Best Ball Tiers: Quarterbacks

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Best Ball Tiers: Quarterbacks

This tiers article series should be your one-stop shop for everything you need to know before, during, and after you draft your best ball teams. It will be updated all throughout July, August, and September in the lead up to Week 1 — so make sure you keep these pages bookmarked.

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I’ll mainly focus on NFFC/BB10 and Underdog leagues, which both require 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, and 1 FLEX as starters. The key differences between NFFC and Underdog are the scoring system (PPR for NFFC and 0.5 PPR for UD) and the fact you don’t have to start a defense on Underdog, which boosts up the late-round RBs, WRs, and TEs. Still, the strategy and player outlooks discussed in these tiers are usable for both sites.

Please note that this article series is not meant to replace our season-long rankings because managed leagues and best ball are two totally different games in a few key ways:

Treat onesie positions differently

Best ball puts way more of an emphasis on “onesie” positions (QB and TE) because week-winning scores are optimized. In season-long, we have access to a waiver wire to replace and stream these spots if your quarterback gets hurt or isn’t good enough. Maximizing floor and ceiling at the position matters and that often entails paying up in best ball.

Elite tight ends are instantly more valuable because of their positional scoring advantage they provide. That scoring advantage is only heightened in FFPC’s TE premium leagues (1.5 PPR to TEs). For example, Travis Kelce finished as a top-6 scoring option in 14-of-16 weeks last season. Not only is it almost impossible to find that type of elite production from mid- and late-round tight ends in general, you also don’t have the waiver wire to use to your advantage. Last year’s TE5 Robert Tonyan and TE7 Logan Thomas in fantasy points per game largely went undrafted in best ball.

Live or die with running backs

League-winning backs that hit monster ceilings are just as valuable in best ball as they are in season long, but once again, you run into an opportunity cost issue. It’s much easier to replace an early pick like when Saquon Barkley got hurt and missed all of last year in managed leagues than it is in best ball. In fact, the drafters that got unlucky and had Barkley last year eked out a 0.3% win rate in best ball. 0.3! That means you had about a 1 in 3,000 chance of winning your league solely because you lost Barkley. You could have drafted a great team after the first round and it still (probably) wouldn’t have mattered.

Of course, the early rounds are where most of the league-winning backs come from. Over the past five seasons, the top-6 running backs in individual season win rate were all drafted in Round 1 or 2. While early-round backs have an incredibly high potential to bust, they also have the highest potential of dragging your teams to glory.

Basically, running backs still provide the greatest chance at league-winning upside (think Christian McCaffrey’s 2019) but also have the most risk out of any position to absolutely burn your team (think Barkley’s 2020).

Ok, so what is the most optimal strategy to draft running backs? Going with early-round RBs, one stud RB and stream, or Zero RB? Let’s take a look back at the last five years of drafts using RotoViz’s Best Ball Roster Construction Explorer.

  • Two early RBs (Draft RB1 and RB2 in Round 1-3): 8.1% win rate; 147.5 weekly score

  • Hero RB — One stud RB (Draft RB1 in Round 1-2 and then RB2 in Round 6 or later): 10.8% win rate; 147.7 weekly score

  • Zero RB (Draft RB1 in Round 5 or later): 9.0% win rate; 146.8 weekly score

“Hero RB” strategy is by far the most optimal followed by the traditional Zero RB build where your first four picks are ideally one stud TE and 3 WRs. But let’s take this one step further and look at what happens when you take your RB1 in Rounds 1 or 2 and then ignore the position until even later.

So, let’s say you took your RB1 in the first or second round. Great. But instead of taking your second back in Round 6 or later, what is your win rate if you were to wait even longer and take your RB2 in Round 9 or later?

The results are eye-opening.

  • Superhero RB — One stud RB (Draft RB1 in Round 1-2 and then RB2 in Round 9 or later): 12.6% win rate; 149.6 weekly score

Whew.

This data has drastically changed my strategy. Keep in mind, all of these results ignore other positions. We are simply looking at the average results of team’s and where they took their running backs. No other positions matter.

A bunch of my best ball teams have centered around the One Stud RB builds this year, especially when I have a top-6 pick and can lock in one of CMC, Cook, Henry, Kamara, Elliott, or Barkley and then hammer other positions. And there is a trove of running backs in the Round 8-12 sweetspot to help precipitate the Superhero strategy.

I’m convinced that “Hero RB” (RB1 in Round 1-2 / RB2 in Round 6 or later) and “Superhero RB” (RB1 in Round 1-2 / RB2 in Round 9 or later) are the most optimal RB strategies.

Why tiers?

Drafting from tiers is by far the best way to be prepared for your drafts. Grouping similarly ranked players into buckets just makes life easier when the bullets start flying. Did you miss out on Jerry Jeudy in the 8th round and still need a wide receiver? The clock is counting down… but it’s no matter. You’re prepared and not just drafting from a static overall or ADP list. You can look where you have Jeudy grouped with similar WRs and if there aren’t any receivers left in that particular tier, you might be best off pivoting to another position. Simple. Flexible. Effective.

The tiers in this article series are based off of our staff’s rankings. My life was easy: I just grouped players together using our brain trust and then expanded on the players and strategy from there. In general, I tried to keep similarly ranked players that are relatively close to each other in the same tier, but I had to take some liberties in the late rounds when the player pool starts thinning out.

Ok, on to the good stuff.

Tier 1

ADP range for tier: 36 to 62 overall

Main targets: Jackson and Prescott

Avoid: None

Mahomes probably deserves his own tier, but for the sake of being concise, he’s grouped in here. There aren’t any arguments against him — he’s finished as the QB1, QB7, and QB2 in fantasy points per game in his first three seasons, he has the best receiving duo in the league, a future Hall-of-Fame coach, and his offensive line actually improved this offseason. Plus, you have the benefit of information with Mahomes because his two best stacking partners go in the first round, making roster construction easy for a KC pairing.

You all know I was all-in on Josh Allen last year, which paid off big time. Nailing the Allen breakout also helped alleviate my two biggest mistakes (fading Waller and drafting all the Reagor). This year, however, you have to pay the price to get Allen. He’s on the 4th to 5th round borderline in both NFFC and Underdog leagues, which is double his price from a year ago. As much as I love Allen, I’ve found myself drafting his counterparts more often in this range at slightly cheaper prices. Allen is still a shoo-in top-5 QB, but I’m expecting a bit of regression in terms of efficiency this year.

Over the last 10 years spanning the 2010-19 seasons, 35 qualifying quarterbacks had a touchdown rate (TDs divided by attempts) of 6% or higher in a single-season. The following year, a whopping 30-of-35 (that’s 85.7%) have seen their TD rate fall in the following season. In 2020, Allen’s 6.5% TD rate marked a career-high.

I’ve done over 50 best ball drafts over the last two months and through it all, Lamar Jackson is my most drafted QB by a wide margin. In a season where QBs are getting pushed up (for good reason), Lamar can be had about 25 picks later than Mahomes and is off the board 9-10 picks later than Allen. I just love everything about Lamar’s set up this year: The price, the improved weaponry, and the league-winning upside. In his 37 career starts, Lamar has scored 25 or more fantasy points in 44% of his games — which isn’t far at all behind Mahomes (48%). Even coming off of a “down” year from his MVP campaign, Lamar dusted the league in fantasy points per dropback (0.76) with Aaron Rodgers (0.66) a distant second.

After Lamar, Dak Prescott is my second-most drafted quarterback. It’s not that I’m “out” on Kyler Murray, it’s just that Prescott and Jackson offer a little more value for their ceiling potential. Murray admitted this offseason that he ran and bailed on plays too often last year, saying he wants his rushing ability to be a “luxury” and he saw the offense as “one dimensional.” The Cardinals aren’t likely to scale back Murray’s designed carries — he scored 9 of his 11 TDs on designed plays last year — but cutting back his scrambling is enough to bump up Jackson and Prescott within this tier.

