Targeting Late-Round QBs Attached to Early-Round WRs

Last season was an astonishing year in terms of the number of high-level producing late-round fantasy quarterbacks. The top-12 was dominated by late-round signal callers. …

According to 2015 2QB ADP, four of the top-12 fantasy scoring quarterbacks were drafted as the QB18 or below (Carson Palmer - QB18, Blake Bortles - QB31, Kirk Cousins and Ryan Fitzpatrick - Undrafted). Throw in Tom Brady (QB13) and Philip Rivers (QB14), and 50 percent of last season’s fantasy QB1s were drafted outside the QB1 tier. We can’t forget the also undrafted Tyrod Taylor, who was the QB7 on a fantasy points per game basis last year.

Recency bias plays a large role in the fantasy football community. If you spent a high pick on a quarterback who underperformed last season, be it because of injury or ineffective play, there’s a high likelihood he’s on your ‘do not draft list’. On the other hand, if you spent a very late pick on a quarterback who far exceeded his fantasy expectations you’re going to want to replicate that success.

With more and more fantasy players and analysts looking to find the next Blake Bortles or Kirk Cousins, it’s best to analyze the late-round quarterback tier with an eye on pinpointing actionable trends to use when deciding between this year’s late-round signal callers. One such trend is targeting late-round QBs in an offense attached to a bonafide elite WR1.

Below is a chart of the top-24 drafted WRs according to our July 2QB ADP data and their respective quarterbacks.

WR11Brown, AntonioRoethlisberger, BenQB624.2
WR22.2Beckham, OdellManning, EliQB1362
WR33.8Jones, JulioRyan, MattQB1994.2
WR47.2Hopkins, DeAndreOsweiler, BrockQB26121.2
WR58.2Green, A.J.Dalton, AndyQB1784.6
WR613.8Robinson, AllenBortles, BlakeQB840.2
WR715.2Bryant, DezRomo, TonyQB1577
WR816.6Allen, KeenanRivers, PhilipQB1258.8
WR919Evans, MikeWinston, JameisQB1153.6
WR1021.4Cooper, AmariCarr, DerekQB952.2
WR1122.6Jeffery, AlshonCutler, JayQB25119
WR1223Nelson, JordyRodgers, AaronQB26.8
WR1323.8Cooks, BrandinBrees, DrewQB523
WR1428.8Watkins, SammyTaylor, TyrodQB1890.2
WR1530Hilton, T.Y.Luck, AndrewQB416.2
WR1632.2Marshall, BrandonFitzpatrick, RyanQB24116.4
WR1735.4Thomas, DemaryiusSanchez, MarkUndraftedN/A
WR1838.8Cobb, RandallRodgers, AaronQB26.8
WR1941Maclin, JeremySmith, AlexQB22110
WR2042.4Benjamin, KelvinNewton, CamQB15.2
WR2144.8Landry, JarvisTannehill, RyanQB21102.4
WR2245.4Moncrief, DonteLuck, AndrewQB416.2
WR2348Tate, GoldenStafford, MatthewQB2097.6
WR2456.2Parker, DeVanteTannehill, RyanQB21102.4

Six of the top-12 WRs are paired with a top-12 drafted QB: Antonio Brown - Ben Roethlisberger, Allen Robinson - Blake Bortles, Keenan Allen - Philip Rivers, Mike Evans - Jameis Winston, Amari Cooper - Derek Carr, Jordy Nelson - Aaron Rodgers.

Also noteworthy is how early the WR1 and WR2 tiers are drafted compared to quarterbacks. Five wide receivers have a first round ADP and the top-15 are drafted within the first 30 picks. DeVante Parker at pick 56.2 finishes off the WR2 tier. Only two quarterbacks have a first round ADP, with six taken within the first 30 picks. The QB24 (Ryan Fitzpatrick has an ADP of 116.4)

Only two of the top-12 drafted wide receivers play in an offense with a quarterback who has a high ADP as well (Antonio Brown/Ben Roethlisberger and Jordy Nelson/Aaron Rodgers).

