While it may not be the most important position in fantasy football, a stable set and forget quarterback can be extremely useful. Not having to stream a quarterback every week allows you to use your waiver claim or auction money on someone more important. However, expensive quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes use valuable early picks that can be used on a more important position. In this article, I’ll examine what makes a sleeper quarterback and some possible cheap options.
So what makes a quality “sleeper” quarterback? Ideally we would want a QB outside of the normal drafting range who ends much higher than their ADP. For this, I looked at any QB in the past 5 seasons who was drafted outside of the top 15 quarterbacks and finished in the top 5. This list consisted of Dak Prescott (2019), Patrick Mahomes (2018), Ben Roethlisburger (2018), Alex Smith (2017), Carson Wentz (2017), Matt Ryan (2016). It seems like a pretty solid bet that there will be one or two new quarterbacks in the top 5 who weren’t anywhere close the previous season. If you can find this quarterback, you may have a huge advantage. In ESPN leagues, Prescott, Mahomes, Smith, and Ryan were all in the top 20 in ownership percentage on playoff teams in their breakout season. In other words, finding these quarterbacks greatly increases your chance at year-long success.
All of these quarterbacks benefited from renovated offenses that dramatically shifted the success of the team. Dak Prescott was paired with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who used a healthy amount of play-action passing to open up deep routes for Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Ben Roethlisburger benefited from the explosion of Juju Smith-Schulster alongside Antonio Brown in what was easily the greatest offensive season of his career. Matt Ryan was a beneficiary of his second year in a Kyle Shanahan led offense with Julio Jones and a hot Devonta Freeman. These offenses all finished top 7 in points scored per game with a defense that was around league average in points allowed.
To simplify what I’ve previously explained, I looked for quarterbacks outside of the top 12 ADP quarterbacks and looked for offenses that have changed a significant amount but retain a strong coaching staff. So which sleeper candidates does that leave us with?
It was definitely harder for me to find possible top tier quarterback options with the concentration of talent in the top 5. In previous years, we predicted Prescott, Mahomes, and Wentz and rode them to championships. The quarterback that stood out most to me was Matthew Stafford (ADP: QB 13). Until his week 9 injury, Stafford averaged over 20ppg and was QB 6. Understandably, Stafford hasn’t had amazing success as a top tier fantasy quarterback recently, averaging a positional finish of about QB 12 in the past few seasons.
However, there is reason for hope. While Lions fans may have mixed feelings about HC Matt Patricia, he led a passing offense that gave Stafford the opportunity for success, with 8.6 YPA (2nd in the league). With the surrounding cast of; Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr, T.J. Hockenson, and De’Andre Swift, Arguably Stafford is surrounded by the best talent he’s had since Calvin Johnson Jr. Even with first round pick Jeff Okudah, the loss of Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs further weakens a defense that was already bottom-10 in points allowed. As the defense gives up more points, Stafford will be pushed into more throwing situations, which can only benefit his fantasy value. As long as he remains healthy, Stafford is a lock for a top-10 QB with certain top-5 upside, and should be a priority late round quarterback in all leagues.
Currently being drafted as QB 18, Joe Burrow presents a high-risk high-reward rookie quarterback. Looking purely at his surrounding cast, Burrow comes into the league with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross III, Tee Higgins, and Joe Mixon. With 2019 first round pick Jonah Williams returning from a shoulder injury and the further development of a young core, the offensive line should be much improved. HC Zac Taylor is going into his second season, where most college-turned NFL coaches tend to improve dramatically.
He has a coach who understands the transition from college football to the NFL and should help his development with a training camp cut short by COVID-19. Burrow is coming off one of the greatest college football seasons of all time, almost 6,000 total yards and 65 total touchdowns. He’s shown he can use his legs when needed, which provides a useful bump to his weekly floor, although he predominately is a passing quarterback (similar to Carson Wentz). He threw accurate passes on 71.1% of his throws which led all Division I NCAA teams. He also completed the most 20+ air yard passes overall and under pressure (per PFF).
If Burrow can handle the transition from college to pro football, he might have one of the best rookie seasons we have seen in years. His ceiling could reach the top 5 quarterbacks with the supporting cast he has, although it may take him a few weeks to get acclimated to the NFL. Whether you draft him or trade for him early on, Burrow will be an interesting piece to watch next season, determining the future of the Bengals franchise.
The last quarterback on this list is Tyrod Taylor, whose best finish was QB 8 in his second season on the Bills. In his other two starting seasons he finished as QB 16. That being said, his best QB came with Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods as his receivers, while his other seasons came with Jordan Matthews and Zay Jones as his leading receivers. While Taylor may not be a very prolific passer, his rushing provides a stable floor for fantasy quarterbacks. In every season he started, he garnered over 430 rush yards and 4+ TDs every season. He wasn’t amazing in his only year in Cleveland but only was given 2 games, accumulating 450 pass yards and 100 rush yards with one touchdown each. With a year in the Charger’s system already, Taylor takes over an offense with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler. Philip Rivers finished as QB 15 with 23 turnovers and 4,615 pass yards. While Taylor likely wouldn’t reach those pass yards, if he can limit his turnovers, his rushing numbers should allow him to finish as a top 12 QB. The potential for being a top 5 quarterback is low, especially with first round rookie QB Justin Herbert on the bench, but he may be worth a low end starter that you want as a backup.