2023 Injury Impact Review: QB


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2023 Injury Impact Review: QB

Were you extra bad at fantasy football this season?

Do you need an excuse to give to your significant other? Maybe there is an explanation. Let’s start with the hottest topic of 2023: were QBs really more injured than usual this year — The Year of the Backup Quarterback?

The answer is yes and no.

Even though the number of starting quarterbacks who missed time due to injury was nearly identical to last season – 20 QBs vs. 19 in 2022, respectively – passers this season missed a whopping 102 total games.

In 2022, starting quarterbacks missed 88 games — a 15.9% increase year-over-year in total games missed among starting signal-callers.

Joe Burrow (calf/thumb), Kirk Cousins (Achilles), Daniel Jones (neck + ACL), Anthony Richardson (shoulder), Deshaun Watson (shoulder), and Aaron Rodgers (Achilles) combined to miss a total of 67 games on their own. Woof.

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The Impact of QB Injuries

The downstream effects are just as jarring. Although it seems obvious, it bears repeating that highly drafted skill players were also impacted.

Among the teammates of QBs who missed at least seven games, these skill players were drafted in the top six rounds, per August Underdog ADP:

  • Ja’Marr Chase

  • Tee Higgins

  • Joe Mixon

  • T.J. Hockenson

  • Alexander Mattison

  • Saquon Barkley

  • Darren Waller

  • Michael Pittman

  • Jonathan Taylor

  • Nick Chubb

  • Amari Cooper

  • Breece Hall

  • Garrett Wilson

There are plenty of nits to be picked with some of these players. And some of them had injuries of their own. But the point is that several offenses had to endure tectonic shifts in game planning and overall infrastructure.

Here are the skill player teammates of QBs who missed 3-6 games due to injury:

  • Garrett Wilson (again after Zach Wilson took over)

  • Breece Hall (again after Zach Wilson took over)

  • Amari Cooper (again after Cleveland discovered DTR wasn’t that guy)

  • DJ Moore

  • Keenan Allen

  • Austin Ekeler

  • Mike Williams

  • Najee Harris

  • Diontae Johnson

  • George Pickens

  • Saquon Barkley (again when Tyrod Taylor took over)

  • Darren Waller (again when Tyrod Taylor took over)

So how did this impact the backfields and pass catchers? To answer that question, I used the incredible Fantasy Points Data Suite (seriously, if you can swing it, this is the best data package in the game).

First, every team who had a starting QB go down with an injury in 2023 was identified. Then, team backfield fantasy points per game and team pass catcher points per game, respectively, were calculated pre and post-QB injury. For example, the average number of fantasy points per game that Colts’ pass catchers with and without Anthony Richardson were calculated. The same was done for the Colts’ backfield. Then, the average post-injury was divided by the average pre-injury. The exact same was done for backfields. Here’s an example using the Colts:

First, the Indianapolis Colts’ backfield fantasy PPG without Anthony Richardson was calculated. Then, we calculated the backfield fantasy PPG again with Anthony Richardson. Lastly, we divided the “without” number by the “with” number. The result we’ll call backfield delta fantasy PPG.

We followed that same process for pass catchers for each team.


Below are the raw numbers for how pass catchers (WRs and TEs) and backfields fared. The percentage represents how much a team improved or worsened based on when the starting QB was active by calculating the difference in fantasy production. Scoring is PPR.

For example, the first number represents that the Chargers saw a -21% dip in fantasy points from pass catchers without Justin Herbert active. (That was the worst in the league, by the way.)

Team Fantasy Points delta – WR/TE

TeamDifference in Team Pass Catcher PPG
Los Angeles Chargers(-) 21%
New York Giants(-) 20%
Minnesota Vikings(-) 19%
Houston Texans(-) 8%
Las Vegas Raiders(-) 6%
Chicago Bears(-) 2%
Cleveland Browns(+) 6%
Pittsburgh Steelers(+) 7%
Cincinnati Bengals(+) 9%
Indianapolis Colts(+) 12%
Seattle Seahawks(+) 12%
Tennessee Titans(+) 18%

Team Fantasy Points delta – RB

TeamDifference in Team Backfield PPG
Los Angeles Chargers(-) 44%
Cleveland Browns(-) 29%
Indianapolis Colts(-) 27%
Seattle Seahawks(-) 15%
Houston Texans(-) 8%
Tennessee Titans0%
Chicago Bears(+) 36%
New York Giants(+) 40%
Minnesota Vikings(+) 40%
Pittsburgh Steelers(+) 40%
Las Vegas Raiders(+) 67%
Cincinnati Bengals(+) 70%

Overall Team Fantasy Points differential

Overall Backfield PPG ChangeOverall Pass Catchers PPG Change
(+) 14%(-) 1%

Entire Sample PPG Delta

The table above represents the average change for the entire sample. Backfields that played without the starting QB improved by (+) 14% on average from a fantasy points-per-game perspective. Pass catchers dipped by (-) 1%.

Pass Catchers

Overall, 6 of the 12 teams’ pass catchers worsened in fantasy points per game when their starting quarterback was off the field. Those teams were:

  • Chicago

  • Las Vegas

  • Houston

  • Minnesota

  • NYG

  • LAC

Chicago is a great place to start as an example of why this exercise is imperfect on the surface. Overall, the Bears’ pass catchers only dropped (-) 2% in overall production. However, DJ Moore averaged 20 points per game with Justin Fields (which included a 49 and 27-point explosion).

