Quarterback is, without question, the most important position in any major team sport. With all due respect to goalies and point guards and starting pitchers and various other key roles, quarterbacks generally have a (much) greater impact on game outcomes. Twelve of the last thirteen NFL Most Valuable Players have been QBs.
And yet in traditional fantasy formats, quarterbacks are basically an afterthought. Replacement value is extremely high at the position and traditional QB scoring settings are terrible.
Fantasy rules were written in a very different NFL era, which is likely a piece of the problem. We just simply haven’t done enough to distinguish between the elite, hyper-efficient QBs and the middle-tier chuckers. It’s why so many of us argue for a switch to superflex as the industry standard. If you care about the extent to which fantasy football reflects the real game, you should want the quarterback position to be valued as much or more than any.
But as our game is currently configured, QB is not a great priority. However, we do have a pair of passers in today’s NFL who’ve forced their way into the early-round fantasy conversation, based on historic performances over the past two seasons...
Current Quarterback Landscape
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Lamar Jackson broke fantasy football in 2019. He set the per-game scoring record at his position, rushing for a ridiculous 1,206 yards and leading the league in passing touchdowns (36). Rostering Jackson was like having a combo RB1/QB1. Totally unfair.
It’s also not much of an exaggeration to say that Patrick Mahomes broke fantasy football in 2018. That year, Mahomes produced the second season ever in which a quarterback threw for 5,000 yards with 50 TDs.
Jackson and Mahomes are only 23 and 24 years old respectively, so it’s not as if we can definitively say we’ve already seen their best. In all likelihood, we have not. Jackson has started just 22 games in his career, Mahomes only 31. Again, each of these guys has already produced an all-time season. So while it’s fair to say that quarterback is a ludicrously deep position in standard leagues, it’s also accurate to note that Jackson and Mahomes have separated from the field. Both should be gone by the end of Round 3 in any draft, any format.
(Fun fact: Last season, the per-game scoring difference between Jackson and the No. 2 fantasy quarterback was 6.3 PPG, greater than the difference between No. 2 and No. 24.)
When the big two are off the board, a collection of dual-threat QBs will follow in Rounds 5-8, beginning with Dak Prescott or Russell Wilson. It’s easy to imagine anyone in this next tier playing at a level that merits MVP consideration. After that group is gone, there’s no need to panic. The position is still loaded, albeit with uni-threat quarterbacks — players who could easily top 4,500 passing yards, though without significant rushing upside.
You can’t screw this up. There’s your big picture.
An overwhelming majority of fantasy managers play in 10 or 12-person leagues in which teams can only start one quarterback. So there are plenty of QBs to go around. Right now, there are no fewer than two dozen quarterbacks you can feel reasonably good about starting in any given week, based on matchups. As ever, if you pass on the luxury QBs near the top of your draft, you can stream your way through the season and still make the playoffs. This position really only gets tough in superflex and/or 20-team formats. Nine active quarterbacks have delivered seasons in which they passed for 4,900-plus yards; 10 have thrown at least 35 TDs in a single year.
Because of the unusual depth at quarterback in leagues of standard size, this is a spot at which you can get bold. That is to say, if you think Kyler Murray has a shot at dethroning Jackson atop the position, go get your guy. Or if you think Baker Mayfield is gonna deliver a massive bounce-back year, go ahead and draft him a round or two above ADP.
Take it from someone who placed big bets on Jackson last season, hyping and re-hyping him. You need to draft exclusively for ceiling at QB, because you’ll have no trouble addressing this spot via the waiver wire if Plan A doesn’t pan out.
1) Patrick Mahomes, 2) Lamar Jackson
—end of tier—
3) Dak Prescott, 4) Russell Wilson, 5) Kyler Murray, 6) Deshaun Watson
—end of tier—
7) Matt Ryan, 8) Carson Wentz, 9) Josh Allen, 10) Drew Brees, 11) Matthew Stafford, 12) Tom Brady
Draft Steal(s)/Draft bust(s)
There’s really no end to the draft-day steals at quarterback. Carson Wentz is available outside the position’s top-10 in an average Yahoo draft, and we’ve already seen him play at a near-MVP level back in 2017. Wentz found himself throwing to a group of castoffs at the end of last season, yet he still averaged 301.8 yards and 2.0 touchdowns per game in December. His receiving corps is looking a whole lot better this year, with D-Jax back in the mix and rookie Jalen Reagor ready to make an impact.
Cam Newton has finished as a top-three fantasy quarterback in four different seasons and he’s the clear favorite to start for New England in 2020. Newton is among the most dominant goal-line rushers of this (or any) era. If he’s healthy, he can be a filthy steal for fantasy purposes.
And let’s not forget the last year’s Heisman winner Joe Burrow, a player coming off perhaps the greatest passing season in college football history. Burrow is stepping into an environment that’s substantially better than most No. 1 overall picks can expect. He’ll have exceptional weapons at his disposal — Green, Boyd, Mixon, Higgins, et al — and he’s a willing, talented runner. Burrow ran for 12 touchdowns over the past two seasons at LSU.
The most glaring bust candidate at QB is pretty clearly Buffalo’s Josh Allen. We all appreciate his rushing ability, but we’ve been strangely willing to overlook the fact that he’s a pretty miserable passer by NFL standards. To this point in his pro career, his greatest single-game passing yardage total is 266 (and he needed 41 attempts to get there). In the weeks that he doesn’t deliver a rushing touchdown, Allen has no path to help fantasy managers. He’s inaccurate, inefficient and prone to giveaways. If he happens to not run for another eight or nine scores this year, he’ll be a bust. Stefon Diggs is a fun addition to the Bills offense to be sure, but we can’t bank on a receiver elevating a sketchy QB to a new level.
If you can’t land Mahomes or Jackson (or maybe Dak) at a reasonable ADP, address the position late and take what the league gives you.