As we are rolling along this offseason, we are laying the groundwork for early best ball drafts, new dynasty startups, and everything else under the fantasy sun as we gear up for the next NFL season. The league’s landscape is going to shift a lot through free agency and the NFL draft, but we are starting that early outlook at the ground floor with positional ranks.
These will move and be updated throughout the offseason (and I surely will have a lot more to say on players as we move on) so keep tabs on them through the spring as we dig deeper in-depth as rosters change and schedules are released. After recapping the historic performance that quarterbacks had throwing and running the ball this past season, we are kicking things off with the quarterback position.
1. Patrick Mahomes: Mahomes has been the QB1 (26.1 points), QB6 (20.5), and QB2 (24.9) in points per game over his three seasons as a starter. He leads all quarterbacks in fantasy games of 20-plus points (30) and games with three or more passing touchdowns (21) over that span.
2. Deshaun Watson: Watson has averaged over 20 fantasy points per game in each of his four seasons in the league. Coming off a season where he averaged a career-high 19.4 passing points per game and led the NFL in yards per pass attempt (8.9 Y/A) in a season where his surrounding cast was at its lowest, Watson has shown he can thrive under any circumstances if he is or is not traded this offseason.
3. Josh Allen: After finishing as the QB6 in 2019, Allen had a career-season in year three as he led all quarterbacks in fantasy scoring overall and was the QB3 in points per game (24.7). Allen made a seismic jump as a passer with 19.4 passing points per game while throwing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns. After zero career 300-yard passing games through two seasons, he had eight in 2020. Even if his passing stats recoil, he also is paired with a tremendous rushing upside, being the first quarterback in league history to rush for seven or more touchdowns in three straight seasons.
4. Lamar Jackson: After setting a record for fantasy points per game in 2019, Jackson dipped to 10th a year ago (22.2) as the inevitable passing regression took him from 17.1 passing points per game in 2019 down to 13.1 per game last season. Jackson still is the best dual-threat option when all is working and has a terrific floor, becoming the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
5. Dak Prescott: After being the QB3 in points per game in 2019 (21.1 points), Prescott was pacing the position a year ago at 26.9 points per game through five games prior to missing the remainder of the season with a gruesome ankle injury. Prescott was averaging a career-high 5.5 rushing points per game, so we will have to wait on the impact of the injury for his rushing performance, but his supporting cast is still among the best in the league.
6. Kyler Murray: Murray has now been the QB12 (17.8) and QB5 (23.7) in points per game through his two NFL seasons. Murray led all quarterbacks in rushing fantasy points a year ago (147.9) as his rushing line (819 yards and 11 touchdowns) accounted for 44.6% of his output after 30.6% as a rookie. Murray has been just the QB26 and QB19 in passing points per game to start his career, but if that passing game output finally clicks, he has just as high of a ceiling as anyone at the position.
7. Justin Herbert: Herbert was the QB8 in points per game (22.2). After being pressed into the starting role by accident in Week 2, Herbert then set a rookie record with 31 passing touchdowns while averaging 3.6 rushing points per game (12th). Herbert did cool down the stretch with just two QB1 scoring weeks over his final six games, but is now free from a staff that had him throw just 35.1% of his passes on first down, which was 39th in the league.
8. Aaron Rodgers: After questioning a potential decline over the previous three seasons and the Packers drafting his potential replacement in the first round this past season, Rodgers roared back as the league’s MVP, setting career-highs in completion rate (70.7%), touchdown passes (48), and touchdown rate (9.1%). Even for Rodgers, we should anticipate recoil in those rate stats while his rushing yardage per game has dropped from the season prior in four straight seasons.
9. Russell Wilson: Wilson is the only quarterback to throw 30 or more passing touchdowns in each of the past four seasons. After closing 2020 as the QB6 in overall scoring last year, Wilson has now finished as a top-10 overall scorer in each of his nine NFL seasons. The only downside for Wilson is that he has made a trend of being a meteoric starter to seasons before fizzling to close campaigns for fantasy. Wilson has had just four top-10 scoring weeks post-Week 8 in 17 games the past two seasons as opposed to 10 in 15 games over the front halves of those seasons. As an added pro if he puts a full season together moving forward, Wilson’s 32.1 rushing yards per game were his most since 2017.
