If you're well versed in our mock drafting style here at ESPN Fantasy, you probably know that this group is generally conservative at selecting quarterbacks. Many of us subscribe to the "you can wait on quarterback" theory; this specifies that in a 10-team league, the replacement level at the position -- or at least value relative to the No. 11 quarterback, who would theoretically be the first one on anyone's bench -- is still so good, you can get a productive one late.
Well, most of the time we are conservative.
Add a second quarterback to the starting lineup -- the two-quarterback league format -- and our approach apparently changes dramatically. Or, to adjust the wording of that aforementioned theory: "You can't wait on quarterbacks."
Funny what tacking that extra "S" on to the end does, but it's an adjustment that makes sense. Replacement levels shift dramatically in the two-quarterback format, and you'll find in any such league, they fly off the board fast and furious, especially comparative to a standard league.
To illustrate, 10 of ESPN Fantasy's best fantasy football minds gathered on Aug. 1 for a two-quarterback (but otherwise ESPN standard, meaning 10 teams, two starting wide receivers, etc.) mock: Tim Kavanagh, James Quintong, John Parolin, Jim McCormick, Field Yates, KC Joyner, Eric Karabell, Christopher Harris, Keith Lipscomb and me, Tristan H. Cockcroft.
Listed below are the round-by-round results of the mock draft, with commentary where applicable, to provide you some of our drafting insights. The tables themselves, in addition to listing the overall selection number, player, position, NFL team and drafting owner, also list the role the player occupied on his respective fantasy team -- though flex options would wind up as RB3 or WR3 rather than simply "flex" -- as well as the differential ("Diff.") between the spot in which he was selected and my preliminary two-quarterback league top 100 rankings, originally published June 24. Players who did not make my top 100 then are listed with "--" in that column.
Round 1, as expected, saw the "Big Three" of fantasy quarterbacks -- Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers -- fly off the board. That's not unusual for a two-quarterback league, and in a typical such format, a Matthew Stafford or Andrew Luck might have an outside chance at sneaking into the top 10 picks. Whether a Manning, Brees or Rodgers should be selected first in this league, however, was a matter of debate. Clearly with this group, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles, and to a slightly lesser extent Adrian Peterson, have enough supporters to remain top-four picks in a two-quarterback league. Quintong, who took Charles second, wasn't targeting a quarterback at all, so long as he was slotted in the first five spots (which he was).
Joyner felt he got himself a steal of a deal -- and I'd agree with him, evidenced by the differential column -- when Brees lasted all the way to his pick at No. 6 overall. Joyner and I were among the minority who, at our May rankings summit, supported Brees as the No. 1 quarterback entering 2014. Joyner is also on board with taking a quarterback even at the No. 1 pick overall in this format.
"I would take Brees and Rodgers first and second," said Joyner. "Ahead of Shady, ahead of All Day. Brees and Rodgers have so many elements in their favor that they rate higher than anyone in leagues with extra quarterback value. ... [I've] got Peyton rated a step or two behind those two. Denver's pass defense schedule is absolutely brutal this year. It's why Peyton was tops on my overvalued quarterbacks list."
Now, here's one of the by-products of the two-quarterback format: Graham isn't especially likely to last into the second round in the majority of standard-league drafts this season, certainly not three picks into it as he lasted here. He was on my radar at 11th; Marshawn Lynch was too attractive to pass up and, to explain Matthew Stafford here, I'd have risked taking an effective QB2 as my QB1 by the time my next pick arrives at 30th overall. (In hindsight, assuming someone else had taken Stafford in the second round and the same other quarterbacks went where they did, I'd have had the No. 10 quarterback available with pick 30 ... meaning my No. 2 quarterback, Russell Wilson, would now be my top starter.)
Harris, meanwhile, wondered whether some might term the Graham pick a reach: "I went Graham over Doug Martin because I started to get the sense that the group was about to go quarterback-crazy, and I felt I'd be less penalized for the Graham 'reach' -- which many people don't believe is a reach -- than I'd be in a standard league." Solid value, Chris, I'd say.
The Murray and Ball picks were the two curious ones, Ball more so of the two, considering he's not guaranteed to produce RB1 numbers and a top-15 pick overall tends to require a proven talent, either an elite starting quarterback or perhaps a No. 1 wide receiver. That Zac Stacy, Doug Martin and Le'Veon Bell were probably Joyner's next three most viable picks supports the selection, but this is where having nine running backs go in the first 15 of a two-quarterback league hurts an owner in the second round. In a typical format like this, I'd expect that Ball would go later than this.
