Fantasy Football: 2021 Quarterback preview

Despite quarterback being the most important position in sports, it used to be easy to wait on in fantasy leagues. That’s no longer necessarily the case. More quarterbacks averaged 20+ fantasy points per game than ever before last season, continuing a recent trend. While this was partially because the NFL scored the most points in the history of the league, it was also the result of the continued influx of rushing quarterbacks. In fact, QBs set leaguewide rush attempt- and rushing yard-records in 2020 while running in nearly 50 more touchdowns than the prior season.

Positional Previews: QB | RB | WR | TE

The QB position simply needs to be addressed differently than before in fantasy leagues.

Current quarterback landscape

There’s a clear top tier of fantasy stars but an incoming rookie class with immediate abnormal upside adds even more talent to a traditionally deep position. Put differently, Matt Ryan — who plays indoors and was insanely accurate while also leading the league in pass attempts last season now gets Arthur Smith as his coach and a unicorn with the biggest wingspan in the league as his new tight end — isn’t being drafted as a top-15 fantasy QB.

Nor is Kirk Cousins, who got 8.3 YPA and tossed 35 touchdowns last season while still throwing to Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Irv Smith. Ben Roethlisberger attempted 600+ passes last season, is reportedly healthier and in shape now with three different teammates being drafted as top-30 WRs — yet isn’t being drafted as a top-20 fantasy QB. It’s awfully tough to compete with the top scorers if you aren’t running.

Using a Superflex position in your leagues has also never made more sense.

Big-picture strategy

Waiting on quarterbacks isn’t as viable of a strategy as it once was given the increasing number of rushing quarterbacks who separate themselves at the top, although multiple new dual-threat rookies with immediate fantasy upside admittedly add further depth to the position.

Quarterbacks to target (sleepers and must-haves)

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Prescott is right there with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson in my Tier 1 fantasy QBs, yet he’s available rounds later thanks in part to a shoulder injury that a recent MRI revealed positive news about.

Prescott was on pace to shatter the NFL record for passing yards before going down last season despite missing 1.5 quarters and facing a Rams defense (on the road) that held opponents to the fewest yards per play. The Cowboys ran the fastest pace, averaged the most combined plays last year, and have CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup with both starting tackles returning on the O-line. Prescott should finish with monstrous 2021 numbers — if health cooperates.

Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

Hurts averaged the sixth-most fantasy points per dropback last year despite one of the worst supporting casts and playing through a hamstring injury down the stretch as a rookie. He rushed for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns during his final collegiate season (11.3 YPA) and will get to throw to electric WR DeVonta Smith in 2021. Hurts is a good argument for still waiting on the position if you’re able to draft his rushing upside outside the top-10 QBs.

Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

The rookie may no longer qualify as a sleeper, but the hype is for good reason. Lance is 6-4, 225 pounds and runs a 4.5 40 with a cannon arm who’s about to take over a role that just saw Nick Mullens pass for the second-most yards through 16 starts in NFL history (sandwiched between Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck).

Lance recorded a 28:0 TD:INT ratio while adding 1,100 rushing yards with 14 TDs as a 19-year-old, and those running skills should hold at the next level as someone who had multiple Big Ten offers to play safety and linebacker. In Kyle Shanahan’s system with George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel to go along with a strong offensive line, Lance will be at least a top-eight fantasy QB the moment he takes over as SF’s starter.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5)
The hype surrounding Trey Lance could prove to be very, very real. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

The 49ers also have the most favorable projected quarterback schedule during the fantasy playoffs. Expect Lance to be drafted as a top-three fantasy QB in 2022.

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Mayfield is an afterthought during fantasy drafts after disappointing as the No. 1 real-life pick, but he quietly showed real growth last year under better coaching. He got 7.8 YPA over the second half of last season (despite some miserably windy games) and will be getting a motivated and healthy Odell Beckham Jr. back in 2021. Mayfield has to play outdoors in a tough division on a run-first team, but he’ll benefit from arguably the league’s best O-line and will provide Joe Burrow’s stats five rounds later. Mayfield is a sleeper in deeper fantasy leagues.

Quarterbacks to fade

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Rodgers is coming off a tremendous MVP campaign but simply doesn’t run enough to match the other elite fantasy QBs, yet he’s being drafted as such. Rodgers’ fantasy value last year was tied to a TD% (thanks in part to a favorable pass defense schedule that projects to be among the toughest this season) that’s historically been incredibly difficult to repeat. In 2019, Rodgers was the QB14 in fantasy points per game and more than a handful of legitimate rushing QBs have entered the league since.

He's is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, but Rodgers is being drafted too high based on last year’s TD stats that are likely to regress.

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

Burrow is likely to make a leap in Year Two, but his ADP expects a major one. He was the QB18 on a per-game basis as a rookie last season, when he posted a modest 6.7 YPA. He’s now returning from a torn ACL and MCL as well as damage to his PCL and meniscus, so it’d be a stretch to expect much (if any) rushing stats this year. Cincinnati’s offensive line remains a real problem, as is facing the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns defenses six times. Burrow has a bright NFL future, but with a shaky coaching situation and limited work coming off a serious injury, he’s an easy fade in 2021.

Top 12 fantasy quarterbacks

1) Josh Allen

2) Patrick Mahomes

3) Dak Prescott

4) Lamar Jackson

5) Kyler Murray

6) Russell Wilson

7) Tom Brady

8) Justin Herbert

9) Jalen Hurts

10) Aaron Rodgers

11) Ryan Tannehill

12) Trey Lance

One-Sentence Gameplan

Get a quarterback who runs — whether it’s from the top tier, or Jalen Hurts, or one of the rookies later.

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