Fantasy Football: Does a quarterback's rushing ability set their fantasy floor or ceiling?

2NM906P PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) celebrates a touchdown in the first half during the game between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles on November 21, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

  • New era: Quarterback rushing has increased the position's fantasy value in recent years, and players such as Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts have benefitted.
  • Rushing value vs. passing value: Even as the value of rushing rises, how much success is still down to passing prowess? 
  • The value of a QB's rushing ability for fantasy football: Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have shown that rushing ability can only take them so far.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The future of the quarterback position is rooted in athleticism. Bigger, faster and stronger players are taking the league by storm, and the game's most important position is no exception. The impact that athleticism has had on the quarterback position in fantasy football is still growing as well. In recent years alone, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields have all had exceptional scoring seasons that have been intricately linked to the chaos they can cause with their legs. However, a discussion needs to be had regarding quarterback rushing in fantasy football: Should it be viewed as a signal-caller's floor or ceiling?

From a real standpoint, a quarterback's job relies heavily on their ability to pass the football. Of course, we talk about athleticism and how it’s changing the position, but fundamentally, quarterbacks will only go as far as their arm takes them. The NFL is a passing league so for now, anything a quarterback can add with his legs is viewed as a bonus.

However, the lines in fantasy football are a little more blurred. The name of the game is scoring points and though most quarterbacks accrue fantasy points solely from passing the ball, there are others that can generate those points with their legs as well. Generally, quarterbacks with rushing prowess have a higher ceiling in terms of points scored. However, figuring out whether or not rushing is the floor or the ceiling is difficult.

In 2022, there were 12 quarterbacks that averaged more than 17 fantasy points per game — nine of those quarterbacks finished with at least more than 3,000 passing yards. The only exceptions were Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, and Justin Fields. Jackson and Murray both would have eclipsed 3,000 passing yards if they played full seasons. Now, 10 of those 12 QBs rushed the ball more than 60 times — just under four attempts per game across a 17-game season — with varying degrees of results.

Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields predictably led all quarterbacks in rushing attempts with 165 and 160, as both also depend on that rushing prowess to boost their fantasy production. Hurts’ rushing value came more from his 13 touchdowns across 15 games while Fields was more balanced with eight rushing touchdowns and over 1,100 rushing yards. The difference between the two, though, is their impact as passers.

Hurts has developed tremendously as a passer over the last two years. He’s more accurate, composed and nuanced, which shows up on film and the box score. Even if his rushing production were cut in half, Hurts would still have had his passing ability to lean on. It’s fair to assume that Hurts would have thrown for over 4,000 yards and probably would have reached close to 30 touchdowns if he had to rely solely on his arm.

For most quality quarterbacks, there’s always going to be a steady stream of passing yards and touchdowns to lean on, even if they are a threat to run the ball. Even in recent seasons, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have all finished as the QB1 in scoring — each has different degrees of athleticism and rushing upside at their disposal. In those moments, though, they’ve been viewed as effective passers first and foremost — though there’ll understandably be some debate surrounding Jackson, but he still threw 36 touchdown passes in 2019.

Therefore, it’s fair to conclude that a quarterback's rushing value represents their fantasy ceiling; however, it's not that clear cut. Fields is the perfect example. His QB7 season in 2022 was heavily inflated by his rushing numbers — a third of his total yards and eight of his 25 total touchdowns came on the ground. 

Chicago's hope is that Fields takes a step forward as a passer in 2023. He was put in a pretty untenable situation last season with a poor offensive line and little to work with in the way of competent receivers, but Fields' play was still disappointing. He recorded the lowest EPA per dropback among all starting quarterbacks in the NFL and a lot of his woes stemmed from his inability to make quick decisions, causing him to hold onto the football instead.

A considerable step-up as a passer isn’t a guarantee, but Fields is still being drafted as the QB6, ahead of Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence. The logic is, even if Fields doesn’t develop the way he’s expected to, he’ll still have his incredible athleticism to stack up points. Anything else would be viewed as a bonus. But it just doesn’t give Fields the same fantasy ceiling as Jackson, Allen or Hurts, as a QB needs an equal marriage of rushing and passing to be successful.

That’s why there should be some pragmatism surrounding Anthony Richardson in 2023 — especially in redraft leagues. By all means, take Richardson high in dynasty superflex leagues, but there’s a stark possibility that he takes a little more time to mature as a passer. He’s not the raw passer he was made out to be in the pre-draft process, but there also isn’t a lot of tread on the tires. 

Richardson’s predicament is probably more obvious than Hurts and Fields — though it compares more to Fields. He’s being drafted as the QB15 in redraft leagues solely with his rushing ability in mind. Richardson might already be the most athletic quarterback the NFL has ever seen, and that’ll absolutely translate to points. But for him to break into the top 10 of fantasy scoring, Richardson’s going to need the passing production to back it up.

The answer really plays out in fantasy as it would in real life. The NFL is a passing league, and even though quarterbacks are becoming more athletic and using their legs more, there needs to be a steady stream of passing production in place for the benefits of the rushing upside to really be utilized. Rushing can only take a QB so far.


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