Ok, so here's the thing... we aren't NFL General Managers. Fantasy managers are most at risk of forgetting this simple fact when thinking about the quarterback position. When drafting Christian McCaffrey, we have no problem remembering how powerful receptions are in our fake football game. But when it comes time to select quarterbacks, we're suddenly worried about long-term ticket sales.
And, if anything, the quarterback position is the most affected by the arbitrary scoring rules we've selected to total up football stats. Marcus Mariota got benched after 13 games last year and still finished QB19 in half PPR; in 2021, the embers of Cam Newton still finished QB17. And since 2000, only one quarterback has hit 28+ points per game. It wasn't Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, or even Josh Allen; only Lamar Jackson has hit that epic mark.
Quarterback rushing matters a ton in fantasy football. But the distortions don't stop there. We also care way more about big plays than about execution. Sure, if a quarterback can't execute the essential functions of an offense, he will flame out in spectacular fashion. Zach Wilson is a helpful reminder of that fact.
But it's not uncommon for high-level executors to be borderline fantasy contributors. Jimmy Garoppolo is the poster boy for this archetype. Since joining the 49ers in 2017, he ranks fourth in EPA per play behind Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers. And Garoppolo ranks third in success rate, behind Mahomes and Brees. But Garoppolo peaked at 17.5 points per game in 2019, finishing QB19.
Garoppolo is a pure pocket passer, which hurts. But that's not the only thing limiting his fantasy upside. He also doesn't throw deep very often.
Since 2017, Garoppolo has a 7.6 aDOT. That ranks 51st of 52 QBs with 800+ dropbacks. Only Drew Brees (7.3) had a lower aDOT over that stretch. And Brees is instructive here. Brees' top three fantasy seasons were 2011, 2012, and 2013; he had a career-high 8.9 aDOT in 2012; and he was at 8.2 in 2011 and 8.4 in 2013.
And when Brees fell off as a fantasy quarterback, it wasn't because he was missing passes. He finished his career with a five-season streak of a 70%+ completion percentage. Instead, it was because he stopped taking chances downfield. Brees closed his career with a 6.9 aDOT in 2019 and a 6.5 aDOT in 2020, the only two years he was below 7.4.
We don't necessarily need our fantasy quarterbacks to be constantly challenging deep. Since 2017, Patrick Mahomes ranks QB24 in aDOT, and Joe Burrow is QB36. But we want QBs who hit difference-making throws, even if they also pick their spots.
One way to measure this is by using ProFootballFocus' big-time throw metric. PFF defines these as throws with "excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window." Since 2017, the top 10 QBs in big-time throws per dropback are:
- Russell Wilson
- Aaron Rodgers
- Matthew Stafford
- Josh Allen
- Patrick Mahomes
- Andrew Luck
- Deshaun Watson
- Geno Smith
- Drew Lock
- Baker Mayfield
So yeah, we love quarterback mobility, but we also love big plays. And we especially love mobile quarterbacks who hit big plays. To that point, since 2017, Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts rank 13th, 14th, 15th, and 18th in big-time throws/dropback.
Meanwhile, Cam Newton ranked dead last in big-time throws/dropback from 2017-2022. But from his rookie season in 2011 through 2016... he ranked fourth. Newton never stopped rushing the ball. In fact, he set a career high in 2020 with 9.1 carries per game, and his 12 TDs were the second most of his career. But after a late 2016 shoulder injury, his ability to challenge downfield was significantly reduced.
Critically... Newton did not fall off because he stopped being "accurate" in the traditional sense. In 2020, he hit a 66% completion percentage, the second-highest mark of his career. In addition, Newton had a 60% completion percentage in both seasons where he hit 25+ points per game.
And big-time throws are even cooler when a QB is challenging deep (20+ yards) downfield. Since 2006, 80 quarterbacks have logged 1,300+ dropbacks. Here are the top 20 in big-time deep throws per attempt:
- Russell Wilson
- Aaron Rodgers
- Kyler Murray
- Josh Allen
- Patrick Mahomes
- Peyton Manning
- Geno Smith
- Deshaun Watson
- Andrew Luck
- Baker Mayfield
- Jalen Hurts
- Lamar Jackson
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Colin Kaepernick
- Michael Vick
- Joe Burrow
- Vince Young
- Tom Brady
- Kirk Cousins
- Drew Brees
Our buddy Jimmy Garoppolo ranks 79th; only Chad Henne ranks lower.
