You should always wait on designing a quarterback. I say that, yet in a recent staff fantasy mock draft, I reached for Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen with the 2.12 selection. Do as I say, not as I do! I’m of the opinion that in many league formats, you probably don’t need a backup quarterback, let alone a sleeper. For example, in a 10-team league with one starting quarterback, there should be plenty of capable replacements on the waiver wire—so there’s no need. You should use that extra bench spot on another running back or wide receiver.
So with that in mind, I believe there are a couple parameters that need to be fulfilled first before drafting a backup quarterback.—because you probably don’t need one in the first place. First, you should only be looking for one in 12-team leagues or larger. However, if you miss out on a Tier 1 QB (Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert), that’s when you should be seeking out a backup QB.
Before we dive in, I’d like to clarify what is a sleeper in the first place. Sleeper, to me, doesn’t mean a player nobody has heard of that comes out of nowhere to succeed. I believe that’s more of a fantasy “breakout” than sleeper. Instead, a sleeper is a player who will significantly outperform his current average draft position value.
Fantasy Sleeper Quarterbacks
Trevor LawrenceJacksonville Jaguars
Last month, I made the case for Trevor Lawrence as a player worth buying and I’m going back to the well.
So if we can all agree that this football team was something akin to a circus sideshow last year, led by former head coach Urban Meyer, then why shouldn’t we also believe this team will rebound under new leadership? An offseason removed from all that rookie hype, Lawrence has a host of fresh talent surrounding him.
Jacksonville gets Travis Etienne back after a lost season and my colleague Craig Ellenport is a big fan of Etienne’s this season. Christian Kirk, Evan Engram and Zay Jones were added as playmakers. Brandon Scherff bolsters their offensive line. This should be a team playing with a chip on its shoulder and I suspect they’ll be playing with something to prove.
You can wait on Lawrence since he is the 19th QB in redraft. For those waiting on a signal-caller on draft day—which should be everyone—I’d be happy to let T-Law fall in my lap as a high-upside QB2.
Zach WilsonNew York Jets
I don’t particularly like Zach Wilson. He often looks uncomfortable in the pocket. His reads and timing are a step slow. I suppose that’s the life of a rookie QB on a bad team. But here’s the thing: You have to hedge your bets. Unfortunately, I am sometimes wrong. It’s true—I’m fallible. So of the many quarterbacks I don’t believe in, Wilson has the most going for him in added draft capital to the offense and it’s hard not to like what head coach Robert Saleh is building.
While the Jets being bad may seem to transcend human knowledge—like something carved in stone by some ancient soothsayers—it’s plausible to believe they take a step forward as a franchise. Wilson now has Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson on his side to go along with Michael Carter and Elijah Moore. They added tight ends CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin via free agency. Even G Laken Tomlinson should bolster what was an already solid run-blocking unit.
Wilson can be had on the cheap as the 24th quarterback drafted. We should see where he stands in Weeks 2-4, with favorable defensive matchups against the Browns, Bengals and Steelers.
Matt RyanIndianapolis Colts
When I was skipping classes, making bad decisions and attending football games at Virginia Tech, the first time I saw a quarterback who seemed to see the field like he had my vantage point up in the student section was Matt Ryan. He and Boston College stuck it to us in the final seconds in a decisive home game back in late October 2007. The rain and wind were brutal and if VT had won that game, it was possible we would have had a crack at the National Championship game. Walking en masse in silence with thousands of dejected Hokies, I’ll never shake that stinging feeling.
Back in those days, the top two quarterbacks drafted were Ryan (No. 3 overall to Atlanta) and Joe Flacco (No. 18 overall to Baltimore). While Flacco managed to win a Super Bowl with the Ravens, I believed then as I do now that Ryan is the better quarterback and has had the better career. While the Lombardi Trophy eludes him, he was the Rookie of the Year in 2008 and the MVP and AP Offensive Player of the Year in 2016.
All this to say, I’ve always had a soft spot for Ryan and the guy deserves it. He’s never missed more than two games in a season. He has been a top 12 QB eight times in his 14 seasons. Yes, he was the QB19 a year ago on a miserably bad Falcons team, but in the three years prior he was the QB2, QB11 and QB12 from 2018-20.
Now in Indianapolis, everything around him in this offense is better. Ryan hasn’t had an offensive line like this in years. He’s never had a better running back. While Michael Pittman Jr. may not be prime Julio Jones, the Colts added WR Alec Pierce in Round 2 and I’ve got high—but tempered—expectations for role players like Nyheim Hines, Parris Campbell and Mo Alie-Cox.
I’ll close my argument by again referencing what I wrote about Ryan last month:
Is Ryan better than Carson Wentz? I think most, including the Indianapolis Colts, would say yes. With that in mind, why are we then ranking Ryan as the redraft QB21?
Wentz finished as the QB14 a year ago with the Colts and now Ryan falls into the near-exact situation with a much better resume. The what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude in fantasy football betrays managers in these situations. Perhaps because drafting him is too obvious. There are no bonus points for creativity in drafting Ryan in what will be his 15th season.
Your friends may not pat you on the back for drafting Ryan, but he’s a slam dunk value at QB20 in average draft position.
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