Fantasy Football: The 5 Biggest Draft-Day Quarterback Bargains From 2015
Finding value is one of the most important things during fantasy football drafts.
Sure, you can draft Aaron Rodgers in the second round, but does the opportunity cost of performing such a move suggest an alternative? Very rarely do last year's top-five quarterbacks return to top-five status the following year -- it happened just 33% of the time over the past three years.
Given the regular turnover at the top of the leaderboard, there presents an opportunity for us to find value picks and bargains. These players, who far outperform their Average Draft Position (ADP), provide an edge to fantasy owners who spend their second-round picks addressing other needs on their teams.
Who were this year's biggest bargains at the quarterback position?
In order to find this answer, I started with a baseline of digging through all MyFantasyLeague.com drafts that were done in mid-August or later. They were strictly 12-team PPR drafts, and none of them were considered "mock drafts."
From there, their final positional rankings were compared via ProFootballReference.com that utilize's NFL.com's scoring format. The net differences in ADP and final position were found. While other sites' scoring formats may vary slightly, these players presented tremendous bargains during the 2015 season.
5. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Preseason ADP: QB18
End of Season Finish: QB5
One of this year's most consistent quarterbacks, Carson Palmer was a fantasy godsend for those who waited to draft their quarterback until the 12th round. Palmer finished the season as the fifth-highest fantasy scoring quarterback while scoring the seventh-highest fantasy points per game. Throwing for a career-high 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns, Palmer had a remarkable turnaround after an injury last season forced him to miss 10 games.
His consistency through the season was one of the biggest things that separated him from his peers on a week-to-week basis. Looking at quarterback finishes through Week 16, he was one of just four quarterbacks to have finished at least QB24 or higher each week. Each and every week, you were getting at least a QB2 value from Palmer, and in nearly half of those weeks, he was turning in QB1 outings (7 of 16).
Palmer led all quarterbacks in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) this year, finishing with an astounding 186.49. Net Expected Points is numberFire's signature statistic that quantifies the number of points a player adds to his team versus how he's expected to perform, thus giving a true measure of efficiency. You can learn more about NEP in our glossary, but to put Palmer's Passing NEP into some context, it was the 10th-highest over the past 10 seasons among all quarterbacks.
Palmer also had the third-highest Success Rate -- passes that contributed towards positive NEP -- among all qualified quarterbacks this year. Palmer's 2015 campaign was a huge bounce back year for the 36-year old, as he and the Cardinals get ready to continue their success in this year's post-season.
4. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
Preseason ADP: QB28
End of Season Finish: QB14
One of this year's biggest surprises was the emergence of Tyrod Taylor as the Buffalo Bills' quarterback. After winning a preseason position battle, Taylor emerged as the leading contender and helped provide stability to Greg Roman's newly implemented offense. Questions and uncertainty surrounding Taylor entering the season are what ended up making him one of 2015's biggest bargains -- he was a 17th-round pick or undrafted in some leagues. Taylor ended up finishing the year as the QB14 and an even more impressive QB8 on a fantasy-points-per-game basis.
Thanks to his rushing totals, Taylor had a built in floor that allowed him to finish as a top-24 QB or greater in 12 of his 13 starts this year. Taylor also displayed top-end value with four weeks inside the top-six, providing fantasy owners a nice ceiling throughout the season.
Taylor's rushing ability was always one of his greatest strengths coming into the league, but his passing abilities kept Buffalo's offense on the move this year. Taylor finished with the 13th-highest Passing NEP and the 11th-highest Total NEP -- which factors in both passing and rushing. Not bad at all for a quarterback starting for the first time in his career. Taylor ended up finishing the year with over 3,000 passing yards and nearly 600 rushing yards while scoring 24 total touchdowns.
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
Preseason ADP: QB30
End of Season Finish: QB11
Ryan Fitzpatrick's low preseason ADP occurred right at the time of the infamous "Geno Smith punch" -- an ordeal that was originally estimated to cost Smith 6 to 10 weeks. Journeyman Fitzpatrick came in and never looked back, throwing for a career-high 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first year with the Jets. He ended up finishing the year as QB11 on the season and the QB15 in fantasy points per game -- a huge value for another typically undrafted quarterback.
