Sleeper fantasy QB candidates for 2018

Cincinnati, OH, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) runs in for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Turning our sights to the 2018 season, we’re spending the Tuesdays and Thursdays of March looking at fantasy sleeper and bust candidates at each position. This week we start with quarterbacks.

To determine which quarterbacks would be considered possible sleepers, I decided to use the early 2018 PFF rankings of PFF Fantasy’s Jeff Ratcliffe, Scott Barrett, Dan Clasgens, Pat Thorman, and Daniel Kelley. I deemed a player a potential “sleeper” if his consensus ranking was 15th or lower at the position.

Below are this year’s top sleeper candidates at the quarterback position.

Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

Trubisky is the deepest sleeper candidate in our list, coming off a rookie season in which he finished with just seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions. To be fair, Trubisky didn’t have a lot to work with in the passing game once the Bears lost Cameron Meredith in the preseason and then starting tight end Zach Miller in Week 8.

The Bears have hired former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as their new head coach, which should also be good news for Trubisky. Nagy took over play-calling duties for the Chiefs in December and has been credited with getting the offense back on track down the stretch.

Kansas City ran the second-most run-pass option plays in 2017 according to PFF and that strategy will likely be strongly featured in the Bears offense next season. One of the positive aspects of Trubisky’s rookie season was that he rushed for 248 yards on 41 carries and two touchdowns.

Chicago does have an above-average pair of running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen that Nagy will utilize in both the rushing and passing game. The speedy Cohen caught 53 passes for 358 yards in his rookie season, posting three total touchdowns. Howard finished as a fantasy RB1 for the second consecutive season. The Bears will have a healthy Meredith ready for training camp (assuming the team retains him, as he is a restricted free agent) and may have their tight end of the future in Adam Shaheen. The 6-foot-6 Shaheen scored two touchdowns in the final four games and looks to have developed a nice rapport with Trubisky.

Eli Manning, New York Giants

The 2017 season was a nightmare for not only Manning but the entire Giants team. Manning had one of his worst seasons, failing to reach 20 passing touchdowns for just the third time in his 14-year career. This led to a Week 13 benching of Manning, which in turn led to the firing of head coach Ben McAdoo.

To be fair, Manning had very few offensive weapons for much of the season as injuries decimated the wide receiver position. Heading into the year, New York’s passing offense seemed primed for a big season with Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard as the top three wide receivers. Instead, the trio would miss a combined 27 games due to injury. In a Week 11 win over the Chiefs, Manning’s wide receivers were Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, and Kalif Raymond. Three of the four are undrafted free agents, while King was a fifth-round selection in the 2013 draft by the Broncos — not exactly a murderer’s row of receiving options.

While it’s iffy that Marshall will return heading into the 2018 season, Manning will have Beckham back, along with Shepard who put up 731 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. Tight end Evan Engram will look to improve on a fantasy-impressive rookie season that saw him lead the team in receptions (64) and receiving touchdowns (six). Even at 37 years old, Manning should be able to bounce back in 2018 with this group of talented receiving options.

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs apparently saw enough in the preseason, practice, and a Week 17 start by Mahomes to feel comfortable turning the offense over to the second-year quarterback. With Alex Smith now a member of the Washington Redskins, Mahomes will take over an offense that ranked fifth in overall yards per game last season with an average of 375.4.

In his lone start, Mahomes led Kansas City to a victory over Denver, completing 22 of 35 passes for 284 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Mahomes flashed his deep-ball skills, hooking up with tight end Demetrius Harris for a 51-yard completion. The huge numbers that Mahomes put up in his final two seasons at Texas Tech led to the Chiefs trading up and selecting him 10th overall in last year’s draft. In those two years Mahomes threw for more than 9,700 yards with 77 touchdown passes and added 22 rushing touchdowns.

Dual threat quarterbacks can be fantasy gold and Mahomes certainly fits the bill. It also helps that Mahomes has elite offensive weapons at every skill position heading into 2018. Tight end Travis Kelce, running back Kareem Hunt and wide receiver Tyreek Hill were all top five fantasy scorers at their respective positions last season. The departed Smith also finished as a top five quarterback and there is little reason to doubt that Mahomes can finish at least in the top ten.

Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

Since taking over as the starting quarterback for the Bills in 2015, Taylor has consistently put up production with both his arm and legs. In the past three years, Taylor has averaged 2,952 passing yards and 525 rushing yards per season. He’s posted 65 total touchdowns in that time while turning the ball over just 21 times.

Taylor has managed to put up QB2 fantasy numbers while playing for one of the run-heaviest offenses in the league. In his three seasons in Buffalo the Bills have had the second-highest or highest run percentage every year. Taylor has completed at least 60 percent of his passes since taking over the offense with less-than-stellar wide receiving options over that time. Last season’s acquisitions at the position — Jordan Matthews and Kelvin Benjamin — struggled with injuries, combining for just 41 receptions with two touchdowns in 16 games with the team.

Taylor is the dual-threat player fantasy owners love, but unfortunately the Bills don’t seem sold on him as their quarterback of the future. Ideally Taylor is traded or released and lands on a team that runs a more open style of offense that will utilize his skill set. If he remains the Bills starter, then leaning less on an aging LeSean McCoy and more on the passing game would boost Taylor’s value to low-end QB 1 potential.

Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

Heading into the 2017 season, Mariota had an average draft position as the 10th quarterback off the board. But he seemed to regress in his third season. After throwing 26 touchdowns in 2016 Mariota only managed to throw half as many last season and threw a career-high 15 interceptions. On the plus side, Mariota rushed for a career-high five touchdowns and lost just a single fumble.

Entering his fourth NFL season, Mariota will be playing for his third head coach as Mike Vrabel takes the reins. It’s encouraging that new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur has talked about opening up the offense after Tennessee attempted just 53 passes of 20-plus yards last season according to PFF. It will also benefit Mariota to have a healthy and developing Corey Davis as his top wide receiver in 2018.

A hamstring injury hampered Davis during his rookie season — he was limited to playing just 517 regular-season snaps. While Davis failed to reach the end zone in the regular season, he finished his rookie campaign by hauling in a pair of touchdowns in the Titans’ playoff loss to new England. The Titans rushing attack should set up plenty of play-action opportunities for Mariota and Davis will be his main target. Tennessee has a premier tight end in Delanie Walker coming off his fourth consecutive top-10 fantasy finish. Mariota is too talented to finish as anything less than a No. 1 quarterback in 2018.


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