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NFL fantasy football: Don't pass on elite quarterbacks

Pretty soon the running back position will be non-existent, and we'll have to change all the fantasy rules to accommodate it. Imagine, every week starting two quarterbacks and six wide receivers. This could be fantasy football in the year 2020.

Okay, maybe not really, but we're certainly getting there. Every year teams throw the football more and more, and this trend isn't going to stop any time soon. The elite fantasy running back is a dying breed, which is why once again there's such a huge emphasis on getting as many as you can - because you'll be able to get your starting quarterback in the later rounds. This is a very popular philosophy around the halls here at the NFL, but that's only somewhat true. I'm going to show you why you should still get your elite quarterback early. If you can't get one of them, only then is there no harm in waiting until later.

First, the math portion of this column:

-In 2005, Seven quarterbacks had more than 500 pass attempts. One had over 600 (Brett Favre).
-In 2012, 18 quarterbacks had more than 500 pass attempts. Six had over 600 and one topped 700 ( Matthew Stafford).

Everyone's chucking it up. Even Brandon Weeden was over the 500 mark in 2012. So why not wait until the later rounds to get your quarterback? After all, if there are plenty of guys throwing it that many times, you're going to get a good one, right? This is where you have to be careful.

Even though everyone has more pass attempts than they've ever had, it doesn't automatically close the fantasy gap between the garden variety quarterback and the elite. The best quarterbacks are still the best. Let's use Tony Romo as an example, who has been a pretty dependable and reliable fantasy signal-caller for most of his career. I can't tell you how many times this offseason I've heard someone say "I'll wait and get Romo late in 2013 and I'll win my league." Let's say five years ago Drew Brees was averaging 275 fantasy points for a season and Romo was at 220. Just because Romo's up to 278 in 2012 doesn't mean he's elite, because Brees and the rest of the leaders now hover around 345 points.

The top fantasy quarterbacks all had at least 65 more fantasy points than Romo did last season. That's a pretty big margin. Everyone's numbers are going up. That includes the elite quarterbacks as well. Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are still the cream of the fantasy crop (with Cam Newton and Peyton Manning just behind). You improve your chances to win immensely by drafting one of those players, because they still put up way more points than the second-tier guys.

Now, let's say you don't get one of the quarterbacks I mentioned above. This is why it's okay to wait until later on to draft your quarterback: the next level of guys below the best ones are all the same. Because everyone's throwing, the margin between the above-average signal-caller and the average one has been thinned quickly.

Let's do a little more math:

-Seven quarterbacks had more than 300 fantasy points in 2012.
-Zero quarterbacks had between 280 and 300 fantasy points in 2012.
-12 quarterbacks had between 220 and 280 fantasy points in 2012.

Let's use Romo again, who finished eight overall in fantasy points for quarterbacks in 2012. There was virtually no difference between Romo, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford (all between 275 and 280 points). Andy Dalton was 12th on the list of fantasy points for the season with 250. So if you're in a 12-team league, by the numbers, Dalton was the 12th best quarterback you could play, and a likely starter for someone. His numbers put him in the same ballpark as Romo's group, so you can lump all those guys together. But Dalton was nearly 100 fantasy points behind Brees, Brady and Rodgers, which is a huge gap. Below Dalton, but within a few points of him, were Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and even Sam Bradford. I wouldn't be excited about starting any of those guys in 2013, but you can't ignore how they're close in production to Romo, Luck, Wilson and Stafford.

The bottom line is this: While quarterbacks are throwing it more and their point totals are rising, the best ones are still head and shoulders above the next level of players below them. So if you can't get one of the elite, which will put you at a disadvantage, then at least waiting won't put you at a disadvantage with other owners who didn't get one of those quarterbacks either, because you'll do just as well with Romo as you would with most, if not all, of the other players I mentioned above.

Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. He hosts NFL Fantasy Live during the regular season on the NFL Network, and you can download the weekly NFL Fantasy Live podcast with him alongside Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison. Talk to him on twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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