Late Round Quarterback and Tight End Strategy

by Nick Spencer
LATE ROUND QUARTERBACK AND TIGHT END STRATEGY

Like many fantasy experts, I have long been a proponent of the late-round quarterback and tight end strategy. It paid off handsomely for me and many others last year as we scooped Jalen Hurts (QB9) in the 8th round and Joe Burrow (QB8) in the 10th and received high-end quarterback production for a fraction of the cost of our opponents.

Similarly, a lot of the same principles apply to the tight end position. Zach Ertz (TE5) was available for taking in the 13th and Dalton Schultz (TE3) went undrafted. Both provided steady production for fantasy owners.

In typical fantasy leagues, you have to start two to three running backs and wide receivers every week, so you need to draft four or more of each of these positions in case of injuries, bye weeks, or busts.

However, with the quarterback position, you only start one player. Meaning there are only 12 starting QBs in a standard fantasy football league, but there are 32 starting NFL QBs any given week. Each fantasy team could fill its starting spot almost three times over. The same applies to the tight end position. The surplus at these positions makes waiting until very late in the draft a viable strategy.

In another article, I wrote about the importance of selecting RBs early and often, and how it improves your playoff chances. Doing so often goes hand in hand with punting either tight end, quarterback, or both.

Ignoring these positions early in the draft allows you to stock up on valuable running backs and wide receivers

Late Round Quarterback and Tight End Strategy

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Punting Quarterback

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While ocasionally you will hit the jackpot in the later rounds and get the QB1 overall like Josh Allen in 2020, it is important to note that the number one QB won’t always come from the back end of the draft.

The goal of late-round QB streaming is not to find the QB1 overall (although it's a nice bonus); it is to find a quality replacement at a much lower cost. 

Replaceability of the position

There is a surplus of fantasy production at the QB position in the typical one QB format; this is why Superflex leagues are gaining popularity. In the chart below you can see the average fantasy points per game at QB and RB over the past three years.

QBRB
1-622.317.5
7-1218.813.0
13-1815.711.4
19-2413.510.2

The drop from a high end starting QB to low end starting QB is only 3.5 PPG. The drop to a backup QB, the type of QB you can get on the waiver wire after the draft, is only just another 3.1 PPG.

Wheras the drop from a high end starting RB to a low end starting RB (RB19-24) is much more dramatic at 7.4 PPG. And good luck finding a long term RB starter on the waiver wire.

If you were to draft a high-end QB1 and a low-end RB1 you would expect roughly 35.3 PPG from them. Whereas if you were to draft a high-end RB1 and a high-end QB2 you would expect around 33.2 PPG.

The production is very similar, but the cost isn't. The first scenario would cost you a late first-round pick and a fourth-round pick. The second scenario would cost you an early first-round pick and a tenth-round pick.

The point being, it is usually a waste to spend an early pick on QB when you can get very comparable production for free at the end of your draft.

Predictability

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QB production tends to be predictable on a week-to-week basis since they touch the ball every snap. This gives them an extremely high number of guaranteed touches, resulting in a very safe floor.

So you can grab a QB who is locked into the starting role and guaranteed touches in the late rounds, or you can take a dart throw at a different position on players who might not even see the field and are therefore far more likely to bust.

In contrast, QB production is not very predictable on a season-to-season basis. QB scoring is largely predicated on their touchdown totals, which is not reliable and can change a lot each year.

Over the last three years, of the top 12 QBs to be drafted, only 75% finished as QB1s. The elite quarterbacks are no exception to this, of the top six QBs in ADP over the past three years, only 44% finished top six in scoring. This suggests that we should debunk the common misconception that you are taking a safe approach by grabbing a quarterback early.

The number of guaranteed touches a quarterback sees every week makes predicting their yardage totals a somewhat straightforward process. But due to the extreme volatility in touchdowns each year, successfully picking an elite quarterback is a lot more of a gamble than it seems.

This is why you are better off taking a late-round QB. They still have very safe floors due to their yardage, and they could even end up being a stud if the touchdowns bounce their way that year. And even if he isn't a stud, you still got a reliable player for your fantasy team for very cheap.

Flexibility and Matchups

Being tied to one option because you picked him early and sacrificed other valuable early picks means having to start him every week. Even if he starts the season off slow you are likely to just continue to roll him out there each week in the hopes that it will get better since you invested so heavily.

Whereas if your late-round QB sucks you can easily drop him and pick up another. And another. And another after that if you have to, giving you many chances at a top QB option and costing you nothing. Having this kind of flexibility gives you the opportunity to take chances on multiple quarterbacks who look like they are about to break out, without being tied down if it doesn't work out.

On top of that, by streaming QBs, I can constantly have my fantasy QB matchup against the worst defenses in the league all season. Even mediocre QBs can put up elite numbers if the matchup is right.

Punting Tight End

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Streaming tight ends is not quite as popular as streaming quarterbacks, likely due to a shortage of tight end talent, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthy strategy.

Superstars

I want to preface this discussion of streaming tight ends by saying I am not opposed to taking Travis Kelce or Mark Andrews early in drafts. They are true difference makers and are leaps and bounds ahead of their competition at the tight end position in terms of risk, reliability, and overall production.

In addition, they are being drafted around wide receivers who put up very similar statistics. But an elite wide receiver is far easier to replace than an elite tight end, so please don't feel discouraged from taking one of the elite tight ends if the opportunity presents itself.

However, if I miss out on the superstars, I am likely waiting on tight end until very late in the draft. The mid-round tight ends are generally not worth the price of admission.

Overvalued Mid-Round Tight Ends

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Missing out on the elite tight ends can feel bad but don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Spending up on a mid-tier guy likely isn’t the solution. This chart shows the tight ends drafted in the middle rounds last year and where they ended up finishing.

Player2021 ADP2021 TE ADP2021 FinishDifference
Kyle Pitts4.0847-3
Mark Andrews5.05514
T.J. Hockenson5.06615-9
Logan Thomas6.10745-38
Noah Fant7.06812-4
Dallas Goedert8.04910-1
Robert Tonyan Jr.8.081049-39
Mike Gesicki9.0611110
Tyler Higbee9.101214-2

Only one out of the nine tight ends drafted between rounds four and nine last year finished better than their TE ADP.

This wasn't a flukey year either. Over the past three years there have been 28 tight ends drafted in the middle rounds, three finished better than their TE ADP, two finished equal to it, and 23 finished worse.

Once the studs are gone fantasy owners get desperate. They panic about filling the tight end slot due to the lack of consistent production at the position. They end up over-valuing and over-drafting mid-tier guys with huge red flags.

Instead, owners should be targeting late-round breakout options that most people are sleeping on. Many of these players have as much upside as the mid-round tight ends without the high price tag.

Flexibility and Matchups

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The benefits of streaming tight end and quarterback do overlap in terms of flexibility and matchups.

Similar to QB you are not tied to one option. Getting stuck with a bad option you paid up for is a tricky situation. People who drafted Noah Fant last year likely got stuck with him for far too long. This may have cost them matchups as well as opportunities to pick up suitable replacements off the waiver wire.

Playing the matchups for tight end is also very similar compared to quarterback. The main difference is that there isn’t always clear tight end to start against teams that struggle to defend the position. Whereas there is almost always a clear quarterback to start.

But if you can identify those high-scoring matchups to take advantage of, you can find tight ends that deliver touchdown upside every single week at no cost to your team.


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