With Tyson Bagent under center, Moore averaged fewer than 10 points per game – a drop of more than 50%. The takeaway is that Moore’s ceiling and floor were negatively impacted after Fields was injured.

The flip side is that Cole Kmet’s average with Bagent jumped from 11 to 13. Additionally, two of Kmet’s three best fantasy outings came with Bagent at QB.

Another case to look at is Davante Adams with the Raiders. He went from 15 PPG (in seven starts) with Jimmy Garoppolo to 16 PPG (10 games) with Aidan O’Connell. Recall that Garoppolo suffered a concussion in Week 4, injured his back in Week 6, and then lost the starting job following his final start in Week 8.

Adams is simply built differently. The Raiders’ offensive ecosystem rightfully revolved around him regardless of who was under center. So, even though Adams’ production was technically slightly better with O’Connell – the Raiders’ pass catchers overall saw a negligible 6% decrease overall.

Jakobi Meyers was particularly affected by the Raiders QB change. Meyers was on track to be one of the best values in fantasy drafts early in the season with 18.1 PPR points per game in six starts with Garoppolo, but he fell off to just 11.2 PPG with O’Connell under center.

So if a true alpha WR sees his QB miss time, the offense shouldn’t skip a beat, right? Not so much. In 9 games with Joe Burrow last season, Ja’Marr Chase averaged 18.9 PPR points per game. That would have made him the WR6 on the season.

On the flipside, Chase averaged just 12.2 PPG (WR36) in six full starts with Jake Browning. After hammering the Jaguars for 11/149/1 with Browning in Week 13, Chase’s season ended with a whimper over his final four games (14/153 receiving on 21 targets). It's worth mentioning that the star suffered a low back contusion in Week 9 that likely wasn’t 100% the rest of the season. He also suffered a shoulder injury in Week 15 that caused him to miss the following game and impacted his ability to take on contact the rest of the way.

Next, let’s dig into Justin Jefferson, who, for all intents and purposes, was healthy by the time he returned from his hamstring injury. The result? Jefferson went from being the WR3 (averaging 22 PPG) all the way to WR21 (averaging 14 PPG) post-injury (and without Kirk Cousins).

Even though a guy like Jefferson can go off at any time (see Week 18), without Cousins, he didn't pay off anywhere near his ADP. Unsurprisingly, the Vikings’ fantasy PPG from pass catchers dipped by -19% after Cousins' injury.

From a volume perspective, TJ Hockenson obviously benefited from Jefferson missing nearly half of the season. Hockenson averaged 9.9 targets per game with Jefferson off of the field, and that lowered to 7.3 T/G when Jefferson was active.

Lastly, looking at the data for teams whose pass catchers only improved (so excluding teams who were worse), we see that overall, that improvement was modest at +11% and was bolstered by a single outlier (the Titans with a +18% improvement). This will come into play while looking at the backfields.


Here are the teams whose backfields worsened in fantasy points per game. Again, some of these were small samples, so keep that in mind:

  • Houston

  • Seattle

  • Indianapolis

  • Cleveland

  • LAC

If you’re wondering, the only two teams who worsened in both backfield and pass catcher PPG were the Chargers and Texans.

Overall, backfield fantasy points per game improved by (+) 14% across the board. The improvement amongst teams who did get better was high at (+) 49%. This stands to reason: when the starting QB goes down and a team can #EstablishIt even a little, they will. This stat passes the eye test when looking at Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the New York Giants.

When it comes to team management while dealing with real-life NFL quarterback injuries, it pays to roster the average to good running back. To further this point, look at Joe Mixon after the Burrow injury. After Burrow went down, Mixon averaged 18 PPG. Before, Mixon averaged just 13 points per game. The Bengals saw a commensurate (+) 70% (!) increase in backfield production.

Another example: in games without Jimmy Garoppolo, Josh Jacobs’ average fantasy points per game was 16 (as compared to 13 with Garoppolo). Now, Jimmy G was just benched, but philosophically, the point remains. The Raiders backfield was slightly more productive with Aidan O’Connell. In four starts in place of Jacobs, backup Zamir White picked up right where Jacobs left off with 15.2 PPR PPG in Weeks 15-18.


Overall, there were more QBs in 2023 than usual who missed ~40% or more of the season despite “minor” injury rates being relatively static. The skill positions were impacted in opposite and generally expected ways. When a starting QB was injured, their pass catchers -– even the alphas – were generally more volatile in fantasy scoring. When it comes to team management while dealing with real-life NFL QB injuries:

  1. Generally speaking, running backs were less impacted than receivers
  2. As for pass catchers who lose their starting QB, ceiling games are less likely to come by, as evidenced by guys like DJ Moore, Justin Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase.

Overall, these results make sense: Any “improvements” in receiving points per game we observed this year were modest and, in reality, much less predictable. The dude throwing the ball will directly impact the dudes catching it. The backfields, however, are generally more predictable and should be targeted.

So, were you extra bad at fantasy football this year? it wasn’t your fault!

Edwin completed his Doctorate of Physical Therapy education in 2020. His expertise is in all thing’s orthopedics, injury recovery, and he has a special interest in human performance. Edwin’s vision is to push injury advice past simple video analysis and into the realm of applying data from the medical literature to help fantasy players make informed start-sit decisions.