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Why you shouldn't pick your fantasy QB too early -- or too late

Quarterbacks keep raising the bar.

Though the position as a whole, in 2016, failed to set a record for fantasy points, it did score the second-most in league history and produced an unreal 25 individuals reaching the 200-point threshold. Twenty scored 240, also a record, with that number representing an average of 15 in a 16-game season.

To put it into historical perspective, quarterbacks as a whole scored 28 percent more fantasy points than their brethren did 10 years earlier (2006). Last year's No. 11 scorer, Derek Carr, scored 268.48 fantasy points, which would have been good for second-most at the position 10 years earlier. Even more incredibly, last year's No. 20 scorer, Joe Flacco (242.48), would've been the fifth-best quarterback using 2006 standards.

Still -- the 200-point and Flacco facts as representative of this as any -- it's the position's progression as a whole that is the key takeaway for fantasy, as in, it has improved in point production not only at the position's top tier, but also at its replacement level. As the stars have improved, so have the forgettable folks.

That brings us right back to our conclusion drawn in this very space one year ago: There is absolutely no reason to ever pay sticker price for a quarterback.

To be clear, that line does not read, "Always wait for your quarterback." In an age of record-setting fantasy point totals at the position, such an approach is both lazy and dangerous, for two reasons: One, it can result in handing your competition a sizable advantage in the event he/she is quicker to draft an upper-tier quarterback who inexplicably lingers multiple rounds beyond sticker price, and two, in leagues that either warrant higher prices on quarterbacks (such as two-quarterback leagues), have historically drafted the position more aggressively or have done their homework and know the precise, proper values for said quarterbacks, you could wind up forced to pick from replacement-level choices.

It remains imperative that you draft yourself one of the top-scoring quarterbacks each and every week, but you need to do it for the cheapest price possible. In a way, it's fantasy football's version of extreme couponing.

What, then, is "sticker price"?

That varies by league, but we need to use Value Based Drafting (VBD) in order to determine quarterback's value relative to replacement level and compare it to the difference for players at other positions. Quarterbacks' raw fantasy point totals aren't relevant, because the position's scoring is so inherently stacked toward it occupying the top spots on the season-ending leaderboard. It's all about what a player can provide relative to what's on your league's free-agent list.

To save you the trouble, I pulled five years' worth of VBD data and mapped quarterbacks' expected draft-day prices. The chart below, under "FPTS Required," shows the number of fantasy points a quarterback needs to score in a given year to warrant his selection in that round (averages of all players in that round), and under "quarterbacks by projected FPTS," shows all quarterbacks who should be priced in that round using ESPN's projected fantasy points for 2017.

Strategically speaking, the idea at quarterback is to wait for as long as possible, even beyond where they're listed in this chart, to select yours. In my experience, at least one round -- 10 picks -- is recommended, and anything beyond 15-20 picks is excellent value. As you might expect, players in the later rounds tend to be the ones available at deeper discounts, so keep in mind in the event that if Aaron Rodgers remains out there until the 50th overall pick, that'd be the wiser deal than, say, Prescott 119th overall.

These player valuations, remember, are based upon ESPN's projections, so feel free to shuffle names around if you formulate your own projections.

That Matt Ryan (No. 2 scorer; drafted 129th overall, 13th round, drafted in 41.5 percent of ESPN leagues), Kirk Cousins (No. 5; drafted 106th, 11th round, 86.4 percent), Dak Prescott (No. 6; drafted 103rd, 11th round, 48.6 percent) and Marcus Mariota (No. 13; drafted 126th, 13th round, 58.2 percent) were all plenty productive players last season who cost practically nothing on draft day only illustrates the benefit of patience. This came on the heels of a 2015 season in which an even greater number of out-of-nowhere quarterbacks were available either in the late rounds or as in-season free agents.

What about PPR leagues?

Though quarterback fantasy scoring scarcely changes in a PPR (Point Per Reception) league -- quarterbacks as a whole caught just 11 passes in 2016 -- the position's value over replacement player absolutely changes.

In PPR scoring, the upper-tier running backs, wide receivers and, to a lesser degree, tight ends gain more of an advantage relative to replacement. That makes all three positions more important to address with early picks than quarterback, pushing quarterback's top tier down slightly. Interestingly, there's an "accordion" effect at the position, however, as the lower-tier quarterbacks wind up moving ahead of the late-round, near-replacement-level running backs, wide receivers or tight ends due to those positions ultimately being deeper in PPR than non-PPR.

Again using VBD, here's a look at proper quarterback pricing in a PPR league:

Top-tier quarterbacks like Rodgers and Brady are actually less valuable in PPR formats, but since it's more important to pad your weekly point total with a high-scoring quarterback, it's imperative that you avoid dipping into the replacement pool in this format. The sweet spot for picking a quarterback here might well be the Rounds 7-9 range, should any of those players slide.

Two-quarterback leagues radically shift the prices

The wrinkle in all this is the two-quarterback league, a format that makes a heck of a lot more sense in this era of record passing numbers. In two-quarterback leagues -- or in "superflex" leagues that include quarterback as an eligible flex player -- draft strategy at the position is even more critical.

Using VBD numbers, a top-tier quarterback is generally worth 70 additional fantasy points over a replacement-level performer compared to a one-quarterback league -- that's using five-year (2012-16) data -- which vaults the position several rounds up in the pricing system. In fact, last year's top-scoring quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, was by VBD the third most-valuable player in a two-quarterback league, behind only David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott.

Using the same VBD method as above, here's how ESPN's projections would price quarterbacks in a two-quarterback, non-PPR league:

Now, a two-quarterback league with PPR scoring:

The key difference in a two-quarterback or superflex league, however, is that quarterbacks rarely come at as extreme discounts as in one-quarterback formats, mainly due to there being a finite number to fill a league's weekly lineup spots. For example, in weeks with six byes, there are only 26 starting quarterbacks available to play, leaving precious few extras in a 10-team, two-quarterback league (20 starters at the position) and even fewer in a league with more teams.

It's for that reason that any player who lingers even one round longer than his listed price is an outstanding value, especially in Rounds 1-5, and the case can be made that no player should last even five picks beyond his projected value.

Some final strategic notes

In-season quarterback management requires a vastly different -- and arguably entirely opposite -- approach, as impatience with players is often wiser. Consider that in a 10-team, ESPN standard non-PPR league last season, the average quarterback (using our new fractional scoring) across all leagues would've scored 18.2 fantasy points, and a "replacement level" player in those formats would've averaged 16.4 fantasy points. Those are extremely high bars, amounting to 290 and 262 fantasy points respectively over a 16-game seasons, and they illustrate why mixing and matching your quarterbacks weekly, especially when dealing with a struggling draft pick, is a wiser strategy than locking one player in all year.

Backups matter. A quick look at the charts above for one-quarterback leagues show that 22 quarterbacks are priced as "draft-worthy" in that format. With as many as 20-plus quarterbacks annually proving themselves productive weekly scorers these days, it's ever wiser to give yourself two options from which to play matchups weekly, even if that second quarterback is one you rotate throughout the year. Never get complacent, starting only the one quarterback you drafted.