The great part about predicting the future is you can be wrong 99% of the time and still be remembered forever. Right Nostradamus? But get one thing right and they’ll name comets and theories after you. Hopefully after this article, 2021 will be the year of the “EWB Dak Prescott Model of Fantasy Football.” That’s a tongue-twister. Maybe, “Damn the Darnolds!” Actually, I’m gonna start writing a spec script on that right now!
ENYWHEY. I’m aiming this article for the dynasty players that probably want to shore up their QB position before going into what will undoubtedly be a nasty 2021 campaign for QBs. On the plus side, there are 12 pretty good quarterbacks ready for your 2021 teams. On the downside, it’s a complete catastrophe after that. On the other upside — which is a Soundgarden B-side FYI — quarterbacks have a stunning point parity so if you don’t draft a top QB you can just stream 3-4 QBs and not worry about it. That’s a lot more work for you, though.
Foremost, I’m looking at consistency, upside, and return on draft capital. The quarterback position is usually the highest scoring position on a week-t0-week basis for fantasy teams, but there’s also remarkable point parity within the second tier of QBs. (I said that above but the message never seems to get through). On a per-week basis, the second tier of QBs are separated by about 2 fantasy points per game. Your job as a fantasy manager is to try your hardest to get a top QB, and failing that, predict which QB will have consistently high outcomes and play matchups. So, let’s take a look at the QBs going into 2021.
The Way Too Early Top 20 for 2021
1) Patrick Mahomes — Shouldn’t be much of a surprise, and probably not a lot of explanation needed. Mahomes is the fantasy points per game leader among qualified QBs for 2020, and he’s thrown for 30 or more TDs in two out the last three years (2019 having been shortened by injury). If you’ve got him, you’re cheering, If you don’t got him, you’re looking up Grammerly so you can say “You don’t got him” in the Queen’s English.
2) Russell Wilson — Fine, hate me. Actually, He Hate Me. Close the browser tab and shout at Reddit about how I’ve lost my marbles and am playing with a half deck of cards. But, the truth is, Wilson is the chef that you want for consistent cooking on your fantasy team. Touchdowns are the flukiest category in QB scoring, and there’s only one QB that’s topped 30 TDs each year from 2017-2020: Russell Wilson. He’s finishing the 2020 campaign as a top-5 fantasy QB, even with a bleh end to the year. Wilson isn’t a sexy pick, but a lot of teams are in the playoffs thanks to his stellar play in the first part of the year. If you don’t want him on your team, that’s fine, but look at all the players with huge risks below and tell me you’re not going to let Russ make you a fine dinner every week while you worry about the more important positions on your fantasy team.
3) Deshaun Watson — I’m a Vikings fan, and even I feel bad for the Texans fans. Bill O’Brien smashed the team into a million bits, and Watson couldn’t do much but look on. When O’Brien was finally removed from his wacky GM/Coach hybrid position early in 2020, Watson thrived under interim coach Romeo Crennel. Crennel isn’t an offensive-minded coach, and the last “successful” QB he helmed was Derek Anderson. Crennel has been collecting social security for nearly a decade now (unless he’s doing late withdrawal–good choice my man!) so he’s not likely to helm the Texans in 2021. Watson is in the top tier based on skill alone, and hopefully a new coach and some more consistent surrounding talent will help propel Watson to be the “next Russell Wilson.” <–That’s my prediction that will make or break me as an analyst. But if you’re looking for massive upside, there’s no better gamble than Watson. We’ve seen his floor — which is still a top 10 fantasy QB — and now let’s cross our fingers the Texans snag a capable coach in the off-season.
4) Kyler Murray — The Razzbois have talked about Kyler at length so I don’t want to add too much, but he’s a top-tier fantasy talent and the Cardinals have done a great job at surrounding him with weapons for long-term production. If he hadn’t injured his shoulder at the 75% mark in the 2020 campaign, he might have finished as the top fantasy QB. It’s fine to rank him number 3 if you want, but we’ve seen peak Murray (Lost in Translation, amirite?). We haven’t seen peak Watson (except on Jeopardy!). So, Murray goes #4.
5) Josh Allen — Always had the arm, didn’t always have the accuracy. With Stefon Diggs on the field, that doesn’t really matter. Allen’s finishing 2020 as a top 3 fantasy QB, and his boom-or-bust performances are winning a lot of leagues for people. That said, it’s going to be a wild ride for Allen managers. If you’re in best ball formats, absolutely grab him. If you’re in head-to-head, he could be tough to roster because some weeks he simply disappears. If I’m feeling controversial, I put Allen in the “Undroppable” tier of QBs. If I’m feeling Grinch-like, it must be because Allen finished below QB15 about 40% of the time in 2020.