10. Jalen Hurts: Hurts scored 19.3, 37.8, 18.6, and 16.3 points in his four starts last season after the Philadelphia season was a lost cause. His 272 rushing yards in those starts were second in league history for a quarterback over his first career four starts behind Lamar Jackson. Hurts was last in the league in completion rate (52%), but also last in expected completion rate (55.5%), according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Despite that, he still led all rookie passers in yards per pass attempt (7.7 Y/A) from a clean pocket. If the Eagles commit to Hurts for a season, he joins the high-floor group aided by rushing production with the upside of crashing a ceiling should he improve from a passing stance.
11. Ryan Tannehill: Even with efficiency regression in play for Tannehill across the board from his 2019 output, he still closed 2020 as the QB10 in points per game (21.5 points). Tannehill has now been a top-10 weekly scorer at the position in 16 of his 26 regular season starts with the Titans. One looming question is if there will be any impact from Arthur Smith’s departure to Atlanta while former tight end coach Todd Downing transitions to offensive coordinator. Tannehill thrived under Smith, especially in the play-action game, fishing as the QB4 in overall fantasy points using play-action in 2020 (107.8).
12. Tom Brady: In his first season with Tampa Bay, Brady closed the year as the QB8 overall and the QB11 in points per game (21.1) at age 43. His 40 passing touchdowns were tied for second in the league as his 6.6% touchdown rate was his highest in a season since 2011. Brady got better as the season wore on, throwing multiple touchdown passes in each of his final 11 games of the season. With a full offseason and if the Buccaneers are able to retain Chris Godwin, Father Time still waits to claim Brady.
13. Matt Ryan: We are now in the portion of fantasy options that do not offer as much with their legs as the quarterbacks above. We know what we have in Ryan. The soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback has finished lower than QB15 overall in just two of his 13 NFL seasons while averaging at least 17.0 fantasy points in seven of his past 10 seasons. He has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in 10 straight seasons. Ryan has completed over 400 passes in each of the past three seasons and has led the league in completions in each of the past two seasons. Forced to rely solely on passing output, Ryan has turned in just four top-six scoring weeks over the past two seasons, but will get to work with Arthur Smith as mentioned above this season with Tannehill.
14. Kirk Cousins: Cousins does not get a lot of praise, but he is a productive quarterback. Cousins has thrown more 25 or more touchdown passes in six straight seasons. Over the past two years, Cousins has ranked fifth and sixth in the league in passing points per attempt and seventh and third in yards per pass attempt. The unfortunate part is that efficiency has been tethered to pedestrian volume as Cousins has been 29th and 26th in pass attempts per game over those seasons. After rushing for 13 touchdowns over his three seasons as a starter with Washington, Cousins has rushed for three touchdowns over his three seasons with the Vikings.
15. Joe Burrow: Burrow completed 65.3% of his passes and averaged 17.4 points per game (QB17) over his 10 starts as a rookie. He threw 13 touchdown passes to five interceptions. His 45.3 dropbacks per game were second in the NFL and he took a sack on 7.3% of those dropbacks. All of those hits caught up to him as Burrow suffered a torn ACL and MCL and had reconstructive knee surgery in December. Burrow continues to trend positively towards starting the season and can be a riser through the offseason if all is 100%, but that injury could take away partial output to start the season from the 3.2 rushing points per game Burrow added as a rookie.
16. Matthew Stafford: Stafford has not closed a season as a QB1 in each of the past three seasons, but a change of scenery in his trade to the Rams may get him back there. Stafford has had comparably good weaponry throughout his career to what the Rams currently offer, but Sean McVay is the best coach he has worked with while this will surely be the best team has played for on paper entering a season arguably over Stafford’s career. One thing to watch out for is Stafford is having surgery on the torn UCL he played with a year ago this offseason.
