Fantasy Football 2021 Quarterback Tiers: Lamar Jackson back on top

Tier 1 - Elite Quarterbacks

1 - Lamar Jackson

2- Patrick Mahomes

3 - Josh Allen

All three of these players have the best odds to finish as the highest-scoring quarterback in fantasy football. But, Lamar Jackson is my QB1 overall heading into 2021.

He could easily snare his third-straight 1,000-yard rushing season, which is just an absurd advantage. I’m also projecting new players like Sammy Watkins and especially first-round pick Rashod Bateman to boost the overall efficiency of this passing game. Combine that with bounce-back years from Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews and we could see Jackson hit the type of passing ceiling he did in 2019. He led the NFL in touchdown rate and finished fourth in adjusted yards per attempt two years ago.

Bateman is truly the key here. Everyone is stuck in their ways with projecting the Ravens’ passing game. However, I believe Bateman is a Justin Jefferson-type player and could have a transformative effect on this offense.

Tier 2 - Advantage-giving QB1s

4 - Dak Prescott

5 - Kyler Murray

6 - Russell Wilson

These three quarterbacks are only the slightest step down from the first three players but no one should be even a bit shocked if one of them finishes as the QB1 overall.

Russell Wilson might be the most controversial of the trio. The Seahawks quarterback was the QB6 in fantasy last year but anyone who took that ride knows it was anything but smooth. Hiring Shane Waldron from the Rams coaching tree should help bring more layups to a Wilson passing game that was too high-variance in 2020. Still tethered to a pair of star wide receivers, Wilson should avoid the slump he put himself through late last year.

Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson could be set for an excellent fantasy season in 2021. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Tier 3 - Steady QB1s

7 - Tom Brady

8 - Aaron Rodgers

9 - Justin Herbert

10 - Ryan Tannehill

11 - Jalen Hurts

12 - Matthew Stafford

All of these guys have solid outlooks but lack the rushing upside to challenge for the overall QB1 spot. Tom Brady’s 2020, where he chucked 40 touchdown passes but didn’t even sniff the top-five fantasy QBs, is the perfect example. You should be relatively comfortable starting the back-half QB1s each and every week, though a lower-ranked player’s matchup might tempt you to stream.

Herbert and Tannehill have some semblance of rushing chops. However, they profile as more “floor-protecting” rushers, not players who have access to a Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, or even a Dak Prescott-level ceiling.

Jalen Hurts absolutely needs to at least approach the rushing work that he enjoyed late last year to hit this mark. The rookie owned a greater than 30 percent share of the team’s rush attempts during his starts in 2020. If he repeats that, he’ll almost certainly finish inside the top-12 quarterbacks simply based on scoring. I’m just not sure the Eagles have the passing game infrastructure for Hurts to make it on his aerial game alone. I haven’t been proactively drafting him at ADP.

Tier 4 - Could Make the Jump

13 - Trevor Lawrence

14 - Joe Burrow

15 - Ryan Fitzpatrick

16 - Kirk Cousins

17 - Matt Ryan

18 - Baker Mayfield

You can tell yourself a story where any of the players in this tier make the leap to back-end QB1 status. The path is just a bit cluttered.

I’m a bit below market on Joe Burrow just because of the chatter surrounding him running less in the wake of his ACL recovery. Conversely, I think Trevor Lawrence has access to a ceiling as a full-season starter with an understated rushing outlook. Both offenses should push to finish top-10 in pass attempts.

I’m bullish on Ryan Fitzpatrick, however. Washington’s offense is set up for fantasy success after running the eighth-most plays last year. Now, their cupboards are stacked with young talent. Fitzpatrick is my favorite QB2 when accounting for ADP. He has played steady football over his last two years with Miami, not the volatile style usually associated with his game.

The last three guys in this tier just don’t have much rushing upside, which is problematic in today’s game. However, if they had an uber-efficient passing season, they could finish in the QB11 to 12 range. All three have the surrounding talent to make a run at it.

Tier 5 - Risky Starters with Upside

19 - Ben Roethlisberger

20 - Carson Wentz

21 - Daniel Jones

22 - Derek Carr

The main question with the first three of these quarterbacks: Are they even good? Kind of a big deal to figure that out.

Carson Wentz is in a secure ecosystem while Daniel Jones’ team has loaded his skill-position rooms with talent. They just need to maximize those surroundings.

Something doesn’t add up with the Steelers. All three of the Pittsburgh receivers are inside the top-31 in consensus rankings, Najee Harris sits at RB13 but no one wants to touch Ben Roethlisberger. That doesn’t make sense. Either you think Roethlisberger has one last good run in him while surrounded by all these good players or several of these Pittsburgh talents are going to bust. I’m tepidly optimistic.

Derek Carr stands out a bit here, as he’s coming off his best season in years. Still, that netted just a QB13 overall finish. He just doesn’t present a ceiling.

Tier 6 - High Upside Rookies

23 - Trey Lance

24 - Justin Fields

In a one-quarterback league, you really can’t draft Fields or Lance if they don’t start Week 1. However, when they do get on the field, they’ll immediately be in fantasy streaming consideration at worst because of their rushing ability. I’m viewing this ranking as a compromise because I think they find their way to the field sooner rather than later.

Tier 7 - Low Upside Starters

25 - Tua Tagovailoa

26 - Taysom Hill

27 - Sam Darnold

28 - Zach Wilson

29 - Jared Goff

Tua Tagovailoa intrigues me a bit because he’s going from playing with preseason talent as a rookie to a receiver corps that’s suddenly a bit crowded. He has a long way to go, however.

With Michael Thomas now out for a long stretch, it feels like New Orleans will opt for the Taysom Hill experience at quarterback. Jameis Winston’s volatile style doesn’t feel like a good mix with what’s now objectively the NFL’s weakest wideout room. A ball-control style of offense with Hill and Alvin Kamara running the show looks like the path forward. I don’t want to stroll down that trail.

Tier 8 - Slated for a QB competition

30 - Cam Newton

31 - Tyrod Taylor

32 - Teddy Bridgewater

33 - Mac Jones

34 - Drew Lock

35 - Jimmy Garoppolo

36 - Andy Dalton

37 - Jameis Winston

All of these players will be competing for a job heading into and likely throughout the 2021 season.

If Cam Newton or Tyrod Taylor held down their gigs for the long-term, they’d have the type of rushing floor where they’d outkick this ADP; especially Newton. However, I have no faith Newton holds that spot for any real stretch. As for Taylor, I still don’t think Deshaun Watson plays football this year and believe the veteran will start the most games for Houston. That doesn’t equal too much fantasy goodness.

Neither Teddy Bridgewater nor Drew Lock is a fantasy option. I am rooting for Bridgewater to earn and hold the job however because he’ll be a steadier presence for Denver's pass-catchers' outlooks.