Philip Rivers tops late-round fantasy draft QB values

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That smell in the air isn't fresh cut grass, a neighbor's barbecue or a late-night bonfire. No, friends, that is the smell of football, and it's getting more and more potent with each passing day. As the 2016 NFL season bears down on us, so too does the fantasy season. Drafts will be starting in a matter of weeks (though I'd advise you to wait as long as possible), and countless fantasy enthusiasts are mock drafting right now to perfect their strategies as the clock winds down to showtime.

As a result, we're getting some interesting average draft position (ADP) data to sift through in the hopes of finding late-round positional values. Getting elite players at the top of fantasy drafts is important, but scooping up late-round gems is just as, if not more, critical when it comes to hoisting a championship trophy come January. With that in mind, we'll continue the positional series started by Matt Franciscovich last week. While he highlighted several tight end targets for the end of fantasy drafts, I'm turning my attention to the guys behind center. Sure, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton look enticing early, but once you see the upside in some of these late-round options it might be time for you to finally wait on a quarterback. Below are six of my favorite late-round quarterback targets based on their current ADP.

The crown jewel: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers


As of right now, Philip Rivers is the crown jewel of the late-round quarterback strategy. He's hovering around the 11th or 12th signal-caller drafted across NFL.com, MyFantasyLeague.com, and FantasyFootballCalculator.com, presenting a massive value for those waiting on the position. Rivers is falling in drafts after finishing as the QB12 last season, but that was largely due to the inordinate amount of injuries that befell the poor San Diego offense. Keenan Allen, Ladarius Green, Malcom Floyd, Stevie Johnson, Antonio Gates, and Melvin Gordon all missed portions of the season, while Rivers' offensive line was decimated with injuries across the board. Heading into 2016, Rivers should have his full complement of weapons, with the younger, speedier Travis Benjamin joining the squad to replace the departed Floyd. Plus, he welcomes back Ken Whisenhunt as his offensive coordinator -- an addition that can't be discounted.

The last time Whisenhunt was calling the shots for Rivers, the Baron of the Bolo-tie posted one of his best statistical years. Rivers completed a career-high 69.5 percent of his passes, finish fourth in the league in yards (4,478), fifth in passing touchdowns (32) and sixth in fantasy scoring (18 fppg average), despite finishing 22nd in pass attempts. His completion percentage wasn't inflated by short passing either, as he posted 8.2 yards per attempt, the fourth-highest mark of his career. Talks that Rivers has lost a step entering his age-34 season are overblown. From Week 1 to 8 in 2015, Rivers was the QB2 in fantasy with six games where he posted 19.9 or more fantasy points. Week 8, of course, was when Keenan Allen suffered his lacerated kidney and the San Diego offense truly began to crumble. With Allen potentially on the verge of a breakout campaign and the San Diego offense boasting the deepest, most talented receiving corps of Rivers' career, it's not hard to see why Rivers could be one of the steals of fantasy drafts for whomever is lucky enough to select in him the early double-digit rounds.

The red-headed stepchild: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals


Much like the red-headed stepchild trope in TV and literature, Andy Dalton has somehow gotten lost in the quarterback shuffle this offseason, as his ADP is sinking to anywhere from the 14th to the 18th quarterback drafted, depending on the site. This is somewhat surprising considering Dalton was the QB5 through 13 weeks last year (he broke his thumb in Week 14), and was a mere 8.8 fantasy points out of third place at the time. However, the departures of Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and most importantly Hue Jackson are likely the reasons for Dalton's slide. Still, this makes the Red Rilfe a potential value for those who believe his rise wasn't all due to Jackson, but also his own development and the emergence of Tyler Eifert.

The loss of Jones and Sanu is big, though, as both were above-average players that the Bengals have so far replaced with journeyman Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd -- a definite step back. Jones and Sanu leave behind 152 targets from 2015, but if the team shifts more of those passes toward Giovani Bernard, their loss could be mitigated. This logic falls in line with what the Bengals have done offensively in recent seasons, as 167 of Dalton's throws in 2015 (43.3 percent) traveled 5 or fewer yards past the line of scrimmage. Bernard is sure-handed (career 75.5 catch percentage) and dynamic after the catch, and an increased role for him could help cover up the deficiencies in the games of LaFell and Boyd. Likewise, a healthy Tyler Eifert could see an expanded role outside of the red zone, where he was utterly dominant in 2015 (15 targets, 12 catches, 106 yards, 11 touchdowns). Lastly, while Hue Jackson's departure could hurt Dalton, his quarterback coach of the last five years, Ken Zampese, is taking over as the OC to keep a much-needed level of consistency. No one in that organization should know Dalton better than Zampese, and he'll do everything possible to put his quarterback in advantageous situations as Jackson did before him. Those adjustments led to Dalton posting career-bests in completion percentage (66.1), touchdown percentage (6.5), interception percentage (1.8) and yards per attempt (8.4). If Dalton can maintain that level of efficiency as a passer under Zampese, he could easily finish 2016 as a top-10 quarterback -- a huge value for late-round signal-caller.

