Underrated Upside: 2022 QBs

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Underrated Upside: 2022 QBs

Hopefully by now, you’ve already read my self-proclaimed magnum opus – “Upside Wins Championships” – and have come to the conclusion that that title implies. Today’s article will be a less-philosophical, more-actionable accompaniment to that piece, and the first part of a larger series where we highlight a number of key players with league-winning upside at each position. Today’s article will focus on the quarterback position.

Meta-analysis on the QB position: As I explained in Anatomy Of A League Winner, the QB position is overrated in terms of importance and impact towards winning your league’s championship. Historically, the longer you wait on a QB (relative to your leaguemates) the better. All of the value the past two seasons has been in the low-end to fringe-QB1 tier. And I think that’s where the value will be again this year. For this reason, the bulk of our analysis will be centered around QBs within the ADP QB10-QB14 tier.

Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

ADP: QB6 (Yahoo!)

From a previous article:

Murray’s weekly upside is massive, and nearly unrivaled. That’s thanks in part to his rushing abilities (obviously), but he also has underrated upside as a passer – he threw for three touchdowns and 400-plus yards in two of his last 18 games. Russell Wilson has done this just once in his 158-game career. And Josh Allen is the only other QB in NFL history to accomplish that feat at least twice in his career, while also recording 90-plus rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in at least three career games.

And maybe Murray’s upside is actually unrivaled at the position – well – at least so long as he stays healthy. (Bear with me for a second…)

2021: Before suffering an ankle injury in Week 8 against the Packers, Murray was averaging 24.8 FPG (~QB1), hitting at least 19.5 fantasy points in six of seven games.

2020: Murray suffered a shoulder injury in Week 9 that (per his own admission) didn’t start affecting him until Week 11. Up until that point, Murray was averaging 30.1 FPG (~QB1) through nine games with a low of just 23.1 fantasy points. 2019 (Rookie Season): Kyler Murray first popped up on the injury report in Week 13 with a hamstring injury (and then reappeared with the same injury in Week 17). Up until that point, Murray ranked as fantasy’s QB8, averaging 20.4 FPG.

So, if looking only at games before an injury occurred, then Murray averages 27.8 FPG over the last two seasons (16 games). For perspective, last season Josh Allen led all QBs, scoring the 4th-most fantasy points by any QB in any season ever. And this is +3.2 FPG (+13%) better than that.

Maybe Murray is injury-prone. Maybe HC Kliff Kingsbury wants to scale back on the rushing – Murray had only five rushing touchdowns last year, down from 11 in 2020. Maybe. Who knows? All I know is I desperately want to chase this upside at this price in tournament-style leagues (FFPC, Underdog).

And by the way, Murray’s supporting cast is now better than ever — replacing Christian Kirk with Marquise Brown, Murray’s favorite WR from his Oklahoma days (over CeeDee Lamb).

After finishing top-4 in FPG in back-to-back seasons, Murray is looking like a steal at his current ADP (QB6), offering a nearly unrivaled ceiling alongside an underrated floor.

Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

ADP: QB8 (NFL, Yahoo!)

In his rookie season, Hurts averaged 24.8 fantasy points per four quarters (11.3 rushing). Or 25.9 FPG in games started and finished (9.9 rushing FPG). All four numbers would have ranked top-10 all-time.

Last season, Hurts was my single highest-owned player in fantasy drafts. At an ADP of QB11, he finished 6th in FPG (21.4). Or 4th (22.4 FPG) if we exclude his final two games of the season, when an ailing ankle led to fewer rushing attempts.

So, if Hurts was my highest-owned player last season, why wouldn’t I be just as high on him this year? He’s only slightly more expensive, but still priced below his 2021 FPG finish. And indeed, why do NFL.com and Yahoo! think Hurts is going to be worse in his Year 3 season after the team upgraded Jalen Reagor with A.J. freaking Brown? I have no idea.

