2018 Quarterback Rankings (Redraft)

Unless you’re looking at auction values, fantasy rankings don’t generally account for cost. This early in the offseason, though, there isn’t much point in accounting for cost, at least in redraft leagues. Too much is going to change in the coming months. But we already know a little bit about 2018. Alex Smith will be the starting quarterback in Washington. Kirk Cousins will play… somewhere else.

Okay, maybe we don’t know much at all. Still, it doesn’t hurt to squint through our crystal balls at existing data and try to construct basic rankings and tiers. Free agency, the draft, and team schedules will eventually shake up the following evaluations, but a masterpiece usually starts with an outline. I’m looking forward to seeing how these sketchy beginnings take shape through the preseason. Even if it’s not a masterpiece come draft season (and it won’t be), the refinement process will teach me plenty about the quarterbacks below and, eventually (read: hopefully), give some hindsight context for feedback on the process of ranking players itself.

Whether it works or not, one thing I don’t plan to refine is my top tier. Let’s get to it. Here are my 2018 quarterback rankings for redraft fantasy football:

Tier 1: Best of the Best

1. Aaron Rodgers, GB
2. Russell Wilson, SEA

I wanted to put Wilson first, I really did. I wanted to tout the younger and more durable player, but then I dug into our multi-season QB data and saw this:

You can look at the past six years of quarterback play, just the past two years, or anything in between. It doesn’t matter. Aaron Rodgers is the best per-game fantasy passer for any to-date set of seasons since 2012.

The knock on Rodgers is all the time he’s missed, but trying to forecast injury is like playing “guess the number I’m thinking.” You might be close or even hit on the occasional guess, but you’ll miss and sometimes miss badly just as often. Russell Wilson seems more durable within the context of recent seasons, but borderline-reckless improvising could finally cost him some starts in 2018, just like it did Rodgers in 2017.

We actually saw the injury-marred year from hell for Wilson two seasons ago, he just played through it. Even in that outlier 2016 campaign, Wilson finished as the QB12 in total points through a mess of maladies. In the other three years since 2014, he’s finished top-3 in points per game each season. No other quarterback has more than two top-3 PPG finishes in that span. Add in Wilson’s rushing ability and his aforementioned youth potentially pointing toward more growth, and that’s why I’m willing to put him in the top tier with Rodgers, ahead of the next group.

Tier 2: Best of the Rest

3. Tom Brady, NE
4. Cam Newton, CAR
5. Drew Brees, FA/NO

I’m probably doing Brady a disservice by denying him top-tier status, but what he’s doing at 40 years old is unprecedented, and it’s fair to fear some slippage from him as he ages through another offseason. I still think Brady will be great. He’s my third-ranked quarterback overall for a reason, but he and the other signal-callers in this tier cast a slightly larger shadow of doubt than Rodgers and Wilson.

Like Brady, Drew Brees is battling father time. Unlike Brady, Brees has already shown signs of gradual decline in recent seasons (despite being a year younger). 2017 was the first season since 2010 he’s finished outside the top-5 among quarterbacks in points per game. It was also the first season since 2006 that Brees failed to throw 600 passes, resulting in his lowest attempts per game (33.6) since joining the Saints. Despite Brees severely scaling back his passing volume, he still managed extreme efficiency, including a career best 72.0% completion rate and 8.1 yards per attempt (his best mark since 8.3 in 2011), and that’s why he’s still a top-5 guy in 2018.

In the case of Cam Newton, many love the aesthetics and the fantasy points associated with his physical running style, but the Panthers’ passing attack still leaves something to be desired. Blame his skill set or blame Carolina’s offensive schemes. Either way, Newton can seem like a one- or two-trick pony against certain defenses or in certain game scripts, and that leads to Rothelisberger-esque unpredictability on a week-to-week basis. But for the full-Roethlisberger roller coaster of variance, we need to dive deeper.

Tier 3: The Danger Zone

6. Andrew Luck, IND
7. Deshaun Watson, HOU
8. Carson Wentz, PHI

I’m calling this the danger zone because, after the top five guys are off the board, drafters often overreact and reach into this next tier. People don’t want to “miss out” on who they perceive to be surefire fantasy QB1s. The problem is this group is generally viewed with too much optimism, either based on recency bias or best case scenario mentality. Meanwhile, the players in tiers below are viewed with more indifference, also based on recency bias or simply because they’re “unsexy.”