You know what the upside with Dak is: He was the QB1 in FPG in his five starts last season, he’s easy to stack with all three of his receivers and Zeke, and now his offensive line is back healthy. If Dak didn’t break his ankle last year, we’d see him go a round or two earlier than he does now. Everything that made Dak a stellar mid-round pick last year is back in place and then some.

Tier 2

ADP range for tier: 74 to 90 overall

Main target: Wilson and Rodgers

Secondary target: Hurts

Avoid: Herbert

If I miss out on Lamar or Dak, it’s not the end of the world because Russell Wilson is a fine consolation prize.

Last year turned out to be a tale of two seasons for Russell Wilson. After a white hot opening stretch in which he finished as a weekly QB1 (top-12) in eight-straight games, he managed just one more QB1 week the rest of the way in Week 10-17. The Seahawks got away from letting Russ cook in the back half of last year in part because their defense improved, but their passing attack just became vanilla and predictable. D.K. Metcalf said as much back in January, “teams just started figuring us out.” With a new OC in Shane Waldron who served as Sean McVay’s passing game coordinator from 2018-20, I’m optimistic that they’re finally going to unleash Wilson. If that happens, Wilson has the same league-winning upside that Josh Allen did last year.

Aaron Rodgers has also slid up into the top of Tier 2 and I’m targeting him in Round 6 / 7 on every team I take Davante Adams and/or Aaron Jones. The Packers have a very narrow usage tree, meaning that the majority of their targets are going to filter through Adams and Jones. Now, Rodgers is due for the same exact scoring regression we talked about with Josh Allen (reposted below) after posting a career-high 9.1% TD rate. Still, you’re getting that somewhat baked-in with Rodgers because of his tumultuous offseason and that makes him a value once again.

Over the last 10 years spanning the 2010-19 seasons, 35 qualifying quarterbacks had a touchdown rate (TDs divided by attempts) of 6% or higher in a single-season. The following year, a whopping 30-of-35 (that’s 85.7%) have seen their TD rate fall in the following season. In 2020, Allen’s 6.5% TD rate marked a career-high.

In his three and a half starts last year, Hurts put up 0.57 fantasy points per dropback — which would have been right behind Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson (0.58) for ninth-best. And in that starting stretch, Hurts averaged 68 rushing yards per game which would have been better than Lamar Jackson (67.1). Hurts is certainly unpolished and may not complete more than 60% of his passes, but it doesn’t matter because he has so much rushing upside. He’s a cut below Wilson and Rodgers in my ranks because both of those two are safer, but Hurts nonetheless is a classic upside play in the 8th round when the RB and WR pool dries up.

Quarterbacks that run consistently like Jackson, Hurts, and Murray or have scrambling upside like Prescott and Wilson are being drafted earlier than in recent memory, so why is Justin Herbert getting the same treatment? Herbert had one of the best rookie seasons ever and I’m not taking away from that, but I also don’t want to be in the business of taking a non-running quarterback early unless their name is Mahomes or Rodgers. In the nine games that Austin Ekeler started with Herbert last year, Herbert was much more content to dump the ball off to his back and not scramble. With Ekeler on the field, Herbert averaged just 3.1 rushing attempts per game. For reference, Ryan Tannehill has carried the ball exactly 3.1 times per game over the last two years. Now-Eagles OC Shane Steichen did a phenomenal job mentoring and coaching Herbert last year, but the Chargers are onto a new play-caller in Joe Lombardi in 2021. Lombardi has only called plays in one full season in his NFL coaching career with the Lions in 2014 where his offense finished a mediocre 23rd in points scored per game. Between the regime change and his lack of rushing upside, Herbert stands out as the only overvalued QB among the top-10 options, with virtually the same ADP as Wilson (75) and he’s going a round ahead of Hurts.