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

ADP: QB10 (NFL)

Prescott finished as a QB1 in each of his first three NFL seasons, ranking 6th (as a rookie), 10th, and then 12th in total fantasy points scored. And then, when Kellen Moore was promoted to OC, things only got better from there, as Prescott finished 3rd (21.8), 1st (27.8), and then (last season) 9th in FPG (20.7).

Last season, Dallas ranked 1st in pace of play (24.5 seconds per snap), 1st in points scored per game (31.2), and 1st in total yards per game (407.0). Since Moore took over play-calling duties in 2019, Dallas ranks 1st (24.1), 6th (27.6), and 1st (440.2, +40 more than next-closest) in games Prescott has played.

I’ve been told fantasy football is simple enough; “just draft good players on good offenses”. So, it’s a little strange no one seems to be excited to draft Prescott. He is, after all, the QB for what happened to be the best offense in football last year. He offers arguably the safest floor at the position, and also appears to be priced well beneath it. He’s finished as a QB1 (by FPG or total fantasy points scored) in 6 of 6 career seasons, while averaging 22.1 FPG over the last three years (just 0.8 FPG off of Josh Allen and 0.6 off of Mahomes). And he ranks 6th among all players in MVP odds. But, again, just 10th in ADP on NFL.com.

And maybe there’s some underrated upside here. Last season, Prescott ranked 4th in passing FPG (19.7), in between Justin Herbert (19.9) and Patrick Mahomes (19.3). But he averaged only 1.3 rushing FPG – in his first year back following ankle surgery – down from 4.0 throughout the remainder of his career. Had he averaged 4.0 rushing FPG in 2021, he would have finished 2nd in total FPG, just 1.3 FPG behind Josh Allen.

Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

ADP: QB11 (NFL)

Imagine fading the GOAT ever. I mean, how many years – since before the invention of cell phones – has that ever worked? It’d be like shorting Amazon stock at any point over the past decade, but somehow worse than that.

For instance, over the last 17 years (excluding 2008 when he only played one game), Brady has finished top-3 at the position 44% of the time, and top-9 75% of the time. And yet, he’s currently priced as the QB11.

Of course, I understand all of the concerns:

  • Brady is now 45 years old, and no QB at age 45 or older has ever thrown for more than 77 yards in a single season.

  • Chris Godwin could miss multiple regular-season games rehabbing from a torn ACL and MCL. And although his agent and girlfriend are both skeptical, Rob Gronkowski has at least supposedly retired from football. (Brady’s splits with/without Gronkowski are alarming, to put it mildly.)

  • Most importantly, if Brady has had a “kryptonite” at any point in his career, it would be interior pressure. And now the team is without all three starting interior linemen from a season ago – Pro Bowl LG Ali Marpet (retired), RG Alex Cappa (free agency), and Pro Bowl C Ryan Jensen (out for a number of months at a minimum). The last time just one of those players missed time (Marpet in 2020), Tampa Bay’s points per game dropped by 25%, interceptions per game doubled, and sacks per game rose by 28%. Worse yet, over the past two seasons, Brady has averaged a whopping 7.4 fewer FPG in the top-50% of games he’s seen pressure most often.

I think all of those points are extremely compelling. But, should we really care?

Because listen, I don’t know what deal Brady made with the devil. All I know is that it’s not to be trifled with.

At least on one site (NFL.com) it’s at least a little strange to me, that we’re able to draft a player so late (QB11)… A player who finished 3rd at the position in FPG last year (22.7). And who has been just as good over his last 30 games with the same team (22.5 FPG). A player who threw the ball 719 times last season (the 2nd-most in NFL history), while leading the league in passing touchdowns (43) alongside a league-high and career-high 5,316 passing yards (3rd-most in NFL history). And a player who also happens to be the greatest player in the history of the sport.