Recency bias really props up Watson, who is coming off an explosive rookie campaign, setting the best points per game mark by any quarterback since Peyton Manning’s insane 2013 season. Wentz had a slightly less impressive 2017 before getting hurt, but he was awesome too. I’m not convinced either young quarterback’s performance was sustainable, though. Watson posted a 9.3% touchdown rate, and Wentz posted a 7.5% touchdown rate, both top-3 among all quarterbacks to start at least six games in a season since 2014. Those numbers are bound to regress, and when they do, I fear Watson and Wentz will land closer in value to the fourth-tier passers than the second-tier passers.

Luck, on the other hand, has more of a case to be considered in “elite” company because we have a longer track record of him performing at that level. We can assume he gets back to full health this offseason (and I am certainly doing so with this ranking, at least for now), but that’s best case scenario mentality in action. Maybe he never fully recovers, or maybe his recovery takes longer than expected and he doesn’t start playing at a high level until, say, Week 5. The range of outcomes for Luck is extremely nebulous at the moment. Depending on reports of his health, he could gain or lose a lot of value as the preseason approaches.

Tier 4: Solid Starters

9. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
10. Matthew Stafford, DET
11. Dak Prescott, DAL
12. Jimmy Garoppolo, SF
13. Matt Ryan, ATL
14. Kirk Cousins, FA/WAS
15. Marcus Mariota, TEN
16. Philip Rivers, LAC
17. Jameis Winston, TB
18. Alex Smith, WAS

Ah, the quarterback middle class. This is usually the range where I begin drafting the position and I’d be happy starting any two from this crew. I had Roethlisberger in Tier 3 until the 11th hour, but ultimately, he felt more at home in this group of passers. His ceiling weeks are the stuff fantasy dreams are made of, and he tops the tier based on that upside, but his down weeks temper his overall value. In aggregate, Roethlisberger hasn’t finished better than ninth in seasonal points per game since 2014, which was also the last time he played a full season.

All in all, though, this is the most closely clustered group of quarterbacks. Schedules and supporting casts will truly dictate who the best values are, which is why the Kirk Cousins situation is so fascinating. Fortunately for fantasy owners, indications are he might take less money to play on a better team. Arizona, Denver, and Minnesota all make sense as potential win-now destinations. But who knows, he could end up in Cleveland, Jacksonville, Miami, or New York.

Aside from Cousins, the passers in this tier with the most room for rankings improvement are Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. Mariota was a trendy breakout pick before his disappointing 2017 season, but I’ve played fantasy long enough to know that sort of quantum leap often comes a year later than expected. His otherworldly touchdown rate of 5.5% in his first two seasons was doomed to regress in 2017, but what we saw on the field was a gross over-correction.

Of quarterbacks with at least 10 starts, only Jacoby Brissett, DeShone Kizer, and Mitchell Trubisky posted worse touchdown rates than Mariota’s mark of 2.9% in 2017. Now, finally out from under the pall of exotic smashmouth, it’s fair to expect the good kind of regression for Mariota in 2018. I’m not big on bold predictions, but considering his fall from the grace of a 5.5% TD rate versus the looming 2017 marks of Watson at 9.3% and Wentz at 7.5%, and I could see Mariota outscoring one or both of those second-year players this year.

I don’t know if Winston has the same sort of upside, but he’ll probably be more affordable than Mariota. Drafters will remember Winston as a lackluster performer in 2017, but as I laid out back in December, he played a top-10 pace in games not impacted by injury. Small sample size caveats apply, as always, but Winston offers top-12 upside from a likely draft position outside the top-15.

Unfortunately, you can make a similar case for pretty much any quarterback in this tier and the next tier, which makes it difficult to figure out exactly where to rank and draft a guy like Winston. Because the QB middle class is so densely packed, you are likely best served by feeling out the pace of quarterback picks in your draft and waiting as long as possible in a tier (or even waiting for the next tier), rather than targeting individual players. It’s okay to be high on specific quarterbacks, and it’s great when those guys fall to you in the right spots, but an agnostic approach to the position is often the best way to find value.

