The NFL offseason is nearly upon us. While others focus on free agency and how NFL teams might find ways to improve via deals big and small, I'm looking ahead to the NFL draft and what it has to offer in terms of dynasty fantasy football talent for 2021 and beyond.
Throughout draft szn, I'll be delivering top-five lists at every fantasy position in order to keep tabs on the top dynasty prospects on the horizon. For those looking to dig deeper, PFF's 2021 NFL Draft Guide is a crucial resource, currently breaking down the top 150 college prospects. It will be updated throughout the offseason leading up to the NFL Draft in April.
So far, I’ve hit on incoming rookie running backs and wide receivers, which means quarterbacks are up next. Let's dig into the top five quarterbacks for dynasty fantasy football leagues in 2021 — with a focus on quarterback rushing. The mobile quarterback is all the rage nowadays and is becoming almost a necessity for fantasy teams to hit their ceilings.
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is one of the most highly regarded quarterbacks to enter the NFL in recent memory. He was one of the nation’s top recruits coming out of high school, and his future as a No. 1 overall pick seemed set in stone after his true freshman year.
He became the first freshman quarterback to earn a PFF grade above 90.0 and continued that success in his next two seasons.
Lawrence earned a PFF grade of 90.7 last year, which ranked 10-best among QBs since the start of the 2019 season. He also increased his accuracy from his first season going from a sub-65% completion rate in 2018 to a 68% completion rate this past season.
And his completion rate wasn’t inflated through a series of RB dump-offs. He showed effectiveness throwing deep, earning PFF’s fifth-highest grade on 20-plus yards throws (95.2) while finishing eighth in adjusted completion percentage (48.4%).
The arm strength and improved accuracy suggest that he'll be able to make all the throws. