When Tom Brady announced that he will no longer fight his suspension from Deflategate, it made it necessary to evaluate the fantasy implications of that decision. Obviously, Brady will be regarded as one of the top fantasy quarterbacks upon his Week 5 return, but those electing to use a draft pick or auction dollars to acquire his services will need to secure another quarterback for the first four weeks. With that in mind, here are some possible methods to address the Brady situation in your draft-day preparation.
Method No. 1: Remove Brady from your rankings altogether. Those who choose this method will likely do so based on their preference of carrying only one quarterback, which is a popular strategy in leagues of 10 teams or fewer. This choice is one of the reasons the selection of Brady will likely lead another team to acquire significant draft-day value, as that team will essentially receive the equivalent of an additional third-round pick from Week 5 forward.
Method No. 2: Plan to draft another elite quarterback early and then select Brady somewhere around his average draft position (ADP of 61.0 at the time of this writing). In this scenario, Brady is viewed as injury protection for your early-round quarterback and/or as potential trade bait following his return. If you are going to do this, ensure that Aaron Rodgers is not the elite quarterback you target, as his Week 4 bye will require you to roster three quarterbacks in that week to keep both of them. Also keep in mind that in smaller leagues, you may find it more challenging to trade a starting quarterback because of the depth at the position. Conversely, in larger leagues, the need for a reliable, quality quarterback can be paramount in building a team positioned for a deep postseason run. Even if you are unable to trade one of the two elite quarterbacks, the ability to choose between two solid options based on defensive matchups or the weather forecast is desirable will be an advantage.
Method No. 3: Let the draft come to you. If you can select Brady when you feel reasonably comfortable, do so, with the continuing plan to draft one of the following quarterbacks as your starter for the first four weeks of the season:
Targeting a Ryan/Brady combination is a recommended path to success. Ryan opens the season with perhaps the easiest three-week stretch for a quarterback; he'll open with three teams (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders and New Orleans Saints) that were among the 10 friendliest matchups for opposing quarterbacks last season. That schedule will also feature two dome games, which have traditionally resulted in a higher completion rate (66.3 in domes versus 62.5 outdoors) and a better touchdowns-per-interception rate (2.2 in domes versus 1.7 outdoors) for Ryan. The lone shade thrown on this path is Ryan's Week 4 contest against the Carolina Panthers, but note that Ryan completed more than 70 percent of his passes against the NFC champions last season.
When to target Ryan: 11th round.
Option B: Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (ESPN rank: 15, ADP: 13)
The Raiders also have a favorable schedule to start the season, facing the Saints, Falcons, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. Combined, those teams allowed an average of more than 18.5 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks last season, which is the easiest schedule any quarterback will face during the league's first four games. Carr is entering his third season and proved to be a reliable fantasy option last year, as he threw multiple touchdowns in 11 of his 16 games. Of course, the presence of Amari Cooper should be viewed favorably, as the second-year receiver should benefit from a full offseason of preparation instead of prepping to perform combine drills like was did a year ago.
When to target Carr: 10th round.
Romo's talent shouldn't be questioned, but his durability certainly deserves to be. That said, Romo has traditionally been healthy to start the season. He will also benefit from an early slate of games that favors scoring by fantasy quarterbacks, with games against the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers. While a case can be made that the offseason activity that reshaped the Giants defense will provide a new challenge, Romo has historically performed well against them by posting an average line of 232 passing yards and two touchdowns in 20 career games. The risk in this scenario lies in how the Cowboys will user rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. If they take advantage of Elliott's receiving skills, the risk will be minimized. However, if Elliott is exceptionally productive running the ball, Romo's potential for passing touchdowns will be negatively affected.
When to target Romo: 10th round.
Unless you believe that Melvin Gordon is capable of being a bona fide starting running back in the NFL, Rivers should warrant serious consideration as one of the top 10 quarterbacks taken this year. Last season, Rivers finished 11th among QBs in fantasy points despite having his receiving corps held together with duct tape. With the Chargers investing heavily in this group during this offseason -- first by signing Keenan Allen to a four-year contract extension, then by signing Travis Benjamin to be their clear second wide receiver option -- Rivers opens this season with the most talented group of receivers he's had in years. While the Chargers open the season against a divisional rival in the Kansas City Chiefs, their next three games are against opponents that did not defend the pass well at all last season. Look for Rivers to torch the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts and Saints from Week 2 through 4, which might have Rivers as one of the top four quarterbacks in the league after that stretch.
When to target Rivers: 10th round.
Relying on Bradford as an option is obviously not for the faint of heart, especially because there's a real possibility he won't even be the starter for the Eagles at the start of this season. However, Bradford (or perhaps Carson Wentz) makes a viable temporary complement in this scenario. The Eagles open their schedule with games against the Browns and Bears, both of whom surrendered more than 18 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks last season. After those two games, drop Bradford in favor of Flacco, who has favorable matchups in Weeks 3 and 4 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Raiders 4.
When to target Bradford: Your next-to-last pick, assuming you won't take a kicker until your final pick.
Personally, I recommend method No. 3, with a preference for taking Ryan as my quarterback to open the season. I project Brady to produce as the third-highest-scoring quarterback during the portion of the season he is eligible, and with Ryan's soft schedule the first four weeks, I think you'll have a quarterback combination that, if viewed as a single player, would be taken in the third round of most drafts. This will likely require that you select Brady in the sixth round and Ryan in the 11th. While it may seem like a lot to invest, ask yourself if you were offered a draft-day deal of an additional third-round pick for your sixth- and 11th-rounders, would you do it? That's essentially what you are receiving beginning in Week 5, so it'd be wise to follow this path.