Fantasy Football: Still willing to try late-round QB in drafts? Here are some top options

Way back, in the earliest days of fantasy football — when running backs were king and kickers were widely respected — it was never difficult to identify the dead money in your draft. Invariably, the biggest sucker at the table was the manager who drafted the first quarterback.

That person simply had no chance.

For decades, the sharpest and most successful managers were routinely among the last to select QBs in their leagues. Fantasy experts rarely achieve unanimity of opinion on any subject, but we pretty much all agreed that an early-round quarterback was a doomed investment. Even if you happened to hit on the overall QB1, the statistical separation between that guy and the mid-to-late-round alternatives was almost never significant.

Sure, we would occasionally see a wild outlier of a season — think Steve Young in 1998 or Daunte Culpepper in 2004 — but such performances were impossible to predict in advance, nor were they ever repeated the following year. Ask anyone who drafted Culpepper in 2005 if they enjoyed the experience.

So, late-round QB drafting became a way of life — for some, it became a personal brand. Somehow, the position of greatest importance in actual football became an end-of-draft afterthought in fantasy.

But in 2018, things began to change.

Patrick Mahomes passed for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first year as a starter, establishing a new single-season record for total fantasy points by a quarterback. Lamar Jackson basically reinvented the position the following season, rushing for over 1,200 yards while passing for 36 scores and setting a new per-game fantasy scoring mark.

In each of the subsequent four years, at least one QB has produced an all-time statistical season. Today, we actually expect one or more quarterbacks to deliver decisive, golden-ticket fantasy performances. Seven of the all-time top-10 individual QB scoring seasons (and six of the top per-game seasons) have occurred within the past six years. Each of Josh Allen's last three seasons rank among the top 20 in the history of his position.

Not surprisingly, in an era in which multiple quarterbacks have produced league-tilting performances, our draft behavior has changed. Allen is now commonly selected inside the second or third round in drafts, with Jalen Hurts, Mahomes and Jackson not far behind. These days, we can reasonably expect the game's highest-scoring QB to finish 120 or more points clear of the guys in the QB6-QB8 range — and that is exactly the sort of positional edge for which we should reach.

However, even at a time when luxury quarterbacks offer a potential winning edge, it would be a mistake to think the bargain-hunting approach to the position is fully dead. Jordan Love (QB5) and Brock Purdy (QB6) found their way onto plenty of championship rosters last season, after all, and those guys were basically free in drafts.

Also, there’s a serious opportunity cost associated with the early-draft QBs, because Allen, Hurts, Mahomes and Jackson are selected in the same neighborhood as premium players at RB, WR and TE. Drafting an upper-tier quarterback is likely to leave you with a perceived weakness at a more talent-scarce spot.

The dream scenario, of course, is to find a potential top-five quarterback at a rock-bottom draft price. The greatest thing about Mahomes in 2018 and Jackson in 2019 is that neither required a premium pick. Both were generally available outside the top 100 picks.

With this fact in mind, it's always worth mining the mid and late rounds for potential difference-making quarterbacks. Someone always breaks out at this position, obliterating preseason projections and acquiring new draft coordinates for the following season.

Any respectable list of the strongest candidates to do so in 2024 needs to begin with a rookie or two.

Caleb Williams, Chicago Bears, ADP 118.4

If Williams had basically any other logo on his uniform, you'd all feel much better about his rookie outlook. But it's tough for many of you to wrap your heads around the idea that a Bears quarterback might actually deliver a monster passing season, because … well, because it has never happened in the history of this 105-year-old franchise. A certain level of skepticism is understandable.

Williams is a very different sort of quarterback than we've previously seen in Chicago, however. We previously made the case for him as a potential top-10-ish fantasy QB as a rookie, and the argument hasn't substantially changed. His talent, aggression and inventiveness are pretty much undeniable. He's also stepping into a turn-key situation with the Bears, surrounded by exceptional playmakers. It's exceedingly rare for a quarterback selected first overall to walk into an offense that's as loaded as the group Williams is now directing.

Assuming good health, we have a season incoming that’s going to obliterate several franchise passing records. We are gonna be seeing plenty of this in the year ahead:

Jayden Daniels, Washington Commanders, ADP 116.6

Daniels erupted in his fifth collegiate season in the year he turned 23, with elite receivers at his disposal, so perhaps there are some faint Kenny Pickett vibes here. But Daniels has plenty of arm and he offers uncommon rushing ability, which of course enhances his fantasy appeal in a significant way:

He ran for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns at LSU last year while also passing for 3,812 yards and 40 scores, a ridiculous statistical season that earned him the Heisman and Day 1 starting status in the NFL. Daniels is joining a Washington offense with plenty of playmaking talent — not quite at Chicago's level, but not too far behind. If he can manage to avoid the cartoonish, bone-rattling hits that occurred way too often at the college level, his dual-threat upside clearly lands him in the starting conversation in fantasy.

Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets, ADP 130.3

Rodgers has already been responsible for a few of the greatest fantasy seasons in the history of his position, so this one shouldn't require much imagination. He's about to (finally) share the field with Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall, so he certainly won't lack weapons.

Of course, Rodgers is also now 40 years old and returning from Achilles surgery, but age and health worries are fully accounted for in his draft price. If he has a late-career supernova season, he certainly wouldn't be the first creaky old QB to pull it off in the fantasy era. With all-time greats, the normal aging rules don't always apply. Let's just keep an open mind regarding Rodgers, a man who has eight 30-TD seasons on his Hall of Fame resume.

Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars, ADP 128.8

Bet you guys really hate this one, right?

Yeah, of course you do.

Fantasy managers were thoroughly fed up with Lawrence last season, even though he managed to actually sneak inside his position's top-12 scorers by the end of the year. He played through injury for a substantial chunk of his season and he was victimized by a ludicrous number of drops and near-misses, yet still found his way to 4,000 yards.

Lawrence has been one of the best deep-ball passers in the game since he entered the league, so the arrival of Gabe Davis and Brian Thomas Jr. is a welcome development. Don't allow any simmering anger related to last season to enter your decision-making process in 2024. Lawrence is still a guy with a weapons-grade arm, working with a deep and talented receiving corps. It may feel as if he's been around forever, but he actually won't turn 25 until October. This is a player with plenty of development ahead.

We might never again see Lawrence available at this year’s deeply discounted ADP, which means this is exactly the wrong moment to fade him.

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