19. Carson Wentz: While it has been a tough road for Wentz since his breakout 2017 season, he has closed the past three seasons as the QB18, QB15, and QB21 in fantasy points per game. His saving grace at the time a year ago in a travesty of a season was him averaging a career-high 4.8 rushing points per game after 1.7 per game over his first four years in the league. From a clean pocket, Wentz averaged just 6.5 Y/A in 2020, which was 40th in the league. Now, Wentz will look to channel the magic he and Frank Reich had in 2017 while his current supporting cast in Indianapolis still leaves a lot of question marks on the table on elevating him back to QB1 status.
20. Baker Mayfield: I know I have now gone out of order and I will explain in a moment why. After a step back during his second season, Mayfield rebounded across the board off his 2019 efficiency numbers in completion rate (62.8%), yards per attempt (7.3 Y/A), and touchdown rate (5.4%). For fantasy, Mayfield has struggled to make a huge impact, closing as the QB20, QB28, and the QB25 in points per game to start his career with 14 QB1 scoring weeks in 46 regular season starts.
21. Tua Tagovailoa: It was a tough road for Tua in his rookie season despite his team posting a 6-3 record in his nine starts. Tagovailoa managed just 6.3 Y/A (37th) with 11 touchdown passes. Tagovailoa finished higher than QB15 in just one of those nine starts. Entering an offseason with no workouts and coming off a major injury, we did not even know if Tagovailoa would play as a rookie and the Dolphins only gave him marginal help. Tua’s top receivers were Mike Gesicki (29 receptions), Lynn Bowden (27), DeVante Parker (23), and Jakeem Grant (21). We are still left with questioning how much Alabama’s supreme talent depth at receiver played a role in elevating Tagovailoa, but the lights are still on for a year two jump should Miami make strides in adding talent to their offensive roster.
22. Derek Carr: Carr is coming off arguably his best season as a passer. His 7.94 Y/A were a career-high as his 5.2% touchdown rate was his highest rate in a season since 2015. Carr’s depth of target (8.5 yards) significantly spiked from his 6.9-yard aDOT in 2019 and 7.1-yard mark in 2018. Carr closed the season with five QB1 scoring weeks over his final seven games to build off of, but with that factored in, closed the season as the QB13 in overall scoring and the QB19 in points per game, making him the QB19 or lower in points per game output in six of his seven seasons in the league.
24. Daniel Jones: A breakout candidate for many last year, Jones struggled in his second season, managing just 11 touchdown passes after 24 as a rookie. While Jones’s touchdown rate (2.5%) was suppressed from his 5.2% mark as a rookie which overshot his peripheral passing stats, his yards per attempt (6.6) and completion rate (62.5%) were right on par with his rookie campaign. Through two seasons, Jones has been the QB16 or lower in 19 of his 26 starts. The one positive for Jones is that he finished with 3.1 and 3.5 rushing points per game through two years. Josh Allen’s 2020 turnaround as a passer may give some hope for those believing Jones can still access his ceiling if everything comes together.
25. Ben Roethlisberger: Big Ben has expressed his desire to play in 2021, but there are still some hurdles to clear for him and the Steelers surrounding his salary. This past season, Roethlisberger had plenty of volume, attempting 40.5 passes per game (second in the league), but he averaged just 6.3 yards per pass attempt (38th), which was a career-low. That went along with a career-low depth of target of 7.4 yards, which was 32nd in the league. A 5.4% touchdown rate (11th) kept Roethlisberger afloat as the QB14 in overall scoring and the QB13 in points per game, but Roethlisberger was more of a floor play as he posted just five QB1 scoring weeks and eight as the QB17 or lower.
26. Jared Goff: The first two seasons of pairing Goff with Sean McVay were a 180 from Goff’s lackluster rookie season. Over the 2017-2018 seasons, Goff’s 60 touchdown passes were the fourth-most in the NFL. His 5.8% touchdown rate was eighth in the league over that span among all quarterbacks with over 100 dropbacks while he averaged 8.2 yards per pass attempt (sixth) and 12.8 yards per completion (fifth). The wheels then began to loosen as Goff threw 42 touchdown passes (18th) over the past two seasons as his touchdown rate fell down to 3.6%, which was 41st among passers with over 100 dropbacks. Goff’s Y/A fell to 7.3 yards (24th) and his yards per completion dipped to 11.2 yards (23rd). Now, Goff looks to revitalize his career with a Detroit roster that currently has Quintez Cephus and Geronimo Allison at the top of their depth chart at wide receiver.
