The recency bias — our tendency to trust the most recent result first — tends to grab hold after a record-setting season such as Patrick Mahomes‘ in 2018, so here is your reminder: It is not imperative that you build your fantasy football team around a quarterback via the draft. That might be true on the gridiron, but it’s certainly not true in our game, where you can stream quarterbacks.
Mahomes’ single-season record-setting 417.1 fantasy points in 2018 might give the impression that quarterbacks can lead you to a league championship, but the only part of that argument that holds water is that Mahomes did so only because of how little he cost you at the draft table: He was the No. 16 quarterback and No. 122 player off the board, on average, in ESPN leagues. Bang for the buck.
The leaguewide single-season record of 8,824.4 fantasy points scored by the position as a whole also might grant said impression, but again, the argument carries little weight because of the distribution of said points across all quarterbacks.
Consider this: If we compared Mahomes’ performance to what the NFL’s league-average starting quarterback would’ve amassed in a 16-game schedule, his 2018 was actually only the 10th-best season in the game’s history. In fact, Peyton Manning’s 2013 actually delivered his teams more points relative to the league average, as did Tom Brady’s 2007 and both Drew Brees’ and Aaron Rodgers’ 2011.
Again, bang for the buck, as while Mahomes’ performance was historically great even considering these facts, had you paid a top-quarterback-in-the-game price to acquire him — as you most certainly will have to this year — he’d have provided you less of a return than you might think.
There were also a single-season record eight quarterbacks who reached the 300-point plateau in fantasy in 2018, and a record 14 who reached 280, further illustrating how the bar for scoring has been raised across the position’s entirety. As their scores increase in the upper tiers, they do so closer to the position’s replacement level (defined as the typical performance you could expect from any player freely available on your league’s waiver wire in any given week).
That’s why the “streaming quarterbacks” strategy has grown in relevance alongside the positional rise in scoring. Since so many quarterbacks can deliver you a lofty fantasy point total nowadays, there’s an argument to be made for paying an absolute minimum for them at the draft table, then piecing the position together throughout the year.
How, then, does one employ such a strategy?
Your draft-day approach
To start off, “streaming quarterbacks” should never be misinterpreted as “Take your quarterback last.” Quarterbacks still generate more fantasy points than any other position in the game — nearly five full points more than any other individual spot in a standard (10-team ESPN leagues). Deliberately ignoring the position at the draft is a lazy approach that runs the risk of dipping you too deep into the streaming — or worse, replacement-level — pool, and it also takes you out of the bargain-shopping market, where you can often find a lot of matchups value.
Mahomes, who is currently going 17th overall in ESPN live drafts, becomes a stronger selection the longer he lingers in the draft, but he’s not worth that price because unless he repeats his 2018 performance, he won’t provide you enough of a return to justify it. Worse yet, selecting him anywhere close to that soon will make you hesitant to ever bench him, even facing one of the league’s toughest defenses while another quarterback on your roster or the free-agent list presents the much better chance at the bigger score.
While that’s an extreme example of an unlikely scenario, always be prepared to bench your quarterback if he’s not aligned to deliver you a worthy weekly fantasy point total. What if Mahomes looks human in September, directly in advance of a tough Baltimore Ravens matchup in Week 3? It could happen, even if the odds seem awfully low today.
As is, Deshaun Watson should give Mahomes a run for the position’s top point total in 2019, and the ESPN projections agree: Mahomes is projected for 332.5 points, Watson 319.6, with the difference being effectively a rushing score and 70 rushing yards, or a pair of passing scores and 125 passing yards. Aaron Rodgers, incidentally, is 8.2 points behind Watson in the projections, and a whopping 17 quarterbacks are projected to score 270-plus points.
Since my research reflects that those in 10- or 12-team leagues should be able to have a relatively easy time drafting a quarterback who can deliver a 17-point weekly average — there was an average of 13 of them per week who scored that many during the past five seasons — there’s no reason to take a passer projected to average 20.8 points per game before the fifth round, unless you somehow believe Mahomes will repeat.
