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End of a Short Era

One of the biggest established truths of the preseason hype machine was that we had entered a new era for fantasy football. This new era was the era of the elite quarterback. No longer could you wait to get a quarterback in the middle to late rounds. Elite quarterbacks had become so crucial to fantasy football that if you didn’t have one, your team would be at a constant disadvantage and your chances of winning subsequently diminished.

As a direct result of this new era, quarterbacks were picked up earlier than ever in fantasy football drafts. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were all drafted in or near the first round before many elite receivers and a couple elite running backs. Tom Brady was drafted in the second and third round, and Matt Schaub and Tony Romo weren’t that far behind.

Right behind this first elite tier was Phillip Rivers, his value downgraded because his production would surely dip after losing Vincent Jackson. And once Rivers was gone, the dropoff was incredibly severe. Owners who missed out on the ‘Big 7’ were taking an enormous chance on any number of questionable quarterbacks like Kevin Kolb, Jay Cutler and Brett Favre, to name a few.

The reality of this season, five games in, is a little bit different than most analysts and experts predicted. Let’s take a look at the situation from a number of different angles.

First and Foremost, Peyton Manning is having a Great Year

Peyton Manning is the definition of an elite quarterback and he’s having an outrageously awesome year. His first three games he had three touchdowns in each of those contests and he’s already thrown for more than 1,600 yards. He’s thrown for 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions and he’s helped many an owner singlehandedly win games. Owners who spent an early pick on Manning continue to reap the benefits, but unfortunately, that cannot be said for the rest of the allegedly elite quarterbacks drafted.

Disappointing Brees

It’s not that Drew Brees is necessarily having a bad season; in fact he’s been fairly good. He’s currently ranked as the fourth-best quarterback on NFL.com and may be higher depending on the scoring system. He’s thrown for more than 1,400 yards and has nine touchdowns with five interceptions. Unfortunately, for Brees owners, he did the vast majority of his damage in Week 3 against my beloved Falcons, racking up 345 passing yards and three touchdowns.

In two of the other four games Brees has played, he had one touchdown in each and threw for an average of around 250 passing yards. That’s pretty poopy for a first-round draft choice. No one’s expecting Brees to knock it out of the park every time, but two touchdowns a game seems to be a reasonable demand for an elite quarterback drafted in the first round.

In Brees’ last game against Arizona, he threw two touchdowns, but he also had three interceptions, which when all the scoring’s been tallied, really only amounts to around one touchdown, give or take. Five games into the season, Brees has only had one game where he carried fantasy teams on his back and led them to victory. One out of five isn’t worth a first-round pick. Brees still has time to turn it around, but he’s already probably put a lot of owners in a little bit of a bind to start the second half of the season.

Tom Brady

Tom Brady was drafted as a Top 4 fantasy quarterback, but he’s barely making the Top 20 quarterbacks in most rankings. Brady’s only played four games, but in two of them he threw three touchdowns and led many owners to victory. His other two games have been less than stellar with a so-so performance against the New York Jets, throwing for only 248 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Where Brady really hurt his owners was the Miami game where he only managed 153 passing yards and one touchdown as the Patriots found every possible way to beat the Dolphins without somehow involving Brady. Brady, like Brees, has played well for the most part but he just hasn’t been elite. The news of Randy Moss leaving, Brady’s best deep threat, makes the future prognosis for Brady even more precarious.

Matt Schaub

Matt Schaub’s been the biggest disappointment of the allegedly elite fantasy quarterbacks. He’s really only had one great game, his 497-yard, three-touchdown comeback against the Washington Redskins, but that’s it. He’s been negatively affected by Arian Foster’s emergence, but he’s had good running backs in the past and still managed to put up stellar numbers.

He’s tied for ninth place among quarterbacks and he’s already had three games where he didn’t even break 200 yards passing. This is a player drafted in the third round whose drastically disappointed scores of owners. With only seven touchdowns and five interceptions, Schaub has a long way to go to regain the confidence of owners.

Romo and Rodgers: Earning Their Keep

Not all elite quarterbacks have been disappointments as both Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo have performed well. The Green Bay Packers have been devastated by injuries this year, losing their star running back, Ryan Grant, and most recently Rodgers’ No. 1 receiver Jermichael Finley. Rodgers has still managed to post solid numbers though, throwing for nine touchdowns and 1,200 yards. His numbers are similar to Brees’, but he’s done a better job of spreading out his production, unlike Brees, who did almost all his damage in one game.

Romo, who was drafted way after Rodgers, has been excellent, as he always is in the regular season. It doesn’t matter that Romo is usually terrible in the NFL playoffs because that doesn’t affect fantasy owners. Statistically, Romo’s a Top 5 fantasy quarterback this year and he’s become one of the most reliable options in all of fantasy football. Romo doesn’t get the credit he deserves for posting season after season of quality production. In next year’s drafts, Romo should be drafted before Brees and Schaub because over his fantasy career he’s been a lot more consistent than both of them.

The Other Guys

When you look at the Top 10 quarterbacks at this point, names like Kyle Orton, Donovan McNabb and even Shaun Hill somehow pop up on that list. All of these quarterbacks were either drafted much later or not at all in Orton’s and Hill’s case. Phillip Rivers was the last elite quarterback to be drafted and he’s been the best quarterback in all of fantasy. Rivers has been outstanding and with the return of Vincent Jackson next month, his numbers will only get better.

What This Means for Right Now and Beyond

I don’t want readers to misunderstand this article and think that I’m necessarily saying Orton and other surprise quarterbacks should join the elite club. Instead, I’m advocating that the earliest rounds of drafts should still be reserved for running backs and receivers. It’s still a very viable option to wait on a quarterback till the middle rounds and this season has proved that. 

What this means for right now though, is that some of these fallen elite quarterbacks have become great ‘Buy Low’ options, specifically Brees and Schaub. You’ll never be able to get a better price on these two studs than right now. I’m leaving Brady off the list because I want to see what the Patriots’ offense looks like minus Moss before I buy in that he’s still an elite quarterback in fantasy.

Fantasy football is a constantly changing game and just like the old myth that you have to draft two running backs in the first two rounds has been debunked, so now has the “You must have an Elite Quarterback” theory been shot down. Owners must now adjust accordingly to the new reality.

Good Hunting!

Ed Bonfanti

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