6) Lamar Jackson — OK, let’s be done with the poop jokes. Everybody poops. They even made a book about it. L-Jax is basically Allen’s blurb above: there are some games that Jackson simply disappears…and not because he went to the locker room. He’s going to finish 2020 with hardly 2500 passing yards, and another 900 yards on the ground. But, he provides a surprisingly consistent floor game-in and game-out. Rushing QBs are always a plus, but they’re also historically inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. Jackson comes with a high upside, but also a worrying downside due to the lack of passing yardage. To put things in perspective, up until the great QB scarcity of the second half of 2020, L-Jax was hovering around QB 10-12 (pre-Covid), and he started vaulting up the charts once the likes of Kendall Hinton and Jake Luton and Colt McCoy got some starts. I still like Lamar, but I’m not in like with Lamar.
7) Justin Herbert — Hoo boy! Small sample size! <–Things that she definitely said. ENYWHEY. Where are my baseball drafters looking at Randy Arozarena this year? You like him, eh? Now wait for this: Justin Herbert has the third highest fantasy points per game from 2019-2020…and yeah, he didn’t play in one of those seasons. Herbert is in a wonky situation and might have a new coach next year, but he’s certainly shown enough arm talent and “NFL acumen” (whatever that means) to be a top fantasy QB for your team. I’m ranking him here to be controversial and get attention, but the absolute truth is…he’s a rookie on a broken team and still ended up as a top-10 fantasy quarterback. Imagine what he could be in a better situation. A lot of rankers will put Herbert at the fringe top 12 QBs next year, which will be a great target for managers looking to stock up on RBs and WRs early while grabbing a combo of Herbert/Hurts late in the draft for serious upside.
8) Ryan Tannehill — If you know me, you know I’m a Tanny-stan. I’m also not terribly worried about ordering in rankings, especially around this level. Tannehill was off most fantasy managers’ radars this year but will finish in the top 10 fantasy QBs. His efficiency is still off the charts, he crested the 30 passing TD plateau, and he finished in the top 15 QBs for rushing yards with an additional 4 TDs. He’ll be 33 next year. You could run him as an interim dynasty QB and be totally set for a few more years until you draft Robo-Chad in 2024.
9) Aaron Rodgers — ARog doesn’t have the most impressive advanced metrics but he certainly padded the stat sheet this year. It’s also helpful to know that he played the majority of his games against bottom-rung defenses. Maybe it’s a Vikings fan thing that I dislike Rodgers. But Rodgers turns 38 next year, and he’s becoming increasingly reliant on his receivers taking the ball down the field (Rodgers had a career-low air yards in 2020). It makes you question whether you should take the risk, or let somebody else take Rodgers’ aging arm on their team. When you put them side-by-side, Rodgers doesn’t look terribly different from a lot of the lower tier QBs on this list. So, I’m out on a 2021 Rodgers campaign. But what keeps me interested in Rodgers is, of course, all the question marks that appear on this list from 11-20.
10) Tom Brady — All signs point to Brady continuing to play in 2021, so let’s keep drafting him. With the amount of top receivers surrounding Brady in Tampa Bay, he doesn’t need to do a lot of work to rack up the points. It’s like I’m flipping the Rogers narrative, right? But would you rather have Valdez-Scantling running down the field, or Godwin/Evans/Gronk? Either way, you’re picking an older QB who has more floor than upside, and you should know that those kind of QBs are fine for head-to-head and completely uninteresting in best ball.
11) Dak Prescott — Well, here we are. You know I love Dak, but he suffered a gruesome injury on a short-term contract. We don’t know for certain how his injury will heal, and we don’t know for certain where he’ll be playing next year. There’s a lot of teams needing a QB, and Dak may want to try to find a team that will actually give him a legitimate contract. I mean, Nick Foles and Mike Glennon got contracts. Hell, Chase Daniels gets contracts. ENYWHEY. Huge risk, huge upside, but definitely outside the top 10 fantasy QBs for right now. If you’re playing a long game in an established dynasty league, definitely roster Dak wherever you can and await his valiant return.
12) Joe Burrow — Same as above, but we know Burrow’s coming back to the Bengals. Also, the Bengals are awful. It’s going to take a team-wide overhaul to make the Bengals both fantasy and real-world relevant, but at this point, we’re speculating wildly. Burrow had a huge start to the 2020 campaign, and once healed, he could be a perennial top 12 QB. But the Bengals need to shore up their awful O-line, lest their RBs and QBs continue to get nailed behind the line of scrimmage.
13) Kirk Cousins — Ugh. You know I don’t like the guy, but he doesn’t miss games, and he’s got a solid floor. If you’re in a deep league or superflex, Kirk is the kind of guy that gets you the playoffs. If you’re in a shallow league, Kirk is the guy you take to Pizza Ranch and ask for extra wing sauce. He’s huge in garbage time and he’s got two top WR in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, so he could be a nice late-round grab in 2021 for those QB streamers.
