Kirk Cousins, QB (Vikings)
The Vikings signed Cousins to a three-year, $84 M deal and let both Sam Bradford and Case Keenum walk in free agency. Cousins’ resume as an NFL starter is about as good as it gets. Over the last three seasons with Washington, Cousins started all 48 regular season home games and racked up 4,000-plus yards and 25-plus touchdowns in each of the three. He also rushed for 13 touchdowns during that span, garnering at least four in each season. Cousins finished all three seasons among the Top-10 quarterbacks, two of them among the Top-5. The only negative comment one could make about Cousins’ accomplishments during that period is that Washington had little or no running game and made no effort to build a decent defense, which led to plenty of garbage-time stat padding for the quarterback while he tried (often fruitlessly) to bring the team back to contention.
During the preseason thus far, Cousins has already shown a connection with No. 1 wide receiver Stefon Diggs, completing three passes to him including one for a touchdown in the game against the Denver Broncos. The Vikings have a much better wide receiver corps than any Cousins worked with in Washington, and Minnesota’s ground game will feature one of the most exciting backs in the game, Dalvin Cook. Add in No. 2 WR Adam Thielen and dynamic TE Kyle Rudolph and it’s clear that Cousins has plenty of weapons available to him. Inside Injuries lists Cousins as a very Low risk for injury (0.39%) and at his Peak (97%) Health Performance Factor, making him a solid low-risk pick at his current ADP (80).
Drew Brees, QB (Saints)
It’s just a bit odd that many fantasy owners and analysts look at Brees’ 2017 and deem it a down year. Brees put up his 12th consecutive season with at least 4,000 passing yards, finished with the highest completion percentage of his career (72.1%), his highest yards per attempt (8.1) since 2011, and the lowest interception rate (1.5%) of his career. He also played all 16 regular season games for the 12th time in the last 16 years; during that span he only missed eight games altogether, four of those missed games were in 2011. He’s missed just two since 2012.
There are other reasons last season was perceived as a down year – Brees’ 4,338 passing yards and 23 touchdown passes are both seasonal lows with the Saints. His 537 pass attempts were also a career low among seasons in which he played 16 games, and overall he attempted eight fewer passes per game. However, most of these reductions in statistical production occurred because both Brees and the Saints’ running game were much more efficient than in any other recent season. Brees enters the 2018 season at Low risk of injury, and at a Peak Health Performance Factor. Look for the offense to again be built around the run, and with Brees taking a few more shots downfield with targets Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn Jr.
Ryan, like Brees, was a workhorse last season. Ryan played all 16 regular season games, something he’s done in all but one of his 10 seasons (in 2009 he played 14 games). While his overall numbers were sound last season, he fell short of making QB1 status and there were only four games in which he finished among the Top 12 quarterbacks. Ryan’s completion rate was five percentage points lower and his touchdown rate cut in half from the previous year. They had no trouble moving the ball and ended up eighth among all teams in total yardage, however, they finished just 15th in scoring. In all, it was a far cry from 2016, when Ryan led the Falcons to the Super Bowl and nearly beat the vaunted New England Patriots.
This season should be much better for Ryan and the Falcons’ offense. They added Calvin Ridley, a dynamic wide receiver with excellent route running skills, and TE Austin Hooper stepped up his game last season and should be a valuable weapon for Ryan in the red zone. If Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman can stay healthy and productive, the Falcons’ running game will keep defenses honest and open routes on the outside for Julio Jones and No. 2 receiver Mohamed Sanu. There is no reason why Ryan can’t finish as a Top 12 QB this season, which makes him a bargain pick with a 105 ADP.
Philip Rivers, QB (LAC)
Rivers had his most efficient season in years, posting his best adjusted net yards per attempt since 2013. A fully healthy season from Keenan Allen allowed Rivers to capitalize on the slot receiver’s short routes as well as throw the ball downfield; he finished with the fourth-most pass completions of 20-plus yards. Rivers has not missed a game since taking over as the Chargers’ starting quarterback in 2006. That’s 192 games in a row!
In terms of fantasy production, Rivers has finished among the Top-12 quarterbacks in eight of the last 10 seasons. He’s also passed for at least 4,200 yards and 29 touchdowns in each of the last five campaigns. Without question, Rivers is a great safe QB pick if you prefer to wait until the middle/later rounds to choose your quarterback. The Chargers have one of the top offensive lines in the NFL and their offense is stacked with weaponry that will only help Rivers continue to be one of the best pure passers of his generation. If that doesn’t convince you to draft him, nothing will.
Carson Wentz, QB (Eagles)
In 2017, Wentz surprised everyone when he stepped up to take the help of the Eagles and lead them to the top of the standings at 11-2. He was leading all quarterbacks in TD passes, passer rating, and QBR. He also posted the fifth-highest TD percentage in NFL history for a second-year quarterback. Unfortunately, a torn ACL in Week 13 ended his historic run but led to the feelgood story of the post-season, Nick Foles.
In addition to the torn ACL, Wentz suffered additional ligament damage, which complicates the rehab process and typically takes a bit longer than a torn ACL alone. The reports from training camp have been positive so far, with Wentz taking part in everything except 11-on-11 drills. It appears he is on track to start Game 1 of the season. The Eagles offense added downfield threat WR Mike Wallace, and the entire RB corps minus LeGarrette Blount returned for 2018. The Eagles appear poised for another excellent season, and Wentz should be 100% healthy according to Inside Injuries’ algorithm. Wentz will cost you a pick somewhere between Round 5 and Round 7 but he’s well worth the investment.
*By Tim McCullough