Published On: Tue, Jun 5th, 2018

Fantasy: Which QBs will exceed expectations in 2018?

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Get ready for your season with theScore’s 2018 Fantasy Football Draft Kit.

Waiting on quarterbacks has become the norm for fantasy owners looking to maximize value on draft day, but you still need to hit on the right players for the strategy to be most effective.

Let’s see if we can identify this year’s crop of late-round or undrafted quarterbacks who will outproduce expectations to emerge as low-end fantasy starters, or at least streaming options.

Mitch Trubisky

The second overall pick didn’t see the field until Week 5 last season, as the Bears decided it was best for him to sit and watch bridge-starter Mike Glennon embarrass himself with eight turnovers in four games. Trubisky had his own struggles, failing to throw for more than one touchdown in any game, and only topping the 200-yard mark three times. However, he showed promise down the stretch, finishing as the QB14 in fantasy over the final five contests.

Gone is John Fox’s archaic coaching staff, replaced by a bright offensive mind in Matt Nagy, who most recently served as the Chiefs’ coordinator. As Warren Sharp of Sharp Football points out, Trubisky was miscast in 2017, lining up under center 50 percent of the time after primarily playing out of shotgun in college. Nagy’s new offense will employ more shotgun concepts, making it better suited to his young quarterback’s strengths.

Trubisky will also have a much more talented supporting cast in his sophomore year, with the team investing in free-agent wideouts Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, as well as tight end Trey Burton. Even second-round receiver Anthony Miller could be an immediate contributor thanks to his polished route running.

It’s likely Trubisky goes undrafted in most fantasy leagues, meaning owners in deeper formats can select him in the final rounds as an upside backup, or can be ready to scoop him up off the waiver wire if he starts the season strong. No one should enter the year relying on the Bears’ young passer, but in a perfect scenario, he could crack the top 15 and emerge as a solid streaming option.

Alex Smith

With rookie Patrick Mahomes threatening to steal his starting gig, Smith exploded for the fourth-most fantasy points among QBs last year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep his spot in Kansas City, and he was promptly traded to the Redskins after the season.

Smith was a sneaky fantasy producer long before his job-security-fueled 2017 campaign, when he recorded a career-high 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns, while throwing just five interceptions. The 34-year-old has posted top 15 fantasy finishes in four of the last seven seasons, thanks in large part to his ability to pick up yards on the ground. Smith had three seasons with at least 350 rushing yards during his time with the Chiefs.

The weapons in Washington are a downgrade from what Smith had to work with under Andy Reid, but we’re not talking about a Bills-level skill void. Josh Doctson has No. 1 receiver potential, if he can unlock his game; Jamison Crowder is a steady slot man; Paul Richardson offers the deep speed the team has lacked since DeSean Jackson left; and Jordan Reed is an elite tight end, albeit one trapped in a body made of porcelain. Chris Thompson was also breaking out last season as one of the league’s best receiving backs before suffering a broken leg in mid-November. Most importantly, head coach Jay Gruden has kept the passing game humming, with the team placing in the top 12 for passing yardage four straight years.

No disrespect to Kirk Cousins, who’s a quality NFL starter, but Gruden’s system has proven it can deliver a borderline elite fantasy quarterback from a passer who may not be the most physically gifted at the position. On the flip side, Smith has shown he can maximize his abilities while playing within an effective offensive scheme. It would be foolish to expect another monster season from Smith, but just because the Chiefs didn’t want him, doesn’t mean fantasy owners should write him off. Another season as a consistent QB2, who flirts with low-end QB1 fantasy numbers, is the most likely outcome.

Eli Manning

The 37-year-old would probably like to forget 2017, after compiling some of the lowest totals of his career. The question becomes whether his atrocious output was the result of a fading skill set, a porous offensive line, or directly related to the absence of Odell Beckham.

Manning was a fantasy QB1 in Beckham’s first two seasons, but fell to QB21 in his last full campaign with his star wideout. That’s exactly the range he finished in without Beckham in the lineup for the year. The blocking issues and overall lack of talent up front have exacerbated Manning’s decline, but the team has made strides to improve in that area, signing free-agent left tackle Nate Solder and drafting mauling guard Will Hernandez in the second round. That doesn’t solve the line problems completely, but it should solidify the left side.

The Giants will also enter the season with one of the best arsenals Manning’s had since being drafted by the team in 2004. Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Saquon Barkley should take pressure off Manning. New head coach Pat Shurmur was able to guide the Vikings’ offense to the 11th most passing yards during his last season as OC in Minnesota, despite having a previously unproven Case Keenum at the helm. The Vikings had a questionable offensive line, but surrounded their quarterback with playmakers. Sound familiar?

Manning’s current ADP is QB23. Beckham’s return alone could be enough to propel him to a higher finish than that. Add in the upgrades to the line and the coaching staff, and you’ve got legitimate potential for a bounce-back campaign. Keep him on your re-draft radar early in the season, and don’t hesitate to use Manning-Beckham as a daily fantasy stack in the opening month.

Deep Shots

Josh Rosen – The Cardinals haven’t outright crowned veteran Sam Bradford as their early season starter, leaving open the possibility that the rookie wins the job. Rosen’s offensive line will be an issue, but with Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson anchoring the offense, the 21-year-old will have a chance to enter the streamer conversation immediately.

Baker Mayfield – Tyrod Taylor will likely handle the first half of the season, relegating Mayfield to a late-season option for fantasy. With the collection of skill players Cleveland has amassed (Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, David Njoku, Nick Chubb, Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson) it’s hard to imagine the offense not putting up numbers. If the Browns screw this up, the blame belongs on their coaching staff.

Josh McCown – No one is drafting McCown in fantasy, but don’t overlook the Jets’ starting QB in 2018. Before his season-ending injury in Week 14, McCown was the QB7 in fantasy through 12 games last season. The longtime backup was ahead of players like Matt Stafford, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger. Whether it’s McCown, rookie Sam Darnold, or everyone’s favorite comeback story Teddy Bridgewater, the Jets’ offense might not be the wasteland many perceive it to be.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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