Granted, the list above assumes a lot of dropbacks. 1,300+ dropbacks require roughly four years of starts. And even highly-drafted QBs can get benched during their rookie contracts if they're bad enough at the routine duties of the position.
If we lower the threshold to 500 dropbacks, we get QBs like Tim Tebow, Matt Moore, Drew Lock, and Jake Locker in the top 30. So while being able to hit deep throws makes a quarterback a highly desirable fantasy starter, the trait isn't enough on its own to ensure a QB will actually be out there starting games.
But while the ability to make impressive downfield throws isn't everything, it's been a key signal for quarterbacks like Justin Fields, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert. Here are the top 10 college producers in big-time deeps throw per attempt among Round 1 QBs since 2015:
- Jameis Winston
- Justin Fields
- Josh Allen
- Tua Tagovailoa
- Mac Jones
- Kyler Murray
- Joe Burrow
- Zach Wilson
- Trevor Lawrence
- Justin Herbert
With mega-bust Zach Wilson on this list, downfield throws clearly aren't everything. But selecting QBs is hard for everyone, for real and fake GMs alike. When we end up making a bad pick, we'd still prefer a shot at peak Jameis Winston fantasy production.
I know it's not news that we're looking for different things in fantasy quarterbacks than real-life general managers might be. But fantasy managers may be underestimating the extent to which we're looking for quarterbacks with both mobility and downfield passing ability.
Swinging big at the quarterback position can feel risky, because it often is risky. But targeting quarterbacks who profile as capable but conservative chain movers is unlikely to win you anything.
Tier 1 - Early Superflex Picks
At a Glance
Anthony Richardson is the definition of a boom/bust selection. And that goes for both fantasy football and his real-life NFL outlook. Richardson is literally the most athletic quarterback of all time and profiles as a high-upside rushing threat. But his accuracy is a massive red flag. Even still, Richardson has some intriguing elements to his dropback profile that point to an underappreciated passing upside (for fantasy, at least).
It's impossible to dive into the positives of Richardson's profile without starting with his size and athleticism. According to Kent Lee Platt's Relative Athletic Scores and also 100% of human eyeballs, Anthony Richardson is the most athletic quarterback of all time. Even compared to fellow athletic marvel Cam Newton, Richardson stands out.
Shout-out to Cam Newton for posting a 6.92 3-cone at 6-foot-5, 248, though. I would not have thought that was humanly possible.
Richardson put his athleticism to good use. Per PFF (which doesn't count sacks as negative yardage), he ran for 713 yards in 2022, which ranks 12th among FBS quarterbacks.
And Richardson appears to have been underutilized. He ranked just QB33 in designed rushing yards. Richardson was much better at creating rushing opportunities than his coaches; his 407 scramble yards ranked QB7.
And Richardson's willingness to scramble is a strong sign for his NFL outlook. Kevin Cole has shown scrambling to be an unexpectedly valuable component of QB prospect analysis.
Richardson was an above-average scrambler when kept clean, which is a good sign for his willingness to run. And Richardson was also a willing scrambler under pressure. Given how important rushing production is, these tendencies bode well for his NFL fantasy value.
The Florida product is also excellent at avoiding sacks. His career sack rate under pressure is the lowest of any 1st- or 2nd-round QB dating back to 2015. As Kevin outlines in the video below, sack avoidance is another key component of QB evaluation, and Richardson excels at it.
Understandably, fantasy drafters are concerned with Richardson's accuracy (which we'll get to). And the concern isn't just that he won't play well; it's that he won't be able to earn playing time at all.
But Richardson's ability to handle pressure is a huge point in his favor when it comes to earning his coaches' trust. Richardson is sometimes compared to Malik Willis, but Willis was horrendous at avoiding sacks. Among Day 1-2 QBs, only Justin Fields and Sam Howell had higher career sack rates than Willis. Richardson is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He'll drive his coaches crazy in some ways, but he'll also put a smile on their faces under pressure.
