Brady should be a fantasy monster in 2016....once he gets on the field. Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Patriots fans know from experience that a pissed off Tom Brady is a very good thing for both the Patriots and his fantasy owners. Anyone whose paid one iota of attention to his legendary career knows that the supremely competitive Brady is almost certain to come out of his four game suspension furious and ready to annihilate whoever is unlucky enough to face him, all season long. This makes Brady an enticing fantasy pick, as long as you draft well enough to survive the four game suspension he's set to unjustly serve.
Given his four game suspension, Brady figures to go later in most drafts than several top quarterbacks, including Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and possibly Ben Roethlesberger, Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck. Getting Brady in the middle rounds could be a major coup if he provides elite quarterback play from Week 5 all the way to your championship game, particularly if you use those earlier picks well to stock up the rest of your roster. However, this strategy requires a strong backup plan to ensure that poor quarterback play doesn't put you in an early-season hole. Here's a look at the five enticing backup options who could be available in the later rounds.
Much of Ryan's fantasy potential is tied to the availability of Julio Jones, as the Falcons have questionable playmaking depth behind their superstar receiver. However, Ryan should post at least respectable fantasy numbers as long as things don't take a turn for the disastrous in Atlanta, and his schedule in the games you'd theoretically need him behind Tom Brady (presuming Brady's health) is relatively favorable. He opens the season by facing a rebuilding Buccaneers secondary at home. Week 2 sees him go on the road against an Oakland defense with upside, but the remaining two games of Brady's suspension see him take on the Saints, who set records for their futility defending the pass last year, and the Panthers, who will likely rely heavily on several rookies in the secondary. The Patriots Week 9 bye falls when Ryan's Falcons travel to take on the Bucs a second time. Even without factoring in that schedule, Ryan is a good buy-low candidate, as 2015 is a drastic aberration from how he's played in his prime. His 21 touchdown passes were his lowest total since his rookie year, and his 16 interceptions were the second highest total of his career, trailing only the 4-12 2013 campaign. Over the five seasons prior to 2015, he averaged over 28.6 touchdowns, 13.2 interceptions and 4364 pass yards per season. A reversion to the mean will make Ryan a fantastic backup option for Brady.
Rivers has been a model of consistency throughout his career, with last year serving as a prime example of his ability to put up respectable fantasy numbers regardless of his starting cast. With his offensive line destroyed by injury, little to no support from the run game and top receiver Keenan Allen missing the second half of the season with a lacerated kidney, Rivers still completed 66.1% of his passes for 4,792 yards and 29 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions. He's fully expected to have an ascending Allen this season and faces an extremely favorable schedule in the games we know Brady will miss. That could very well make it worth it to spend a pick a round or two earlier on Rivers than it would take to land some of the alternatives on this list. Traveling to Kansas City isn't an ideal start to the season for Rivers, but he'll be catching the Chiefs potentially without Justin Houston and with a secondary that is mostly young and inexperienced. He follows that up with the Jaguars at home before taking on a soft Colts defense on the road. The final game of Brady's suspension conveniently coincides with a home matchup against the Saints, who are trying to improve from allowing the most touchdown passes in league history last season. Brady's bye week also times well with a favorable Rivers matchup: at home against the rebuilding Titans.
Drafting Flacco in this position will require complete faith that the quarterback will be ready for Week One, which seems like risky business for a player who tore his ACL late in November. However, there's nothing from training camp that suggests Flacco won't be out there for Week One. If he can be at or at least close to his normal self upon his return, he'll make a good backup option to Brady due to a favorable early season schedule. He opens the season at home against a Buffalo defense that has secondary talent but some noteworthy holes in the front seven. His next two games are on the road, but against Cleveland and Jacksonville, two of the league's laughingstocks from last season. Jacksonville at least has some upside on defense this year, but the Browns secondary looks ripe for the picking. Flacco finishes up with an Oakland defense that has upside but plenty of question marks as well. Flacco gains extra points here for facing a porous Pittsburgh secondary at home during the Patriots Week 9 bye.
The third year Raiders starter looks poised to build on a breakthrough sophomore season, and faces arguably the easiest schedule of any viable backup option over the first four weeks. While three of those games are on the road, all are against teams with more questions than answers in their secondary. He opens on the road against a porous-til-proved-otherwise Saints defense before returning to the black hole to face the rebuilding Falcons D. The final two games of Brady's suspension see Carr take on another rebuilding squad in the Titans before facing a Baltimore defense that could rebound but has plenty of question marks. Carr will have one of the better receiver duos in the league at his disposal in Amari Cooper and Micheal Crabtree, along with powerful running back Latavius Murray and talented breakthrough candidates at tight end (Clive Walford) and 3rd down RB (rookie DeAndre Washington). Combine that with a fantastic offensive line and Carr should do more than enough during the first four weeks while Brady is on the shelf. The one drawback to Carr is a tough home matchup against Denver during the Patriots bye. However, you can stream your way around that if need be, and Carr will be worth a later round selection if he provides legit QB1 production during Brady's suspension to keep your team afloat.
Cousins is a risky strategy for Brady drafters and not recommended unless he slides far enough to become an excellent value pick. Like the handcuff option of Jimmy Garoppolo, Cousins shares a Week 9 bye with Brady and would have to be either traded or dropped in favor of a streaming QB during Week 9. However, Cousins' opening four game schedule is tough to ignore for Brady owners looking to get off to a hot start despite TB12's absence. He opens with consecutive homes games against the questionable defenses of Pittsburgh and Dallas, before taking the road against a Giants defense that added plenty of talent on paper but still needs to prove it's worth on the field after a lackluster 2015. Cousins finishes Brady's suspension with a home matchup against the hapless Cleveland Browns. With DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder and potentially Josh Doctson at his disposal, Cousins could be worthy of a later round pick simply on the back of what he could provide during those first four Brady-less weeks.