Tier 3

ADP range for tier: 95 to 103 overall

Main targets: Brady and Tannehill

Avoid: None

I want to draft Stafford way more, but the problem is that you’re not getting much of a bargain here. Stafford could throw 35-38 TDs at the top end of his range of outcomes, but still only manage a QB8 finish because he doesn’t scramble. Still, seeing this offense with a much better and more aggressive quarterback is exciting. Last year, Stafford was one of the league’s best passers on throws of 15+ yards downfield, ranking 5th-best out of 29 qualified QBs in on-target throw rate (67%) and 6th-best in passer rating (121.4) per SIS. Meanwhile, Jared Goff ranked a lowly 27th in on-target passes (50%) on throws that traveled 15+ yards downfield. Only Mitchell Trubisky (47%) and Carson Wentz (43%) were worse. Goff’s 85.2 rating on these attempts ranked 20th. Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Tyler Higbee have more upside than the market is pricing in.

Brady is probably the easiest quarterback on the board to break down. He’s easy to stack between all of the Bucs’ weapons and easy to pair from a roster construction standpoint. Did you miss out on the Tier 1 or Tier 2 QBs? Brady is just fine as a safe QB1 paired with one or two more late-rounders with upside. (Just wait for the Trey Lance blurbs.) Brady showed no signs of decline last year and actually got better as the season wore on despite playing on a torn MCL. After their Week 13 bye, he closed out the remaining eight games by averaging 299.3 yards per game, a healthy 8.7 YPA, and an insanely efficient 22:4 TD-to-INT ratio.

Tannehill’s price has jumped a full round since the Julio Jones trade, but there is still plenty of equity in his stock. Over the last two seasons, Tannehill has been one of the most efficient passers in the game — ranking second-best in passer rating, second-best in touchdown rate, first in yards per attempt, and second-best in fantasy points per dropback. Not bad, huh? If the Titans defense continues to regress and gives up more points, it’ll give Tannehill and the passing attack even more upside with a few more pass attempts per game.

Tier 4

ADP range for tier: 107 to 130 overall

Main target: Burrow

Avoid: None

This is where things start to get interesting.

Off the top, Burrow profiles as the most exciting target in this range. The Bengals were very pass-heavy, played fast, and ripped off a bunch of plays last season which provides plenty of upside for all of their fantasy options. In his nine starts, the team was a goldmine for fantasy. They played fast (8th in pace), ran a ton of plays (1st), and were top-12 in pass rate in all three key game situations. That combination put Burrow on pace for a league-leading 658 attempts before he tore up his knee. I’m targeting all of the Bengals WRs at cost (Round 5-8) and pairing them with Burrow.

Lawrence is the first rookie QB off the board by a wide margin with Justin Fields going 20-25 picks later while Trey Lance lags 30 picks or so behind the Jags’ No. 1 overall pick in Best Ball 10 / NFFC leagues.

However, there is a big difference in this range in Underdog tournaments — it’s actually Lance (117 overall ADP) going earlier than Trevor Lawrence (125) and Fields (131) followed by Matt Ryan (137) and Kirk Cousins (149).

Keep in mind, most of the Underdog contests are tournaments, not just leagues where you have to beat out 11 players for the top prize. So drafters are seeking out the upside of the rookie quarterbacks over the more proven veterans. Lawrence has been appropriately priced as a high-end QB2 all summer.

The Vikings have a very condensed usage tree with Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook dominating most of the touches. It’s not sexy, but it makes for a very straightforward stack with Cousins available in the 12th-14th round.

Tier 5

ADP range for tier: 135 to 160 overall

Main targets: Fields and Lance

Avoids: Ryan, Tagovailoa

Justin Fields and Trey Lance are two of the best values going in NFFC / BestBall10 leagues right now, regardless of position. Whereas both rookies are 11th and 12th round picks in Underdog tournaments and FFPC’s TE premium leagues, they go off the board in the 13th round or later in BB10s. The NFFC’s Draft Championship tournament awards 6-points for every passing touchdown and it’s a 35-round draft and both of those facts make QBs more valuable. Still, drafters are tame on both Fields and Lance and you can routinely take them as your QB2 or QB3 in that format.