After passing up Aaron Rodgers in the first round, McCormick was committed to taking his two starting quarterbacks in the third and fourth round, explaining how Nick Foles, to this point the most overdrafted player comparative to my two-quarterback league rankings, wound up a top-25 overall selection. It's a defensible pick; that's still less than a two-round overdraft, and if you're putting him up against the other quarterbacks available at the time -- Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick went with two of the next three picks -- it's fair to be of the opinion that Foles is the safest pick from this tier. I'd have waited until at least the fourth round to pick Foles, and probably not gotten him, but that's probably also because I'd rather take a chance on Kaepernick's upside here.
Notoriously patient quarterback drafter Karabell took a more aggressive approach, one that seemingly our entire mock group did as well, with quarterbacks in this format.
"Certainly my general strategy of waiting forever for a quarterback changes here. And I don't like it!" said Karabell. "I passed up so many potentially valuable running backs and wide receivers for Kaepernick and Brady. I should have chosen Andrew Luck in the second round but just couldn't do it. I wasn't looking so much for quarterback value, but I also didn't want Geno Smith as my No. 2 quarterback, either. It's different in every two-quarterback draft, not an overall theory for me."
Bell and Bernard were outstanding values at picks 25 and 29, and I was sorely disappointed not to see Bernard last just one more pick. (Oh, that queue-killing, sinking-submarine sound.)
With eight of our 10 owners having already filled one quarterback spot, Round 4 became prime time for owners to begin addressing their second starting slot ... while Yates selected Tony Romo to leave only Harris with a quarterback-free roster. Not that this is an uncommon trend in two-quarterback leagues, but this is around the point that the value balance begins to tilt at the position. Quarterbacks begin to be unpalatable picks -- that's because we as a whole tend to first think of their standard-league stock -- and owners start to feel hesitant to select them this soon but feel obligated to.
By pick 38, 15 quarterbacks -- or 39.5 percent of the draft -- have been selected, and to put that into perspective, the No. 38 pick, Jay Cutler, was our 119th-ranked player overall in our standard top 300 as of the start of the mock. Again, that's not necessarily faulty strategy ... it's the nature of the two-quarterback league. It's also why I recommend you don't put stock into ADP (average draft position) numbers accounting two-quarterback leagues; the returns vary too much by league and the samples are smaller besides (by virtue of there being fewer two-quarterback than standard leagues). The smartest approach, as always, is to secure a copy of your league's past-year draft results to get a sense of how your league mates in particular approach the position.
Quintong pointed out that the primary difference seemed to be that we filled these middle rounds -- specifically Rounds 3-5 -- with quarterbacks rather than wide receivers, who would more commonly be selected there. It's true: There were only two wide receivers selected in a 22-pick span in those three rounds; 12 quarterbacks were picked during that time. By comparison, 11 wide receivers resided within our overall Nos. 24-45 rankings -- those the picks referred to here -- at the start of our mock.
By selecting Matt Ryan, Lipscomb cemented his "stack-the-byes" strategy, as both Ryan and his first-round pick, Aaron Rodgers, have their teams on bye in Week 9. It's not an uncommon approach; it's potentially riskier, though, in a week with six teams off. After all, one quarterback was selected in this draft from 29 of the 32 NFL teams, and one of the teams that didn't have one picked -- the Tennessee Titans -- is also on bye in Week 9. By that week, Lipscomb will have only the Jacksonville Jaguars' and Oakland Raiders' quarterbacks, as well as any other backups on the other 24 teams scheduled to play, from which to choose.
"I'm good with losing that week and hopefully putting a solid squad on the field in the other weeks," said Lipscomb.
If we were groaning over picking some of the quarterbacks we did in Round 4, an audible "ugh" could probably be heard following some of those selected in this round ... perhaps even by the very owners who picked them.
Kavanagh grabbed Palmer at No. 41 -- that's 121 spots earlier than we have him in our standard top 300, and it's a draft-high 46 spots earlier than I had him in my two-quarterback league rankings -- perhaps feeling some of the pressure of a bookend draft slot but also because he missed out on more preferred targets.
"I had a few quarterbacks in the queue and was not too intrigued with any of the remaining running backs on the board," said Kavanagh. "Rivers and Cutler were snagged two and three picks ahead of me; as a result, it came down to Palmer versus Roethlisberger versus Dalton. The Arians offense involves lots of vertical passing, and the Cardinals have a great pair of wideouts in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. I've got him ahead of Roethlisberger and Dalton for those reasons."
