If you have been playing fantasy football as long as I have, waiting to draft a quarterback isn't exactly a ground-breaking concept. Running backs ruled the roost and dominated the earlier rounds in the past, as superstars like Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson were virtual locks to rush for boatloads of yards and make double-digit trips to the end zone. There were no backfield committees or goal-line vultures to ruin their value or cause us such headaches, either.
Of course, that was in the early- to mid-2000s. It was a time when a select few quarterbacks threw the football over 600 times or reached the 4,000-yard mark. Just to drive the point home, consider the 2005 campaign - two signal-callers (Tom Brady, Trent Green) threw for over 4,000 yards and neither had more than 4,110. Furthermore, Brett Favre was the lone quarterback with over 600 pass attempts.
Times have changed, though - just take a look at what quarterbacks did in the stat sheets last season.
Matthew Stafford set an NFL record with 727 pass attempts, breaking the previous record held by Drew Bledsoe (691) in 1994. Overall, six different quarterbacks recorded 600-plus pass attempts. Six. That number jumps all the way to 18 in terms of field generals who threw for the ball 500-plus times. In 2005, seven players had 500-plus attempts.
Here's another interesting nugget to wrap your fantasy brain around -- eight of the top 11 single-season passing attempt leaders in NFL history have been established over the last three years. That's amazing. This new trend of field generals burning up the stat sheets is going to make a lot of fantasy owners believe that the days of the running back being the top position in fantasy football are over.
Well, despite a slight change of heart last season - I told fantasy owners to grab an elite quarterback if a dependable runner wasn't on the board in the earlier rounds - I am 100 percent back on the running back bandwagon (really, I never left). I am no longer even considering quarterbacks in the first four to five rounds. Truth be told, I never felt right about advising people to pass on runners - the position just had so many question marks entering 2012 (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Rashard Mendenhall were all coming off major knee injuries) that it was more of a risk than in past seasons.
So now I'm telling you, my fantasy friends, that you should absolutely, positively ignore the temptation of grabbing a quarterback in the earlier rounds. I don't care if it's Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Brady -- remember the words of former first lady Nancy Reagan -- "Just Say No!"
I know, I know, your friends are going to pressure you into going after a signal-caller. "It's a passing league, how can you overlook someone like Rodgers in favor of a running back?"
Again, don't fall into the trap.
The fact of the matter is that drafting a quarterback in the first few rounds is like spending $50,000 for a new car when you can get one just as good for $25,000 at another dealership. In fantasy terms, this is what is called "relative worth." This term assists fantasy owners in determining which player(s) and position(s) is the most important when it comes time to draft. So when one of the fellow owners in your league says that it's ridiculous to draft Trent Richardson over Rodgers because the latter scores far more points, well, I don't see that as a factor in constructing a championship-caliber squad. Instead, you should be looking to target a position in each round that offers the best relative value.
Here's an example -- which player between Cam Newton and Peyton Manning had more value last season? Some would argue Newton, just based on the fact that he scored 12.40 more fantasy points. But when you consider that Newton (10.36 ADP) cost a first- or second-round pick and Manning (51.34 ADP) had an average draft position of Round 6, Manning was clearly the better value. He wasn't the lone great draft bargain at his position, either. Josh Freeman and Andy Dalton aren't elite field generals, but each of them had lengthy stretches where they were considered must-start options. Both were drafted on average in Round 14. I can tell you this -- it's going to be a lot tougher to get that kind of value at the running back position.
Fantasy owners should also keep in mind that most leagues require just one starting quarterback. On the flip side, you could end up starting three running backs and/or three wide receivers each week. So if you're talking about a 10-team league, a total of 10 signal-callers will be started per week. At the same time, you could see as many as 40 backs and wideouts active throughout the league. So which positions are more valuable? Now, I can understand owners who wanted to target a field general back in the day because there were fewer of them posting huge totals. But that was then, and this is now...
Nowadays, even rookie quarterbacks are thriving.
Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson all finished in the top 10 in scoring at the position and in the top 12 overall. Other veterans like Matt Ryan, Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford posted nice totals. Stafford, despite what was a down year compared to 2011, still posted just under 5,000 passing yards and 24 total touchdowns. Colin Kaepernick, who led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl, has now moved into one of the upper tiers at the position. Guys like Griffin III, Luck, Wilson and Kaepernick also post terrific totals on the ground, which just adds to their draft appeal.
Next, let's discuss what can happen when you use one of your first four to five picks on a quarterback.
In my experience, that is a virtual guarantee that I will be forced to start a running back and/or wide receiver that I have less confidence in to produce. Here's another way to look at things -- a starting quarterback would have to rank in the top 10 in fantasy points at his position to be considered a legitimate starter. That number swells to 20 or even 30 per starting running back and wide receiver, depending on the size of the league. Really, this is simple supply vs. demand.
Why use an early-round pick on a position that has an abundance of options?
The bottom line here is quite easy to understand. Draft running backs and wide receivers early and often -- that means waiting on a quarterback until at least the fourth or fifth round. Let someone else take Rodgers. Pass on Brady and Brees. Don't call the name Newton. I can almost guarantee you this: the owners who use an early-round pick on a field general are going to have holes at either running back, wide receiver ... or both. In the meantime, you'll have a loaded backfield and core of wideouts while starting a non-elite but still solid quarterback like Romo, Ryan or Stafford.
Owners who want to wait even longer to fill the position (Round 8 and beyond) could go with a two-quarterback, matchup-based philosophy that includes (for example) Dalton and Freeman or Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Whichever player has the more favorable opponent is the one to start in a given week. Regardless, you'll be in a great position to land at least two running backs and two wide receivers who will see a good number of touches and targets. Keep this in mind also -- only two runners have finished in the top 10 in fantasy points at their position without seeing 200 or more total touches. Among quarterbacks, RG3, Wilson and Newton finished with fewer than 500 pass attempts -- and all three still ranked among the 10-best fantasy quarterbacks.
So when it comes time to draft your fantasy team, just say no to the temptation of taking a signal-caller. Use common sense - your chances of winning a 2013 league championship depend on it.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!