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2021 Positional Tracker: Quarterbacks

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2021 Positional Tracker: Quarterbacks

Updated March 26 at 12:23 PM Eastern

Tom Brolley and I are covering every major offensive transaction from the 2021 off-season in our Off-season Tracker articles. We broke down all the important free agency signings and trades from a fantasy perspective in articles sorted by position. The articles are ordered by players changing teams ("New Homes") and by players sticking with their 2020 teams ("Staying Put"). The players are also ordered by their potential fantasy impact for the 2021 season in each section. Be sure to also check out Graham Barfield’s “Fantasy Fallout” pieces on the biggest transactions of the off-season.

New Homes

We’ve had killer analysis on both the Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz trades up for weeks, courtesy of Graham Barfield. Check out the Stafford/Jared Goff analysis here and the Wentz analysis here.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (Was, 38) — Fitzmagic heads to the nation’s capital, signing a one-year deal worth $10 million guaranteed, with another $2 million in incentives available, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Fantasy Points: Yes … Ha ha ha … YES! If you’re a football fan with a soul, you wanted Fitzmagic to come out of this free-agency cycle with a solid chance to get a starting job. And, per Schefter, that’s what he’ll have in Washington — he’s expected to enter camp as The Team’s QB1, though there is an opening for Taylor Heinicke to make a play for the job (Heinicke recently signed a two-year deal). The first thing that stands out is Washington’s offense is going to be far more aggressive in 2021 than 2020 — Fitzpatrick averaged 7.4 aDOT on his passes in Miami last season, compared to 6.7 for Dwayne Haskins and 4.8 (!!!) for Alex Smith. (Smith’s average depth of target was lowest among QBs with 50 or more pass attempts, per SIS.) What’s more, Fitz has consistently been one of the most fantasy-friendly QBs for WRs. The people who should be most happy about this signing are those with Terry McLaurin on a keeper or dynasty roster, because Fitz is going to love the youngster. It might be a lateral move for TE Logan Thomas and a pure downgrade for someone like RB JD McKissic, who thrived on Smith’s checkdowns. But in terms of feeding actually explosive players, Fitz is an upgrade across the board, and his presence raises the ceiling of this offense, which helps someone like RB Antonio Gibson as well. He’ll be a late-round QB2 in best-ball drafts, but with some upside. In seven starts in 2020, Fitz finished as a top-12 fantasy QB five times and elevated the production of the players around him. That’s happened at all of his recent stops.

Andy Dalton (Chi, 33) — Dalton signed a one-year deal worth $10 million, with up to $3 million extra in incentives, to go to Chicago, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Fantasy Points: Not that signing Dalton precludes the Bears from making a splash move for Russell Wilson if the Seahawks change their minds, but uh, we’re gonna take the wild guess that this isn’t the kind of move the Bears fans had in mind as a QB upgrade. Starting nine games for the Cowboys in 2020 for an injured Dak Prescott, Dalton finished 25th in ESPN’s QBR and, despite one of the NFL’s most loaded offenses around him, ranked as a top-12 fantasy QB just twice. Dalton was also less aggressive on a per-pass basis than both Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky — 6.6 aDOT compared to 7.5 for both Foles and Trubisky. And per SIS’ EPA, Dalton was less valuable (-11.6 EPA) than Trubisky (24.3), though much more valuable than Foles (-51.5). That said, Dalton is familiar with the offense — he played under OC Bill Lazor with the Bengals from 2016 to 2018 — and Chicago clearly views him as an upgrade to their current situation. It’s also worth noting that in 2018, Dalton’s last season under Lazor, he averaged 8.0 aDOT. What’s interesting is that the money in this deal seems to indicate Dalton has a legitimate shot to start, as he actually got more than Ryan Fitzpatrick got in Washington. We have to see what Dalton’s receiving corps will look like — we presume Allen Robinson will be here — but his Captain Checkdown tendencies from 2020 might not be ideal for second-year breakout candidate Darnell Mooney.

Tyrod Taylor (Hou, 32) — Taylor signs a one-year deal worth up to $12.5 million with the Texans, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Fantasy Points: That “up to” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here, given about half of that money is guaranteed. Still, it’s hard not to look at this deal as a contingency on Houston not being able to patch things up with Deshaun Watson. At some point, you have to feel awful about Taylor’s luck. He lost his job to Justin Herbert in 2020 because of a fluke injury — he was quite literally stabbed in the lung by a team doctor as he was getting an injection for injured ribs. And given how Herbert played, Tyrod obviously didn’t get his starting gig back after just one game. At this point, the league knows what Tyrod is. He’s got plus mobility and throws a very nice deep ball, but he’s one of the least aggressive throwers in the NFL in terms of tight windows — he’s very risk averse. So any time spent as a starting QB, for Taylor, will be limited. But in terms of being a backup QB who can put a couple solid games together and keep an offense on schedule, he’s in the upper tier. If he ends up starting for Houston, it’s his legs that will make him stream-worthy for fantasy purposes.

Jacoby Brissett (Mia, 28) — Brissett lands in Miami with a one-year deal with $5 million guaranteed worth up to $7.5 million, according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe.

