Should you draft QB early or late in your fantasy football draft?

Have you ever heard of the late-round quarterback strategy? It was made famous by NumberFire’s Editor-In-Chief J.J. Zachariason. The goal of the strategy is not to find the fantasy football QB1 but to draft a QB late to find a quality replacement at a much lower cost. If you draft a QB early, the other fantasy managers in your league view you as an abomination. This begs the question — if everyone in your fantasy football league uses the late-round quarterback strategy, can you benefit from being contrarian?

Opportunity cost

Are you familiar with the concept of “opportunity cost” in economics? It represents the forgone benefit that would have derived by an option not chosen. The costs and benefits of every option available must be considered and weighed against the others. The value of opportunity costs can guide individuals, investors, and companies to more profitable decision-making. And yes, it can be applied to fantasy football.

You’ll want to consider ADP if you plan on drafting a quarterback early in your fantasy draft. This is used to chart where individual fantasy football players are being drafted, on average, in mock drafts or live online drafts.

As a fantasy manager, it’s imperative to consider who you’re giving up when drafting specific players. Which running back, wide receiver, or tight end are you missing out on by selecting a QB early? Let’s define Rounds 1-6 as the early rounds.

Perception isn’t always reality

The perception among fantasy managers is that it’s bad to draft a QB early. The reality is that there is a chance to capitalize on this herd mentality by going against the grain.

One of the benefits of prioritizing the QB position early in a draft is that you won’t have to stream the position on a week-to-week basis. The top-tier quarterbacks all average anywhere from 22-26 points per game. You’ll start them every week in spite of the matchup and won’t have to use FAAB dollars or your waiver wire priority on the quarterback position. You’ll be able to use those dollars on other positions.

Many quarterbacks you select in the early rounds have a high floor and an even higher ceiling. You can view them as a blue-chip stock. These types of stocks are from huge companies with an excellent reputation. They are typically large, well-established, and financially sound companies that have operated for many years and have dependable earnings, often paying dividends to investors.

If you draft a QB early, you shouldn’t select more than one. The goal is to use your remaining draft picks to fill out your roster and acquire high-upside players at the running back and wide receiver positions.

Every season there are quarterbacks who justify their early-round ADP and others who do not. You can also draft QBs late in the double-digit rounds who propel themselves into the fantasy top 10. It’s important to use the proper criteria when selecting an early-round quarterback.

Quarterback criteria

Passing yards per game and completion percentage are two useful stats when identifying a top-tier QB to draft early. Patrick Mahomes (308), Dak Prescott (287.6), and Matt Ryan (297.3) are three notable signal-callers who rank in the top five in passing yards per game since 2018.

Be cautious of rushing yards

Dual-threat quarterbacks enamor many fantasy managers, and rightfully so. The majority of quarterbacks are not going to accumulate rushing attempts. It’s essential to consider a QB’s rushing attempts and rushing yards, but the foundation of your research should be passing yards per game and completion percentage. Over the last two seasons, two quarterbacks accumulated 1,000+ rushing yards: Kyler Murray (1,363) and Lamar Jackson (2,218).

Arm strength and accuracy

Now that we have the foundation built, let’s talk about some other readily available statistics you can review at Pro Football Reference. Two traits of a successful NFL quarterback are superior arm strength and accuracy. Air yards per pass attempt is helpful in identifying which QBs are throwing the football downfield. Air yards indicate how far a pass traveled in the air before it was caught. Furthermore, a QB’s on-target percentage measures the percentage of on-target throws per pass attempt, excluding spikes and throwaways.

Offensive scheme continuity

A quarterback’s mastery of his offensive scheme and receiving weapons are also something you should examine. This is difficult to quantify, but you’ll want to draft a QB early who has been in the same scheme for two or more seasons.

Under pressure

Additionally, how a QB handles pressure can not be understated. Not all QBs are blessed with an excellent pass-protecting offensive line. Many can still use their pocket presence to be successful, like future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, to stand firm, make his reads, and throw the football at the right time without panicking. On Pro Football Reference, you can see how many times a quarterback is blitzed, hurried, or hit. You can also analyze how often quarterbacks were pressured per dropback.

Let’s put together everything you learned if you plan on implementing the strategy in fantasy football drafts this summer.


According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, and Aaron Rodgers are all selected from Rounds 1-6 in 1QB formats.

Mahomes has averaged 26 fantasy points per game over the last two seasons. He’s finished as a QB1 in 66% of them with 11 games of 30+ points. Moreover, Mahomes has familiarity with head coach Andy Reid’s offensive system.

Allen prospered in his third year in Buffalo with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. He averaged 28.3 fantasy points per game with eight games of 30+ points. Allen can also create fantasy points with his legs.

Murray averaged 27 fantasy points per game in 2020 and finished as a QB1 in 69% of them. He’s lethal as a passer, a runner, and is still tied to Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offensive system.

Prescott was on pace for a career year with new Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. Over the last three seasons, Prescott’s averaged 24 fantasy points per contest.

The Seahawks may not have allowed Wilson to truly cook last season, but he still finished as a QB1 in 56% of his active games. The trend for Wilson has been similar in previous campaigns.

Justin Herbert carries a lot of risk relative to his ADP with new Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Aaron Rodgers is still going to perform at a high level regardless of whether he stays in Green Bay or not. He averaged 27 fantasy points per game last season and finished as a QB1 in 81% of them.

Mahomes, Allen, Murray, and Prescott are all excellent options to build a fantasy football team around if you choose to implement an early-QB strategy. Let’s paint a picture of what your team could look like.

Through the looking glass

This is an example of a fantasy football team that can be assembled if you have the sixth draft pick in a 12-team, half-PPR format. You could start the draft with running back Ezekiel Elliott and then select Mahomes at 2.07. The early-QB strategy can still be used to create a juggernaut in your league. The other running backs on your roster could include Mike Davis, Chase Edmonds, A.J. Dillon, Jamaal Williams, and James White.

You’d have Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, Courtland Sutton, Robby Anderson, John Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver. Your top two tight ends could be Dallas Goedert and Logan Thomas. You can still build an outstanding fantasy team without drafting a QB late. Would you be happy with this team?

Should you draft a QB early or draft a QB late in your fantasy football draft?

It is crucial to allow the draft to dictate that decision. You should be monitoring the supply and demand at each position, including quarterback. There are numerous ways to build a fantasy football team, whether you choose to draft a QB early or late. When and where you select a quarterback has a ripple effect on your entire team. The goal is to maximize your scoring output each week. Generally, if you want to have one of the upper echelon QBs on your roster, you’ll need to draft one in the third or fourth round.

For those participating in 2QB or superflex formats, you should consider selecting a passer as early as the first round. There are pros and cons to any draft strategy and multiple ways to create a fantasy championship-winning roster. It is essential to allow your pre-draft research to build out your team properly.

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