That being said, I think I just had a little too much fun crafting this bull-case narrative. And, in reality, those offensive line stats should overshadow nearly everything else I wrote. He’s undoubtedly a great pick and a phenomenal value on NFL.com (QB11), but he’s clearly being overrated just about everywhere else (QB6 on ESPN, QB7 on Yahoo!).

Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams

ADP: QB12 (ESPN)

Last season, Stafford finished just 0.1 FPG behind Joe Burrow, who is currently being drafted 2.5 rounds ahead on average. If we include the postseason, Stafford averaged 21.1 FPG (more than Burrow’s 19.8), which would have ranked 7th-best, tied with Lamar Jackson (21.1) and just barely behind Jalen Hurts’ 21.4.

In his first season playing in the Sean McVay offense – the same offense which led Jared freaking Goff to top-13 fantasy finishes in 3 of 4 seasons – Stafford messed around and immediately won the Super Bowl. So why does ADP think he’s going to be significantly worse, and not significantly better in Year 2?

Indeed, despite bringing nothing as a runner, Stafford feels like one of the safest picks you can make at the position. Or, maybe he would if not for the fact that the oft-injured QB is again dealing with an injury – “bad tendinitis” or “thrower’s elbow”.

Should we be worried? Elbow injuries are notoriously difficult for QBs, as evidenced by a 2019 elbow injury making Tom Brady look mortal for the only time in his career. Prior to that injury, Tom Brady ranked 6th in PFF grade. After the injury, he dropped to just 18th in PFF grade, his FPG average declined by 28%, and he ranked dead-last in YPA (5.9).

And Stafford has long struggled to stay healthy. He missed 8 games in 2019 (hip, back), and spent 6 games on the injury report in 2020 (thumb, ribs). Stafford, of course, has still rarely ever missed time beyond that, but the injuries keep piling up, and he’s not getting any younger (age: 34). With non-Konami QBs, passing efficiency is everything. So, even a relatively minor injury (to a QB’s throwing arm) could be ruinous to their projection or perceived value.

Should we be worried? Well, for one thing, Adam Schefter isn’t. He joined our podcast over the weekend, telling John Hansen: “He's played with elbow pain before. He's had this. This is not new. Just the other day I was on the phone with someone from the Rams. I was like, ‘How's Stafford?’ They said, ‘He's had the best practice I've ever seen him have today.’ I'm not overly concerned about that elbow."

And, well, yeah. Injuries are never a good thing. But he dealt with this injury (and several others) last season – pain in his elbow (same injury), pain in his throwing arm, chronic back pain, and a sore ankle – and he was still hyper-productive and playing at a Super Bowl-caliber level in spite of it. So, all of the risk but none of the upside appears priced into his QB12 ADP on ESPN.

Russell Wilson, QB, Denver Broncos

ADP: QB12 (NFL)

Wilson struggled with injuries last season but hit a career-high 22.5 FPG the previous year.

And then within his banner 2020 season, we saw a tale of two halves. Through his first eight games, Wilson totaled 236.1 fantasy points (29.5 FPG) which was the 2nd-most by any QB through his first 8 games of a season all-time. Uncoincidentally, over this span, Seattle ranked as the league’s most pass-heavy team over expectation (+9.2%). Across his final eight games, that dropped dramatically (+1.0%), as did Wilson’s FPG average (17.1 FPG).

Over the last 9 seasons, Wilson has finished top-3 in fantasy points per dropback 5 times, and top-8 8 times. And yet, he’s ranked top-12 in dropbacks per game only twice, with 5 seasons outside of the top-16. Over this span, he averages 36.3 dropbacks per game (would have ranked 17th last year), 0.56 fantasy points per dropback (would have ranked 5th), and 20.1 FPG (would have ranked 8th). If taking Wilson’s 0.56 fantasy points per dropback, and giving him the same amount of dropbacks per game as Justin Herbert last year (43.5), we should expect 24.4 FPG – or, just 0.2 off of Josh Allen for the position-high.