Because their prices are so palatable, you can take one of the Tier 1, 2, or 3 QBs and pair them with Fields or Lance in the late-rounds to give you a great floor and ceiling at the position. Sure, neither may start Week 1, but at the first sign Andy Dalton and Jimmy Garoppolo start folding, both the Bears and 49ers will be quick to make a change. You don’t trade future first-round picks to move up in the draft and take your QB of the future to let him sit on the bench for a long period of time.

Especially when it comes to the Bears.

GM Ryan Pace and HC Matt Nagy are fighting for their jobs this season and have every incentive to justify moving up for Fields and show he can turn their franchise around.

Fields’ upside for our game is obvious and obviously mouth-watering. Among 81 qualified quarterbacks, Fields ranked third in the nation in yards per carry (8.9) and second in missed tackles forced per carry (0.40) on his designed carries (scrambles and sneaks not included) per SIS. His athleticism and field vision was on full-display when he kept the ball and his talent as a runner must be a focal point of Nagy’s offense. When he starts, I think Fields will push for similar rushing numbers as Kyler Murray’s rookie campaign.

While Trey Lance isn’t quite the athlete that Fields is, he too dominated on the ground in college. Granted, it was against FCS competition and we only have one season to work off of — Lance’s 2019 was incredible, ranking ninth among QBs in carries (168) and fourth in rushing yards (1,090). While his bulk stats are impressive enough, he led the nation in yards after contact (4.1), was second in EPA per carry (0.274), and ranked fourth in fantasy points (1.14) per carry.

Fields and Lance both have ball-placement and accuracy issues, but like in the case of Jalen Hurts this year and Josh Allen last year, I’m willing to mostly look past the red flags in fantasy. Even if they only complete 60% of their passes as rookies, both have league-winning upside as Konami Code options.

I’m the highest on staff with Lance (QB15) and am targeting him in every single NFFC / BB10 league. He’s in the perfect environment to succeed early with Kyle Shanahan, has a great offensive line, he’s easy to stack with his pass catchers, and can be a part of any team build as an upside QB2 paired with a Tier 1-3 option or you can take him as a part of a late-round, 3 QB build. All-in.

On the flipside, I can’t justify targeting Matt Ryan or Tua Tagovailoa in this range with two high upside, dual-threat options on the board.

The loss of Julio Jones is a huge ding to Matt Ryan’s floor and ceiling and just like we talked about with Brady and Stafford, the non-mobile passers are working up stream to beat out the running QBs. I just don’t see how Ryan has much upside from a weekly level, especially when he is being drafted in a similar range as the up-and-coming rookies. Last year, Ryan averaged 309.7 yards per game, 7.9 yards per attempt, and 0.18 EPA/dropback with Julio on the field. Without him? Ryan dipped to just 256.3 YPG, an extremely below-par 6.6 YPA, and -0.02 EPA/DB. Ryan is a Tier 5 QB priced like a high-end Tier 4 one.

The Dolphins gave Tua a big vote of confidence this offseason by adding Will Fuller in free agency, Jaylen Waddle at 6 overall, and adding more talent and depth along the offensive line. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect a second-year leap, but what does that mean for fantasy? Tua is mobile, but doesn’t have near the built-in rushing upside that Fields and Lance possess. I’d rather swing for the fences on the rookies in this range… or Daniel Jones.

Like the Dolphins, the Giants spent this offseason getting as many weapons as possible to help out their young quarterback. Jones has always been a bit of an enigma, but getting a true alpha X boundary receiver in Kenny Golladay, Saquon Barkley back, and another new weapon in Kadarius Toney is legitimately exciting.

Jones also has that one skill that has been the theme of this article: he can run. And he does it well too! This might surprise you, but Jones is sixth among qualifying signal callers in rushing yards per game (26.0) over the last two years — which is right behind Russell Wilson (26.7). Jones also ranks second-best in yards per carry (6.4) ahead of Kyler Murray (6.0).

The only problem is the ole’ ball and chain, Jason Garrett. Will Garrett clap his hands numb while running the ball a ton on 1st-and-10 again? Or, will he know how to use all of these talented pieces together?

