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Way Too Early Quarterback Rankings for 2021

By Andrew Swanson | 2/19/21 |
Josh Allen

2020 proved to be a banner year for fantasy quarterbacks, with six different players averaging 27 or more fantasy points per game, including Josh Allen, who led all QBs with 29.1.

We would have likely had seven players topping 27 points or more this season had Dak Prescott not suffered a season-ending leg injury.

Just how good were quarterbacks in 2020? Only twice in the last 20 years has there been a season with more than one QB scoring 27-plus points in a season. Both Peyton Manning and Drew Brees topped the 27-point mark in 2013, and four quarterbacks in 2011, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Cam Newton, reached that mark.

What drove such a massive increase in quarterback fantasy production this past season? In one word: rushing.

Quarterbacks combined to smash the previous record for rushing touchdowns and rushing yards, with QBs combining for 127 rushing touchdowns and 9,424 yards, compared to the previous highs of 87 (2019) and 8,085 (2018).

Kyler Murray and Josh Allen, two of the top players at the position, combined to score 19 rushing touchdowns to go along with setting career highs in passing yards and passing touchdowns. At the time of his injury, Dak Prescott was on pace to also set career marks in fantasy points scored, and not coincidentally, was on pace to average a career-best eight rushing touchdowns.

The league has changed, and fantasy owners need to change with it. Unless you are an incredibly efficient QB and throw a ton of touchdowns, you are going to likely finish outside of the top five at the position if you don’t add value with your legs.

Below are my way too early quarterback rankings for 2021. Keep in mind that free agency, the NFL draft, injuries, and roster moves over the next six months will significantly affect these rankings.

1. Josh Allen, BUF

Allen jumps up to the top spot at the position after a breakout 2020 campaign in which he set career-highs across the board, with 4,533 passing yards and 37 passing touchdowns, along with eight rushing touchdowns. Like Lamar Jackson in 2019, Allen proved to be a league-winning asset taken outside the top-5 in most drafts. Although Jackson came crashing down after his breakout year, I anticipate Allen will post another 30-plus passing season while adding a floor of seven rushing touchdowns.

2) Patrick Mahomes, KC

Mahomes is likely the top-ranked QB on most people’s boards, and I cannot fault anyone ranking him over Allen based on his consistency over the past few seasons. The most significant difference between Mahomes and Allen are the rushing touchdowns, with Mahomes averaging just two in all three of his seasons as the starter for the Chiefs.

3) Kyler Murray, ARI

What do Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Nick Chubb, and Josh Jacobs all have in common? They are the only players in 2020 who posted more rushing touchdowns than Kyler Murray, a second-year QB who also posted nearly 4000 passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns.

I do not think Murray’s rushing touchdown total will stay that high, but I believe he will continue to make improvements as a passer and reach 30 passing touchdowns and 4k yards in 2021.

4) Dak Prescott, DAL

It may surprise some to learn that Prescott was on pace to outscore Peyton Manning’s record-setting 2013 as the biggest fantasy season to date for a QB before suffering his broken leg in Week 5 against the Giants. Of course, four and a half games is too small of a sample size to know how Dak would finish, and his contract status makes him a bit of a question mark. But considering the weapons he has around him and the return to health of the offensive line and Zeke Elliott, Prescott could end up being a massive value in drafts if he falls outside the top 5.

5) Aaron Rodgers, GB

The reigning MVP set career-marks in passing touchdowns last season with 48 while topping 70% completion percentage for the first time in his hall of fame career. Not only did Rodgers lead the league in passing touchdowns, but he also blew all other quarterbacks away on our consistency tracker. Although this may be his last season with the Packers, don’t be surprised to see Rodgers put up another 40-TD season before heading to the 49ers or Broncos in 2022.

6) Lamar Jackson, BAL

Fantasy football writers who predicted a massive regression to the mean for Lamar Jackson proved to be 100% correct, with the 2019 MVP crashing down to Earth last year. Jackson managed a disappointing 2,757 passing yards and only 26 passing touchdowns, despite still rushing for 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. Without his massive rushing production, Jackson would have fallen well outside the top 20 and looked somewhat lost as a passer in 2020.

Despite his regression, a little perspective on Jackson is needed when evaluating him for 2021. First, projecting him to reach a modest 3200 passing yards and four more passing touchdowns is well within reason. Just that subtle increase would make him a top-5 player, assuming he continues to run at the same clip. Another thing to consider is that although his 25.6 points per game placed him ninth overall at the position (Min 7 games), that same average would have made him tied with Russell Wilson for QB1 in 2017.

7) Russell Wilson, SEA

Wilson quietly had his best season as a pro in 2020, setting career marks in completion percentage (68.8) and passing touchdowns (40). In addition, he rushed for his highest total since 2017 when he was the QB1, and added a pair of rushing touchdowns. He also boasts one of the most exciting young wide receivers in DK Metcalf.

The only knock on Wilson is that after a season of letting “Russ Cook,” the team fired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, presumably to return to their old ways of rushing the ball. That is not a good thing for Wilson owners hoping he might crack the top-5.

8) Deshaun Watson, HOU

Watson is likely much higher on most people’s boards, but I am looking to avoid him if he stays with the Texans. He is clearly disgruntled with his team's front office and has requested a trade, making him a risk to pull a Kenny Golladay and miss significant time due to injury. If the trade issues were not there, Watson would be in my top-5.

9) Justin Herbert, LAC

Herbert was a revelation for fantasy owners and Chargers fans last season. As a rookie, he threw for 300 or more yards eight times, with six games of three or more passing touchdowns. Although most people think of him as a big-armed, pocket passer, Herbert quietly added 234 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. If you are looking for the next young quarterback to jump up to elite fantasy production in 2021, Herbert might be that guy.

10) Ryan Tannehill, TEN

In keeping with the theme of quarterbacks setting career marks, Ryan Tannehill was outstanding last year, setting career-highs in both passing (33) and rushing TDs (7). Although his passing yardage took a big dip last year and the team continues to run through Derrick Henry, Tannehill’s value as a runner cannot be denied, making him a solid QB1 in 2021.

11) Tom Brady, TB

Assuming the Bucs retain the services of Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady will be a massive value as a QB ranked outside of the top-5. I assume that the team will not be able to retain all of those players, and the defense will continue to play at a high level as they did in the second half of 2020, making Brady less valuable as a fantasy commodity. I doubt Brady will be an elite fantasy option, but you would be hard-pressed to find a safer pick at QB.

12) Matthew Stafford, LAR

Stafford working in a progressive offense with Sean McVay calling plays is precisely what the doctor ordered for a talented player like Stafford, who was wasting away in Detroit. It is difficult to project how many passing attempts Stafford will have under McVay, and the Rams will still be a run-first team, but he will have arguably the best weapons of his career and a play-action game that will lead to ample touchdown passes. Stafford is likely going to be my favorite later-round QB to target based on his upside.