The summer is here, meaning we're getting closer to the start of fantasy football drafts. Success in those drafts will come from landing terrific bargains in the middle to late rounds while avoiding players who could see their numbers decline compared to 2020. However, that latter exercise isn't easy, especially in the case of players who are among the elite at their position or are coming off breakout seasons in the stat sheets.
Case in point. In 2019, Lamar Jackson went bananas with over 415 fantasy points. Had he not been held out of what was a meaningless Week 17 game, he would have broken the record for the most points scored by a quarterback in a single season. Jackson was so good that it seemed like a forgone conclusion that he’d be just as good again in 2020. Those of you who sunk a high-round pick on him found out differently.
Jackson threw for 10 fewer touchdowns, rushed for 199 fewer yards, and averaged 5.5 fewer fantasy points. He failed to score at least 18 points five times in his first 10 games and needed a late-season, five-game surge to finish in the top 10 among quarterbacks.
The point here is that no one saw this coming because Jackson was so good in 2019. That leads me to this series, aptly named "The Fantasy Case Against…" where I'll do my due diligence in looking at players who everyone in fantasy land seems to think is a sure bet to remain uber-productive after finding a high level of success in past seasons.
The Fantasy Case Against ...
Jalen Hurts | Justin Herbert | Zach Wilson (Dynasty) | Alvin Kamara | Darrell Henderson | Derrick Henry | Michael Carter | David Montgomery | Saquon Barkley | D’Andre Swift | Darrell Henderson | Brandon Aiyuk | Ja'Marr Chase | Julio Jones | Justin Jefferson | Kenny Golladay | Kyle Pitts | Travis Kelce
Next up, let’s take a look at Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Hurts started four games as a rookie, replacing the ineffective Carson Wentz. He was very productive in a prominent role, scoring at least 18.6 fantasy points in the three games he started and finished (remember the Nate Sudfeld debacle in Week 17). He rushed for a combined 238 yards in those three full games, an average of 79.3 yards per game. Over a 17-game schedule, that would project for 1,349 rushing yards.
That total might be a bit difficult to achieve over a full season, but Hurt’s rushing skills make him a very interesting and potentially valuable fantasy breakout candidate.
Did You Know?
Hurts was amazing as a runner in his three full games as a rookie, but he left a lot to be desired as a passer. In Weeks 14-16, 28 different quarterbacks played all three games and threw the football at least 50 times. Of those 28 quarterbacks, Hurts finished dead last in completion percentage (54.9). He was also last in on-target percentage (57.5) and 22nd in passer rating (86.4). On a positive note, Hurts did rank eighth in terms of passing yards per game (282.3) and was also tied for seventh in pass attempts (113).
Hurts’ rushing abilities are the main point of emphasis in terms of his fantasy value. We have seen several productive running quarterbacks over the last 20 years, none more than Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Mike Vick, and Cam Newton (among others).
But here’s an interesting trend to keep in mind.
Since 2001, Jackson, Murray, Vick, and Newton are the lone second-year field generals who have rushed for more than 660 yards. That's a far cry from the pace Hurts was on last season, albeit in a small sample size since he started and finished three games.
Here’s another interesting fantasy trend that doesn’t favor Hurts. Since 2001, a total of three quarterbacks have put up more than 288 fantasy points in a single season with a completion percentage of under 60. Those signal-callers are Newton (2012, 2015, 2017), Blake Bortles (2015), and Josh Allen (2019). I used the 288-point total because that would have been good enough to finish as the QB12 in 2020. A QB12 finish would be somewhat of a disappointment for Hurts based on his expectation for this season.
Nick Sirianni will be a head coach for the first time in his NFL career, and he’ll be calling the offensive plays (not OC Shane Steichen). That will change from his time as the coordinator in Indianapolis, as Frank Reich called the shots. In three years in that role, Sirianni's quarterbacks ranked QB5 (Andrew Luck, 2018), QB23 (Jacoby Brissett, 2019), and QB 20 (Philip Rivers, 2020). Hurts is a much different quarterback than Luck or Rivers, as his strength is mobility and his skills as a runner. Sirianni hasn't had a signal-caller rush for more than 228 yards (Brissett), so he'll need to adjust in 2021.
Folks, this article was tough for me to write because I'm a major believer in Hurts as a breakout candidate this season. At this point, I still am, but the red flags are obvious. First off, he needs to improve as a passer to meet expectations. Hurts will have some growing pains along the way, especially when you consider the inexperience of his top two wideouts, DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor. They'll both have to meet and even surpass expectations to get Hurts to the promised land in the world of fantasy.
While I think 700-plus rushing yards is very attainable, that trend of second-year quarterbacks not rushing for huge totals over the last 20 years is at least notable.
Maybe the biggest threat to Hurts' value this season might now be bigger than ever. That's the chance that the Eagles will trade for Deshaun Watson. He has reported to Texans training camp, but Watson hasn’t changed his stance that he wants to be traded. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has suggested that no team is “better positioned” to trade for Watson than the Eagles, and such a move would be a knockout blow to Hurts' value.
Watson’s chances of playing this season, amidst all of the off-field allegations, seem to have improved at least slightly in the last week too. In fact, our Shawn Childs now has Watson projected to play the majority of the upcoming season. If that’s the case, there is at least a chance Watson could be playing those games as the Eagles quarterback.
For now, Hurts remains a top-12 fantasy quarterback. But he’s no lock to be a true star.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!