Baker Mayfield is probably the safest option in this range, but you know his upside is tapped because the Browns are so run-heavy. Cleveland was among the most run-heavy offenses in the league in HC Kevin Stefanski’s first season, ranking top-8 in run rate in all three key game situations: when leading, trailing, and when the game was within a score. Their run-first tendencies culminated in a whopping 432 carries for their running backs, which tied the Vikings for second-most. The Titans (463 RB carries) led the league. All of those factors held Mayfield’s production back naturally, and he finished as the QB24 in FPG. With all five starters back along the offensive linemen and the best duo of runners in the league, Cleveland is set up to run it back as one of the top-3 teams in rushing volume in 2021. An improved defense holding their opponents back on the scoreboard should also lend itself to even more run-heavy gamescripts.

Tier 6

ADP range for tier: 165 to 225 overall

Main targets: None

Avoids: Patriots QBs and Broncos QBs (not worth the headache)

Here is some research about roster construction and the way drafts are setting up as we near the end here.

Over the last five seasons, it has not worked to wait until later to take your QB1. According to RotoViz’s Best Ball Roster Construction Explorer, your expected winning percentage if you take your QB1 and QB2 after Round 12 is a lowly 5.5%. Mind you, it doesn’t matter if you draft 3 late-round QBs after the 12th round — your win rate is still pitiful (5.3%). The sweet spot is drafting your first passer no later than the 10th round where your expected winning percentage is 8.9%.

With that in mind, the optimal build for BB10s is to only take 2 QBs. In this same study, teams that draft just two passers in any round finish in the top half of their leagues 52% of the time compared to just 48% for teams with three QBs. Best ball is a game of opportunity cost just as much as it is about scoring the most points.

Ok, so waiting on QB rarely works in best ball. And you usually only want 2 QBs — you’re better off using that roster spot you would spend on a third quarterback elsewhere. One final thing I wanted to look into is what happens if you take both your QB1 and QB2 before the 12th round? Meaning, how often can you expect to win your league if two of your first 11 picks are quarterbacks and then you don’t touch the position for the rest of the draft? The results were eye-opening.

The win rate for drafting two quarterbacks in between Rounds 3-11 yielded a win rate of 10.2%. That is almost double the win rate for when you wait on quarterbacks until it’s too late!

The bottom line is that roster construction and when you take certain positions really matters.

What this all means is that the late-rounds are often minefields at quarterback and this year is no different. Once you get past the Tier 5 QBs, the position falls off of a cliff.

Ben Roethlisberger and Derek Carr are probably the two safest options in this range from a guaranteed points perspective and both are easy to stack up with their receivers. I’m by no means going out of my way to target Big Ben, but we know where the ball is going in this offense between Johnson, Smith-Schuster, and Claypool. If you take a Tier 1 QB, punting your QB2 and waiting on Big Ben late makes sense if you pair him with a Steelers wideout. The same logic applies to Carr, just to a lesser extent because the Raiders might not have a receiver eclipse 80-90 targets.

Wentz was a broken quarterback last season and while I’m cautiously optimistic he can turn his career around reuniting with Frank Reich, the Colts are going to be a ball-control offense and lean on their defense and run game to win games. Reich was very balanced as a play-caller last year and I can’t imagine he’ll ask Wentz to carry the team like he had to in his heyday with the Eagles. Wentz was the QB5 in fantasy points per game over the 2017-18 seasons, but that type of ceiling feels completely out of reach in Indy, especially now he’s out for all of the preseason with a foot injury.

I usually have my two QBs well before the 15th round, though, so I am rarely bargain shopping in this range. However, in deep drafts like the NFFC Draft Champions or Cutline leagues, I’ve bought a few lotto tickets on Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. Whoever wins the job has upside for different reasons — Hill for his scrambling and Winston for his YOLO ball. Hill put up 17.5 or more points in all four of his starts last season while Winston was the QB10 in FPG (18.6) from 2018-19.

Graham Barfield blends data and film together to create some of the most unique content in the fantasy football industry. Barfield is FantasyPoints’ Director of Analytics and formerly worked for the NFL Network, Fantasy Guru, and Rotoworld.

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