Fantasy Points: Brissett is originally from South Florida, so this is a homecoming for him. His deal makes him one of the highest-paid backup QBs in the league, though Volin did say something in his contract report about Brissett backing up Tua Tagovailoa at the start of the year. Is he reporting that Brissett will start at some point, or is that just a guess? Whatever the case, Brissett established himself in Indianapolis as the NFL’s premier QB sneak and Hail Mary specialist — Philip Rivers wanted none of that crap in 2020. Brissett ranked 21st in ESPN’s QBR in 2019, his only season as a starting QB, but keep in mind that was after being traded to the Colts in August following the shocking retirement of Andrew Luck. Brissett held his own in a tough spot, and then was a good soldier for Indy when the Colts brought in Rivers to raise their ceiling. Brissett is built like a linebacker and has a very good arm, and while he’s not going to be confused for Lamar Jackson any time soon, he’s mobile enough to add some designed run concepts for an offense in the event he needs to start.

Mitchell Trubisky (Buf, 27) — The Bills announced they signed Trubisky to a one-year deal.

Fantasy Points: Trubisky’s simply a limited player — he doesn’t have a power arm, his mechanics are inconsistent, and he’s not terribly accurate. But he has decent movement ability and certainly has a place as a backup in the league somewhere. He’s best utilized, as the Bears demonstrated this year, in an offense that utilizes the under-center play-action game frequently. Per PFF, only Ryan Tannehill utilized play action (36.4%) on a higher percentage of dropbacks than Trubisky (36.0%) in 2020. Trubisky averaged 8.1 YPA on play action, and 6.2 YPA on standard dropbacks. But who was just down that list? Josh Allen, at 34.4%, 4th-highest rate in the NFL (Lamar Jackson was third). Brian Daboll’s play-action heavy offense with a focus on getting a QB on the move is, frankly, a perfect spot for Trubisky to rebuild his value. This is a great move for both team and player.

Joe Flacco (Phi, 36) — Flacco “returns” to his childhood favorite team, signing a one-year deal worth $3.5 million guaranteed with another $4 million in incentives, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Fantasy Points: This move almost happened last year, but the Eagles were worried about Flacco’s medicals coming off of neck surgery. It’s strange to think about the ramifications of that — if Flacco signs in Philly as a backup to Carson Wentz last year, Jalen Hurts almost certainly doesn’t get drafted. Now, Flacco will back up Hurts. Instead of signing in Philly, he landed with the Jets and started four games for an injured Sam Darnold. He went 0-4 (as you might expect) and completed just 55.2% of his passes, but his QBR was actually 58.0, his highest since 2014 in Baltimore (extrapolated for the full season, he would have ranked just 24th in the NFL, though he was much better than Darnold at 40.1). The Eagles aren’t likely to be very good, especially if Flacco plays, but Flacco gives them experience behind Hurts.

Mike Glennon (NYG, 31) — Glennon is signing with the Giants, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Fantasy Points: Glennon will back up Daniel Jones, with Colt McCoy also a free agent. Glennon started — and lost — five games for the hapless Jaguars last season, throwing 7 TD to 5 INT while completing 62% of his passes. However, he was at least an aggressive downfield thrower, so there’s the reasonable chance that if he’s forced into action in 2021, he’ll be able to keep the G-Men on schedule for fantasy, something they struggled to do all of 2020. He’s a middle-tier backup QB.

CJ Beathard (Jax, 28) — Beathard signs a one-year deal with the Jags, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Fantasy Points: The most interesting part of Beathard going to the Jags is what it might signal for Gardner Minshew, who appears to be headed out of town by way of a trade. Beathard has proven to be a capable backup in San Francisco, though he strangely wrestled with Nick Mullens to be the primary #2 over the last couple of seasons behind Jimmy Garoppolo. Beathard is just 2-10 in 12 career starts, but he played his best football in 2020, throwing 6 TD to 0 INT with a QB rating of 105.7. He also has functional mobility (4 career rushing TD, 4.6 YPC), which means the Jags likely won’t have to change much if Beathard has to step in for Trevor Lawrence.

Tim Boyle (Det, 27) — Boyle is signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Lions, per NFL Network’s Mike Garofolo.

Fantasy Points: A fan favorite in Green Bay and a legend for preseason DFS sickos, Boyle has one of the most hilarious career statlines in the NFL — 3 completions for 15 yards… and 18 rushes for a loss of 16 yards. He is The Human Victory Cigar. Unfortunately for Boyle, he probably won’t get lit up too many times in Detroit, but he has a chance to actually play if Jared Goff stinks up the joint. The Packers chose not to tender him a contract so Jordan Love could be their primary backup to Aaron Rodgers this season.

Ryan Finley (Hou, 26) — The Bengals traded Finley to the Texans for a late-round pick swap, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Fantasy Points: I have absolutely no clue whatsoever why a team would give up capital — no matter how insignificant — for Finley. In four career starts, Finley has completed under 50% of his passes and has a career passer rating of 59.4. Those numbers are apocalyptically bad in today’s NFL. Moreover, he has zero pocket presence. The Texans have now spent capital on two QBs this off-season — Finley and Tyrod Taylor — and it may be a hint they’re bracing to lose Deshaun Watson.

