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Balancing Risk vs. Reward in the Hunt for Elite Quarterback to Set Your Team Apart

As the list of the top tier QBs in fantasy gets smaller, @timbmartens gives some tips on a few players to gamble on to find a more affordable option with elite potential

The 2022 fantasy season is behind us, but the landscape of the dynasty world has changed quite a bit. Values have increased and decreased for players across all positions. But one area, in particular, has stuck out to me from the 2022 season.

The quarterback position had its wealth spread out the most we have seen in years. Elite quarterback play was harder to come by. And the usual steady names we have seen for years were much more volatile this past season.

In 2020 and 2021, 11 quarterbacks totaled over 300 fantasy points on the year. In 2022 there were five. The difference between the QB1 in 2020 and the QB6 in 2020 was just over 35 fantasy points. The difference between the QB1 in 2022 and the QB6 in 2022 was over 145 fantasy points.

Looking at this separation, it is important to understand what the future looks like at the quarterback position, how you should value an elite quarterback in Superflex leagues, and what quarterbacks may be the best candidates to enter into this elite quarterback realm in future years.

Quarterback Landscape 

There are a handful of quarterbacks that we would all likely accept as elite fantasy quarterbacks. The very top of that list is the familiar best names like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. After 2022, Jalen Hurts, and Joe Burrow can safely be around this level, though more likely in a 1B tier.

But after these four, it starts to get a bit complicated. Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson are likely the next two names in most rankings. Herbert has been incredibly successful in his first three seasons, but his fantasy totals only hit a high in 2021 when he was QB2. In his rookie season, he was QB9; this past season, he was QB11. Nothing to scoff at, but the elite numbers only came in one year.

Meanwhile, Jackson was the QB1 by more than 75 points in 2019, but since that season, he hasn’t been near as elite. He finished as QB10 in 2020, QB16 in 2021, and QB14 this past year. Now, he has been hit with injuries all three seasons, but even from a points-per-game perspective, Jackson finished as QB9, QB8, and QB6.

Herbert and Jackson are in the second tier of quarterbacks in dynasty right now. For the time being, we can probably also include Kyler Murray in this list, though the injury issues the last two seasons have him on shakier ground.

After these seven quarterbacks, we fall into an interesting tier. This area is made up of up-and-coming quarterbacks like Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, Deshaun Watson, who is just returning to the league, and reliable veterans like Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins.

After this, we have a plethora of names that are hard to know what we should do within fantasy leagues: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, Derek Carr, Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Tua Tagovailoa, Trey Lance, Daniel Jones, Kenny Pickett, Mac Jones, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jared Goff.

Some of you may think a quarterback or two from that list should already be in tier three. Others will feel they shouldn’t be included in this list of players at all. But that is where the list of quarterbacks gets so complex. There are very few players that we can consider elite currently, and many signal callers fall into the same group of question marks.

Valuing Elite Quarterbacks 

With this idea in mind, it is important to understand how we should value an elite quarterback, specifically those top four of Mahomes, Allen, Hurts, and Burrow. 

First off, all four of these quarterbacks are 27 years old or younger. They are assets that should be producing for your team for at least the next five or six seasons. When we talk dynasty, we usually say you can’t plan much further out than two or three years. But if you have one of these quarterbacks, they are the type of player that can make you say, “I don’t have to worry about that position for a while.”

Mahomes and Allen, in particular, are the only two quarterbacks in fantasy that have averaged over 20 PPG in the last three seasons. These two that make up the 1A tier are unbelievably valuable. In fact, if you look at our Dynasty Nerds rankings, Allen and Mahomes are in the top two in overall rank by 5 of our 6 Superflex rankers. And the one exception has Mahomes at 3.

No other player in the league is in the top 6 from every ranker.

With such a uniform ranking with these two, the value of these quarterbacks has to be held to that standard by their owners. Having a share of Mahomes or Allen is not the same as a share of Herbert or Lamar. And you should be holding them tighter to the vest.

For example, here are some actual trades that have been completed that can be seen in the Dynasty Nerds trade browser:

These are the types of values you must ask for if you are even considering moving on from a player of this caliber. Receiving a quarterback replacement in the deal, a minimum of three first-round picks, and either another player or picks on top of it. Anything less is just not enough in a deal for a truly elite quarterback of this caliber.

Who Can Become Elite? 

With these values laid out, you may think, “There is no way I would ever give up that much for one of those quarterbacks.” And that’s fine if you don’t want to give that value up. But that is what it costs to get someone already at that level.

