Last season we saw plenty of breakout players at the quarterback position. Lamar Jackson led all QBs in fantasy scoring by far – 73 points ahead of 2nd place Dak Prescott – despite playing in one fewer game. Dak, to his credit, was drafted in the later rounds and, like Jackson, smashed his preseason ADP. Josh Allen finished as the #6 quarterback in fantasy despite being drafted outside the top 20 in many leagues. Jameis Winston went undrafted in many leagues but led the NFL in passing yards and finished second in passing touchdowns. Kyler Murray massively outperformed expectations, finishing as the #7 quarterback despite going in the double-digit rounds in most leagues. There was remarkable value to be had at the QB position last year, but can we expect that to continue?
History would suggest so, as early-round quarterbacks are almost always over-drafted. Last season, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Baker Mayfield, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Cam Newton, and Ben Roethlisberger were drafted inside the top-12 at their position. Whether it was due to injuries or limited offensive production, none of them met their high draft price. The NFL has quickly transitioned into a pass-first league built on spread offense and three or 4-wide receiver sets. This means there are more fantasy-relevant quarterbacks than ever before. While your league-mates are using early picks to grab their favorite quarterback, you can load up at the running back/wide receiver positions and wait until late to grab your still-serviceable guy at QB. The fact that (standard) fantasy football lineups only require one starting quarterback makes it all-the-more enticing to hold off on burning a pick on that position.
Frequently I enter a fantasy draft with no intention of drafting a quarterback until the last few rounds with the full expectation of streaming the position. I’ll be writing more about streaming strategy later on, but it involves replacing your quarterback with guys off the waiver wire each week. This is especially effective in smaller leagues with smaller rosters and more talent in the free agency pool. If you’re planning on streaming the position or at least waiting until later in the draft to draft a quarterback, you’ll want to take a look at the early-season schedule to get an idea of how productive your QB will be in the first few weeks. Quarterback is the most easily-replaceable position off the waiver wire in fantasy football – guys like Jameis Winston, Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Ryan Tannehill had very productive stretches last season. They could be had as free agency additions at various points.
The factors I mainly look at when identifying quarterback sleepers are the following:
- Weak defenses – if the quarterback plays for a team with a defense prone to giving up early leads to their opponent, that will create more favorable game script opportunities where the team will be reliant on the passing game and up-tempo style—extra points for garbage time here.
- Receiving weapons – you obviously won’t want to be starting a quarterback in fantasy if their receiving weapons are subpar. Carson Wentz owners learned this the hard way last year.
- Red-zone passing percentage – touchdowns are a highly variable statistic, but if a team threw the ball a lot in the red zone last season, there’s a higher likelihood their quarterback would have scored more touchdowns.
- Rushing – this is the most crucial statistic for fantasy football success at the quarterback position. Lamar Jackson ranked 22nd in passing yards last season and finished as the top fantasy QB due to his ground production (1,206 yards and seven touchdowns). Same for Josh Allen, who finished 23rd in passing yards but was the 6th-best quarterback for fantasy due to his 510 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Casual fantasy football players always undervalue rushing success and overvalue traditional quarterback play. Know your league rules to take advantage of market inefficiencies better and take advantage of your less-experienced league-mates.
*Note: ADP numbers are taken from Lineups, and standard scoring is used (1 point for 25 passing yards, 1 point for ten rushing yards, 4 points for a passing touchdown, 6 points for a rushing touchdown)
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers
ADP: 162.2, QB27; my ranking – QB10
Teddy Bridgewater is one of my fantasy football sweethearts for 2020. Why? Man, where do I start? First off, the Panthers finished 25th in defensive DVOA per Football Outsiders and then proceeded to lose pretty much all of their critical defensive starters. Mario Addison, Vernon Butler, Bruce Irvin, Kyle Love, James Bradberry, Ross Cockrell, Colin Jones, and Eric Reid will all be playing for different teams in 2020. Meanwhile, Luke Keuchly, the best linebacker of our generation, surprisingly retired and left a giant hole at linebacker on this squad. There’s a reason the Panthers used all of their seven draft picks on defensive players, and we should expect a year of difficult transition for this team on that end of the ball. Carolina’s defensive woes should present plenty of positive game script opportunities to feature this team’s passing game.
