Hidden Value Quarterbacks

Taking Advantage of Hidden Value at the Quarterback Position

In fantasy football, the increasingly popular strategy in 1QB leagues is to wait on a quarterback. While having the luxury of a Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Kyler Murray is nice, it is not necessary for success. Instead, spending early draft capital on other positions is a way to maximize hidden value. This strategy, while effective, does take some research to optimize your returns. 

In this article, I’ll review the best defenses to target, which late-round quarterbacks face those defenses the most, and outline pairings of quarterbacks whose schedules correlate. Strategizing your quarterback approach at the draft gives you a significant leg up on your league mates.

QUARTERBACKS TAKEN OUTSIDE THE TOP 12 ADP

YEARQB1s DRAFTED OUTSIDE OF TOP 12
20203
20194
20185
20176
20166
ADP from Fantasy Football Calculator. Rankings from Fantasy Pros

Over the last five years, 24 quarterbacks who finished as a QB1 were drafted outside the top 12 (40-percent hit rate). This hit rate projects we can find four to five quarterbacks that end as QB1s. However, how will we identify which quarterbacks hold hidden value, and which are ranked lower for good reason?  

THE STEPS TO IDENTIFYING HIDDEN VALUE

The first step is identifying the defenses to target. I focused on 2020 Passer Rating Allowed, Passing Touchdowns Allowed, Interceptions, and Sacks. To qualify as a targeted defense, the team had to be in the bottom ten of the league in three of these four categories. I also examined their additions and subtractions via free agency and the draft. In all, nine teams met these criteria:

Detroit Lions (4/4 Categories)

Passer Rating Allowed – 112.4 (32nd)

Interceptions – 7 (T-30th)

Passing Touchdowns Allowed – 38 (32nd)

Sacks – 24 (T-26th)

Detroit Lions Offseason Summary

Houston Texans (3/4 Categories)

Passer Rating Allowed – 109.6 (31st)

Interceptions – 3 (32nd)

Passing Touchdowns Allowed – 30 (T-23rd)

Sacks – 34 (18th)

Houston Texans Offseason Summary

Jacksonville Jaguars (3/4 Categories)

Passer Rating Allowed – 105.6 (30th)

Interceptions – 12 (T-14th)

Passing Touchdowns Allowed – 34 (T-27th)

Sacks – 18 (31st)

Jacksonville Jaguars Offseason Summary

New York Jets (3/4 Categories)

Passer Rating Allowed – 103.2 (29th)

Interceptions – 10 (T-23rd)

Passing Touchdowns Allowed – 34 (T-27th)

Sacks – (T-20th)

New York Jets Offseason Summary

Atlanta Falcons (3/4 Categories)

Passer Rating Allowed – 101.7 (27th)

Interceptions – 12 (T-14th)

Passing Touchdowns Allowed – 34 (T-27th)

Sacks – 29 (T-23rd)

Atlanta Falcons Preview

Dallas Cowboys (3/4 Categories)

Passer Rating Allowed – 100.4 (26th)

Interceptions – 10 (T-23rd)

Passing Touchdowns Allowed – 34 (T-27th)

Sacks – 31 (T-20th)

Dallas Cowboys Defensive Outlook

Carolina Panthers (3/4 Categories)

Passer Rating Allowed – 98.4 (25th)

Interceptions – 7 (T-30th)

Passing Touchdowns Allowed – 28 (T-16th)

Sacks – 29 (T-23rd)

Carolina Panthers Offseason

Tennessee Titans (3/4 Categories)

Passer Rating Allowed – 97.5 (24th)

Interceptions – 15 (T-7th)

Passing Touchdowns Allowed – 36 (31st)

Sacks – 19 (30th)

Tennessee Titans Offseason

Minnesota Vikings (3/4 Categories)

Passer Rating Allowed – 97.0 (23rd)

Interceptions – 15 (T-7th)

Passing Touchdowns Allowed – 30 (T-23rd)

Sacks – 23 (28th)

Minnesota Vikings Defense Preview

Next, we will look at the quarterbacks. We are focusing on Quarterbacks whose ADP is currently outside of the top 12 according to Fantasy Pros.

QUARTERBACKCURRENT ADPBYE WEEKFAVORABLE MATCHUPS
Matt Stafford13115
Trevor Lawrence1476
Matt Ryan1566
Baker Mayfield16133
Kirk Cousins1874
Justin Fields19104
Ben Roethlisberger2073
Carson Wentz21147
Tua Tagovailoa22147
Derek Carr2381
Trey Lance2465
Daniel Jones25104
Ryan Fitzpatrick2694
C. Newton/M. Jones27/33148
Zach Wilson2864
Sam Darnold29136
J. Winston/T. Hill30/3167
Jarred Goff3293
D. Lock/T. Bridgewater35/37114
  *ADP from Fantasy Pros as of 7/13/2021

If you remove quarterbacks with five or fewer favorable matchups and teams where the quarterback battle is too close to call, you are left with the following. Therefore, these will be our targets.

QUARTERBACKCURRENT ADPBYE WEEKFAVORABLE MATCHUPS
Trevor Lawrence1476
Matt Ryan1566
Carson Wentz21147
Tua Tagovailoa22147
Sam Darnold29136
Our group of hidden value target quarterbacks

Trevor Lawrence, Quarterback, JAC

Lawrence hitting his receiver in stride
Lawrence hitting his receiver in stride

You may be thinking, “Trevor Lawrence went first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. I won’t get him at a discount”. However, in redraft, he’s currently going in the eighth round behind 13 other quarterbacks. While most would shy away from a rookie quarterback, Lawrence is not just any rookie. In his three years at Clemson (35 games), he threw for over 10,000 yards with 90 touchdowns to only 17 interceptions. He also had 231 carries for 943 yards and 18 more touchdowns. 

Lawrence joins a Jacksonville team with an excellent young wide receiver core of DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault. The Jaguars also brought in free agent Marvin Jones Jr. and fellow rookie Travis Etienne. The duo of Ettiene and James Robinson in the backfield should keep defenses honest while also providing reliable receiving options. While the tackle position remains a question mark,  PFF highlights the interior offensive line of Andrew Norwell, A.J. Cann, and Brandon Linder as “one of the best pass-blocking trios in the league.” 

The schedule lines up well with six games against the target defenses. In addition, Lawrence is on one of the defenses we are targeting, which means Jacksonville could be some high-scoring games in 2021.

Matt Ryan, Quarterback, ATL

Matt Ryan is the quarterback you see somebody else draft, and you think, “Man, I should have waited and taken him.” He’s the perennial hidden value target. In his last five years (starting in 2020), he has finished QB12, QB11, QB2, QB15, and QB2. The loss of Julio Jones has caused Ryan’s ADP to freefall and shouldn’t be discounted. 

In 25 career games without Julio Jones, Ryan has thrown for 6,502 yards, 39 touchdowns, and 25 interceptions. That translates to a 16-game pace of 4,421 yards, 26.5 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. While the interceptions are a bit concerning, some of these games occurred before Calvin Ridley developed into an elite wide receiver. 

Matt Ryan making something out of nothing
Ryan making something out of nothing

Ridley made the jump into the top-tier wide receiver discussion after putting up 90 receptions for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games. He will take over the alpha role in the offense, with Russell Gage stepping into the secondary receiver role. They are joined by Mike Davis, who, along with having big quads, proved himself to be a capable receiving option out of the backfield last year, hauling in 59 of 70 targets for 373 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 

You also may have heard, Atlanta drafted Super-Prospect Kyle Pitts out of the University of Florida. So Ryan will have plenty of weapons to choose from, and with six matchups against the target defenses, you can expect him to be a back-end QB1 again this year.

Carson Wentz, Quarterback, Indianapolis

**Carson Wentz is out for 5-12 weeks due to surgery. Keep an eye on his ADP as we could see it freefall. It could become a hidden value.

There is no sugar coating it. Last year was an absolute train wreck for Carson Wentz. He was on track to become the next great young quarterback through his first four seasons, but he stumbled hard in 2020.

GAMESATTEMPTSCOMPLETIONSYARDSTDINT
2016-2019 AVERAGE14513.7327.83547.824.38.8
20201243725126201615
Wentz’s disastrous 2020 damaged his value

Most people assume we have seen the best of him after his drop of 6.4-percent in completion rate, nearly twice as many interceptions, and the benching for Jalen Hurts. Instead, I see a quarterback who was sacked an absurd 50 times in just 12 games (career 16 game pace was 37) playing with an inexperienced group of wide receivers.

Wentz needed a change, and he got one when he was traded to Indianapolis and reunited with his former offensive coordinator Frank Reich. In 2016-2017 under Reich (29 games), Wentz threw for 7,078 yards with 49 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Indianapolis also boasts the second-ranked offensive line, according to PFF

Wentz keeping a play alive

The Colts allowed 21 sacks all season in 2021 with Philip Rivers, whose 40 time can be clocked by a sundial (he finished the year with -8 yards rushing). In addition, the schedule boasts seven games against our target defenses. With a solid offensive line, a strong running game, a more favorable schedule, a more experienced group of wide receivers, and a coach with whom he has had success, you can bet on a bounce-back year for Wentz. He is an excellent hidden value in the 10th/11th round.

Wentz Injury Update

Wentz suffered a foot injury in camp, and per reports he has opted for surgery. The timetable for his return is 5-12 weeks, which is not ideal. With the surgery taking place on August 2nd, he could return anywhere between September 6th and October 25th (some time before Week 7). If you look at his schedule, only one of his optimal matchups happens before Week 6, and with his ADP likely to plummet, there is value to be had with the right pairing (see below).

Tagovailoa’s pocket presence adds to his hidden value

Tua Tagovailoa, Quarterback, MIA

The NFL has become an impatient league. Tua Tagovailoa, coming off a severe hip injury just ten months before the 2020 NFL season and with a historically limited off-season, was given no breaks by Dolphins fans. Through his first ten games (9 starts), he went 186/290 for 1,814 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He also added 109 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns. 200 yards a game in a conservative offense does not scream “franchise cornerstone quarterback” but it’s respectable considering four of those games he split snaps with Ryan Fitzpatrick – only throwing two passes in one. It is hardly worthy of Dolphins fans and personnel suggesting they use their top pick in the 2021 draft on another quarterback. 