The young bucks: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota

I recently took a deep look at both of these sophomore signal-callers, giving Jameis Winston the slight edge in fantasy for 2016, but both he and Marcus Mariota are excellent late-round targets once the elite quarterbacks are off the board. Each operates in a young offense chock full of talent, and each showed immense potential as a rookie passer. When deciding between these two, it comes down to whether you value the pieces around them on offense, or Mariota's added boost from his ability as a rusher. For me, I gave the nod by a hair to Winston largely due to the presence of Mike Evans, Doug Martin and Charles Sims, but it's hard to find too much fault when taking a shot on either of these ascending young passers in the last few rounds of fantasy drafts.

The forgotten one: Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

This is basically going to be a re-tread of what I wrote earlier this offseason when I pegged Tyrod Taylor as one of my top deep sleeper candidates, so if you read that feel free to skip ahead. Despite solid production last year, Taylor remains criminally underrated in early fantasy drafts as he's currently going as the 18th or 19th quarterback off the board. He missed two games with injuries in 2015, but had spurts of fantastic fantasy production. From Weeks 1-4 (pre-injury), he was the fourth-highest scoring quarterback, and from Weeks 9-17 (returning from injury), he was the ninth-highest scoring quarterback. Overall, he averaged 19.33 fantasy points per game in 2015, which extrapolated to 16 games (far from an exact science) would have netted Taylor a whopping 309.28 fantasy points. That would have earned him a fifth-place finish among all fantasy quarterbacks. Now, Taylor isn't a perfect passer by any stretch, but he's competent enough, has an elite wideout in Sammy Watkins and has the rushing ability to give him a safe weekly floor and a ridiculously high weekly ceiling. He averaged roughly .60 fantasy points per drop back all season, a solid number for running quarter backs. Of course, there are concerns too, namely that we still don't have a 100 percent clear picture on how Watkins will return from offseason foot surgery (reports are he should be fine by Week 1, but we'll see), and that the Bills still haven't ponied up the dough to extend Taylor. They see him in practice and in the meeting rooms every day, so perhaps they aren't sold yet. Either way, TyGOD is playing for a new contract and put up excellent numbers last season. If I miss out on Rivers in drafts later this summer, I'll gladly wait a few more rounds and try to nab Taylor, as his upside is tremendous in 2016. In TyGOD we trust.

The "elite" super late-round value: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens


Oh yeah, that guy. It's easy to forget about Joe Flacco in fantasy as we approach draft season, as he tore his ACL in Week 11 last year, and has never finished as a top-10 fantasy quarterback in his eight-year career (his best finish was as the QB11 in 2010). Yet, with Flacco on track to be ready for training camp, his injury questions become less of a concern. That could make him worth a late-round dart for those in deeper or two-QB leagues in desperate need of a quarterback.

There are two main reasons why it'd be worth taking a shot at Flacco: Marc Trestman is his OC, and the Ravens defense could put the team into a handful of negative game scripts. Last season the defense had the second-worst touchdowns allowed to interceptions ratio in the NFL (31-to-6), behind only the New Orleans Saints (45-to-9). The defensive line is aging and the secondary has been struggling to find a replacement at safety ever since Ed Reed left town, which could lead to the Ravens falling behind a fair amount and needing to pass the ball to catch up. Pairing this with a coordinator who has historically run pass-heavy offenses (Trestman's NFL offenses as an OC or head coach on average finish with the eighth-most attempts each year), and the potential is there for Flacco to post a surprisingly robust statistical year. Of course, this will also depend on his pass-catchers, who right now look to be led by Kamar Aiken and Mike Wallace. Still, considering Flacco is being drafted as roughly the QB22 across several sites right now, his "elite" late-round value is evident. I'd recommend going quarterback-by-committee if you opt to select Flacco though, as backing him up with another late-round option would be wise to cover any potential hiccups in his recovery from a torn ACL.

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-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar

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