17. Justin Fields
18. Trevor Lawrence
23. Zach Wilson
27. Trey Lance
28. Mac Jones
29. Kyle Trask
At this stage of the offseason, those quarterbacks above are all but safely starters at this time. Jalen Hurts can be called into question and possesses some risk in officially being a locked-in starter, but his upside for fantasy does warrant being aggressive at this point of the offseason as well. I am sure we still have some surprises in store, but you get the drift on the angle we are taking.
With that and no official landing spots for the rookie quarterbacks, I have the six I believe have true opportunity to be first-round selections this April as their own subset in these early ranks. I will be laying out full rookie ranks in the upcoming weeks that breaks these players down in more detail, but I wanted to keep them in one rankings “tier” here just to cover this write-up. Post-draft I will reform this list linearly and give each individual rookie their own write-up here outside of those rookie pieces.
This rookie class is strong, but more importantly, with Fields, Lawrence, Wilson, and Lance, we have the opportunity to add four more quarterbacks to the player pool that offer upside athletically, which we are always interested in at the position in fantasy.
We also should anticipate that if these passers do get selected in the first round, that they are highly likely to play early.
Since 2008, we had 39 quarterbacks selected in the first round. 17 of them started immediately in Week 1. 26 of those players were starting for their organizations by Week 4 of the season. 29 of those players started more than half of the team games as a rookie. The only first-round rookie quarterbacks to actually not start a game in their rookie season out of those 39 players were Jake Locker in 2011 and Jordan Love a year ago, who played (well, did not even dress actually) behind the MVP of the league.
Scaling that down to quarterbacks selected in the top-10, there are 26 passers in that same sample of 39. Those 26 passers have averaged 12.4 starts as rookies with 22 of them starting double-digit games.
30. Jimmy Garoppolo
31. Teddy Bridgewater
32. Sam Darnold
33. Drew Lock
34. Jameis Winston
35. Taysom Hill
36. Ryan Fitzpatrick
37. Mitchell Trubisky
38. Cam Newton
39. Alex Smith
40. Marcus Mariota
41. Taylor Heinicke
42. Gardner Minshew
This final group of quarterbacks contains tenuous starters at the moment that could either be supplanted by one of those rookies above or could go in and compete for a job elsewhere via free agency or a potential trade.
The primary interest will come via the decision New Orleans has to make if Drew Brees makes his rumored retirement official. Would the Saints bring back Jameis Winston on a friendly deal after he did not even start after Brees went down this season or would they actually enter a full season with Taysom Hill as their starting quarterback? Hill was serviceable as a spot starter for a four-game stretch, but still has a ton of question marks as a full-time passer. But for fantasy, Hill scored 24.4, 17.5, 23.6, and 18.9 in his starts, which is definitely appealing. We also know that even if the team goes in another direction as the starter, that Hill will still be involved in sub-packages and near the goal line. In early best ball drafts, he is an appealing dart throw that can contribute.
Garoppolo, Bridgewater, Darnold, and Lock are all currently at the top of their depth charts with varying degrees of stability, but none offer a ton of actual fantasy appeal.
Garoppolo has made it through one complete season as an NFL starter, He has been a QB1 scorer in 10 of his 30 regular-season starts with the 49ers, but does have a 5.2% touchdown rate with San Francisco.
Bridgewater did not throw more than two touchdown passes in any of his starts with Carolina last season, but was ninth in the league in rushing points at the position if he can hang onto the job.
Lock has made 18 career starts and has finished higher than QB20 for fantasy in just five of them. The hits have been big (all of those are top-eight scoring weeks), but Lock’s completion rate (57.3%), touchdown rate (3.6%), and interception rate (3.4%) were all worse in his second season.
Darnold could have a new home prior to or during the draft, but the Jets do not have to move on from him in 2021, even if they do select a rookie with the No. 2 overall pick. Regardless, he will have a new staff no matter if he stays ago. Darnold has not been afforded much (if any) help during his rookie contract, but was only ahead of Dwayne Haskins in passing points per attempt (.281) this past season. Darnold has been the QB34, QB26, and QB39 in points per game through his three seasons in the league.