The Value of Rookie QBs in 2-QB Fantasy Football Leagues

Bills rookie QB EJ Manuel
Bills rookie QB EJ Manuel
Jul 28 2013 Pittsford NY USA Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel 3 passes during training camp at St John Fisher College Kevin Hoffman USA TODAY Sports

In recent years rookie quarterbacks aren’t the the pariahs they once were automatically assumed to be in the fantasy football community. We can probably thank Cam Newton and his rookie season where he finished the season as the the third highest scoring fantasy quarterback for that.

On top of Newton’s Top-3 fantasy quarterback finish in 2011, second-round rookie draft pick Andy Dalton finished that same season as fantasy’s 15th highest scoring quarterback. As good as 2011 was when it came to fantasy football signal callers, 2012 was the year that blew the roof off the whole rookie quarterback stigma. In 2012, three football quarterback newbies finished the year in the top-10 of fantasy quarterback scoring.

Those three 2012 rookie quarterbacks were Robert Griffin III (QB5), Andrew Luck (QB9) and Russell Wilson (QB10). Three rookie quarterbacks putting up Top-10 fantasy quarterback seasons is pretty remarkable, as each of the three had fantasy rookie campaigns to remember.

If you tack on Ryan Tannehill (QB24) to the list, that’s four rookie quarterbacks that would have been fantasy relevant in 2-QB fantasy football leagues last season. A fifth, Brandon Weeden (QB26), missed the cut by this much.

The general fantasy consensus is to not want to draft rookie fantasy anythings, be it quarterbacks, running backs, or wide receivers, because we don’t expect them to produce right away. Why waste a draft pick on a player that’s barely going to see the field? That’s the mindset that has become commonplace in today’s fantasy landscape.

That might have been true, especially in regards to rookies and the quarterback position, in 2003, when a #1 overall draft pick like Carson Palmer sat on the bench his entire rookie campaign. But that’s no longer the case today. Newton, Dalton, Luck, Wilson, and RG3 were all thrown into the lion’s den as pups, and each one of them took their licks throughout the entirety of their rookie campaigns. Remember, once upon a time Vince Young was a fantasy QB1 in his rookie season.

To see how fantasy quarterbacks have trended upwards over the years, take a look at the chart below, from the chapter on rookie quarterbacks in the book ‘Fantasy Football for Smart People: What the Experts Don’t Want You to Know‘ written by Jonathan Bales:

Graphic used with permission from Jonathan Bales.
Graphic used with permission from Jonathan Bales.

In 1-QB leagues you’re less likely to take a chance on rookie quarterbacks in your fantasy league, especially when it comes to using a valuable draft pick on him. It’s fine to watch a rookie play a few games to gauge if they should be waiver wire consideration, but you’re most likely not going to draft him. And if you do draft a rookie quarterback to your fantasy team, you’re not going to be using a high draft selection.

That type of thinking doesn’t apply to 2-QB fantasy football leagues though. When your starting roster requires that you double the fun at the quarterback position, you have to tailor your thinking to incorporate any and all quarterbacks, yes, even Christian Ponder, and give them a modicum of value.

That’s just the way it is in 2-QB leagues, and with an influx of rookie quarterbacks being thrust into NFL starting line-ups from day 1, that gives us more options to choose from on 2-QB fantasy draft day. In order to show you how fantasy quarterbacks can be a part of your 2-QB winning strategy, let us take a look at how fantasy quarterbacks have been drafted in recent years, and how their rookie seasons turned out.

Below are two charts that date back to 2001, listing most of the relevant rookie quarterbacks, or at least the ones thought to be relevant when they were drafted. In the chart, you will see the year the player was drafted, what round they were drafted in, number of games started in their rookie season, what their pre-season quarterback ADP was, and where they finished the season in terms of fantasy scoring at the quarterback position.

A look at rookie QBs over the years Part 2.
A look at rookie QBs over the years Part 1.
A look at rookie QBs over the years Part 2.
A look at rookie QBs over the years Part 2.

From 2001 to 2012, 14 rookies finished the season as a Top-24 fantasy quarterback, and they’re the names in bold print in the charts above. One thing that immediately pops out is that each of those 14 quarterbacks were all first-round picks, minus Russell Wilson (3rd) and Andy Dalton (2nd). In fact, all the rookie quarterbacks on the charts were drafted within the first three rounds, except for Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Matt Schaub.

What we can deduct from that is the higher the draft status, the more likely that quarterback will have a chance to produce. That’s a pretty safe assumption to make, as most rookie quarterbacks drafted early are expected to be the team’s starting quarterback at some point. In recent years, that has been quite evident with nine rookie quarterbacks starting at least 10 games the past two seasons.