He will enter 2021 with an entire off-season under his belt and some new weapons. Wide receivers Will Fuller (free agent) and Jalen Waddle (2021 Draft) join Davante Parker to form a solid young trio. To complement them, tight end Mike Gesicki is coming off a 53/703/6 season and seemed to develop a great rapport with Tagovailoa by the end of the year. While he plays the Bills and Patriots twice, the rest of his schedule features seven matchups with our target defenses and only two other games against teams that ranked in the top 10 of passer rating allowed last year. Therefore, it is borderline criminal to see him going off the board in the 12th round as the 22nd quarterback.

Darnold’s potential shining through

Sam Darnold, Quarterback, CAR

Sam Darnold has thus far been a disappointment through his first three seasons with the Jets. In 38 starts, his completion percentage is just below 60 percent, and he has more turnovers (59) than total touchdowns (50). While he takes the blame for a lot of this, I do attribute a good amount to what I call the “Gase Stink.” At one time he was known as the “Quarterback Whisperer.” However, Adam Gase’s track record with quarterbacks has taken a nosedive since Peyton Manning retired. For example, look at Ryan Tannehill:

GAMESATTEMPTSCOMPLETIONSYARDSTDINT
WITH GASE2466343749743621
POST GASE2676751665615513
Tannehill with and without Adam Gase at the helm

Whether or not Darnold can have a Tannehill-like resurgence remains to be seen, but Darnold is getting the second chance to prove he was worthy of being selected third overall in 2018. He’ll pair with All-World running back Christian McCaffrey, who has proven to be an elite receiver out of the backfield. He also will have D.J. Moore as his top target, a familiar target in Robby Anderson, rookie Wide Receiver Terrace Marshall Jr., and a potential sleeper at tight end in Dan Arnold. It is also a faster pace offensive system under Matt Rhule. In 2020, the Panthers ran 993 plays. In three seasons with the Jets, Darnold averaged 958 plays (3.6 percent difference). It may not seem significant, but with McCaffrey back in the mix, this offense will undoubtedly be more efficient. In 2018 and 2019, with a healthy McCaffrey, they ran 1,011 and 1,077 plays, respectively.

Getting Out of the AFC East

Finally, he no longer faces the Patriots, Bills, and Dolphins twice a year (though he faces them once this year). The division has been a house of horrors for Darnold throughout his career. Although there was only a slight discrepancy in yards and completion percentage, the touchdown to interception ratio was massive.

GAMESATTEMPTSCOMPLETIONSYARDSTDINT
VS. AFC EAST134352592688921
VS. REST OF NFL2578447054093618
Darnold found success outside of the AFC East

While Darnold is a bit of a lottery ticket compared to some others on this list, getting in on the ground floor could return significant value for your team in 2021 and beyond. Of course, finding a league-winning quarterback in the 18th round will have your league mates trying to figure out what your secret is (make sure to hold it over their heads when it works).

COMPLIMENTARY SCHEDULES PROVIDE ADDITIONAL HIDDEN VALUE

We have identified the defenses we want to pick on and the Quarterbacks who face them the most. Now let us look at some of the schedules which work well together to unlock even more hidden value. In doing this, I will also avoid pairing quarterbacks with the same bye week (Wentz & Tagovailoa).

Carson Wentz and Trevor Lawrence – 13 Optimal Matchups

**With the surgery occurring with Wentz, you’d think to avoid him. However, with Lawrence facing an easy schedule early, this pairing makes even more sense.

Wentz and Lawrence are the big winners, with 12 optimal matchups in 17 weeks. Week 18 was optimal, but with most fantasy championships not played on the season’s final week, it was struck from the record. So the only issue we run into with this pairing is the suboptimal matchups in Weeks 2, 7, 11, and 17.

Hidden Value behind the Lawrence-Wentz Combo
Wentz & Lawrence have schedules that provide positive matchups 70% of the season

Matt Ryan and Tua Tagovailoa – 12 Optimal Matchups

Of the pairings, this one might be my favorite as not only do you get optimal matchups in 12 of 17 weeks, but you also match up well for each other’s bye weeks. You just need to get through the first month of the season.

Hidden Value behind the Ryan-Tua Combo
Veteran hidden value paired with young potential

Sam Darnold and Tua Tagovailoa – 12 optimal matchups

This pairing works well as Darnold’s early schedule matchups pair nicely with Tagovailoa’s later schedule.

Hidden Value behind the Darnold Tua Combo
Two guys being slept on could be a successful pairing

You are now armed with all the information you need to exploit the mountains of hidden value at quarterback. Make sure to bookmark this article so when you sit down for your draft this year, you are ready to go. Invest your earlier picks/auction dollars at the skill positions, and reap the rewards throughout the year.

Be sure to check me out on Twitter @NessyFFB for more content!

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