So, what is the next best option for getting a truly elite quarterback? Buying in before they become elite.

Owners who bought into Jalen Hurts before the 2022 season will know exactly what this process looks like—paying a solid price today that looks like a steal a year from now. While you may have to drop multiple first-round picks now, you could be thrilled about it in 12 months when your quarterback is one of the hottest names in fantasy.

So let’s look at who you should gamble on at the quarterback position to find an elite player.

Justin Fields 

“But he can’t throw!” Put your preconceived notions of Fields aside, and let me plead the case. Fields was a big sell at the beginning of the 2022 campaign. With his second coaching staff in as many years, Fields started the year with horrible totals.

How horrible? In Weeks 1 to 6, Fields was QB27, averaging 12.99 PPG. But things changed starting Week 7. Fields become much more mobile. His totals increased. And he became a fantasy asset that was winning weeks for his owners.

From Weeks 7 to 17, Fields was QB2 overall and QB3 in PPG, scoring less than Mahomes and Hurts per game. He was scoring over three points per week more than Burrow and Allen!

Many of you may think this was a flash in the pan and something that cannot be replicated. The sample size is very small. You could be right, but let me point you to some other facts.

According to Pro Football Reference, Fields had a RATE of 96.9 from Weeks 5 to 16. This would be good enough for eighth-best among quarterbacks if spread out for the entire season, one spot ahead of Josh Allen. Also worth noting is the Bears have the most free-agent cap space in the NFL and the number one pick in the NFL draft. Reinforcements for Fields are likely on their way.

If the Bears find some talent to put around Fields, and he keeps his mobility up, there is a very high chance that he can become an elite quarterback asset in fantasy football. His mobility is an unbelievable advantage for fantasy owners and can be the difference between a quarterback in the middle of the pack and an elite talent. And look at the price on Fields currently:

If these are the low prices you must pay to get a shot with Fields now, I think it is absolutely worth the investment. We have already seen what his ceiling can get up to at the top of his game. And for a couple of first-round picks in value, he could be a home run for owners over the next few seasons.

Trey Lance 

This one is a bit more of a shot in the dark but is also the cheapest option available. Trey Lance was the third overall pick in the NFL draft two years ago. We knew he was a project and would take some time to develop. And after a Week 1 injury knocked him out for the season, we have yet to see how that development has gone.

But what do we know? We know that Lance is a mobile quarterback who can use his legs and arm. We know that, currently, his coach is one of the best offensive minds in the NFL. And we know that he will only be 23 years old next season.

On top of all of this, we know that Lance’s value has plummeted, and he can be acquired for some pretty low prices:

That last trade is probably not realistic in most leagues, but the going rate for Lance is currently right around one first-round pick. That is, quite frankly, a minimal risk for a player that has a great opportunity.

Lance is mobile, young, and part of a great offense should he stay in San Francisco in 2023. The opportunity is there for him to be an elite talent. Mr. Irrelevant himself, Brock Purdy, was QB9 from weeks 13 to 18 when he started in San Francisco. And the ceiling is much higher for Lance than Purdy.

Invest now for a pretty low-risk price, and you could see his value triple if Lance takes off next season. 

Deshaun Watson 

I have to preface this one by saying that fantasy football is meant to be fun. Cheering for your players is part of that. I understand if Watson is completely crossed off your list of players you can cheer for. He is off my list as well.

But from a purely fantasy-data-driven standpoint, Watson is at a value right now. And he may not be at this price point again for a long time. Part of this is due to the amount of time he wasn’t playing games. Part of this is due to a slow and rocky start in his return this past season.

Here are some actual trades for Watson:

Was Watson electric when he returned to the NFL? Not particularly. He was QB15 in PPG from weeks 13-18 after returning from his suspension. He was averaging only 15 PPG. But we are talking about a quarterback who was QB4 in 2018 and 2019 and QB5 in 2020. This was before he was out of the league for a year and a half. He is the only quarterback in the NFL to have totaled over 300 fantasy points in those three seasons.

For the price of around two first-round picks, Watson is a deal value-wise. If he gets close to his previous form, he would be worth at least four first-round picks in value. And right now, prices are half-off.

Remember what an elite quarterback costs? Remember what Allen and Mahomes are going for? The price of Watson, who has shown elite potential before and will only be 28 next year, is very affordable. The risk vs reward is on your side if you can stomach rostering the Browns quarterback.

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