If Mahomes lasts that long, he’s well worth the price, as Watson would be in Round 6, Andrew Luck, Rodgers or Matt Ryan in Round 8 or 9, or Baker Mayfield, Cam Newton or Russell Wilson in Round 10. Be prepared to pounce when a quarterback falls — if it does happen in your league — because the best way to employ a streamer’s strategy is to pair your play with a more proven option you bench when he’s on bye or facing a mediocre-to-poor matchup.
Be active with starts/sit moves, but know that the fill-ins almost always come at little-to-no cost, at least in single-quarterback leagues.
Week-by-week streaming planner
During the regular season, the goal is to activate the quarterback who faces the most appealing matchup, whether drawing from an option already on your roster or adding one available via free agency.
Returning to that number 17, which slips to about 14.5 in either a 10-team, two-quarterback league or a 16-team league, that needs be your weekly point-total goal. If the quarterback doesn’t have a realistic chance at getting there, move on to one who will, even if that means benching the one you drafted for a waiver-wire add.
Using fantasy points allowed, which we’ll provide throughout the season, it’s easy to determine which defenses offer the best/worst matchups for your quarterbacks. My weekly Matchups Map provides an even more recent look, using only the most recent five weeks’ data in order to account for injuries and team trends.
In the past five seasons combined, there were 90 instances of a completely undrafted quarterback scoring at least 17 points while facing one of the season’s eight worst defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. That’s an average of barely more than one per week, but if we then raise the bar to include those selected in Rounds 10-16 — players who are often freely mixed and matched, added and dropped, based upon performance — then 206 quarterbacks reached that threshold (an average of 2.4 per week).
Here are some specific quarterbacks and their matchups that, at the onset of the season, stand out as likely streaming candidates. Remember that team defensive performance does tend to shift dramatically from year to year — and sometimes even week to week — so a good Week 8 matchup today might no longer be so when that week comes around.
Week 5: Mitchell Trubisky (@OAK), Kirk Cousins (@NYG), Kyler Murray (@CIN), Nick Foles (@CAR) and Marcus Mariota (BUF).
Week 8: Marcus Mariota (TB), Kirk Cousins (WSH), Matthew Stafford (NYG), Derek Carr (@HOU) and Jameis Winston (@TEN).
Week 9: Matthew Stafford (@OAK), Kyler Murray (SF), Jameis Winston (@SEA), Kirk Cousins (@KC) and Marcus Mariota (@CAR).
Week 10: Philip Rivers (@OAK), Kyler Murray (@TB), Jimmy Garoppolo (SEA), Sam Darnold (NYG) and Marcus Mariota (KC). This is a remarkably deep week for potential streamers, considering six other teams are on bye.
Week 11: Kyler Murray (@SF), Philip Rivers (KC), Andy Dalton (@OAK), Derek Carr (CIN) and Matthew Stafford (DAL).
Week 12: Sam Darnold (OAK), Mitchell Trubisky (NYG), Matthew Stafford (@WSH), Jameis Winston (@ATL) and Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins (DET). This shapes up as one of the weaker weeks for streaming, with four teams on bye.
Week 13: Kirk Cousins (@SEA), Lamar Jackson (SF), Nick Foles (TB), Derek Carr (@KC) and Sam Darnold (@CIN).
Week 14: Marcus Mariota (@OAK), Mitchell Trubisky (DAL), Joe Flacco (@HOU), Sam Darnold (MIA) and Philip Rivers (@JAX).
Week 15: Matthew Stafford (TB), Nick Foles (@OAK), Jimmy Garoppolo (ATL), Marcus Mariota (HOU) and Joe Flacco (@KC).
Week 16: Philip Rivers (OAK), Kyler Murray (@SEA), Mitchell Trubisky (KC), Jameis Winston (HOU) and Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins (NYG).
Week 17: Excluded due to the likelihood of playoff teams resting starters.
As you can see, Winston stands out as an excellent draft-day value, due to his low ADP (166th overall) combined with his extremely favorable first-month schedule, including three straight plus matchups to begin the campaign. He’d be an ideal late-round selection for, say, Rodgers’ managers, who should be aware he begins the year facing the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos.
Garoppolo and Dalton, too, match up well in the season’s initial weeks, making them strong bench picks for streaming purposes.