When targeting early-round wide receivers we want pass catchers who are heavily involved in their offense and see a heavy dose of targets. Five of the top-12 drafted wide receivers finished in the top-12 of targets (Brown, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, and Robinson). No one in that tier finished worse than WR6 in standard or PPR scoring.

It stands to reason if we target wide receivers with a large role in their offense we should also target the quarterback throwing them the ball. It’s not a guaranteed recipe for success, but drafting a starting a quarterback in an offense featuring an elite pass catching threat or a group of weapons can help you hit the bullseye of a LRQB dart throw.

Thanks to the RotoViz Career Graphs App we can visualize target market shares (reTRGMS) of wide receivers in each offense. Target market share is the estimated percent of a team’s pass targets to a player. I used target market share data to pinpoint LRQB options and broke it down into WR1-LRQB and WR2-LRQB target tiers.


Julio Jones - Matt Ryan

Of all the WRs in this list, Julio Jones had the highest target market share at 33 percent, unsurprisingly. Jones is the third wide receiver off the board with a top-4 pick in our 2QB ADP data. Matt Ryan’s QB19 ADP is surprising though. Just a year ago he had an ADP of 27.5 overall as the fifth quarterback taken off the board. The hate is real.

Ryan had a down year in touchdowns last season, throwing only 21. The second-fewest of his career. From 2010 to 2014, Ryan averaged 28.8 touchdowns a year. It’s unlikely Ryan will return to his fantasy QB1 days, but it’s also unlikely he’ll finish the season lower than QB19.

DeAndre Hopkins - Brock Osweiler

The last two seasons, DeAndre Hopkins has finished the season as the WR14 and WR4 (PPR), catching passes from: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Brandon Weeden. TJ Yates, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

We’ve seen Houston signal callers have useable weeks in the past, and Brock Osweiler should be no different. Fitzpatrick was the overall QB21 in 2014, and Hoyer (4) and Weeden (1) combined for five QB1 (top-12) finishes last season. Osweiler has the lowest QB ADP of any signal caller attached to a WR1. The upside isn’t there for him to end the season as a fantasy QB1, but Osweiler can a matchup-dependent streamer with occasional QB1 finishes.

Alshon Jeffery - Jay Cutler

Not only is Jay Cutler attached to a wide receiver with a 32 percent target market share in Alshon Jeffery (only played in nine games), he will also welcome Kevin White to the fold. In the one season, 2014, that Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Jeffery each played 13 or more games, the Bears signal caller scored a career high 255.58 fantasy points. He finished as the QB14 that year.

In seasons where he started at least 15 games since 2007, Cutler’s worst finish was QB23. With an ADP of 119 (QB25), we’re drafting him at his absolute floor. But as someone who has a top-four fantasy finish under his belt and two top wide receiver targets, as well as Zach Miller at TE, Cutler is in a good spot to return value on his current ADP. However, there are system concerns that could see Cutler play more of a game manager role. The pass attempt:rush attempt ratio was 483:409 last season, and if repeated, we could see Cutler’s 2016 fantasy campaign mirror his QB21 finish of a year ago.


Sammy Watkins - Tyrod Taylor

Tyrod Taylor went from a sixth-round draft pick backing up Joe Flacco to finishing the 2015 season as the seventh-highest scoring fantasy QB on a PPG basis in his first full-time starting gig. Taylor went undrafted last season and I expected he would be out of my price range this season.

With an ADP of QB18 (90.2) it looks like I was wrong. If we tack on his weekly average of 19.3 fantasy points to his 271.60 points to account for the two games he missed, Taylor would have scored 310.2 fantasy points. That number would have been good enough for QB5 overall last season. How often do you see a top-five fantasy QB drafted as a low-end QB2 the following season?

Injury concerns for both Taylor and Watkins, a run-first offense, and the perceived lack of faith in Taylor from the front office worries drafters. I’m not going to say you should ignore those narratives, but it’s tough to find any quarterback with higher upside than Taylor at his current cost.

If Watkins returns to full health (#fingerscrossedemoji), owners should be even more delighted to draft Taylor. In the last six weeks of 2015, Taylor was a top-ten fantasy QB four times with a healthy Watkins in the lineup, averaging 25.29 fantasy points. He also scored 18.02 points and finished as the QB13 in Week 14.