Yates summed up the group's apparent approach to the quarterback position in this mock well: "I have a 'Mendoza Line' for quarterbacks. Basically, I didn't want to get past Andy Dalton in our rankings. So I ensure that I get two quarterbacks at or above Dalton. So while I don't necessarily prioritize quarterbacks early, I'm careful not to let them slip too far and be stuck with a Tannehill type as my No. 2 quarterback."
Meanwhile, Parolin's pick of Julius Thomas represented yet another of the many historical examples of the coin-flip decision, where you make that close call between two comparable players, only to watch the one you let go picked next.
"Rob Gronkowski was on the board when I selected Julius Thomas, and that was a tough call," said Parolin. "I've seen too many Gronkowski injuries, plus the ability to pair Manning with Thomas was too good to pass up."
Finally, a round without quarterbacks! With that spot full on nine of our teams, the other positions became a priority in these middle rounds, with a couple of the Round 6 values Larry Fitzgerald and C.J. Spiller. As evidenced by their differential numbers, I regard Spiller as a more attractive option in this range than Gerhart, despite Gerhart's having a backfield entirely to himself. Much of that is Spiller's upside -- don't forget how much he contributes as a receiver -- and the rest is that he's on a team I trust a bit more.
Here's another round of nice wide receiver values, and again citing Quintong's observation that quarterbacks seemed to replace the wide receivers commonly selected in the Rounds 4-7 range in standard drafts, I think that we as a group were a tad too conservative selecting wide receivers in this mock.
Between Rounds 5 and 7 of our mock, eight wide receivers wound up at least one-round value selections comparative to my two-quarterback league rankings, and I'd admit that at the time I saw both Washington Redskins wide receivers at the beginning of Round 7, I was surprised. Don't count on seeing that in a standard draft, for sure, and expect them to go slightly sooner than this in the majority of two-quarterback leagues as well.
Those who heed our advice to wait on defenses might find it puzzling to see Joyner select the Seattle Seahawks' defense so soon, especially in a two-quarterback league where there's one additional skill position to fill. But that wasn't a strategy specific to the format, apparently.
"I generally pick starters before picking backups," said Joyner. "At that time, there just weren't any impact backup players that stood out. It could be a thin season at defense/special teams -- I only have six rated as top quality potential starters -- so getting a topflight pick there could mean a fairly significant week-to-week advantage points-wise."
Though the Seahawks' defense didn't crack my top-100 two-quarterback league rankings, they didn't miss by much, surely residing in that 101-110, 11th-round range. You can make the case that Joyner's was as much as a four-round overdraft, but I've been known to nab a defense as early as the 10th round depending upon draft flow, so who am I to criticize?
I loved the Marques Colston, Julian Edelman and Golden Tate picks, and with my team hurting for wide receivers most at the time, it was frustrating to see them go just four, three and two spots before me. I had them in that very order in my queue at the time, and the Tate move in particular surprised me, considering Harris also owns Calvin Johnson, so I'd have guessed he'd spread his receivers around on different teams. Savvy move by Harris nevertheless.
After a 48-pick gap between quarterbacks being selected, Harris finally picked his QB1 ... in Round 10. That'll raise eyebrows for two reasons: The first because of the lengthy gap between quarterback picks considering the format, the second because of Harris' extreme strategy regarding the position. It's not the first time I've seen Harris be more patient targeting the position in a two-quarterback league, and his strategy provides an informative counterpoint to the draft-early-and-often approach that others take in the format.
"I wouldn't say I have a hard-and-fast rule that says 'Don't take a quarterback, even in a two-quarterback league,'" said Harris. "With my first pick, I seriously considered Aaron Rodgers. But once I didn't take him, and the quarterbacks started coming off the board so quickly, it was time to reassess. I took Jimmy Graham so high because it seemed the quarterback firestorm was going to be intense, and I still wound up with Alfred Morris (my No. 8 running back) and Brandon Marshall (my No. 6 wide receiver). I'd say the lesson here is: Don't be afraid to go quarterback early, but if you don't, and if there's a feeding frenzy, don't feel like you have to partake. Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton went in the fifth! That is too early, no matter your format.
"My strategy here and always, I guess, is: Be flexible. ... I think it worked. I'll get, whatever, 30 fantasy points from my quarterbacks while other teams may get 40 or 45, but mine is a superstar squad everywhere else."