Tier 5: Risky Business

19. Jared Goff, LAR
20. Patrick Mahomes, KC
21. Derek Carr, OAK
22. Tyrod Taylor, BUF
23. Case Keenum, FA/MIN
24. Andy Dalton, CIN

People are going to hate this Jared Goff ranking. I get it, he was great this year. Or was he? The Rams only played against three legitimate playoff teams (sorry, I don’t count Tennessee) and, of the three, their only win came when they scored two special teams touchdowns versus Jacksonville in Week 6. And even with a soft regular season schedule, Goff failed to throw for more than 235 yards in seven different games. No one should have been surprised when Atlanta handily upset Los Angeles in the Wild Card round. Yes, Goff should continue to develop in year three, and Sean McVay’s schemes seem to quiet Goff’s flaws, but touchdown regression should come in 2018 (he had a 5.9% TD rate in 2017), and the Rams will face a first-place schedule instead of the third place schedule they had in 2017. He needs to prove he has game against good teams before he graduates to a higher tier.

On the flip side, and in fairness to the Goff truthers out there, I hate my own rankings of Taylor, Keenum, and Dalton. I have no clue what to do with them at the moment. If you could guarantee any of the three a locked-in starting role, that player could leapfrog ahead of everyone in the tier and perhaps some quarterbacks in the tier above, depending on what/where the role is. Unfortunately, we can’t even come close to that sort of clarity in February. Risky business indeed.

Tier 6: Slightly Riskier Business

25. Blake Bortles, JAC
26. Mitchell Trubisky, CHI
27. Ryan Tannehill, MIA
28. Eli Manning, NYG
29. Joe Flacco, BAL

I’m assuming all these guys will hold their starting gigs into Week 1 of 2018, but only Trubisky seems safe to start for his team all season. Thin ice, writing on the wall, pick your idiom. Bortles, Tannehill, Manning, and Flacco are only barely above replacement level (if at all), and that makes them expendable.

Tier 7: Unknown Roles

30. Nick Foles, PHI
31. Chad Kelly, DEN
32. Josh McCown, FA/NYJ
33. Blaine Gabbert, FA/ARI
34. DeShone Kizer, CLE
35. Sam Bradford, FA/MIN
36. Nathan Peterman, BUF
37. AJ McCarron, FA/CIN
38. Drew Stanton, FA/ARI
39. Teddy Bridgewater, FA/MIN
40. Ryan Fitzpatrick, FA/TB
41. Davis Webb, NYG
42. Bryce Petty, NYJ
43. Cody Kessler, CLE
44. Geno Smith, FA/NYG
45. Paxton Lynch, DEN
46. Jay Cutler, FA/MIA

Put on a blindfold and throw some darts if you have to draft from this group right now. Foles and Kelly currently have the best arguments to become full-time starters. Some teams might take a chance on Bradford or McCarron, but with both players I worry about a situation akin to Mike Glennon’s 2017 season, where the free agent signee only starts a handful of games before giving way to a rookie prospect. As Minnesota, Denver, and Arizona stake claims on quarterbacks, this tier will continue to shift and splinter.

Tier 8: Unknown Teams

47. Baker Mayfield, FA
48. Lamar Jackson, FA
49. Sam Darnold, FA
50. Mason Rudolph, FA
51. Josh Rosen, FA
52. Josh Allen, FA
53. J.T. Barrett, FA
54. Luke Faulk, FA
55. Kyle Lauletta, FA
56. Riley Ferguson, FA

I lied earlier when I said the Tier 4 passers were bunched closest in value. This final tier of rookies might as well all tie at QB47 because we have absolutely no NFL context for any of them. I’m not going to think about their rankings until after the combine. Until then, if you’re interested in reading up on the incoming rookie class, be sure to check out Anthony Amico’s Armchair Scouting Report series and Russell Clay’s Superflex Rookie Mock Draft. Otherwise, thanks for reading.

Greg Smith

Greg Smith is an engineer, co-founder of TwoQBs.com, and enthusiast for the strategy and design of variance-based games.  When he started playing fantasy football in 2001, his home league's small number of teams necessitated starting two quarterbacks.  That necessity has since grown into obsession, making Greg one of the preeminent champions of 2QB and Superflex formats.

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