NFL Fantasy: Biggest quarterback surprises of 2017

We spent weeks or even months researching statistics, tendencies, rookies, new coaches, and game plans to have the best draft ever. Then this happened…

(Photo credit: Mike Morbeck [cropped])

Folks who are serious about their NFL fantasy football teams get easily aggravated by casual players in the league who ask silly questions on draft day and make choices based on favorite teams and player popularity. Serious owners rely on research and data and trends to come up with the superior draft day lineup. 

Then the season starts and the best draft on paper is burning while the pick we all chuckled at comes up big. It is part of the fun and exasperation of NFL fantasy football. When someone makes a questionable move, we wonder if they know something we don’t or if they don’t know something we do. 

For instance, did folks have inside information or were they completely ignorant in drafting the retired Tony Romo ahead of Alex Smith and Jared Goff? Jay Cutler had already announced his un-retirement to play for the Dolphins. He was drafted with the same late-round flyer status as rookie television analyst Romo. 

Super sophomores: Carson Wentz, Jared Goff

Sometimes, a player emerges from out of nowhere to be a fantasy star. In pre-draft assessments, an excellent NFL fantasy writer who I won’t name because I’m modest, accurately predicted that reigning MVP Dak Prescott would be the third-best second-year quarterback in 2017. Sure enough, Carson Wentz (QB-4) and Jared Goff (QB-8) are ranked higher than Prescott (QB-10) through 16 weeks. 

Unfortunately, none of us predicted the Alex Smith turnaround. He was not on too many rosters before his Week 1 explosion against the Patriots. He will finish 2017 second only to Russell Wilson in NFL fantasy points. 

Prescott (13, round 10) was a marginal starter on most draft boards. Wentz (19, round 12), Smith (undrafted) and Goff (undrafted) be the three biggest good surprises of 2017. 

Bad surprises: Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers 

Injuries hurt several quarterbacks this year. No one knew Aaron Rodgers (1, round 3), Jameis Winston (7, round 8), Derek Carr (8, round 9), or Marcus Mariota (9, round 9) would miss games when they were drafted as starters. But we already knew Andrew Luck would miss opening day and there were rumors he could skip a few games after his shoulder surgery. Cam Newton was also coming back from injury into a new ball-control offense. That did not keep us from drafting them as the fourth and eighth quarterbacks going into the season. 

But what happened to Matt Ryan? Atlanta’s quarterback threw 38 touchdown passes in 2016 and just missed 5,000 yards. While some regression was expected, he needs a good game this week to hit 4,000 yards and has only 19 touchdowns so far. His season has been a disappointment for failing to come close to his 2016 points total. 

Handy chart:

The following chart shows the top 12 quarterbacks through Week 16 along with their 2017 average draft position (ADP) and 2016 ranking. It also includes the top 12 passers from last season and the top 12 drafted quarterbacks in 2017. 

 2017 QB rank’16
2016 top QB rank2017 top draft position
1Russell Wilson11 5/7Aaron RodgersAaron Rodgers
2Alex Smith2227/15Matt RyanTom Brady
3Cam Newton178/9Drew BreesDrew Brees
4Carson Wentz2419/12Andrew LuckAndrew Luck
5Tom Brady152/4Kirk CousinsRussell Wilson
6Kirk Cousins511/9Dak PrescottMatt Ryan
7Ben Roethlisberger1812/10Matt StaffordJameis Winston
8Jared Goff3730/17Tyrod TaylorCam Newton
9Drew Brees33/5Blake BortlesDerek Carr
10Dak Prescott613/10Derek CarrMarcus Mariota
11Matt Stafford714/10Russell WillsonKirk Cousins
12Blake Bortles922/14Andy DaltonBen Roethlisberger


So, now you know…

Alex Smith and Carson Wentz each jumped 20 spots on the quarterback rankings list. Wentz made it into preseason sleeper discussions among many popular NFL fantasy writers. That helped him get drafted as a backup or flyer on average in the 12th round. 

Smith also made into preseason conversations, but for the wrong reason. Football pundits wondered how soon newly drafted Patrick Mahomes would push Smith out of the starters role in Kansas City. Mahomes might get a start in Week 17, but only to prevent any injury to the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. 

By all measures, the biggest surprise was Jared Goff. Largely attributed to better coaching and better supporting staff, Goff amazed many by jumping from the QB-37 spot (in an incomplete season) to become a top-ten NFL fantasy quarterback in his second year. 

Blake Bortles was not given a lot of preseason love, either. A new coaching staff with a reputation for run-first offensive philosophy, coupled with the draft of Leonard Fournette, had many predicting Bortles would be a non-factor in 2017, despite his QB-9 status in 2016. Bortles instead proved how much easier it is to quarterback a winning team than it is to take advantage of garbage time on a losing squad. As late as Week 14, Bortles was owned in less than half of all leagues. 

A full season from either Aaron Rodgers or rookie Deshaun Watson probably would have knocked Bortles out of the top 12, but his second-half performance still warrants being noticed. 

Constant turnover

You can see from the chart that only six of the top-12 quarterbacks from 2016 returned to the starting ranks in 2017. Likewise, six of the top-12 drafted quarterbacks finished as top-12 passers. You might think that is unusual, but it is actually about average. 

What you need to take from that is a healthy disrespect for the statistics. Going into 2018, we should assume the injured quarterbacks will have better seasons. Healthy versions of Rodgers and Andrew Luck will probably challenge for a top-12 spot. Jimmy Garoppolo and DeSean Jackson will be the topic of much anticipation in 2018. There go four of this season’s top 12 right there. 

There will be other quarterbacks who step up in 2018; perhaps one of the many who took a step back this season. How much of a surprise would it really be to see Jameis Winston, Tyrod Taylor, Derek Carr, or Matt Ryan to return to top-12 form? 

The bottom line:

This all plays into the argument for waiting on a quarterback. With injuries, perhaps even Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are not worth using a third or fourth round pick on. Those quarterbacks were as likely to be among the weekly top-ten scorers as not in 2017. Why not wait? If Winston, Taylor, Carr, and Ryan return healthy with good offensive gameplan, who is to say they won’t be worth as much as one of the alleged top guns? 

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 draft, watch for arguments about how to use each round’s pick right here on RealSport. Don’t bother with those other sites! Meanwhile, let us revel in how many of 2017’s surprises made it on to our rosters. 

Thanks for following NFL fantasy at RealSport. Hopefully, we helped you get the most out of your team. Look for off-season updates, rumors, and draft advice throughout the year as we cover the impact of free agent signings, retirements, coaching changes, trades, and the NFL draft so you can draft another championship team in 2018. 




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