Rule number one in fantasy football could be a lot of different things. It depends on who you talk to and it could even be “don’t talk fantasy football in May”. Welp.
We already blew it, but again, the #1 mantra can be a lot of things. One thing we can all finally agree on, however, is that the days of having to draft a quarterback early in fantasy drafts are gone. It doesn’t hurt to own a stud quarterback, but one look at 2015 tells you all you need to know. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck were just three big names to get the draw early in a lot of drafts and for different reasons, they kind of disappointed.
Rodgers was still totally fine (7th overall among quarterbacks), but without Jordy Nelson, he was a peon against top shelf defenses and just didn’t produce on an elite level on a weekly basis. Manning already seemed to be half in the bag and his sliding in drafts told us everyone bought that – yet a 4th round ADP told us many a fantasy owner felt he might still be good enough to be a weekly QB1. He wasn’t.
Neither was Luck, who was the consensus #1 fantasy quarterback going off of drafts boards as early as round one in 2015 fantasy football drafts. Instead of build off of a huge 2014 showing, he bombed due to turnovers, and ultimately, injury.
Those dudes were supposed to be locks and they flat out were not. On the flip side, if you trusted in Kirk Cousins (undrafted), Cam Newton (10th round ADP) or even Carson Palmer (11th), you were rewarded handsomely. Cousins shocked most fantasy experts by finishing 8th overall among fantasy passers (one spot behind A-Rod!), while Newton (1st) and Palmer (5th) were two of the best fantasy football quarterbacks you could have lucked into.
Those are just a few examples, but in a passing league where a litany of quarterbacks top 250 fantasy points (17 to be exact) and another seven top 300 fantasy points, you know you don’t need to spend a precious early round draft pick on your starting quarterback. Unless you’re in a 20-team or 2-QB league, that is.
For the standard stuff, you can wait. And if you buy into that, we’ve got some solid gems to lean on come 2016, per some recent ADP:
*Data from FantasyFootballCalculators for standard 12-team fantasy leagues.
Marcus Mariota – Tennessee Titans (Round 11)
Mariota kicks off our list as a supreme high upside pick that you can find around round 11 in standard 12-team fantasy football leagues. Mariota flashed the ability to serve you strong as a stable QB1 in 2015, displaying solid accuracy, good decision-making ability and the ability to spring the big play with his legs.
Tennessee did keep him reigned inside the pocket a lot to protect him, but that rushing upside is there and Mariota is a lot more advanced in the pocket than some felt he would be at this point. He’ll also enter 2016 with an improved supporting cast (specifically thanks to running back upgrades), while he has a safety net in tight end Delanie Walker and a budding big play talent in Dorial Green-Beckham. All the tools are there for the guy to take flight in year two, which might be saying something considering he finished as fantasy football’ s 22nd best fantasy quarterback despite missing four games due to injury.
The most sacked quarterback a year ago, Mariota is healthy, should have improved pass protection and a better slate of weapons in a more balanced offense. He would have easily cracked the top-20 had he been healthy last year, and was just 40 fantasy points outside of the top-15. In a full season, he has the goods to be your answer and you don’t have to pluck him off of draft boards until round 11.
Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons (Round 11)
Ryan has throughout his fantasy history been one of the most stable options you can ask for. He’s not normally a threat for a career year or a top-five finish, but guys who produce 26+ touchdowns and 4,000+ passing yards on a regular basis don’t grow on trees. Ryan had a down 2015 season, but has been very reliable in his career, producing five straight 4,100+ passing yardage seasons, as well as 26+ passing scores in five of his last seasons (21+ every year during that span).
Ryan saw a dip thanks to a face plant by Roddy White in 2015 and little else other than Julio Jones to lean on in the passing game. Despite the mild dip, he still finished as fantasy football’s 19th best quarterback and now marches into 2016 with an improved supporting cast. Atlanta got rid of White and worked to round out the passing game by drafting tight end Austin Dillon and signing versatile slot man, Mohamed Sanu. Ryan should bounce back from a disappointing 2015 campaign and get much closer to his regular 26 touchdowns and 4,000 passing yards. That kind of production in round 11 is quite obviously a steal.
Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions (Round 12)
Stafford is another interesting case, as people are probably going to be down on him for several reasons. For one, Calvin Johnson just retired, and Stafford has never been a super reliable guy on a year to year basis. Just a quick look at his touchdowns alone throughout his career – 13, 6, 41, 20, 29, 22, 32 – shows an incriminating inconsistency.
That being said, Stafford was a different guy once Detroit switched up their offense and placed Jim Bob Cooter in charge of things. It helped Stafford immensely down the stretch, as Detroit spread things out and it really opened the passing game up. Stafford was specifically on top of things over his final six games, putting up a whopping 17 touchdowns against just one interceptions during that time. He was also super efficient, as he completed 65% or more of his passes in all six of those games, while topping a 70% completion rate four times during that span.
It is still possible Megatron’s exit hurts Stafford and it’s also possible his erratic year to year consistency throughout his career pops back up. But Stafford has some weapons, he has a good system and defenses not being able to key in on one big star receiver will take away a tunnel vision approach and spread things out. In theory, this should allow Stafford to simply find the open guy and lead to more efficient play.
But all of that aside, we’re talking about last year’s 9th best fantasy quarterback, and you can get him ind round 12.
Ryan Tannehill – Miami Dolphins (Round 13)
One other fantasy quarterback sleeper has to be Tannehill. People were all over him as a bust out candidate really for the last two years, but last year he disappointed as fantasy’s 17th best passer. It’s hardly all his fault, though, as Tannehill was operating in a dysfunctional environment and with a staff that didn’t even seem to fully back him.
Despite going against the odds a bit, Tannehill still put up a career-high 4,210 passing yards and tied a career low in interceptions (12). Blessed with a solid base of weapons and a new offensive-minded head coach in Adam Gase that has made a career out of producing successful passing offenses, there is room for a ton of optimism. Better than optimism, however, is upside. Gase helped make Jay Cutler a viable fantasy threat for portions of last year and should be able to improve Tannehill’s pocket presence, timing and decision-making.
Gase doesn’t need to work miracles, though. Tannehill has already flashed his immense fantasy ceiling before, as he finished 7th at the quarterback position in 2014. Tannehill has a big arm, nice mobility and the weapons to help piece together his best season yet. There is downside here, but in round 13, it shouldn’t scare you off.
Not a fan of our late round quarterback sleepers? Got some of your own you prefer? Tell us all about it in the comments below!