Rookie quarterbacks, especially when selected at the top of the NFL draft, are supposed to be the saviors for a franchise. But most struggle in their first year in the league. Or do they? How about for fantasy?
The genesis of this piece started with Joe Burrow and his prospects for the upcoming season, but then it morphed into a deeper dive at rookie quarterbacks in general, so here we are. For full disclosure, I entered this space with a fade Burrow perspective, but after looking at some of the data, I may have come around to him. Here’s what I found:
(Historical fantasy points and rankings are courtesy of FootballGuys.com. Queries courtesy of ProFootballReference.com)
Since the Football Guys database only goes back to 1996, we are limited somewhat in the data. With that said, that’s still over 23 years, so the sample size is decent.
My inital query into Pro Football Reference was for rookie quarterbacks who scored at least 300 fantasy points. The results? Two. Ok, how about 250 fantasy points? Seven. 200 fantasy points? 16. There have been 239 quarterbacks drafted since 1996, so that’s .8%, 2.9%, and 6.6% respectively.
Before I unveil the list, I want to highlight some numbers which show how much the passing game has grown over the years. In 1996, John Elway scored 305.3 fantasy, which was good for fifth in the league. In 2014, Cam Newton was 17th in the league with 300.25 points. Last season, Philip Rivers was 15th with 305.65 fantasy points.
In 1996, the 250 to 300 fantasy point range was filled with one player: Drew Bledsoe with 292.05 points. In 2014, there were three players in the 250-300 range, and they were ranked 17th, 18th, and 19th in fantasy points scored. Last season, there were 10 quarterbacks in the 250-300 fantasy point range, and they were ranked from 16th to 25th.
How about the 200 to 250 range? In 1996, 200 points were good for 13th in the league. By 2014, it was adequate for 26th in the league. Last season, Matthew Stafford scored 202.55 fantasy points, but he missed eight games due to injury.
Now for the list of all the rookie quarterbacks who have scored at least 200 fantasy points in their inaugural seasons:
|NAME||YEAR||DRAFT||FAN POINTS||FP RANK||RUSH YDS|
|Robert Griffin III||2012||2||317.5||7||815|
The thing that jumped out to me was the importance of rushing ability in order to have a successful fantasy season in year one for a quarterback, which makes sense, as it’s easier to run for yards than dissect complex NFL defenses. Next is draft capital. 12 of the 16 were drafted in the first round. Since 1996, there have been 49 quarterbacks selected in the first round. So, 24% of first-round quarterbacks have scored at least 200 fantasy points their rookie season. I get better odds of chasing a flush draw on the flop!
Which brings us back to Joe Burrow. While he has some wheels and mobility, I don’t think he’s putting up over 500 yards on the ground. The most favorable comps would be the rookie seasons for Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston. The Colts had a terrible offensive line, like the Bengals this season. In addition, the Bengals will likely be slinging the ball all over the field, somewhere between Winston’s 535 attempts and Luck’s 627 attempts their rookie seasons. Both players ended up with around 275 fantasy points. Rudy’s projections for Burrow have him at 270 fantasy points, which would put him as the 17th quarterback for fantasy.
There’s been some chatter about Burrow being a QB1 for fantasy this season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it would require some extraordinary things on the ground for that to come to fruition. History tells us so.