Jody Smith’s Early QB Sleepers for 2016
As recently as two or three years ago if you suggested that a smart fantasy owner waited until the mid-to-late rounds to bother drafting a quarterback but still got elite production, you’d have been met with much incredulity and skepticism.
But over the past decade the NFL has become so pass-happy that savvy fantasy owners have been doing just that- loading up on positional depth before attacking quarterback late and still getting excellent production.
In 2015, 12 quarterbacks exceeded 4000 passing yards- an unfathomable number even a few years ago. A dozen signal-callers also surpassed 30 total touchdowns last year, and when you figure that most fantasy leagues are 12 team leagues, you see why the “wait on your qb” strategy is gaining such momentum.
With that in mind, we certainly advocate waiting to draft your signal-caller this season, and have some late-round values and sleepers to keep in mind for that strategy.
5. Philip Rivers
San Diego Chargers
Though generally regarded as a “second-tier” or back-up quarterback, Philip Rivers has been a remarkably consistent producer of fantasy points. Despite San Diego’s receiving corps being decimated by a myriad of injuries last season, and being supported by a flailing rushing attack that garnered the league’s worst yards-per-tote (3.5), touchdowns (4) and second-fewest rushing yards (1358), Rivers finished 2015 as the No. 10 ranked fantasy signal-caller.
This is where that consistency factor is key. Rivers has finished as a top ten fantasy QB in seven of the last eight seasons and boasts a minimum of 26 touchdown tosses every year dating back to 2008. Perhaps the biggest factor in those impressive statistical performances has been health. Since taking over as the starter in 2006, Rivers has played 16 games in 10 straight NFL campaigns.
The Chargers also made some moves to boost their offense in 2016, including fortifying a poor offensive line and bringing in key additions like free agent WR Travis Benjamin, second-round rookie tight End Hunter Henry, and the return of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
Each year as the “wait on your QB” strategy becomes more and more mainstream, overlooked players like Philip Rivers become even more valuable. While it can be intriguing to nab more popular top ten fantasy QB’s much earlier in drafts, Rivers can deliver the same value with an ADP that is well into the double-digit rounds.
4. Eli Manning
New York Giants
In some ways, Eli Manning is a similar value pick to Philip Rivers. Like the man he was once traded for, Manning has a very Peyton-esque iron man streak of his own. Eli has started all 16 games for 11 straight seasons and topped 315 fantasy points in six of the past seven years.
Another appealing metric for Eli is that he’s coming off of back-to-back top-ten fantasy seasons, exceeding 4400 passing yards and 30 touchdowns both years. With former offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo now the head coach, New York’s tendency to rely on the pass should continue. Under McAdoo, the Giants lined-up in a three-receiver set a league high percentage of snaps in 2015.
The Giants also have a talented receiving corps that should help Manning maintain his fantasy value. Along with Odell Beckham, veteran Victor Cruz finally looks healthy and underrated rookie Sterling Shepard is expected to see plenty of playing time right out of the gate. By not addressing their struggling running game until the fifth round with UCLA
superhero rookie Paul Perkins, McAdoo has assured that the G-men will continue to push the ball downfield primarily through the air.
By ranking both Philip Rivers and Eli Manning as top-ten fantasy signal-callers this season, we are choosing consistency and value over riskier upside. Both of these trusty veterans look like good bets to produce QB1 numbers and come at a steep discount- often an ADP that is beyond round 10.
Attacking much more important (and thinner) positions like running back and wide receiver, while drafting late-round veteran quarterbacks late can give you a huge edge this season. Eli Manning makes a great example, and fine consolation prize for fantasy leaguers that employ this strategy.
3. Ryan Tannehill
Longtime Gridiron Experts readers might recall that I was all over this guy last season, and Tannehill’s failures to take the next step ended up hurting me in quite a few leagues. While I won’t be targeting him as an upside starter, Tannehill still offers up quality fantasy value as this current ADP.
In three season as the starter in Miami, Ryan Tannehill has been pretty consistent, completing around 64% of his passes with 24-27 touchdown tosses and two-straight season with an even dozen picks. He’s finished those years as the 11th, 10th and 15th-ranked fantasy quarterback.
What Tannehill can offer is a bonus with his legs. He averages just under 227 rushing yards per year and rushed for at least one touchdown in every pro season.
Another boost for Tannehill’s stock is new Miami head coach Adam Gase, who has gotten the most out of his passing attacks for three offensive coordinating seasons in Denver and Chicago. Gase will try to establish a solid rushing attack and set up his passing games for play-action mismatches.
Tannehill probably shouldn’t be drafted as your starter, but seems like a quality fantasy QB2, or part of a rotation with another late-round signal caller.
2. Brock Osweiler
Throughout their 14-year existence, the Texans have tried unsuccessfully to draft or develop a franchise quarterback. This offseason, much-maligned general manager Rick Smith paid Osweiler a hefty four-year, $72 million dollar deal ($37 million guaranteed) to become that missing piece that has plagued Houston into a mostly futile history.
Osweiler had his moments with Denver, tossing 10 touchdowns to six interceptions and leading the Broncos to seven wins in nine starts before being unceremoniously benched for an over-the-hill Peyton Manning. It’s thought that the benching ultimately led Osweiler to seek a fresh start elsewhere.
Houston offers that clean slate for Osweiler, and also boasts a creative, quality offensive coach in Bill O’Brien, who has led the club to two winning seasons despite having little offensive talent- especially under center.
Along with a potential new franchise QB, the Texans heavily invested in improving their stagnant offense by signing free-agent tailback Lamar Miller and then attacking speed in the 2015 NFL draft by trading up for first-round wideout Will Fuller, the speediest wideout in this class, Ohio State receiver Braxton Miller and versatile San Jose State scatback Tyler Ervin.
In minicamp, Osweiler was struggling with converting to a new offensive system with completely different terminology, but this isn’t unexpected. If the Texans finally found their much-needed franchise QB, Oswelier could be in for a quality season surrounded by a lot of young talent and a solid offensive minded coach.
1. Paxton Lynch
As dynasty leagues become more and more popular, rookie quarterbacks gain more value in fantasy leagues. No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff is considered more “pro ready” and is the odds on favorite to take the first snaps in Los Angeles. Goff, however walks into a run-first offense supported by a mediocre receiving corps, conservative coach and with six games in the brutal NFC West.
Lynch might not start Week 1 for the Broncos, but with only journeyman Mark Sanchez in front of him, it’s expected that the Memphis rookie will end up starting sooner, rather than later. In rookie camp, head coach Gary Kubiak remarked that he was impressed with Lynch’s arm and athleticism.
Unlike Jared Goff, Lynch will inherit a much more credible passing attack, led by receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Gary Kubiak is also generally considered a quality offensive coach, and has solid experience developing young passers.
It wouldn’t be shocking at all for Paxton Lynch to win the starting job outright in training camp, or take over after a handful of turnovers from Mark Sanchez. Lynch offers up intriguing size and a strong enough arm to be an interesting late-round flier in fantasy drafts.
Senior Writer Gridiron Experts. 2012 FantasyPros Most Accurate Fantasy Expert. Member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. 26-year fantasy football veteran. Featured on NFL.com, Fantasypros, Football Diehards annual magazine, local AM sports radio, podcasts everywhere and SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. Once scored 4 touchdowns in a single game for Polk High School.