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Evaluating Rookie Quarterbacks for Expected Fantasy Value



By Steve Schwarz | 6/3/21 |

Justin Fields

Itís easy to get excited by a rookie quarterback who was drafted high in the first round Ö or even first overall. But what is the likely real value of that top pick for your 2021 fantasy team?

First off, we have to differentiate dynasty leagues from single-season leagues. For dynasty leagues, getting a great quarterback means a decade of elite play from the position and the ability to spend your draft capital elsewhere for the next few years. In that way, the value of a great quarterback is similar to that of the real life team who drafted him.

But what of the majority of fantasy football enthusiasts? For those who play a single season at a time, itís much harder to find the next 2020 Justin Herbert (who averaged a stunning 26.3 FPts/G) or a 2011 Cam Newton (27.6 FPts/G) much less a 2017 Deshaun Watson (32.2 FPts/G).

So letís look at the facts.

I evaluated all quarterbacks selected in the top-three rounds of the draft for the past 10 years. There were 53 such picks made from 2011-2020.

Of those 53 quarterbacks, 11 made zero starts (20.8%). Most of these were easy to understand. They were drafted as backups to the likes of; Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady (twice). Or they were projects. We should be able to spot them pretty easily and avoid them.

In 2021, three of the eight quarterbacks selected in the top-105 picks, figure to hold a clipboard for most, or all, of the season barring serious injury to the starter; Kyle Trask (that Brady guy again), Kellen Mond and Davis Mills. They are keeper-league picks only, or very late-round picks in deep roster leagues.

If we throw out the 11 quarterbacks who didnít make a start, the remaining 42 quarterbacks averaged 18.5 FPts/G. That number would not make the ďaverageĒ rookie a fantasy-worthy starter. In 2020, 18.5 FPts/G would rank 28th among those who made at least two starts.

What did it take to make the top-12 of 2020 fantasy quarterbacks? The answer is the 23.4 FPts/G of Kirk Cousins. But that mark was the highest in the last 20 years, so to be fair I took the average of the 12th-best fantasy quarterback over the past 10 seasons. The average No.12 fantasy quarterback since 2011 was 21.6 FPts/G.

And how many rookie quarterbacks over the past 10 years have reached that mark? Answer: 22.6% or 12 of 53 quarterbacks. Even if we eliminated the obvious rookies who werenít going to start at all this season you still have just a 28.6% of selecting a fantasy-worthy rookie quarterback.

And if you think to yourself Ė OK, Iíll just limit myself to first-round picks or second-round picks. Sorry, thatís not the answer.

Second round picks averaged 18.7 FPts/G and 40% of the picks didnít start a game. For first-round picks, they averaged a little more (18.8 FPts/G) and at least most of them got onto the field at some point. Just 6.3% of first round picks never started a game in their rookie season.

A better evaluating theory would be determining which rookie quarterbacks have a chance to start 15 or 16 games. There were 14 rookie QBs who started 15 or more games and they averaged 20.1 FPts/G. Still not starter-worthy, but closer.

The 15-game starting filter likely eliminates Mac Jones and Trey Lance from the mix as Newton and Jimmy Garoppolo still figure to start the season for the Patriots and San Francisco 49ers, respectively.

So we are down to just three possible rookie quarterbacks who may be worthy of starting in their first year for your fantasy team.

Letís look at the three and evaluate who should be worthy of your attention.

Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville - Of the three quarterbacks, Lawrence has the best weapons. D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault at wide receiver and James Robinson, Travis Etienne and Carlos Hyde make up a solid group of options. Chark regressed after a breakout season in 2019 (73-1008-8), but given the quarterback play of Gardner Minshew, Mike Glennon and Jake Luton in 2020 it was probably understandable. Marvin Jones is a proven talent and Shenault is a Curtis Samuel-type ďSwiss-armyĒ knife. Robinson was one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 season (240-1070-7 rushing and 49-344-3 receiving). The team drafted Lawrenceís Clemson teammate, Etienne, who made himself into a great receiving back in his final seasons for the Tigers. Lawrenceís fantasy value makes me think of Joe Burrow before his injury where the previous seasonís top choice averaged 21.9 FPts/G.

Zach Wilson, New York Jets Ė The Jets made a big move to pry Corey Davis (65-984-5) out of Tennessee, but their skill position options are still limited with Denzel Mims (23-357-0) and Jamison Crowder (59-699-6). Meanwhile, Tevin Coleman (injured for most of 2020) and rookie RB Michael Carter (North Carolina) will man the backfield. The team did try to help itís porous 29th-ranked OL (according to PFF) with USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, but itís likely that Wilson will be throwing on the run most of the time. For these reasons, I donít think Wilson is a viable fantasy option for 2021.