Staying Put

Dak Prescott (Dal, 28) — Prescott and the Cowboys agreed on a four-year deal worth up to $160 million.

Fantasy Points: The Cowboys’ relationship with Prescott was bizarre for years, but despite the nasty ankle injury that ended his 2020 season prematurely, Prescott’s willingness to bet on himself has paid off. For fantasy, we know what kind of impact he can have. Strapped with a historically bad defense and loaded with offensive weaponry in 2020, through four games Prescott was on pace for 804 pass attempts and 6760 passing yards, both of which would have shattered NFL records. He was, predictably, the #1 fantasy QB over that stretch. If healthy, Prescott is an efficient, ball-distributing QB who generally takes care of the football, throws the ball deep very well, and can add an explosive element with his legs. Just how much his legs can be a factor in 2021 and going forward is a legitimate question that could curb his fantasy upside, but the Cowboys had absolutely no choice but to re-sign Prescott. Barring any reports of a setback, he’ll be one of the first six quarterbacks drafted in fantasy this summer.

Cam Newton (NE, 32) — Newton re-ups with the Pats on a one-year deal worth up to $14 million.

Fantasy Points: Newton is going to have a shot to compete for the Pats’ starting job, but it’s more likely that his contract is worth about $5 million than anything else. To get to $14 million, he’d virtually have to start the whole year and lead the Pats to Tom Brady levels of success. What this contract suggests to us is that the Patriots like having Newton in the building with a full season’s worth of experience in the offense, and they clearly feel he should be better without a league-worst supporting cast around him. But given the reasonable cap hit of the deal, it doesn’t preclude the Pats from 1) improving that supporting cast significantly (they’ve already signed Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne) and 2) bringing in a QB to compete with Newton. If Cam does start, you have to think it will be with a better roster around him, which could make him a value for fantasy again. In 15 starts in 2020, Newton threw just 8 TD passes to 10 INT, though he continued to be a force as a runner, with 137/592/12 on the ground. That rushing production meant Newton finished as a top-12 fantasy QB in eight of his 15 starts — the same number of top-12 finishes as Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill.

For a more in-depth look at the Newton signing, check out Graham Barfield’s Fantasy Fallout.

Jameis Winston (NO, 27) — Winston agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $12 million with the Saints, per … Shams Charania? (Yes, that happened.)

Fantasy Points: With the retirement of Drew Brees, the Saints will have an open QB competition between Winston and Taysom Hill, coach Sean Payton told Dan Patrick on Tuesday. In the fantasy world, we love Winston’s game. He might be the most “DGAF” quarterback of all time, as evidenced by his incredible 33 TD, 30 INT 2019 season in Tampa, which prompted the Bucs to pursue some jabroni named Tom Brady. Winston skittered off to New Orleans to rehabilitate his game, much like Teddy Bridgewater did a season before landing a nice three-year deal with the Panthers. Winston didn’t get the on-field experience Teddy did, though, as the Saints chose to start Hill when Brees was injured this past season. As a result, Winston threw only 11 passes in New Orleans (hey, at least none of them were picked off). Winston has arm talent and a lot of the qualities coaches look for in a quarterback, but he really needs to curb the turnovers Hopefully, learning the system under Payton for a year will unlock Winston’s natural talent. We don’t want him to become cautious all of a sudden, but can Jameis strike that delicate balance that Bruce Arians calls “no risk-it, no biscuit?”

Taylor Heinicke (Was, 28) — Heinicke re-signed with Washington on a two-year deal worth up to $8.5 million.

Fantasy Points: Heinicke was one of the stranger stories of 2020. He was on the Team’s practice squad up until December, but with Alex Smith and Kyle Allen battling injuries, and then Dwayne Haskins being released for disciplinary reasons, he was forced into action late in the season, and then started a playoff game. He acquitted himself well in that game against the eventual champion Bucs, given the circumstances. He went 26/44 for 306 yards with a TD and a pick, but also added 6/46/1 on the ground. While Heinicke doesn’t have a big arm, he has the mobility to make him a pest to defend if he’s forced into action. It’s not out of the question that Heinicke could see starts in 2021 if he manages to outplay Ryan Fitzpatrick — the Team’s likely starting QB — in practice.

Brandon Allen (Cin, 29) — Allen is back in Cincinnati on a one-year deal.

Fantasy Points: Valued more for his presence in the QB room than for his play on the field, Allen is someone Bengals fans hope they never have to see under center, because that would be bad news for Joe Burrow’s recovery.

Kyle Allen (Was, 25) — Allen was tendered as an exclusive-rights free agent, the Football Team announced.

Fantasy Points: Allen will play for $850,000 in 2021. Presuming he makes the roster, he’ll be the Team’s #3 QB, behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke.

Joe Dolan, a professional in the fantasy football industry for over a decade, is the managing editor of Fantasy Points. He specializes in balancing analytics and unique observation with his personality and conversational tone in his writing, podcasting, and radio work.

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