Outside of one game in Oakland where he had an early hand injury in the game, Fitzpatrick finished as top-24 quarterback every week. Fitzpatrick was a consistent performer for fantasy owners and a perfect streamer to play in positive matchups with seven different outings finishing in the top-12.
Fitzpatrick scored the 12th-highest Passing NEP among all quarterbacks this season, benefiting heavily from his two-most heavily targeted receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The duo combined to see 50.5% of the team's total target market share, trailing only Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders (51.82%) as the most targeted pair of wideouts. Fitzpatrick was also a clutch rushing quarterback, converting for first downs whenever the opportunity presented itself. He finished as the ninth-highest quarterback in Total NEP and looks to have solidified the starting quarterback position for the Jets for the near future.
2. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Preseason ADP: QB29
End of Season Finish: QB9
The stars aligned for Washington after head coach Jay Gruden elected to run with Kirk Cousins as his starting quarterback this year over Robert Griffin III. After an up-and-down first half of the season, Cousins turned it on towards the end of the year, finishing with 34 total touchdowns and leading the NFL with a 69.8% completion percentage. Cousins finished the year as the QB9 in fantasy points and QB13 in fantasy points per game.
Cousins had perhaps one of the highest ceilings on the back half of the year. He finished with six different weeks in the top-six among quarterbacks, something only Cam Newton and Russell Wilson (7) had more of. Cousins also had some down weeks -- four weeks outside of the top-24 -- but his top-end production from weeks where he was in positive matchups was something he proved not to be overlooked.
Cousins was also an incredibly efficient quarterback all year, finishing with the sixth-highest Passing NEP and Total NEP. Washington relied on Cousins quite often to convert for first downs, as 65.62% of their first downs came via the pass -- sixth-highest in the league. After a huge year from Cousins that helped Washington reach the playoffs, Cousins should see quite the climb in his ADP for 2016 fantasy drafts.
1. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Preseason ADP: QB25
End of Season Finish: QB4
Entering the season with an ADP of QB25 -- and for good reason (his 2014 Passing NEP was the lowest among all quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts) -- Blake Bortles blossomed into a fantasy force in 2015, finishing as the QB4. Bortles threw for 4,428 passing yards (seventh-most) and 35 touchdowns (tied second-most) while running another two in on the ground. Finishing in the top-five of all quarterbacks in fantasy points, Bortles also finished in the top-10 on a per game basis, as the QB6. Jumping 21 spots from his preseason ADP in the 15th round granted Bortles the title as 2015's biggest bargain.
Bortles was a model of consistency for weekly fantasy production. In 14 of his 15 games played through Week 16, Bortles finished as a top-24 quarterback, providing a consistently safe floor. He also displayed an incredible ceiling: 10 of those 15 games resulted in top-12 finishes, and five were top-six weeks.
Bortles also improved his Passing NEP drastically from last year, going from -97.97 up to +47.67. He ended up ranking 17th as far as his NEP metrics stand, as Bortles was more of a garbage time fantasy guru than a master of efficiency in 2015. Bortles ended up with middling per attempt stats as well, ranking 27th in Passing NEP per drop back, and 28th in Success Rate out of the 46 quarterbacks who had at least 100 drop backs.
At the end of the day, fantasy points are still fantasy points, and Bortles showed he was more than capable of providing them in excess with both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns emerging as big-time fantasy factors.
Honorable Mention: Andy Dalton
Looking at the position in a points-per-game format, Andy Dalton joins the list of top bargains as the fifth-best bargain on a per-game basis. Dalton was a big fantasy factor when healthy, finishing as a top-12 quarterback in 9 of the 13 games he played. Typically drafted in the 14th round, Dalton was another draft-day steal that returned huge value for fantasy owners who believed he'd turn it around from 2014's QB26 ranking in fantasy points per game. Dalton finished the season in the top-five in Passing NEP as he finished the year with the most efficient campaign of his career.