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Fantasy Football QBs: Breakouts, Sleepers & Busts

It’s fantasy football season or #fantasyfootballszn as the kids would say. You know who the studs and scrubs are at the QB position. Seriously, we know Aaron Rodgers, who averaged 23.1 PPG in six-point passing TD leagues last season, will, barring injury, more than likely finish top five at his position. Rodgers finished as QB1 in fantasy two of the last three seasons going into 2017.

On the other hand, we know trusting Andy Dalton as our QB1 this season is probably not the best decision. Yes, he finished as QB3 in 2013 under OC Jay Gruden (one of the reasons I like Alex Smith this season), but fantasy is about playing the odds (or predictive analysis). Since his 2013 season, Dalton has failed to crack the top 15 for total points at his position. Ironically, I could see Dalton doing so this season under his first full season with OC Bill Lazor, who helped Ryan Tannehill produce a top-10 fantasy season at the position, but we’re playing the odds (or what’s most likely to happen).

First, the quarterback position as deep as ever this season, as I’d feel comfortable with either of my top 18 ranked QBs as my starter. I’m not throwing guys on the list to enhance content and will keep this list concise. You can check out my full rankings here.

As a point of reference, breakouts are players that I believe can jump into the top 12, or become a QB1. Simply, sleepers are players that’ll outperform their ADP. Busts are players that won’t produce at the level of their ADP. Using ESPN ADP (let’s be honest, most of us play there), here are my breakouts, sleepers, and busts.

Busts

Ben Roethlisberger – Personally, I have Big Ben ranked as my QB19, but he’s being drafted as a starter as the ninth QB off the board. I truly believe Ben was a product of Todd Haley’s system, as he was not fantasy relevant before Haley arrived. He was a top 12 QB twice before Haley arrived. In six seasons with Haley, Ben had a completion percentage of at least 63 in every season, eclipsed 4,000 passing yards three times (threw for at least 3,800 passing yards in 2015 and 2016 in 14 games or less, respectively) and threw for more than 25 passing TDs in every season except one. Before Haley, Ben accomplished those feats twice in eight seasons. I’d take Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Alex Smith, Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers, who are all going later, ahead of him. I’d make a case for Blake Bortles, my QB20, too, who has quietly put up three straight top 13 QB finishes.

 

Derek Carr – Ranked QB24 for me, Carr should only be drafted in two-QB leagues and as a reserve in 14 + team leagues. Currently, he’s being drafted as QB17. A lot of uncertainty surrounds the Oakland offense, which is more clouded when it was reported that Jon Gruden was showing film from 1976.

The Raiders offense regressed last season after letting Bill Musgrave go, but their new OC, Greg Olsen, helped Blake Bortles finish as a back-to-back top 10 QB in 2015 and 2016, attempting more than 600 passes, respectively. It would not shock me if the volume of Carr leads to a career high in passing yards, but scoring with Jordy Nelson, who entered the witness protection program when Aaron Rodgers got hurt last season, slotted (pun intended) as the best red zone option is a hefty task.

Sleepers

Eli Manning – Initially, I had Manning as my QB29, but I noticed a trend. A QB with his RB, WR, and TE projected to finish inside the top 15 at their respective positions has finished inside the top 15 at their position, too. In 2017, this was the case for Tom Brady, Alex Smith, and Phillip Rivers. He’s finished outside the top 15 the last two seasons, but let’s put respect on Eli’s name with Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shephard and Evan Engram as his starting skill position players. Manning’s going off the board as QB20, while I have him at QB17.

Blake Bortles – Say what you want about Bortles, but he’s been top 13 at the position the last three seasons, including last year when he attempted 523 passes which were down from his annual 600 + the two seasons before. Speaking of consistency, Bortles had six games of less than 18 fantasy points. He won’t win you a week, but he won’t lose it. He’s my QB20, which is value and is going undrafted.

Breakouts

Dak Prescott – This might be cheating, but technically Prescott is going as a QB2 in 12-team leagues as QB13. He’s ranked QB10 for me, and I believe the Prescott we saw weeks 1-9 before Ezekiel Elliot was suspended (a top 10 QB) is the real Prescott. Yes, he was outside the top 20 on a PPG basis without Zeke last season, but Zeke isn’t facing another suspension this season. Allen Hurns, 26, is arguably better than Dez Bryant. Bryant hasn’t been elite since 2014 and Hurns quietly has a thousand yard-10 TD season in his back pocket before the injury bug got to him the last two seasons. Witten will be missed, but expect the combination of Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, and Tavon Austin to shoulder that burden, in addition to more Zeke catches.

Matt Ryan – Going off the board as the 14th QB, Ryan is ranked 15th for me, too (because of the depth at the position). Save your Matt Ryan flourishes in the second year of an offense argument (because in 2013, his second year in Dirk Kotter’s offense, he ranked outside the top 12 at the position. Instead, let’s take in account the fact that over the last five seasons Ryan has never finished outside the top 8 back-to-back years, and he now has arguably a faster WR than Julio Jones in Calvin Ridley. Ryan’s last five finishes: 15, 2, 19, 8 and 14.

Alex Smith – My QB14, Alex Smith is currently being drafted as the 18th signal-caller off the board. Yes, Smith’s first top-five finish was last season and he didn’t finish higher than QB15 in any other season in Kansas City, but he’s in Washington now. A QB who just eclipsed 4,000 passing yards and 25 passing TDs for the first time last season, Smith’s floor is that with Jay Gruden as his play caller. Gruden has produced a top 10 QB the last three seasons. Smith, in my opinion, is better than Kirk Cousins from a skill standpoint, so he should operate Gruden’s system better.

Phillip Rivers – It’s crazy to say a QB who has finished inside the top 12 the last five seasons is a breakout, but that’s the case for Rivers when he’s being drafted as the 21st QB off the board. Rivers is my QB11. Like Bortles but with a higher floor, Rivers won’t win you a week, so to speak, but he’ll provide a solid floor on a weekly basis. This is a guy who played on a torn ACL, so he has a spot on my team every year.

Joshua Kellem is a Slippery Rock University graduate with a BS in Journalism. In addition, he is the creator of fantasy football website fftalk.org

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