceptions in New York’s final 14 games last season as he quickly developed chemistry with then-rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Manning’s now in the second full season of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system, and Beckham’s overcome a hamstring injury that kept him out of OTAs this year. Furthermore, the Giants added running back Steven Ridley from the Patriots to give Manning an option out of the backfield, with veteran back Rashad Jennings healthy and acting as a solid rushing threat. Remember that Jennings missed five games last season due to injury, significantly hindering New York’s offense. There are some reasonable concerns about the offensive line dealing with injuries during training camp, but the Giants do have some depth on a line that allowed only 30 sacks last season. Manning’s an excellent choice anywhere from the eighth to 10th round.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears (No. 158)
As infuriating as Bears fans may find Cutler, the 10-year veteran has far too many weapons around him not to start in fantasy this season. There’s massive receiver Alshon Jeffery, underrated tight end Martellus Bennett, and sensational all-around running back Matt Forte, who’s entering the final year of his contract.
Cutler’s propensity for interceptions will cost owners some points, but he showed far better touch with the ball last season for a career-high completion rate of 66 percent. Chicago hiring former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who worked wonders with Peyton Manning after he came back from a career-threatening neck injury, can’t be understated either. Considering Cutler’s falling as low as the 14th round in 10-team leagues, he’s worth the minor risk as your backup to start the season to see how things pan out.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (No. 159)
The fear of injury is the only reason Palmer’s this low. How else can we explain a quarterback who posted back-to-back 4,000-yard, 20-touchdown seasons in 2012 and 2013 falling to the 15th round? The concerns are more than fair, but keep in mind Palmer was on pace for a career-year before a torn ACL cut his season to six games with 1,626 yards, 11 touchdowns to three picks, and a 62.9 completion rate. And a solid o-line that let up only 28 sacks all year, even with four different QBs starting, got even better with the signing of former 49er stalwart guard Mike Iupati.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (No. 166)
Smith’s numbers were pedestrian last season, but he didn’t have a single big-play receiver and still totaled 18 scores to six interceptions. He’s a very accurate and careful passer who won’t cost owners points very often, and Smith now has a solid playmaker with the addition of Jeremy Maclin.
Maclin cut his teeth under then-head coach Andy Reid with the Eagles, and is coming off a 1,318-yard, 10 TD season. Already impressing during training camp, he’s the deep threat K.C. needed to pair with Smith and top-flight running back Jamaal Charles. Those two, along with tight end Travis Kelce, might be the best offensive unit Smith has had in his career.
Smith also brings some rushing yards to the table, averaging better than five yards per attempt the last two seasons and a career mark of 4.3 yards per carry.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (No. 189)
No team threw more than the Raiders last season (more than 66 percent of their plays were passes) and now that rookie receiver Amari Cooper is on board, Oakland probably won’t shy away from the pass in 2015. Carr had a fine rookie year of 3,270 yards, 21 TDs and 12 interceptions, and took only 24 sacks. He proved to be a mostly accurate passer who simply needed more tools around him. Cooper is that missing primary weapon, with new running back Roy Helu also catching passes out of the backfield.
The Raiders had the worst rushing attack in the league last season, the main reason Carr had to pass so often, but that’ll change with Latavius Murray the likely full-time starter and Trent Richardson looking to restart his career. Selecting Carr as your back-up, even if it’s just to account for your starter’s bye week or as trade bait, should pay huge dividends this season.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 229)
New arrivals and a rigorous offseason could mean a breakout year from Bortles. Last season couldn’t have gone worse, with the 2014 No. 3-overall pick conceding 17 interceptions to only 11 touchdowns all while taking a league-worst 55 sacks for the loss of 345 yards.
But according to NFL.com, Bortles spent the offseason working with famed quarterback coach Tom House to shorten his release, and now looks far sharper with much better accuracy on his throws. The adjustment could cut down any chance of shoulder inflammation that led to that unusual “dead arm” injury last season.
Jacksonville’s front office also built around Bortles, with the addition of former Cowboys right tackle Jermey Parnell, and high-priced tight end Julius Thomas from Denver. Thomas has 24 touchdowns combined the last two seasons, and joins a talented young batch of receivers in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Marqise Lee. There was also the selection of former Alabama star rusher TJ Yeldon, a power back who should turn heads this season.
Bortles won’t join the NFL’s elite this year, but he should rise in the rankings among fantasy owners as a top sleeper.