Quarterback Shuffle Up: 2018 is deepest fantasy class of all time

In the real world NFL, the quarterback position is everything. The quarterbacks get the money and the supermodels, the endorsements and the glory (and blame). If a team hits on the right quarterback, it’s set for years. Bet on the wrong quarterback, you torpedo your franchise.

Fantasy, of course, is not reality; what we have to do is mind that gap. Quarterback, bluntly put, is the most boring of the four primary fantasy positions.

The idea of the Shuffle Up series is to show where clusters of value lie. Some prefer to take a tier approach, and do a lovely job with it. I like a number attached. That said, the dollar value is simply used as a comparison tool, and it’s more gut-feel than anything else. I am not a formula guy.

Obviously we all care about numbers in this game, but I always want to merge that with scouting observations, tea-leaf reading, market analysis and the like. (And heck, fantasy sports is leveraging a market as much as anything. Whatever scouting and information edge the best players had 20 and even 10 years ago, that’s largely gone now. Too much is readily and freely available, even to the weakest players in your league.)

Players at the same cost, below, are considered even (and a one or two buck difference might not mean that much, either). Assume a generic scoring system, with four-point touchdowns, a minus-one tax on picks, and one point for 10 yards rushing and 25 yards passing.

I’m going to do something different with this year’s commentary, at least in the preseason. The idea is to give you a quick comment on every significant player, to get an idea of what I’d say if you had 30 seconds and asked me “hey, what do you think of so-and-so?”

$29 Aaron Rodgers
$26 Russell Wilson
$24 Cam Newton
$23 Tom Brady
$22 Drew Brees
$19 Carson Wentz
$19 Deshaun Watson
$18 Matthew Stafford

Rodgers had some curious efficiency dips last year, but when he plays full seasons, he usually is the QB1 or QB2 when the smoke clears. I’d argue he does that in spite of head coach Mike McCarthy and not because of him, but the numbers are generally there. I wish I liked Rodgers’s supporting cast a little more, though Davante Adams has quietly turned himself into a star. I probably won’t draft Rodgers anywhere, but that’s a statement on the depth of the position and the cheap hack of waiting — it’s not a commentary on him.

This will be the first year in seven that I don’t target Wilson at the table; it makes me sad just to write that. Jimmy Graham, for whatever his flaws were, left with a bunch of cheap touchdown catches. Doug Baldwin’s knee isn’t right. Wilson had a hand in all but one of Seattle’s scores last year, obviously unsustainable. And no one has a good vibe on new OC Brian Schottenheimer. If you gave me any QB for free and Rodgers were gone, I’d take Wilson here, sure. But the cost won’t make sense at the table.

Newton is a good example of how we have to mind that gap between real-life and fantasy. He’s not a plus passer, but rushing production from a QB is nectar of the fantasy gods, and Newton has proven he can withstand a ridiculous amount of physical punishment and keep playing. And at least the Panthers have tried to stock the fridge for Newton, and at least Kelvin Benjamin is gone for good (Newton’s best form has usually coincided with Benjamin not playing).

Obviously Brady is coming off an MVP season, but I’d rather be a year early than a year late with someone soon to turn 41. And Brady’s peak value needs a healthy Rob Gronkowski for four months, a bet I’m not comfortable making.

Like Brady, Brees is someone I’d rather be proactively fading than eagerly drafting, while acknowledging the floor is probably sturdy. I wish I liked the New Orleans wide receivers a little bit more, but Sean Payton was ahead of the curve last summer when he compared Alvin Kamara to Marshall Faulk.

I fully believe Wentz is a special player, and he had the MVP to lose before last year’s knee injury. But given that the injury happened so late in the year, and the Eagles have a capable backup in Nick Foles, it’s hard for me to target Wentz at a 2018 draft table. I think I’ll own plenty of shares of Wentz through his career, but the current ADP isn’t giving me enough inventive to dabble in something that isn’t a sure thing. And while Philly’s receiving group is very deep, Alshon Jeffery might be compromised (or out completely) when the season starts. Even if Wentz is ready to play Week 1, a slow start is possible, perhaps likely.

