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Fantasy Football: Three quarterbacks ready to break out in 2021

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By Chris Allen, 4for4

Special to Yahoo Sports

Redraft leagues will have some added pressure this season, as the market for quarterbacks has shifted multiple rounds forward, forcing us to adjust. And most are moving with the crowd.

Nine quarterbacks are being drafted before the eighth round according to Yahoo ADP, with an emphasis on rushing ability. It’s great to see the draft community accept a widely-known “secret,” but it’s made waiting on quarterbacks a tougher sell. As a result, mid- and late-round options are getting extra scrutiny.

The group of QB2s and beyond do offer realistic floors based on their matchups. But we need access to a ceiling. We need our passers to accrue value relative to their ADP.

I took a look at the quarterbacks outside of the Top 12 to find breakout candidates. Injuries and schedules may skew the results, but I’ve highlighted key traits with each to apply to other options in your draft.

Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins

The presumed starter for Miami hits most of the criteria for a breakout candidate. He sits at QB19 after receiving mixed reviews in his rookie season. And with just a single QB1 finish in his nine starts, the skepticism is fair. But there’s also reason to buy into Tagovailoa in his second year.

Rookie/Sophomore EPA per play. (Photo by 4for4.com)
Rookie/Sophomore EPA per play. (Photo by 4for4.com)

Fantasy production skews our view of rookie quarterbacks. We focus more on the results than efficiency. But it tells us quite a bit about their outlook early on in their careers. Quarterback EPA is relatively stable in the first two years. It's pointed us to players like Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes. Conversely, Dwayne Haskins clearly needed more time to develop. Surprisingly, Tua’s rookie season aligns more with the former group. This is not to say Tagovailoa will become the league’s best passer. Instead, it gives us a range of outcomes. Outside of Cody Kessler, every rookie quarterback since 2016 has maintained or improved their efficiency. In other words, it sets a viable floor with realistic access to a ceiling. Additionally, Brian Flores’ deployment of Tagovailoa last year lines up with this assessment.

Tagovailoa vs. Fitzpatrick, 2020. (Photo by 4for4.com)
Tagovailoa vs. Fitzpatrick, 2020. (Photo by 4for4.com)

I presented this in a previous piece, but it bears repeating. Tua wasn’t drastically limited as a rookie from an opportunity perspective. We just saw the results. It was Fitzpatrick that replaced the rookie and booted the Raiders from the playoffs. Fitzpatrick was the one with multiple top-12 finishes. However, continued usage at these rates is another reason Tagovailoa is a prime breakout candidate.

His offensive situation should also appeal to us. Miami’s offensive line was 20th in adjusted sack rate last season. Over the offseason, they made multiple moves to address the deficiency. Plus, the additions of Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle are clear upgrades over Mack Hollins and Jakeem Grant, who were pressed into service last season. With other ancillary players like Preston Williams returning, Tagovailoa’s sophomore season has the makings of a breakout with all of the risk priced into his current draft value.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Football Team

It’s odd to think of a 38-year-old quarterback as a breakout candidate. We usually look at rookies or those with more athletic utility. But at QB25, Fitzpatrick has a clear path to finishing well ahead of his current value. Let’s start with the passer himself.

Fitzpatrick's ranks since 2017. (Photo by 4for4.com)
Fitzpatrick's ranks since 2017. (Photo by 4for4.com)

Fitzpatrick has started in 30 games since 2017. He’s finished as a top-12 quarterback in 11 of those games. He’s been efficient and, somewhat surprisingly, accurate with the production to go with it. And now, similar to his prior situation in Tampa Bay, he’ll have a full crew of playmakers to unleash on the NFC East.

But the common rebuttal is Washington’s defense, a unit that limited opposing offenses to the sixth-fewest points per game last season. Plus, they invested two early-round picks on that side of the ball. Subjectively, the phrases “play ball control” and “slow the game down” are conjured when thinking about the team as a whole. Last year’s offensive output reflects the negatives. But objectively, we should consider the previous season to be an aberration:

Rivera/Turner offensive tendencies in 2020 vs. 2019. (Photo by 4for4.com)
Rivera/Turner offensive tendencies in 2020 vs. 2019. (Photo by 4for4.com)

Being forced to start Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, and Taylor Heinicke can have adverse effects on your offensive game plan. But it’s not how Ron Rivera or Scott Turner approach the game. Same for Fitzpatrick who’s been on teams above the league average at each metric since 2017. With a quarterback and coaching staff stylistically aligned, Fitzpatrick profiles as another quarterback to outkick his ADP by the end of the season.

[Visit 4for4, where 92% of subscribers made the playoffs, for more]

Kirk Cousins, Vikings

Another year and we’re left figuring out how to value Kirk Cousins. We’re excited for another year of Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook is the consensus 1.02 in any non-SF format. And even though Adam Thielen will be 31, he still carries an early round ADP. But Cousins falls to the late rounds. He’s finished below QB16 once in the last five years, but the rookies have largely surpassed him in value. We can leverage such an inefficiency.

Kirk Cousins' play-action and deep ball rates with efficiency ranks, 2018-2020. (Photo by 4for4.com)
Kirk Cousins' play-action and deep ball rates with efficiency ranks, 2018-2020. (Photo by 4for4.com)

Minnesota has cycled through five different coordinators over the last five seasons. As a result, their neutral pace and passing rates have oscillated over that span. But their incorporation of play-action passing concepts has been consistent. The Vikings sport some of the most efficient play calls, maintaining them as a top-12 efficient offense over the last two seasons. Combined with Cousins’ deep ball, it excelled last season. Kirk had high accuracy marks on passes over 15 air yards which is part of what brought Justin Jefferson into our lives last year. With the team turning from Gary Kubiak to his son Klint as their new coordinator, we can expect similar usage in 2021.

Cousins’ problem, however, continues to be turnovers, but his skill at this stage of his career, offensive philosophy, and surrounding talent is all a schematic fit. In addition, the team added more offensive linemen during the draft to reduce the amount of time he’ll be under pressure. It may be tough for him to significantly surpass QB17, but the makings are there for a breakout from Kirk.

This article appeared in its full form on 4for4.com

Chris Allen comes from an analytical background, leveraging his data skills with his multiple years of experience across different formats (e.g. seasonal redraft, DFS, MFL10). He has tested weather effects and its impact on games, player output variance, and the validity of the associated narratives. Chris can be heard as co-host on the Dynasty Manual podcast.

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