Eli Manning became the first "backup" quarterback -- as in the third drafted to a team -- selected, as McCormick took a chance about 13 spots before I was considering the New York Giants' starter. (Remember, I'm in the bookend spot, which was 13 spots away at the time.) Backups are a valuable thing in a two-quarterback league; in my local such format, we have a cap of three on quarterbacks, because most teams would roster more if they could.
Joyner approved of the Khiry Robinson pick, a player who has a tremendous opportunity in the New Orleans Saints' backfield this season. I'm on board with Joyner's thought that the Saints as a team should be in for a big year in fantasy.
Ryan Tannehill immediately became Harris' No. 2 quarterback, and comparing the selection spot to his two-quarterback league rankings, it's strong value considering the circumstances. Harris might need a Nick Foles-of-2014-like in-season boost at the position, but for an owner who waited to fill his quarterbacks, he's taking the right approach utilizing the strategy: You want high-upside selections, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with one.
Don't go into a draft of your own adopting this strategy, though, if you're ill prepared to do your in-season homework. It's a much more taxing approach on your time, forcing you to freely add and drop as trends dictate.
Manziel was another smart selection for the hunt-for-upside quarterback strategy. With Smith, Tannehill and Manziel now, Harris has a stable if low-statistical-ceiling No. 1 starter (Smith) and two upside plays to mix and match in the other spot (Tannehill and Manziel).
Karabell went somewhat in the other direction, selecting more of a lower ceiling but viable enough on a weekly basis backup quarterback in Joe Flacco. "I made sure to get a reasonable third quarterback in Flacco," said Karabell. "He and McCown were the last ones I would have chosen there."
Greg Olsen in the 14th round seemed one of the best values of the draft, as he slid in as Karabell's starting tight end, giving him one of the most consistently reliable fantasy options in the game. It seems, at least judging by this mock, that you can wait at one position in two-quarterback leagues: tight end.
Another aspect of the two-quarterback league is the increased likelihood that 30 or more will be selected -- two starters and one backup on average per team in a 10-team league -- meaning a greater number of speculative quarterback picks in the late rounds. Some of that, such as Parolin's Bridgewater pick, was strategic based upon the construction of his roster.
"I may need to address my running back situation during the year, which fueled the Bridgewater selection with my last overall pick as a lottery ticket of sorts," said Parolin. "I would be monitoring his performance closely and looking to deal him to a quarterback-deficient team should the opportunity arise, probably near his Week 10 bye [coming off games against Detroit, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Washington]. The weather will still be warmish then, too -- his trouble in the cold was well-documented -- but I actually believe in his line, weapons [Patterson/Jennings/Rudolph] and running game. Packaging Bridgewater with someone from what I think is a deep wide receiver corps [Randle or Hilton most likely] may yield me an upgrade."
Quarterbacks aren't the only lottery-ticket type selections this late. Lipscomb selected Gordon but provided a reasonable explanation for it, and we remind that this mock draft did take place on Aug. 1, before Gordon received a ruling on the appeal of his indefinite suspension.
"[It's] just in case he gets a light(-ish) suspension," said Lipscomb. "If we find out today that he's out for the season, I will simply drop him and pick up my third quarterback. I will need a backup tight end and quarterback, but I figured I would drop Andrew Hawkins if Gordon wasn't suspended long. I'll get a backup tight end whenever."
In this particular mock, at least, I think our group was slightly too conservative with the elite quarterbacks and considerably too aggressive with the middle-range -- those Nos. 10-15 -- passers, which explains both some of the Rounds 4-5 selections at the position and the 48-spot delay between quarterbacks in the middle of the draft. That might not be common to every such two-quarterback league's draft, so be cautious not to assume you need to follow this order too closely. The Rivers, Cutlers and Daltons of the world can -- and I'd argue should -- linger into more of the Rounds 6-7 range, and I think a smart "median" strategy would be to address your first starter somewhat quickly, then sit back and sniff out values, a la Harris.
What's listed above somewhat illustrates strategies at the extremes: the feverish chase for quarterbacks many two-quarterback league owners see in some leagues, the patient approach that can still net a big-time payoff (the Harris squad).
It's why I continue to remind -- and I'll repeat it a dozen times if I must: Ask your league's commissioner for a copy of last year's draft results before you begin your prep. Every two-quarterback league has a different result, due to the varying tastes for aggressively picking the position. Know yours in advance, so you're not surprised to find that, by Round 4, there's nothing left, or conversely, that only five quarterbacks are even gone at the start of Round 4.