Watson is a hero pick and a “look at me” pick — and someone who might as well be off my board entirely. I hate saying that. He’s fun. He was a monster last year. He’s a likable kid, too, someone who has a big heart and a social conscience. But he’s only played six games, he’s off a knee blowout, the Texans will probably have a better defense and a worse offensive line this year, and I’m worried the play calling might be more buttoned up, with an eye towards keeping Watson hale. And now that teams have seen Watson, they should have a much better shot at trying to contain him. My heart will be invested, but I don’t like the expectant price.

Stafford had an odd injury rap early in his career, a tag he’s fought off with high-level play and some classic moments of producing through injury. An indoor schedule, two strong receivers (maybe three if Golladay pops), this is a very safe place to park your money.

Is Ben Roethlisberger being propped up by his skill-position teammates? (AP)

$16 Philip Rivers
$16 Matt Ryan
$15 Ben Roethlisberger
$15 Andrew Luck
$15 Kirk Cousins

Rivers is another solid (if boring) value vet that I gravitate towards, though I sure wish he had Hunter Henry to fall back on. Rivers also won’t give you a thing as a runner, but maybe that’s part of what keeps him on the field for 16 games every year .

Ryan was a lock to regress after his magical 2016 MVP season, and the adjustment from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian left a scar, too. But the Falcons were yardage and yards-per-play monsters all season; the red-zone problems were probably a stone fluke. For all of Julio Jones’s problems with touchdowns, last year’s scant TD rate is unlikely to repeat. Most draft rooms will give you a cheaper price than what I’m putting on Ryan, and I suggest you take it .

Roethlisberger is still a quality player, but the efficiency dip in recent years has been masked by his star-studded supporting cast. What would happen to Big Ben if he didn’t have Brown, Bell, and JuJu propping him up? He’s also a poor bet to play all 16 games, and occasionally he’ll throw up a stinker of a game, take down your week. Big Ben is a much easier ticket to punch in Best Ball formats; I am not comfortable needing him as a primary weekly starter.

Someone in my leagues is likely to price Luck like his full comeback is a sure thing, and I’ll step the side and allow them. T.Y. Hilton is a dynamite receiver but not a major touchdown guy — he doesn’t run the entire route tree — and he’s the only major target Luck has. Granted, Luck has made do with ordinary supporting casts before, but he just missed an entire season of football. I’m still in show-me mode with Luck, and if I’m a beat late to his full comeback, I can live with that.

Cousins is a funny player to rank and analyze because he’s good in many areas but not dynamic at anything. The arm is strong, but not a howitzer. He’s athletic, but not in a freakish way. The Vikings might have a troublesome offensive line, but Minnesota’s skill talent is exquisite. Although a passing-game player changing teams often makes me nervous, I expect the Vikings and Cousins to make a good fit. He’s one of my mid-range targets.

$13 Alex Smith
$13 Jimmy Garoppolo
$12 Marcus Mariota
$12 Patrick Mahomes

Smith is the patron saint of Superflex and Two-Quarterback formats, but he might sneak inside the QB1 cutline again. He’s a nifty, resourceful scrambler, Washington has some interesting receivers, and DC just lost its featured back. Smith is almost always priced for profit, and Jay Gruden is usually good to his fantasy QBs.

Garoppolo is probably famous and too expensive — too trendy — for me. His receiving group is lacking a true alpha dog — the Niners had Atlanta’s problems late last year (all the yards, not many touchdowns), but what is San Francisco’s path out of that? Remember, Jimmy G has only made seven NFL starts. And there’s a Shiny New Toy cost baked into his ADP.

The Titans had the oldest coaching staff in the league last year, and despite a playoff berth, everyone was canned. I’m dying to see if new OC Matt LaFleur (from the Sean McVay tree) can make the most out of Mariota’s skills. Of course, Mariota has some of the Watson problem — the team needs to keep him on the field, and maybe that leads to Mariota not running as proactively as fantasy owners would like. But after watching the Rams scheme so many easy throws for Jared Goff last year, it’s exciting to imagine what Mariota might be capable of, given some creative coaching. He’s an intriguing upside play in the middle rounds.

Mahomes looks like the QB with the widest range of outcomes. He obviously comes with a first-round pedigree, and Andy Reid is a dynamite coach for 6.8 days a week (look the other way when it’s challenge or clock-management time). The Chiefs have plenty of fun offensive pieces, too. But Mahomes has just one NFL start under his belt, albeit it was an impressive one last year at Denver in Week 17. When your draft shifts until “I don’t care, give me upside” mode in the middle rounds, Mahomes starts to look appealing. And in most standard formats, you’ll have U-turn options if Mahomes falls on his face.