And by the way, if you think my 1,000+ word intro wasn't about Anthony Richardson, I have some shocking news... it was. Richardson's accuracy is a major red flag. I'm not here to dispute that. But I am disputing that he doesn't offer anything as a fantasy QB besides his legs.
Richardson hit a big-time deep throw on 5.3% of his career attempts. That ranks just behind C.J. Stroud (5.5%) and Bryce Young (5.4%). It also ranks ahead of strong deep-ball throwers like Justin Herbert (5.3%), Deshaun Watson (4.9%), and Russell Wilson (4.8%). Richardson's rushing ability is the conversation starter, but he offers elite upside if he can pair that ability with downfield passing production.
And it's reasonable to think that Richardson could make significant strides as a passer in the NFL. After all, he doesn't turn 21 until May.
Although his final season at Florida was concerning in some areas, it matters that he was a 21-year-old playing against SEC competition. This is another reason that comps to Malik Willis are very thin. Willis entered the NFL three years older, and his breakout came at a Conference USA school.
I'm a believer in Anthony Richardson as a fantasy QB. But I'm not putting my head in the sand on his biggest weakness. Richardson is inaccurate.
And he's not just a little inconsistent. Richardson's inaccuracy is concerning enough that it could ruin an otherwise exciting profile.
His 64% career adjusted completion percentage is the lowest of any Day 1-2 QB going back to 2015. The current bottom five has a couple of promising names but also some mega-busts.
- Christian Hackenberg (65%)
- Josh Allen (67%)
- Drew Lock (68%)
- Kellen Mond (69%)
- Lamar Jackson (69%)
Richardson's accuracy wasn't quite as bad under pressure, which is consistent with the idea that he will thrive when things break down in the NFL. But NFL coaches work really hard to keep things from breaking down. If Richardson can't execute in those situations, it will be a problem. And using Travis May's Scheme Adjusted Pass Efficiency as a proxy for normal pass-play execution, Richardson profiles as an impending disaster.
Kevin Cole has also written that the only stable element of QB accuracy comes from passes traveling 0-9 yards. Although these aren't the most exciting passes to judge a quarterback on, they've had a much stronger correlation with NFL accuracy than downfield targets or targets behind the line of scrimmage. And unfortunately, Richardson's inaccuracy stands out in this area in particular.
"The problem for Richardson is that his accuracy last season was worst in the short area of the field. Richardson completed 58% of his passes in the short area, even lower than his completion percentage to medium distances."
Richardson also has just one starting season under his belt. Sure, he's young, but most high-end prospects have more than one year of meaningful production. Richardson is young enough that his lack of a track record doesn't diminish his upside. But as an inaccurate one-year wonder, he has a very low floor.
- Carson Wentz
- Josh Allen
- Justin Herbert
- Trey Lance
Carson Wentz is a reasonably close comp who, like Richardson, was excellent at avoiding sacks. He was a less impressive rusher and less willing scrambler, but Wentz was also more accurate – even though accuracy was a red flag for Wentz. Although he once looked like a potential star, Wentz's career became a literal Ponzi scheme, with Dan Snyder unsurprisingly left holding the bag.
Josh Allen's name comes up fairly often when discussing Richardson. Allen's rise to superstardom is not a realistic projection for Richardson. Richardson shares Allen's ability to avoid sacks, and his mobility is even more impressive. But Allen was also more accurate and a better deep-ball thrower. Richardson won't be Allen. Still, although Allen didn't fully break out until 2020, he averaged 19.5 Underdog points as a rookie and 19.3 as a sophomore. If Richardson tops out at early-career Allen but brings more rushing production to the table, that would still be a pretty fun fantasy outcome.
Justin Herbert shows up as another big mobile quarterback who was good at avoiding sacks. Herbert was more accurate than Wentz and Allen and quite a bit more accurate than Richardson; expecting Richardson to become the passer that Herbert has become is unrealistic. Still, Richardson could be more willing to challenge defenses deep than Herbert sometimes is.
Trey Lance feels like the best comp on the list, but he's actually the weakest comp statistically. Lance is the only one on the list with a rushing score similar to Richardson, but he was far worse at allowing sacks than Richardson and hit fewer big-time deep throws. So from that perspective, it's kind of a fun comp. A version of Lance who is better under pressure and more aggressive downfield would be very exciting for fantasy. But, on the other hand, Lance was more accurate than Richardson... and a less accurate Lance sounds like a nightmare.
