Some of the best fantasy football owners in the high-stakes market have their success by cheating the quarterback position. The quarterback inventory in 2021 has plenty of depth, with many backend options featuring wide receivers with high-ranking value. If a wide receiver is well respected in drafts, it only makes sense that his quarterback should have a reasonable floor. This theory will lead to some unexpected late opportunities at the quarterback each draft season.
There have been many seasons in the NFL when a quarterback offers an impact separator score. When this happens, they are worth an early draft pick for sure. It’s a fine line trading running back and wide receiver strength to land a stud quarterback. Even if you decide to pick a quarterback between round six and round 10, you could be losing out on a critical backup player with upside.
When I start looking at my best options at quarterback, I’m looking for a team with three talented wide receivers, one elite pass-catching back, and a solid passing tight end. A quarterback with five options in the passing game will force a defense to defend the whole field, leading to impact yards and touchdowns.
The changing draft flow and depth at the quarterback can lead to the top-tier players sliding a round or two in some leagues. Scoring and format create a wide range of value for quarterbacks. To help get a feel for the current inventory, here’s a look at the top 12 quarterbacks drafted in a four-point passing touchdown league:
In this scoring system and format, wide receiver depth is premium, leading to quarterbacks being discounted on draft day. For comparison, in a six-point passing touchdown contest, the top-tier quarterbacks come off the boards 20 to 25 picks earlier in drafts.
Last year six quarterbacks scored between 419.00 and 457.60 fantasy points, creating a tight group of options to choose from based on the stats from 2020.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes comes with electric talent while playing in a high-scoring offense. After leading the NFL in quarterback scoring (482.45 fantasy points) in 2018, he slipped to seventh (334.55) and fourth (429.80) over the following two seasons while continuing to be the first quarterback drafted in most leagues. He remains an edge while not being a lock to be the best quarterback in the land. The question with his ADP (44) comes when to draft him. In this format, Mahomes becomes a value if he slides below his current price point, but he needs one receiver (Mecole Hardman) to reach WR2 status and expand his other wideouts' success and usage.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
The best quarterback last year was Allen, thanks to the addition of Stefon Diggs. He went from a low-level passer with plus value legs to the complete package with an exciting career ahead of him. Unfortunately, his success prices him as the second quarterback off the table, but he only has one stud receiving option. Age and decline are significant issues for Cole Beasley (32) and Emmanuel Sanders (32), while Gabriel Davis may emerge as Allen’s James Lofton (big-play receiver for the Bills in the early 90s).
As we saw with Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson over the past two seasons, repeating as the top quarterback is a difficult task. Allen has a high floor due to his value in the run game. In baseball and football, we see players have great seasons but underachieve the following year. Michael Thomas posted a 149/1,725/9) in 2019, followed up by only 40 catches for 438 yards and no scores due to multiple injuries. If Diggs misses any time, I don’t see enough talent in Buffalo’s receiver corps to offset his loss. For that reason, I won’t fight for Allen this draft season. He needs one more receiving stud to support his fantasy draft value.
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray moved from sixth in quarterback scoring in his rookie season to second last year. His push higher came from a more prolific role in the run game (133/819/11). He continues to settle for short completions, which is the next area of improvement needed to rank as the best player in the league.
Last year, Josh Allen improved his yards per pass attempt from 6.7 to 7.9 after adding Stefon Diggs to the offense, setting the stage for his breakthrough season. Unfortunately, the Cardinals didn’t add another difference-maker at wideout via free agency, but Rondale Moore may be the speed player who pushes this passing game up a notch. Nevertheless, Arizona has one of the best receivers (DeAndre Hopkins) in the game, and their offense should get some mileage out of A.J. Green and Christian Kirk.
The combination of Murray’s running and potential growth as a passer puts him at the top of my quarterback rankings in 2021. As a result, he is my top target at quarterback while also having a reasonable price on draft day. Murray brings a consistency factor, along with an explosive ceiling.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
The fantasy world loves CeeDee Lamb, and the Cowboys have an elite running back with pass-catching ability. Amari Cooper remains a beast in talent while still looking for that one season where he shines late in the year when fantasy championships are on the line. Michael Gallup works as the big-play threat, with one excellent season (66/1,107/6) on his three-year NFL resume. Dallas also brings serviceable receiving talent at tight end. When adding in Prescott’s ability to run and produce scoring plays in the red zone, there are the makings of a special offensive season.
Unfortunately, a slow recovery and potential issues with his right shoulder put him in the avoid column until a better update about his health. As a result, Prescott started to slide in drafts over the past two weeks. His ADP (88) invites a buying opportunity as a fantasy owner should have no problem adding a second playable quarterback if his injury and subsequent recovery linger into the season.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
The legs of Jackson have provided back-to-back exciting seasons (176/1,206/7 and 159/1,005/7), but he continues to rank at the bottom of the league in pass attempts. The Ravens have a top-tier tight end (Mark Andrews), and Marquise Brown brings explosiveness in his limited chances. Baltimore added WR Rashod Bateman in the first round of this year’s draft, but he had surgery to repair a core issue in mid-August. The Ravens don’t expect him to see the field until October.