The next column to key in on in the charts is pre-season ADP. Before last season, no fantasy quarterback was really being looked at as an every week must-have starter, meaning that most of the rookie quarterbacks were being drafted in the QB2-QB3 tier, if drafted at all. Last year was a different story with RG3 earning an ADP of QB12, and Luck right there behind him with a QB16 ADP designation. Part of that shift was thanks to the rookie performances Newton and Dalton put up the year prior, as well as knowing that both RG3 and Luck were going to be starting from day one. Not to mention they’re both pretty good quarterbacks, and put up some decorated numbers in college.

Regardless of format or setting, any draft pick we make in fantasy football is one we want to see a good return of investment on. As an example, drafting an Aaron Rodgers first overall in a 12-team 2-QB league is a decision that is almost automatic because we expect Rodgers to finish as one of the highest fantasy scoring quarterbacks. There isn’t much room for error with such a pick. In 2-QB fantasy football leagues, where you make your money is in the middle to late rounds, finding value on picks that you hope to outperform their ADP.

That’s a little more difficult with quarterbacks in 2-QB leagues because most of the fantasy relevant quarterbacks are going to be scooped up relatively early by yourself and your fellow league mates. However, rookie quarterbacks are where we can turn a bit of profit on their draft day price.

If you went over the pre-season ADP of each rookie quarterback, you’ll notice that many of them outperformed their ADP. Last season each of the five rookie quarterbacks showcased in the charts finished the season better than where they were drafted. The year before that, only Jake Locker was an ADP under performer, but that had more to do with playing time than anything else.

Where rookies are drafted in real life by their teams, the situation they’re drafted into, and how they perform through pre-season and training camp is going to influence which rookie quarterbacks to target in your 2-QB fantasy football draft. Even if you aren’t particularly fond of a rookie quarterback and his talents, but know they are going to be starting right away, he’s going to have to be on your 2-QB draft day target list.

Now, that you have seen the breakdown of how rookie quarterbacks have fared in recent years, and how they could be valuable to those of us that play in 2-QB fantasy football leagues, what do we make of this year’s rookie quarterback class? Once the NFL Draft concluded, I had ranked the rookie quarterbacks in terms of fantasy value they brought to 2-QB leagues. Back in May, I had them ranked: 1. E.J. Manuel, 2. Geno Smith. Today, you can still rank them the same, and they are really the only two rookie quarterbacks to monitor, except Manuel is the one we should really be focusing on.

Manuel found himself atop my rookie quarterback value rankings because of his situation. Kevin Kolb, who could have 2-QB value, if named the starter in Buffalo, was Manuel’s only real competition to the job, and that became true once the team released Tarvaris Jackson. In addition to Manuel’s short climb up the quarterback depth chart in Buffalo, the talent surrounding Manuel would make life easy on him, if he were to start.

Couple those two factors with the fast paced tempo the new Bills coaching staff wants to make a staple of the Bills’ offense, the recipe for success is there for Manuel to be a 2-QB draft day value, and provide many happy returns on his 2-QB ADP. If he’s able to use his mobility, and complement that to his passing game, be it by designed runs, or scrambling to not get sacked, all the better for his fantasy value. As @FantasyDouche of pointed out on Twitter, “running QBs are basically the fantasy football equivalent of a cheat code.” To read more about Manuel and the Bills’ fast-paced offense, check out this article by fellow Sports Jerks and The Fake Football writer Denny Carter.

With the latest 2-QB ADP data that we have, Manuel comes in at QB31 (124.4), actually trailing Smith (QB28) by three spots. With a 2-QB ADP of 124.4, Manuel is a QB3 target being drafted in the latter stages of 2-QB drafts. The 2-QB ADP data we have is out of date, and his ADP will have surely climbed by now in 2-QB leagues, and if we look at the 1-QB targeted ADP on, Manuel’s ADP is QB26. That’s still QB3 territory for Manuel, but he’s creeping up into that QB2 range.

We’ve seen what certain rookies can do for 2-QB owners, and when trying to find value at the quarterback position in 2-QB leagues, outside of the usual suspects, taking a gamble on E.J. Manuel this year is a risk that could be rewarded handsomely. If you’re able to draft Manuel to be your team’s QB3, the risk is mitigated by where you would draft him, allowing you not to worry about cutting the cord if he were to not live up to expectations. However, the potential is there for him to be an every week QB2 starter in 2-QB leagues, and the history of rookie quarterbacks shows us it could happen.

What we’ve seen from rookie quarterbacks in recent years, especially those of the dual threat variety like RG3, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Vince Young, is that the quarterback position in both real life and fake football has room for the next generation of fantasy quarterbacks, such as Manuel, and Smith, if the Mark Sanchez Truman Show-like experiment is cancelled, to provide immense value.

*Non 2-QB ADP used in the article courtesy of, 2-QB ADP courtesy of Etienne Groulx. If you liked the chart you saw provided by Jonathan Bales, make sure to purchase his highly informative fantasy football books.

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Salvatore Stefanile
Salvatore Stefanile is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and believes that 2-QB fantasy football leagues will be the future of fantasy football. You can read about his 2-QB fantasy football opinions and analysis at