Best Ball/Dynasty Outlook
Richardson was my highest-drafted player in Underdog's Big Board contest, but that's partly because he started out as essentially free in the 20-round format. Richardson is a more risky selection in Superflex. With an ADP in the early 6th round, he will crush advance rates if he doesn't start for most of the season, which will be the market assumption in several realistic landing spots.
Still, he offers a huge payoff in a range of quarterbacks that includes Kenny Pickett. Pickett can help fill the Superflex position, but his conservative style is unlikely to generate a playoff-advancing or tournament-winning spike week. On the other hand, you'll probably feel good about any advancing playoff teams with Richardson.
As we move into 18-round tournaments like Best Ball Mania, Richardson's timeline to earning NFL starts will be the biggest consideration when deciding whether or not to draft him.
Here's what I had to say last year about rookie QBs with unclear paths to starting roles.
"Drafting a quarterback who doesn't actually play is a major drawback to making the playoffs in the first place. For example, Jalen Hurts – one of our best-case scenarios – had just a 4% win rate in 2020. Even Josh Allen, who saw his first action in Week 1 despite not getting the start (Nathan Peterman will do that for you), had a poor 5.9% win rate as he struggled through injury and ineffectiveness before blowing up in his final game. Herbert was a legitimate home run in 2020, recording the second-highest quarterback win rate (12.6%) behind Josh Allen (16.6%). But had a team doctor not punctured Tyrod Taylor's lung in the moments before Week 2, Herbert's rookie season would have been very different.
So even when dealing with future fantasy superstars, targeting rookies who aren't Week 1 starters looks somewhat dangerous."
Richardson's profile is high upside enough that he projects as a potential spike-week producer as soon as he begins earning starts. But if he's scooped up by a team like the Lions or Seahawks, who could redshirt him, he'll be a difficult selection outside of the last picks of drafts.
Richardson is also a difficult question in dynasty, where taking him means passing on QBs with much safer passing profiles. In 1QB leagues, he's the obvious QB1. QB upside is all that matters in that format, with good starters often available on waivers. But in Superflex, Richardson's realistic downside outcomes could devastate rosters.
In my view, the key reason to be in on Richardson is that he will provide a sell window. I've preached this same approach in previous years, and it is almost universally true that QBs can be sold after their rookie seasons in Superflex. After his rookie season, Trey Lance was enormously valuable, and even Zach Wilson wasn't toxic. For example, I moved Wilson and the 1.01 for Deshaun Watson last year. That trade feels extra gross after Watson looked terrible in Cleveland. But even on his way to the bench, Wilson still had enough dynasty juice to facilitate a big trade.
Unfortunately, you have to be the type of drafter who won't go down with the ship to actually make use of this feature of the Superflex market. To that point, I will likely go down with the ship on some Lance shares. So even while preaching the Year 2 sell window, I don't always make use of it. It can be hard to move off of a high-upside player once you have them on your roster... even if that upside is looking increasingly unlikely to materialize.
I'd also be more cautious of investing in Richardson in leagues with less trade activity. League members who are generally hesitant to trade aren't likely to bail you out of your Richardson selection if he's constantly missing throws as a rookie.
One way to think through this idea would be to ask yourself if you'd prefer to have Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields in that particular league going forward. If you're in the type of league where Lawrence's floor is too tough to pass up on, even for the potential of Fields breaking out as a passer, then it's likely a league where you want to deprioritize Richardson.
When I used that example on a soon-to-be-released episode of RotoViz Overtime, Shawn Siegele fired back that Richardson could be comped to Fields without a right arm. And while Shawn was joking (I think), Richardson definitely needs to be viewed as a potentially fun but very raw passer. He could essentially be Drew Lock but with an elite rushing profile. Honestly, that sounds kind of fun to me. Because with high-end draft capital, Richardson will likely get an early and longer look than Lock did. But if the mention of Drew Lock has you running for the hills, I get that too.
Best Ball Reccomendation
Pre-draft target. His ADP could skyrocket if he has a path to being a Week 1 starter post-draft. Conversely, be willing to fade post-draft if his path to 2023 starts looks blocked.
Early 1st-round Superflex pick