If you can’t see what I’m hinting at, it’s this: Russell Wilson is very good. (He’s finished top-7 in either overall PFF grade or PFF pass grade in 5 of his past 7 seasons.) The only question is, crucially, will Denver “let him cook” in a way that Seattle almost never did? Because if so, it’s hard to argue against a potential top-5 finish.

Based on what Denver’s front office gave up to acquire him, I think so. And it could be further argued that this is the best supporting cast of his career. He upgraded Pete Carroll – a defensive-minded head coach stuck in the early 1980s – with Nathaniel Hackett, who helped Aaron Rodgers win back-to-back MVP awards. Last season, Denver ranked top-10 in PFF pass block grade, while Seattle ranked bottom-7. And Denver still has one of the most complete WR trios in the NFL, even without Tim Patrick for the remainder of the season.

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Machine Elves

ADP: QB13 (ESPN)

Will Fuller averaged a career-high of 17.1 FPG in 2020, up from just 12.2 FPG in the previous season. What was the main catalyst behind this 40% jump in FPG? It’s simple, he was on performance-enhancing drugs, which later resulted in a six-game suspension.

Similarly, Rodgers has also taken performance-enhancing drugs, first consuming ayahuasca – a psychoactive brew usually prepared in tea – during the 2020 offseason. This drug is not banned by the NFL, and thus Rodgers carries no risk of a suspension for taking this drug. But it must have performance-enhancing properties, as evidenced by the fact that Rodgers has won MVP awards in back-to-back seasons (100%), though he had only two MVP awards in his 15 seasons prior to consumption (13%).

Indeed, Rodgers has been playing out of his mind the last two seasons; on a much higher plane and in a completely different dimension compared to anyone else. He’s finished top-6 in total fantasy points scored in each of the past two seasons, averaging 22.6 FPG, which ranks 5th-most, in between Justin Herbert (23.1) and Tom Brady (22.3).

Obviously, we should expect a regression following the departure of Davante Adams. There’s no way Rodgers is going to score more fantasy points this season, and he probably won’t finish top-6 for the third season in a row, but you can argue the looming regression is more than already priced in (ADP: QB13). Granted, about 80% of the Green Bay passing attack moved through Adams, and Green Bay has done little to improve the position this offseason, but Rodgers has played well enough without him before. For instance, over the last three seasons, and with the same stable of replacement-level WR talents, Rodgers averages 24.2 FPG in the 7 games Adams has missed. For perspective, only Josh Allen averaged more than 24.2 FPG last season (24.6).

Ultimately, Rodgers isn’t of the sort of archetype I typically target. He feels exceedingly “safe”, but he doesn’t feel like a “league-winner.” Still, he’s an undeniable value in ESPN leagues.

Sophomore QBs (In General)

I think I have a really good track record on late-round sophomore QBs.

And that’s not really a coincidence. As Anatomy of a League Winner clearly showed, sophomores are massively over-represented among all “league-winning” QBs.

Realistically, you can throw a dart at any of them, and it might be worth the cost. For instance, why not Trevor Lawrence – the supposed Andrew Luck-cloned golden boy – at a post- “worst-coach-in-NFL-history” -discount? Or the QB who was drafted right behind him? Or Mac Jones who out-played both of them last year?

But I do have two clear favorites, who both (crucially) offer immense Konami Code Potential.

Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers

ADP: QB14 (ESPN, Yahoo!)

In 2017, Alex Smith finished 5th in FPG (22.0), while hitting career highs and leading the league in passer rating and AY/A. Less than a month after his last game, and just over a week before the Super Bowl, Kansas City swiftly and unceremoniously discarded him, trading him away to Washington and getting back the equivalent of a ham sandwich in return.