Mitchell Trubisky had a reasonable rookie year, but it’s still hard to say what he is and what he isn’t (AP)

$10 Jared Goff
$10 Dak Prescott
$9 Andy Dalton
$9 Derek Carr
$8 Mitchell Trubisky
$7 Blake Bortles
$7 Eli Manning
$6 Case Keenum

I can’t get too excited over Goff when Todd Gurley and the Rams defense are the true stars in LA. At least Goff has four quality targets to throw to, and I’d be flabbergasted if Sean McVay proved to be a one-year wonder.

Prescott gets a boost for his rushing chops, but Dallas has one of the worst receiving groups in the league. It was fine to move on from Dez Bryant, and it was probably the right time for Jason Witten to retire. But did the Cowboys adequately replace those guys?

Dalton has long been the red-headed stepchild of the position, but A.J. Green is still a needle-mover and John Ross looks ready to make a contribution in his lost freshman year. If we knew Tyler Eifert could give us even half of a season, Dalton would belong a tier higher.

I can’t select any Raiders proactively, not with Jon Gruden back in charge. Unless it’s the ultimate long con, Gruden truly seems obsessed with a brand of football that went out of style two decades ago. I guess he couldn’t say no to the golden package the Raiders threw at him, but this is a team of strange fits.

Trubisky’s rookie year was hard to gage — he didn’t get on base, but he didn’t sink the ship, either. And like the Titans, the Bears were derailed by an out-of-date coaching staff, since replaced. Maybe no team turns out to be this year’s version of the 2017 Rams, but the Titans and Bears are the two likeliest candidates. New coach Matt Nagy learned at the clipboard of Reid, while OC Mark Helfrich comes from the Oregon offensive system. I suspect it will take some time for Trubisky to get comfortable with all the moving parts in Chicago, but he could be a needle mover in the second half of the year.

Bortles is the type of player you own, but don’t watch. He’ll give the ball away sometimes, make you want to chuck the remote. Jacksonville’s receiving corps is filled with WR2 and WR3 types, with no legitimate matchup nightmare. Bortles is willing to run, especially around the goal, which means he’ll almost always be more important in our fake game than he is to Jacksonville’s real-life interests.

Not many want in on Manning into an age-37 season, but the Giants are filled with elite skill players, and maybe head coach Pat Shurmur is a special hire. Keep in mind, Shurmur had a hand in the Nick Foles 2013 miracle, and he coached Case Keenum into a career year last season.

Keenum, unfortunately, is no longer with Shurmur or in Minnesota. Denver’s two primary wideouts are headed into dangerous pockets of their careers, and we don’t know if Keenum will have easy throws to a tight end or running back. Not only don’t I think he’s going to come close to 2017’s season; I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s under the league average for the remainder of his career.

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$5 Jameis Winston
$4 Ryan Tannehill
$3 Tyrod Taylor
$3 Joe Flacco
$3 Sam Darnold

You can wait for Winston if you want, but I want that bench space for lottery tickets. If I can cheaply add Winston around when he returns, I’d consider it in deeper or Superflex formats. But he’s a no-draft for me in standard; the early-season roster capital is too important.

Tannehill is off a missed year, plays for a coach most don’t trust, and has a pedestrian set of receivers. I’m not confident it’s ever going to happen for DeVante Parker. They’ll miss Jarvis Landry more than they realize.

Now would be a good time for Flacco to resurrect his career, with Lamar Jackson looming. But it will take time to get used to three new wideouts.

Taylor is one of those “see it, then throw it” quarterbacks — he can’t make enough anticipatory throws. It’s a shame, because the Browns have fun skill talent, even if Josh Gordon can’t make it back. At some point early in the year, Cleveland has to throw Baker Mayfield into the pool, see if he can swim.

Darnold wants to major as “football player”, music to the ears of the Jets. If he’s able to seize the job quickly, the Jets have fun receivers and at least two capable running backs.

$2 Josh Rosen
$2 Baker Mayfield
$1 Nathan Peterman
$1 Josh Allen
$1 Sam Bradford
$1 Nick Foles
$1 AJ McCarron
$1 Ryan Fitzpatrick
$1 Josh McCown
$1 Lamar Jackson

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