Justin Fields, Chicago - I think Fields starts the season under center opening day having only to beat out aging veterans Andy Dalton and Nick Foles. Heís got the No.1 receiver of the three quarterbacks in question (Allen Robinson), but Iím not yet sold on Darnell Mooney and Anthony Miller. Tight end Jimmy Graham still has value in the red zone, but thatís about it and the trio of David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen (ACL) and Damien Williams is helpful with their varied talents, but unspectacular. The most intriguing factor here is Fieldsí lack of turnovers over his Buckeye college career and rushing ability (67 TD passes, 9 INTs, 867 rushing yards and 15 rushing TDs at OSU). He reminds me of Kyler Murray who in 2019 posted 21.5 FPts/G.

Bottom line: only Lawrence and Fields should be expected to help your fantasy team in 2021.

 Top-Three round quarterbacks selected from 2011-2020
Year Rd Ov Player Starts FPts FPts/G as St
2020 1 1 Joe Burrow 10 218.6 21.9
2020 1 5 Tua Tagovailoa 9 163.6 18.2
2020 1 6 Justin Herbert 15 394.2 26.3
2020 1 26 Jordan Love 0 0.0 0.0
2020 2 53 Jalen Hurts 4 130.8 27.8
2019 1 1 Kyler Murray 16 344.5 21.5
2019 1 6 Daniel Jones 12 287.3 23.8
2019 1 15 Dwayne Haskins 7 106.4 13.9
2019 2 42 Drew Lock 5 86.2 17.2
2018 1 1 Baker Mayfield 13 307.4 22.9
2018 1 3 Sam Darnold 12 231.1 19.3
2018 1 7 Josh Allen 11 254.8 22.6
2018 1 10 Josh Rosen 13 171.7 13.0
2018 1 32 Lamar Jackson 7 184.0 25.6
2018 3 76 Mason Rudolph 0 0.0 0.0
2017 1 2 Mitchell Trubisky 12 174.5 14.5
2017 1 10 Patrick Mahomes 1 15.2 15.2
2017 1 12 Deshaun Watson 6 199.9 32.2
2017 2 52 DeShone Kizer 15 260.6 17.4
2017 3 87 Davis Webb 0 0.0 0.0
2017 3 104 CJ Beathard 5 119.1 19.2
2016 1 1 Jared Goff 7 82.1 11.7
2016 1 2 Carson Wentz 16 280.1 17.5
2016 1 26 Paxton Lynch 2 35.4 11.7
2016 2 51 C. Hackenberg 0 0.0 0.0
2016 3 91 Jacoby Brissett 2 34.3 14.3
2016 3 93 Cody Kessler 8 94.8 11.8
2015 1 1 Jameis Winston 16 347.2 21.7
2015 1 2 Marcus Mariota 12 254.1 21.2
2015 3 75 Garrett Grayson 0 0.0 0.0
2015 3 89 Sean Mannion 0 1.6 0.0
2014 1 3 Blake Bortles 13 231.3 16.2
2014 1 22 Johnny Manziel 2 17.7 3.7
2014 1 32 Teddy Bridgewater 12 228.9 18.2
2014 2 36 Derek Carr 16 256.2 16.0
2014 2 62 Jimmy Garoppolo 0 14.0 0.0
2013 1 16 EJ Manuel 10 173.2 17.3
2013 2 39 Geno Smith 16 272.9 17.1
2013 3 73 Mike Glennon 13 210.1 16.2
2012 1 1 Andrew Luck 16 366.2 22.9
2012 1 2 Robert Griffin III 15 365.9 24.2
2012 1 8 Ryan Tannehill 16 244.2 15.4
2012 1 22 Brandon Weeden 15 236.4 15.8
2012 2 57 Brock Osweiler 0 -0.7 0.0
2012 3 75 Russell Wilson 16 332.8 20.8
2012 3 88 Nick Foles 6 119.3 17.1
2011 1 1 Cam Newton 16 441.2 27.6
2011 1 8 Jake Locker 0 54.7 0.0
2011 1 10 Blaine Gabbert 14 168.5 11.9
2011 1 12 Christian Ponder 10 166.6 16.1
2011 2 35 Andy Dalton 16 271.1 16.9
2011 2 36 Colin Kaepernick 0 1.6 0.0
2011 3 74 Ryan Mallett 0 -0.1 0.0