Kansas City did this so that their Round 1 sophomore QB could flourish in the same system, and bring the franchise to even greater heights. Smith had just finished top-5 in FPG, and Patrick Mahomes would be throwing passes to the same elite receiving corps, with the same Hall of Fame HC calling plays. And yet, Mahomes head into his record-breaking sophomore season as just the QB15 by ADP.

Anyway, all of this to say 2022 Trey Lance reminds me a little bit of 2018 Patrick Mahomes.

Of course, we were underrating Mahomes for a number of reasons, but most of all, we were underrating his natural talents. And, unfortunately, I’m far less confident in Lance’s talents than I was in Mahomes. In truth, I’m not sure Lance is very good. He’s a small school prospect who has started only three games over the last two seasons. And, by all accounts, he’s been abysmal in training camp, completing just 52.7% of his pass attempts through San Francisco’s first 12 days of practice. For perspective, you can contrast that to Nate Sudfeld’s 74.1% completion percentage or Round 7 rookie Brock Purdy’s 68.5%.

But in truth, and I mean this earnestly, I don’t know how much it really matters. Because this offense might be totally foolproof. Lance might even be only the 6th best QB from his draft class (although he was selected No. 3-overall), but still a surefire fantasy QB1 due to the margin of safety offered by his supporting cast.

Lance will benefit from an all-time offensive genius in Kyle Shanahan calling the plays. The same Shanahan who coaxed top-3 FPG finishes from Matt Ryan in his MVP-winning 2016 season and Robert Griffin III in 2012, when he won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Perhaps even more impressively, Jimmy Garoppolo leads all QBs in YPA since 2018, on a top-20 list that includes fellow 49ers Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, but not Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, Tom Brady, or Josh Allen.

That’s due in a large part to Shanahan, but also due to what’s maybe the best after-the-catch receiving corps ever assembled.

Essentially, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk are so talented, it feels like Lance could average 8.0 YPA on a 3.4 aDOT. (Since 2018, Garroppolo has seen a league-high 55% of his passing yards come after the catch.)

And then beyond all of this – due to the effects of the Konami Code – Lance’s mobility can totally insulate us from the fact that he very well might be a poor-to-incompetent passer, while also providing additional upside beyond that. (Tim Tebow finished top-12 in fantasy points per start in 2011. Taysom Hill averages more career fantasy points per QB start than Aaron Rodgers.)

Lance was a prolific runner in college, averaging 13.3 rushing FPG and 77.0 rushing YPG across his college career at North Dakota State. For perspective, both stats are better than Kyler Murray’s best collegiate season. And Lance was also a prolific runner in his rookie year, ranking 2nd in rushing yards per start (60.0), behind only Lamar Jackson (63.9). And he became one of only 5 QBs since 1975 to run the ball at least 16 times in a single game, and – keep in mind – he’s only started two career games. Granted, that means we’re working with a dangerously small sample, but still, these numbers are insane… For instance, Lance totaled 67 fantasy points through ~2.7 quarters of play, yielding an average of 24.8 fantasy points per four quarters, which would have bested Josh Allen’s position-high 24.6. And then, by the best stat we have for fantasy QBs – though still working on a very small sample – Lance led the league in fantasy points per dropback, posting a historic 0.75.

So, although I’m not sure he’s very good. He still feels exceedingly safe, while also offering rare upside, and providing tremendous value at his current ADP (QB14).

Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears

ADP: QB25 (Yahoo!)

Much like how sophomore season Trey Lance reminds me of sophomore season Patrick Mahomes, sophomore season Justin Fields reminds me a lot of sophomore season Lamar Jackson.

You may remember that Jackson was my single highest-owned player in 2019. And that I actually bet on him to win MVP in that offseason. Of course, I’m not anywhere quite as confident or as bullish on Fields, but the two situations do appear to be eerily similar. Or, at least, I’m high on Fields for much of the same reasons I was so high on Jackson.