Conversely, the Panthers should see some strides forward from last year offensively after adding Matt Rhule as the head coach and Joe Brady as the offensive coordinator. Last season, Brady orchestrated the historic LSU offense led by the Heisman-winning Joe Burrow. Brady also has experience working with Bridgewater as a former Saints coach. With Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel, and Ian Thomas in tow, the Panthers quietly have a talented skill position group on offense which should maximize Brady’s play-calling. Bridgewater hasn’t profiled as a mobile guy in recent years – he rushed for just 31 yards in 5 starts for the Saints last year. However, he’s been working his ass off to come back from his devastating 2016 leg injuries and should be in career-best physical condition heading into this year. His doctors were worried he would never be able to walk again, but now he’s going on 75-mile bike rides.
To put the cherry on top for Bridgewater, the Panthers play in a division that features the Saints, Buccaneers, and Falcons – those three teams should be conducive to shootout, high-octane offensive games where the Panthers will need to rely on Bridgewater’s arm. To recap: Bridgewater is a talented quarterback playing in an offense with a highly-touted offensive coordinator and sneaky-good receiving weapons on a team with a defense that should offer plenty of real game script situations for the team with the 2nd-highest pass attempts per game last season. I currently have Bridgewater slated as my QB10 in my season-long stat projections. Even if you don’t love Bridgewater as a season-long option, four of the Panthers’ first five opponents ranked inside the top-ten in fantasy points allowed to the QB position last season (Cardinals, Raiders, Falcons, Buccaneers). Bridgewater is going to go undrafted in a lot of leagues, but I love him as a late-round option this year.
2. Daniel Jones, New York Giants
ADP: 120.1, QB15; my ranking – QB11
Jones has seen his ADP skyrocket after a promising rookie season, which included 3,027 passing yards and 24 passing touchdowns. He also rushed for 279 yards and two touchdowns, although his 12 interceptions and 18 (!!) fumbles will need to be cut down if he wants to help his team win games. However, offensive tackle Andrew Thomas (4th overall pick in the draft) should help keep him upright in 2020. The Giants likely aren’t the first team you think of in terms of elite skill position players, but they have a ton of depth and talent on offense. Players like Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, and Evan Engram all profile as high-level receiving weapons who should help Jones continue to progress in his sophomore season.
The Giants did change their coaching staff heading into 2020 – Joe Judge (HC) and Jason Garrett (OC) will replace Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula. Changes in coaching aren’t significant for a young quarterback attempting to adjust to life in the NFL, and Garrett, having not called offensive plays since 2012, scares the shit out of me. There are other factors in place which make me interested in Jones as a fantasy option. The Giants had a terrible defense in 2019, ranking 27th in DVOA per Football Outsiders. Additions in the draft and free agency (Xavier McKinney, James Bradberry, Blake Martinez) should help. Still, it’s unlikely we see a massive turnaround especially given new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s unproven track record.
The Giants ranked 8th in passing attempts per game last year and should find themselves around that same territory in 2020. I’m less thrilled about Jones as an early-season QB option after the Giants’ season was announced – their first four games (vs Steelers, at Bears, vs 49ers, at Rams) are all against defenses who excelled against QBs last year. The Giants have some matchups (Redskins twice, Buccaneers, Bengals, Cardinals, Browns), which will make me excited to stream Daniel Jones or use him in DFS those weeks. Still, I likely won’t be drafting him in many leagues given that robust early-season slate and his surprisingly high ADP. I have him finishing as the QB11 on the season per my season-long projections.
3. Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers
ADP: 152.2, QB21; my ranking – QB13
The Chargers used the number six overall pick on Justin Herbert in this year’s draft, and football fans should expect him to take over at some point this season. However, I don’t see him opening the year as the starter as Taylor is a serviceable veteran presence. Within the Chargers’ first nine games of the season, they face one defense which ranked in the top twelve for points allowed to fantasy QBs – the Panthers, who should be markedly worse this year. Other early matchups are juicy – the Bengals, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Raiders especially stand out.