14) Derek Carr — I present to you, 2020 top 12 fantasy QB Derek Carr! Yeah, we are all pretty meh about Carr, but he’s got an intriguing set of wide receivers, a coaching staff that loves to pass, and an uncanny ability to perform big against tough defenses. If you’re doing the QB free-fall in 2021, Carr is an intriguing upside pick for your streaming needs.
15) Jalen Hurts — Hell, if you wanted a ranking that put Jimmy G here, you can go to ESPN. For loyal Razzball readers, you’re getting Jalen Hurts. The big problem is, of course, Carson Wentz’ $100 million contract. But Hurts has a second round draft price tag, and he’s electric on the ground. His air game will come around. If Hurts gets the nod in 2021, you’re looking at a QB that nobody is paying attention to that could easily finish in the top 12, like Burrow or Herbert in 2020. If Wentz gets the nod, well, sleep it off. If Wentz starts in Philadelphia, I’d rank him around QB20 because he got surprising volume despite his poor play. Late Night Edit: Donkey Teeth said I was too low on Hurts. I said that Hurts my feelings. You could easily put Hurts at 11 and Dak here. But my predictive powers simply fade into oblivion when faced with Wentz’ albatross of a contract. I don’t want people running out to grab Hurts when we’ve watched teams like Miami run out the schtick while keeping “The Franchise” on the bench. So, if you can acquire Hurts for cheap, go for it! And blame DT if it doesn’t go well for you.
16) Tua Tagovailoa — At this point in the rankings, we’re all looking at speculation. Tua’s got a big arm and could thrive in Miami. Or the Dolphins re-sign Fitzmagic and keep letting the beard put up droll games in 2021. Tua should take the driver’s seat full time in 2021, though, and he’s got potential to reach the top 12, or at the very least, anchor a superflex team.
17) Taysom Hill — Does Brees get another Super Bowl ring in 2020? Does he finally bow out? All these things are a factor in whether Taysom Hill gets a starting gig in 2021. But, even though I don’t like Taysom’s game, it’s undeniable that he could take over the Saints’ offense and do just fine. Again, rushing QBs are fluky and inconsistent, and Hill’s game is so rushing-based that he could easily flop. Hill is a big question mark, but with his upside, I’d rather take him in 2021 than Jimmy G or Daniel Jones.
18) Matt Ryan — Ryan will finish 2020 as a fringe top 12 fantasy QB, and those of you who listened to me to roster him were rewarded well enough. However, he’s got a coaching change coming up, and there’s probably going to be a lot of roster turnover. A lot of Ryan’s passing yards were in garbage time due to the atrocious Falcons’ defense. At this point in his career, Ryan is more floor than upside, but he’s still worth a consideration as an option for QB free-fall teams and superflex teams.
19) Ben Roethlisberger — Big Ben simply doesn’t have a big arm anymore (2.9 air yards per attempt in 2020). The system he’s in gives him plenty of upside TD games, making him a great best ball QB for 2021. However for mainstream leagues, he’s a streamer or superflex QB2 at best.
20) Trevor Lawrence — Jags are tanking to get Lawrence, which spells the end of the Minshew era in Jacksonville. After the Foles/Minshew/Luton/Glennon things in the past few years, do you really think the Jags are going to ease Lawrence into the QB position? The Jags have been productive for fantasy QBs, and Lawrence will be the next gunslinger to get a shot at those lucrative garbage time yards. When it comes to drafting QBs in 2021, I’d rather have TL’s TD upside than (throws dart at a board) Drew Lock. Minshew regularly put up QB12-QB15 games in the Jags’ system, so a revamped offense in 2021 could have Lawrence producing Burrow-like results.
202o Parting Thoughts
Top QBs are going to be tough to find next year. There are some clear cut elite options, but at this way-too-early juncture, there are tons of question marks about playing time, team composition, and coaching changes for QBs 8-20. Of course, 2020 was a disaster of a year on all fronts and shouldn’t be taken too critically in analytics circles. If you’re in an 8-team league, QB won’t really matter next year because there are about 8 “good to great” options for you. If you’re in a 12-team league, you’ll need to work on a top QB earlier in the draft. If you’re in a superflex league, you should try to get a top-5 QB and pair him with somebody like Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, or Trevor Lawrence. I think Derek Carr will be the steal of the 2021 draft, by the way.
ENYWHEY. This post was way longer than expected. Hope it helps, and take care in the New Year!
Aye, you made it this far, didn’t ya. EverywhereBlair is, well, located at home right now. He’s a historian and lover of prog-metal. He enjoys a good sipping rum. When he’s not churning data and making fan fiction about Grey and Donkey Teeth, you can find him dreaming of shirtless pictures of Lance Lynn on Twitter @Everywhereblair.