Not unlike the 2018 Baltimore Ravens, the 2021 Chicago Bears offense was built with a sloth-like pocket passer in mind (Joe Flacco / Andy Dalton), and was not at all tailored towards their rookie QB’s hyper-mobile skillset. And even when the rookie QB started games, the coaching staff stubbornly refused to adapt their scheme to his skillset [1, 2, 3]. But this year, per The Athletic NFL Staff, “We can expect some RPOs, an outside-zone run scheme and a vertical passing game, all things which should complement Fields’ skill set. That could lead to more rushing yards and an increase in big-play opportunities through the air." And this all offers shades of Greg Roman’s Baltimore scheme, not yet even mentioning the two main receivers being an under-sized deep threat with 4.3-speed and a towering ultra-athletic pass-catching TE.

And much like Jackson, Fields also offers Konami Code upside in addition to his Round 1 pedigree.

At the Combine, Fields ran a 4.46 forty-yard-dash at 228 pounds, resulting in a 114.7 Speed Score. For perspective, that ranks 3rd-best by any QB since at least 2000, behind only Robert Griffin III (126.9) and Michael Vick (119.5), and just ahead of Cam Newton (114.72) and Vince Young (113.7). And in 2020 – his final season at Ohio State – Fields averaged a whopping 10.2 rushing FPG and 64.6 rushing YPG.

But yeah, Fields’ rookie season wasn’t great. While playing in Matt Nagy’s moronic and ill-suited offense, Fields ranked only 7th in rushing yards per start (38.6), and worse yet, just 45th in fantasy points per start (12.6), in between – coincidentally – Trevor Lawrence (12.7) and Zach Wilson (12.5).

But, to be fair, he did hit at least 6 rushing attempts (averaging 8.0) and 35 rushing yards (averaging 56.3) over his final six full games. And he did seem to improve as a passer as well, averaging 266.7 passing YPG over his final three full games. For perspective, those averages would have ranked 3rd-, 2nd-, and 9th-best if over the full season last year. Or, better yet, that would have been 0.8 more rushing attempts per game, 11.4 more rushing YPG, and 7.5 more passing YPG than what Josh Allen gave us last year.

Unfortunately for Fields, I don’t think the Bears are going to be very good this year. But then again, maybe they don’t have to be – Fields was far more productive with negative gamescript last season, and that’s typically true of all Konami Code QBs. And I’m not totally convinced Fields is very good (although I’m more confident in him than I am of Lance). But that doesn’t really matter if he runs a lot. And I think he probably has the worst receiving corps in the NFL. But that also doesn’t really matter if he runs a lot. And I definitely think he has the worst offensive line in the NFL. But that doesn’t really matter for QBs who run a lot.

But even if I didn’t dissuade you from all of these concerns, the key point is this – at this price (ADP: QB25, Round 16) there’s essentially zero risk. And so, all of his – legitimately immense – upside is free.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Cleveland Browns

ADP: QB21 (FFPC)

Watson is probably going to be suspended for the entirety of the 2022 season. It definitely seems like the most likely outcome.

But what if he’s not? What if he’s “only” suspended for 12-13 games?

Well, then, you’ll get a QB for (essentially) free who has finished 6th (23.1), 2nd (21.4), 5th (20.7), and 1st in FPG (24.1) through four NFL seasons. Or, in other words, a very likely high-end QB1 throughout the playoffs, which means he’d be an ideal fit for owners who might have waited too long at the position, owners who should worry about not having enough upside from the position come playoff time.

Of course, Watson definitely shouldn’t be drafted in shallow leagues (e.g. 10-team 1QB leagues without many bench spots). But there are plenty of leagues where he’d be worthy of his late-round ADP. And there are some leagues – namely Superflex leagues or tournament-style leagues (FFPC, Underdog) – where he should be viewed as a must-draft pick at his current price.

Scott Barrett combines a unique background in philosophy and investing alongside a lifelong love of football and spreadsheets to serve as FantasyPoints’ Director of Analytics and Lead DFS Writer.

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