Fantasy football draft strategy: Why it pays to wait to pick a QB

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Each year, the ESPN fantasy football crew holds a mock draft after the NFL draft is complete. In this year's post-draft mock -- a 10-team setup -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, the No. 5 fantasy scorer at the position last season, and Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa, who had a six-touchdown outing and averaged as many fantasy points per game as Smith, went ignored. They were free agents. Whatever one thinks of these fellows moving forward, one easily can make the case they warranted a roster spot in a 10-team standard league.

OK, so you're thinking, as the resident quarterback fader on the ESPN fantasy staff, why didn't I draft them? I've been singing Smith's praises all offseason as someone capable of repeating his surprising season, but in this case he missed the cut. I already selected Kirk Cousins and new Jets starter Aaron Rodgers in Rounds 12 and 13, respectively. Yeah, I waited a while because, well, I could wait a while. Read the room in one-QB formats.

Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen are legitimately great, though neither actually averaged the most fantasy points per game last season. Philadelphia Eagles star Jalen Hurts did. Still, so many quarterbacks are productive enough that in a standard league, having patience is a real and effective strategy. Mahomes investors do not need a backup, except for the bye week, and even if he does get hurt, there is so much available depth, finding a productive quarterback is hardly challenging. Smith was available at midseason in many leagues last season.

Then there is running back, a position where -- for all you economics majors -- the law of supply and demand comes into play. This is a simple principle, the price of a resource dictated by availability. There are so many quarterbacks to trust. (Smile emoji!) There are few running backs to trust. (Frown emoji.) Some of us cannot justify an early pick -- say, the first three, four or even 10 rounds -- on a quarterback, not because they are not great, but because the coveted running back pool -- and wide receivers, to some degree -- of strong options thins quickly.

And there it is. No reason to denigrate the top quarterbacks -- certainly one can win with Mahomes, Allen or Hurts -- but there is also considerable risk leaving a draft with Detroit Lions acquisition David Montgomery, Chiefs starter Isiah Pacheco or one of the Eagles, Denver Broncos or Washington Commanders as your team's second-best running back and then struggling to upgrade them all season. Happens all the time. It feels like a bad thing -- and poor allocation of league resources -- to become so desperate for a running back in October yet seeing quarterbacks such as Cousins just sitting there available on the wire.

Practice in our mock draft lobby and see what your team looks like with Mahomes, Allen or Hurts as your second-round pick. Nobody is saying you cannot win a league with them. There are myriad ways to win a fantasy football league, and while it might start with the draft, it rarely ends there. Take a QB early. You might love the pick when you make it, but then, an hour later, you might stress about depth at running back and flex. Well, I do.

The fear of missing out is a real thing in fantasy football, but when it comes to quarterback in a 10- or 12-team standard league (superflex is obviously so different), you almost can't miss out. Deshaun Watson and Daniel Jones were 12th-round picks in this aforementioned mock. Again, looking forward, a case can be made both to recommend them or be wary, but still, you know the names. Indianapolis Colts rookie Anthony Richardson, laden with significant upside, went in Round 15 to the manager with Josh Allen, which could be wise in a real league, or it could be mostly unnecessary. Perhaps Allen gets hurt. Perhaps Richardson is great trade bait.

Why I prefer superflex formats is a different column, but when it comes to a standard league, this is what feels right to me. Load up on as many traditional flex options (RB, WR, TE) as possible and hope for health and productivity. Quarterback may be the most important position on the field, but there are so many of them, it affords us strategic opportunity to wait. So, wait! The depth is significant. Be patient. It works for me. Perhaps it will work for you as well.