Watkins is the 14th WR off the board and is drafted within the first three rounds. Taylor doesn’t go off the board until 60 picks later. Even if Watkins misses time, Taylor’s rushing production makes him a safe pick. According to Rich Hribar, Taylor averaged the most rushing yards per game by a quarterback (40.6), which is the equivalent to a passing touchdown.

Brandon Marshall & Eric Decker - Ryan Fitzpatrick

Ryan Fitzpatrick officially re-signed with the New York Jets, where he was greeted with open arms by Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Marshall was fifth in targets (173) last year on his way to a top-three wide receiver fantasy season. No slouch himself, Decker saw the 14th-most targets (132) last season and was the WR10 in standard leagues and WR14 in PPR leagues. Marshall has an ADP of 32.1 (WR16) and Decker is the WR30 (66 ADP). Fitzpatrick, who finished the 2015 season as the fantasy QB11, is the 24th quarterback off the board with an ADP of 116.4.

We saw last season how dependent Fitzpatrick was on his top two WRs, as they combined for 52 percent of the team’s targets. Plodder Chris Ivory is gone, replaced with PPR RB specialist Matt Forte, and they also have Bilal Powell (47 catches last year). Fitzpatrick had seven QB1 (top-12) finishes last season and Geno Smith finished as a QB1 the week he replaced him due to injury. Also promising is Denny Carter saying Fitzpatrick has a top-ten equity score.

Fitzpatrick’s draft day cost will rise now that he’s re-signed, but it’s not likely to move up all that much. Quarterback is a deep position and the QB2 tier is a Choose Your Own Adventure story waiting to be written by each drafter. The highest I could see him going is at QB17 above Andy Dalton.

Jeremy Maclin - Alex Smith

Neither Jeremy Maclin nor Alex Smith are considered elite talents, but the duo were made for each other. In his first season as a Chief, Maclin accounted for 28 percent of the team’s targets on his way to a top-20 fantasy campaign.

Curtis Patrick of RotoViz noted Maclin was the seventh-most efficient wide receiver last year, scoring .54 fantasy points over expectation per target. Smith had another typical boring fantasy season, finishing as the QB16. He also produced seven top-12 fantasy QB finishes. Smith does have QB1 upside in Reid’s offense, evidenced by his QB13 finish in 2013.

While Maclin has an ADP of 41 (WR19) and will cost you a fourth/fifth round pick, Smith is being drafted as the QB22 with an ADP of 110. That has more to do with the depth at the position than his talent, but many view Smith as a bad quarterback in both real life and fantasy. I mentioned his seven top-12 finishes earlier; only eight quarterbacks had more.

Jarvis Landry & DeVante Parker - Ryan Tannehill

Regardless of your opinion, Tannehill’s QB21 (102.4 overall) ADP isn’t cost-prohibitive. Landry’s 28 percent target market share coupled with Parker’s 10.2 adjusted yards per attempt makes Tannehill an appealing late-round option. Anthony Amico’s potential range of outcomes based on the presence of Adam Gase also provides optimism for a productive fantasy season from Tannehill.

Livin’ La Late-Round QB Life

If you don’t want to use a first round pick on a wide receiver or miss out on a top-end pass catching talent you can get a piece of him by drafting his quarterback at a much lower cost. Selecting any of the quarterbacks mentioned above and expecting a top-five fantasy campaign in return, ala 2015 Bortles might end in heartbreak. However, their situation and cost are an attractive marriage you should target if your strategy is to draft late-round quarterbacks.

*Stats used in this article RotoViz of FantasyData, and Rotoworld.

Salvatore Stefanile

Salvatore Stefanile is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) and has been playing fantasy football since his high school days. He is a proponent of 2QB fantasy football leagues and his work has been featured on XN Sports, RotoViz, and Rotoworld. His writing on 2QB fantasy football leagues earned him the FSWA award for 'Best Fantasy Football On-Going Series' in 2013. He earned a second FSWA nomination in 2015. You can follow him on Twitter @2QBFFB

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