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Fantasy Football Tiers (2021): Quarterback Rankings Explained

Ranking quarterbacks in tiers will help you make better decisions during your fantasy football drafts

UPDATED: September 3, 2021

We are inching closer to the start of the 2021 NFL season, and with that, we're seeing an obvious increase in the number of fantasy football drafts. That makes it more important than ever to put your players into positional “tiers.” Unlike my regular player rankings, which you can also find on Sports Illustrated, tiers group players of similar value together. So, if you miss out on a particular player, you can see others on his tier.

Fantasy Football Tiers
Quarterbacks | Running BacksWide Receivers | Tight Ends

First, let’s take a look at the quarterbacks.

Tier 1 – The Elite

  • Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
  • Josh Allen, Bills
  • Kyler Murray, Cardinals
Josh Allen gives a thumbs-up gesture at the line of scrimmage during a 2020 game against the Seahawks

Mahomes, Allen, and Murray are likely to be the first three quarterbacks off the board in most 2021 fantasy drafts. That will keep them off the radar for managers like me, who wait on the position until the middle to late rounds. Still, Mahomes could throw for 5,000 yards with the additional week of action, and Allen is coming off one of the top seasons of all-time among quarterbacks based on fantasy points. Murray might regress somewhat in terms of his rushing totals, but he'll still put up big numbers this season regardless.

Tier 2 – High-End QB1s

  • Lamar Jackson, Ravens
  • Dak Prescott, Cowboys
  • Aaron Rodgers, Packers

Jackson and Prescott are barely on the outside looking in as it pertains to the elite tier. The Ravens quarterback saw a big decline in his consistency last season, at least until the later portion of the campaign. Prescott missed most of 2020 after suffering an ugly leg injury, and he’s missed most of camp and the preseason with a shoulder strain. I can still see a scenario where both of these players move into the elite level, though. Rodgers, who was the QB2 last season, is back in Green Bay and remains a top option.

Tier 3 – Mid QB1s

  • Russell Wilson, Seahawks
  • Justin Herbert, Chargers
  • Ryan Tannehill, Titans
  • Jalen Hurts, Eagles

Wilson, Herbert, and Tannehill have all been mid-tier No. 1 fantasy quarterbacks in the last two seasons. Herbert and Tannehill have a smaller sample size than Wilson at this level, but I don't see any indications that either will take a massive tumble this season. As for Hurts, I included him in this tier because he has the potential to be on this level. His skills as a rusher make him attractive in fantasy circles, and his performance as a starter last season (albeit limited) has him listed among this year’s breakout players.

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Tier 4 – Low QB1s

  • Tom Brady, Buccaneers
  • Matthew Stafford, Rams
  • Joe Burrow, Bengals
Tom Brady smiles after winning the Super Bowl

It's strange to label Brady as a low anything, but he does fit best into the list of low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterbacks. Can he throw for 40 touchdowns at the age of 44? I'd have a tough time betting against him. Stafford's stock is rising with the Rams, and you have to like Burrow with all the weapons he has in Cincinnati. Reports about some of his camp struggles aside, Burrow has the upside to become a top 10-12 quarterback.

Tier 5 – High Upside QB2s

  • Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars
  • Trey Lance, 49ers
  • Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins

All three of these quarterbacks could push for high QB2 value or even low QB1 stock in a best-case scenario. Lawrence is considered the top quarterback prospect to come out of the draft since Andrew Luck, and some considered Tua an elite prospect before he was injured late in his college career. Lance is all the rage in fantasy land these days, but he doesn’t have a clear path to a starting job like Lawrence and Tagovailoa. Still, he’s being drafted as a potential fantasy starter even while behind Jimmy Garoppolo.

Tier 6 – Mid QB2s

  • Kirk Cousins, Vikings
  • Justin Fields, Bears
  • Jameis Winston, Saints
  • Matt Ryan, Falcons

Three of the four quarterbacks in this tier are veterans who have been QB1s in the past but don't have high ceilings heading into this season. Cousins and Ryan will have their share of solid stat lines, but neither will be leaned on as regular starters. Fields is the lone exception in the tier. A rookie with major upside, he could make a move into the high-upside QB2 tier before the start of the season. However, Andy Dalton is slated to open as the starter behind a suspect offensive line. He might not be long for the job.

Tier 7 – Low QB2s

  • Derek Carr, Raiders
  • Carson Wentz, Colts
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick, Football Team
  • Baker Mayfield, Browns
  • Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

Carr, Wentz, Fitzpatrick, Mayfield, and Big Ben have all likely already reached their statistical ceilings at the NFL level, so I don't see them as anything more than No. 2 options in fantasy leagues. Mayfield, in particular, has a run-oriented offense to navigate and won't be the most reliable option for most managers.

Tier 8 – High QB3s

  • Zach Wilson, Jets
  • Sam Darnold, Panthers
  • Mac Jones, Patriots
  • Daniel Jones, Giants
  • Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos
  • Jared Goff, Lions
Jameis Winston

Many of these quarterbacks won't even be drafted in smaller leagues, and none of them will be more than low QB2s in traditional formats. The best upside options in this group will be Darnold, Wilson and Mac Jones. Bridgewater has won the starting job in Denver and is a solid QB3, while Goff isn't very attractive as more than a late flier. 

Tier 9 – Deshaun Watson

  • Deshaun Watson, Texans

I have no idea how to grade Watson, so he’s on his own tier. If it weren’t for the off-field issues, which are serious and disturbing, Watson would be a high-end QB1. Based on the fact that we have no clue when Watson will play, if he'll play, and who he'll play for if he actually plays, I can't advise picking him as more than a high QB3 in drafts.

Tier 10 – Deep Fliers

  • Tyrod Taylor, Texans
  • Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
  • Drew Lock, Broncos
  • Taysom Hill, Saints
  • Andy Dalton, Bears

This tier includes a few players who are projected to start but might not be long for the job. None of them will be selected outside of super flex or two QB leagues this season.

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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!

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