With any regression in his output in rushing stats, Jackson would need to offset this loss with more success in the passing game. I can’t fight for him based on his ADP (73) paired with his final ranking (10th) in quarterback scoring in 2020.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
He remains one of the slickest quarterbacks in the game, with an excellent feel for producing touchdowns. He had two outstanding wide receivers (DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett), but his offensive line continues to allow too much pressure (51, 48, and 47 sacks over the previous three seasons).
Seattle knows they have a poor defense, so they want to run the ball to slow down the clock. If the game is close in the fourth quarter, Wilson has the magic to deliver wins. Fantasy owners saw this disparity first hand in 2020 with the production of Wilson (first half – 2,806/29 and second half – 2,143/15), leading to him being a neutral starting fantasy quarterback option in 2021.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Over the next decade or so, it will be fun watching Herbert battle Patrick Mahomes for league and AFC titles. His movements within the game have similarities with Mahomes while excelling in the deep passing game. He comes into 2021 with one elite high-volume catch wide receiver while desperately needing Mike Williams to be a more relevant force in the passing game.
The Chargers have a new coaching staff while showing a history of featuring their backs in the passing game. Austin Ekeler remains a force out of the backfield, giving Herbert a second top-tier receiving option.
His only negative from his rookie season was a decline in his yards per passing attempt (6.8) over his final 10 starts. The only thing holding him back from being in the top five quarterback conversation is more firepower at wide receiver and tight end. Herbert also helps his fantasy value with his ability to move the chains in the run game.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In August, Brady comes off the board as the ninth quarterback with an ADP of 125 in this format. His career resume speaks for itself, but can his high production beat go on forever. He tends to come off the board a round and a half later than Justin Herbert and Aaron Rodgers. When matching up his receiving corps to the Packers and Chargers, Brady has the clear edge in star power (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown), plus Tampa has depth and talent at tight end. It’s almost hard to believe a player coming off 4,600-plus yards with 43 scores would just be a backend dart at quarterback in 2021. The foundation is there for Brady to have a better season than last year.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
After setting a career-high in touchdowns (51), Rodgers wanted out of Green Bay in the worst way over the summer. The Packers’ upper management found a way to get him back in the field in 2021, pointing to another playoff berth.
Rodgers has one of the best wide receivers in the game, but he still lacks a reliable WR2, forcing him to spread the ball around to move the ball. The Packers tend to be a league-average team in pass attempts. Their growth in passing touchdowns came from the tight end position (14 scores), which may not be repeatable.
In 2020, Green Bay dominated with the run game, leading to only 26 pass touchdowns. If this pattern reemerges this season, Rodgers won’t outperform his draft value. He is a great player with a history of winning and making the players around him better. Unfortunately, regression in touchdowns appears to be a given.
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Tannehill is a second quarterback ranked in the top 10 by ADP (137) that projects to finish near the bottom of the league in passing attempts. Tennessee lost Corey Davis to free agency after showing growth last year. The addition of Julio Jones offsets that loss while also helping create better spacing for A.J. Brown and the run game.
Over 28 career starts for the Titans, Tannehill has an amazing 11 rushing touchdowns despite a minimal opportunity (86/451).
He falls into the neutral category for me due to him being more challenging to time. Tennessee will have games where they control the clock on the ground, leading to short passing production by Tannehill.
Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
My projection model ranked Stafford as backend QB2, about 11 spots lower than his current ADP (139). He offers no value in fantasy points in the run game. The Rams barely threw to running backs in 2019 (37/260/2) and 2020 (50/440/2), leading to Jared Goff earning his passing yards via his wideouts and tight ends. In comparison, Stafford completed 89 passes for 717 yards and three touchdowns in 2020 (76/501/2 in 2019).
Los Angeles has two top 20 wide receivers who should prosper under their new quarterback, but the Rams want to play good defense and control the clock on offense. They already lost their lead running back, and I'm not a fan of their offensive line. I would avoid paying a premium for him on draft day when considering Stafford is one year removed from a back injury that cost him eight games.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Some early training camp woes and concerns about the Bengals’ offensive line have kept Burrow from moving up the draft board. However, he has two emerging front-line receivers, and Tyler Boyd would be a WR1 on a minimum of 13 NFL franchises in 2021.
Burrow averaged over 40 pass attempts per game in his rookie season while also chipping in on the ground (37/142/3). He is coming off a significant knee injury, but the Bengals expect him to start in Week 1. Burrow is on the verge of greatness thanks to a breakthrough season, and I expect him to be drafted much higher in 2022. In addition, his lower ADP (148) allows fantasy owners to build up their running back and wide receiver depth.
QB1 ADP Final Thoughts
Success at the quarterback position is vital over the long football season, but a lower-tier quarterback can match the elite players over the short-haul in the championship rounds of the high-stakes market. By reviewing the ADPs of all quarterbacks before sitting at the draft table, fantasy owners will have a better feel of where the drop-offs are within the draft.
Senior analyst Shawn Childs is a multi-sport, high-stakes fantasy legend with lifetime earnings in the high six-figures. He has been providing in-depth, analytical break downs for years all while helping his subscribers to countless titles and winnings across season-long & DFS. A inaugural inductee of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn can teach you how to prep like a champ!