In traditional single-QB fantasy football leagues, it’s often been good practice to wait until the middle rounds of your drafts to select a quarterback. With the recent emergence of dual-threat QBs and nuclear passing numbers, the temptation to take a QB early has gotten more enticing. This year, the top tier in the rankings consists of Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen. Each possesses qualities that separate him from the rest of the pack — namely rushing prowess and electric playmakers around them.
When deciding on whether to take a QB early, it’s important to understand the risks involved and the premier players at other positions on which you might miss out. Sure, having an advantage at the quarterback position is fun, but how often does it correlate to fantasy success? Often, when it does (like having Mahomes in 2018 or Lamar Jackson in ’19), it’s because you drafted those players in the middle part of your draft.
Below, we’ll highlight the pros and cons related to smashing the draft button on your QB1 in the first three rounds and help steer you toward your desired strategy at the position.
Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Kyler Murray: Should you draft a QB early in fantasy football?
Most people ask: “Who is the best fantasy quarterback? Instead, we ask: “Who is the best fantasy quarterback to select at value?” After all, that’s a core principle of fantasy. Do you take Mahomes, who is likely to come off the board in the late first or middle second, according to FantasyPros ADP, or do you wait on Allen or Murray in the third round if you must have a top-tier quarterback?
We have Mahomes as the top QB in our rankings, but when it comes down to value, Murray seems to be the best choice. His ADP sits at the end of the third round, about eight spots after Allen, and even in Allen’s breakout QB1 campaign last year, Murray trailed him by just 15 total fantasy points. By taking Allen, you’re giving up a chance at several workhorse running backs, such as David Montgomery, Josh Jacobs, D’Andre Swift. Why not wait one more round and get similar projected production?
Now, if Mahomes or Allen really falls, then suddenly they’ll become good values. Each draft will be different, but if things unfold similar to the consensus ADP, then the above paragraph applies if you insist on taking one of the top-three guys. However, should you take one early at all?
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Pros of the early-round QB
Having a quarterback produce around 400 fantasy points can be a spectacular advantage on the rest of your league. We’ve seen Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen be league winners over the past three years. At their best, they easily make up for the loss of quality running backs and wide receivers around their ADPs. Allen and Murray have the potential to match rushing touchdown totals of some of the early running backs drafted, and Mahomes is due for several outings approaching the 400-yard passing mark. It’s truly a big flex to own one of these guys.
Cons of the early round QB
We mentioned Allen, Jackson, and Mahomes as league-winners over the past three seasons. What did those three have in common? They weren’t drafted significantly early in their breakout seasons.
Think last year. If you took Jackson anywhere near the first round (which you would’ve had to), you likely lost your fantasy league. Among quarterbacks who played more than just five games, he ranked eighth at the position in fantasy points per game (22.8). Obviously, his season performance was nowhere near on par with his extremely costly draft capital. Of course, players can always bust, but the quarterback position often sees a lot of variance year-to-year. In 2018, Patrick Mahomes was QB1 and 63 points ahead of the next closest signal-caller (Matt Ryan). In ’19 Jackson was QB1, 73 points ahead of No. 2 (Dak Prescott). That being said, there’s usually only been one quarterback who really separates himself from the rest of the pack.
Additionally, Allen and Murray only have one season of evidence as top-notch fantasy quarterbacks. Touchdown numbers are fluid year-to-year, and the consistency at QB is often elusive. One year, a team may decide to pass often in the red zone, and the next opt to hand it off to their running backs, vulturing your QB fantasy points. Just look at the passing touchdown numbers of first-ballot Hall-of-Famers Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady over the course of their careers. Some seasons, they approach 50, and others sit around the mid-20s.
The evidence points toward waiting on a quarterback after the first tier unless they drop lower than expected. In single-QB leagues, an early-round QB busting often spells a knife in the heart of your fantasy season. Identifying sleepers is probably more important at quarterback than any other position. Cases in point: Mahomes, Allen, and Jackson were all on sleeper lists prior to their explosive years.
Sure, the early-round QB can and has paid off, but more often than not, sacrificing a high-quality player at a different position has not been worth it in the end.
In the end, it’s your fantasy draft. If you love the top-tier quarterback, go for it. Just be prepared to find value at the rest of the positions in the draft. Taking an early-round QB leaves less wiggle room to take chances in other rounds. As the draft proceeds, the quality at running back and tight end diminish quickly, while quarterback value is still present.
Hedging your bets isn’t always ideal in fantasy football either, but pair your early quarterback with a late-round sleeper. Best case: They both pan out and you can trade your newfound fantasy quarterback to make up for value lost at other positions.