As we move into shifting focus to the 2021 NFL season, early drafts, and dynasty content, we’re taking a slight look back at what just transpired in the 2020 campaign to see if there is anything we can take away that could aid us moving forward. The first of those looks back is on the quarterback position from this past season.
The 2020 NFL season was unique on a number of levels as the league dealt orbited COVID with the rest of the world. With a condensed offseason program that included zero preseason games, offenses carried an advantage similar to the 2011 season that held an abbreviated offseason due to the lockout. There were a few more ancillary pieces that played a part in the offensive explosion such as the league calling just 11.2 combined penalties per game (the fewest in a season since 2009), but the 2020 season was the highest-scoring season in NFL history and passing games flourished as a byproduct.
Leaguewide Passing Output Since 2010
|YEAR||ATT/GM||COMP%||PAYD/GM||Y/A||PATD||PATD%||INT%||RATING||PASS FF PTS|
From strictly a passing stance, we saw the league collectively post season-highs in completed passes, completion rate, touchdown passes, and quarterback rating in league history. The league had the lowest interception rate in league history as well, which factored into that all-time high rating. The three highest seasons from a rating perspective have come over each of the past three seasons played.
To tack on to all things favoring NFL passing games, quarterbacks were sacked 1,135 times (4.4 per game), which was 141 and 146 times fewer than the previous two NFL seasons. Offensive holding was called just 1.8 times per game, the lowest rate since penalty data has been tracked since 1995 and only the second season over that span that mark was below 2.0 offensive holding calls per game.
The pandemic also made an impact. With minimal crowd impact this season, NFL passing performances on the road this past season were at an all-time high and even better than home teams in many key areas. On the road, teams posted a 94.4 passer rating, averaged 7.3 Y/A, a 4.8% touchdown rate and a 2.1% interception rate. That road passer rating and touchdown rate were all-time highs. For comparison, at home this past season, teams had a 92.8 rating, 7.2 Y/A, and a 2.3% interception rate, but did have a 4.9% touchdown rate.
With everything factored in, the 2020 season had more passing fantasy points than any season ever. Six different quarterbacks posted over 300 fantasy points on passing stats alone while four averaged over 20.0 fantasy passing points per game. Even in a ballooning era of passing production, there were zero 300-point passing scorers in 2019 and four in 2018 while just one and two passers averaged over 20 passing points per game in those seasons leading into this one with all-time passer ratings.
Everyone in your league had passing points on their fantasy teams this season, but not only was 2020 a historic season for passing the football, but it was also an all-time season for quarterbacks using their legs.
QB Rushing Output Since 2010
|YEAR||RUATT||NFL ATT%||RUYD||NFL RUYD%||RUTD||NFL RUTD%||RUSH PTS|
Rushing production from NFL quarterbacks has long been a vital component for weighted bonus production or creating high floors at the position for fantasy points, but this past season shattered the ceiling. Passers rushed for 454.6 more fantasy points than the year prior and not only did rushing touchdowns continue to climb for passers, they went up by 47 last season than in 2019.
Quarterbacks accounted for record highs not only in counting stats, but also in the share of leaguewide usage. Quarterbacks accounted for 15.6% of the league rushing attempts and 15.5% of the rushing yardage, which were both modest jumps over previous seasons, but those passers then went Super Saiyan with 127 rushing touchdowns, which was 23.9% of the league total.
With the rushing production crashing that ceiling paired with historic passing production, this was the highest-scoring fantasy season for quarterbacks ever. We did not have a single-season record-breaker such as 2018 Patrick Mahomes or 2019 Lamar Jackson, but there were 11 different quarterbacks that scored over 300 fantasy points this season, the most in a season ever.
With everyone having passing points, having a dual-threat quarterback made it harder to arbitrage fantasy points than in years past. Among the 11 quarterbacks this past season to average at least 20 fantasy points per game, only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady had a single-digit percentage of their fantasy production come via rushing while the average among those players was 20.1%, even including those two veteran passers.
From a “big game” perspective, there were 43 times this season in which a quarterback scored 30 or more fantasy points. Just seven of those games came with fewer than one rushing point and 10 with fewer than two. 25 of them came with at least one rushing touchdown. Players such as Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Derek Carr were all in the top-15 passers in passing points per game this season, but combined to account for just nine total top-six scoring weeks on the season since they could only accrue fantasy points in one fashion.
When I first highlighted how rushing stats were a bit of a cheat code for fantasy passers back in 2013, the position was still being weighted at the top by primary passers such as Peyton Manning, Brady, and Brees. The mobile quarterbacks such as Cam Newton were primarily not churning out dual-threat production, but with a natural evolution of more athletes playing the position than ever before, the top of the fantasy position is now filled with players that offer not only athleticism on the ground, but also comparable passing production to the top pocket passers. This is why we highlighted over the summer that “mid-round quarterback” was the new late-round quarterback because that archetype of quarterback is now no longer a cheat code, but a prerequisite.
Even if a player has not showcased a passing ceiling to date, but has shown mobility, that player is someone to buy in on in the event you run into a passing breakout. We saw that happen with Josh Allen this past season, Lamar Jackson in 2019, Cam Newton in 2015, even Mike Vick in 2010. Even if those passing seasons end up fleeting or career outliers for those respective players, that is the cocktail for running into someone breaking the bank at the position for fantasy and you are better off chasing that ceiling outcome on discounted mobility since you can always fall back and arbitrage passing points.
Even anticipating both rushing and passing production from this past season to recoil a bit moving into 2021, that archetype of fantasy quarterback is one to pursue. They have become inherently expensive in relation to the position for good reason, but a recalibration has to be made in getting one of them on your roster, even if not paying the top-dollar like a year ago. Landing someone at the end of a growing subset of passers is still “waiting” on the position.
You also can still wait on quarterback in fantasy drafts in the event of being able to arbitrage passing production from high-end starting quarterbacks and come away with tangible production that does not sink you, but the later round options that also come with added mobility to arbitrage those weighted rushing performances are in lower supply. For a pocket passer to hang with the top of the position now, you have to run into a season such as the one Aaron Rodgers had, which was nearly flawless from a passing perspective.
Early this offseason, we have Jalen Hurts (who scored 19.3, 37.8, 18.6, and 16.3 points in his starts) and Taysom Hill (who scored 24.4, 17.5, 23.6, and 18.9 in his starts) as potential cheap options as their situations are shrouded in some ambiguity to start the offseason. But if either team commits to as their team’s starting quarterback, both will increase exponentially.
When this dam finally breaks and reverts to a full-on late-round/play the bottom end of the position regularly option again is when the cup of dual-threat passers runs over. We have seen that archetype increase rapidly and this year’s NFL Draft offers another crop of options such as Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance, who all have the added ability to move and create with their legs to go along with decorated passing acumen at the college level.