The Chargers feature plenty of offensive skill talent, which could boost Taylor’s numbers while he’s starting – Austin Eckler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry offer a diverse and accomplished group of receiving weapons. The other thing Taylor has going for him is a career full of rushing production – he’s averaging just over seven rush attempts per start in his career, which should put him on pace for 30+ yards per game and a couple of rushing touchdowns. That may not seem like a lot, but the handful of points Taylor gains per game on the ground boost him above other streaming candidates at the QB position. I don’t expect Taylor to start the entire season for the Chargers, but I have his stats projected for a 16-game slate, and I have him finishing as my QB13.
Taylor is a bit of a lame duck in an unenviable position with Herbert inevitably taking his job. However, while he’s still under center, he should be able to produce for a team with plenty of skill-position talent. Philip Rivers had the 4th-most passing attempts in the red zone last season. While the Chargers may opt for a more run-heavy approach with Taylor (especially after adding the bruising back Joshua Kelley in the draft), he should be a factor with his legs around the goal line as well. The Chargers ranked as the 14th-best team in points allowed last year, but they still had the 10th-most passing attempts per game, which is good news for Taylor.
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn has experience with Taylor back when he was an assistant coach and later interim head coach for the Bills. In 2016, the season in which Lynn took over as the interim head coach midway through the season, Taylor finished as the 7th best quarterback in fantasy. There’s a bit more talent at the position now, but there’s no reason Taylor can’t be relevant for fantasy given his rushing potential, surrounding ability, and light schedule.
4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
ADP: 130.7, QB 18; my ranking – QB12
The Lions‘ season was decimated by injuries in 2019, and Matthew Stafford missed the final eight weeks with a back injury, which he has reportedly fully healed from. Before his injury, Stafford was on pace to reach 5,000 passing yards and 38 touchdowns – that would have been his best production since 2011. The Detroit offense benefitted from the switch from Jim Bob Cooter to Darrell Bevell at offensive coordinator as they went from 25th to 18th in points per game despite being without Stafford for half of the season.
The Lions ranked 26th in points against with 26.4 points allowed per game. Still, we should expect their defense to improve after their offseason saw them overhaul their secondary with several additions headlined by their first-round pick Jeff Okudah and veteran Desmond Trufant. The front seven should also be improved with Julian Okwara, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, and Reggie Ragland joining the squad. Matt Patricia is a defensive-minded coach, and we should expect significant improvement from this unit.
However, there should still be plenty of room for fantasy production on offense. Stafford is heading into this season with arguably his most talented receiving corps since Calvin Johnson was on the roster. Kenny Golladay gives him a true outside X receiver for the first time since Megatron was roaming the field in Detroit. Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola should also be productive yet again for this offense, as should free agency addition Geronimo Allison. TJ Hockenson should be even better in his sophomore season, especially if he can stay on the field for a full 16-game slate (see tight ends sleepers for more on him). D’Andre Swift was drafted in the second round by this team, and while he will be a factor on the ground, his pass-catching ability should only boost Stafford’s stats.
The Lions’ first two games come against the Bears and the Packers, two teams who ranked top five in fantasy points allowed to the quarterback position last year. I won’t be thrilled about starting Stafford those weeks. However, after Week 2, Detroit will take on the Cardinals, Saints, Jaguars, Falcons, and Colts, all of whom ranked outside the top 20 in fantasy points allowed to QBs. Playing in a division with high-end defensive teams in Green Bay, Chicago, and Minnesota means there are going to be weeks where I won’t touch Stafford, but pairing him with another late-round QB to start on those weeks could be a good strategy.
Dating back to 2012, Stafford hasn’t finished outside of the top 15 at the quarterback position in fantasy, and there are several top-ten finishes in there as well. Despite their expected defensive improvement, the Lions should be passing the ball aplenty – it feels like every offseason the Lions tout their desires to be more of a run-heavy team. Still, they haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rush-play percentage during Stafford’s entire tenure there. They will be relying on his arm yet again, and with one of the best receiving corps of his career, there’s no reason the 32-year-old QB shouldn’t be able to bounce back with a great fantasy season. I have him finishing as my QB12 in my season-long projections, and he should be able to finish close to a top-ten guy at his position.
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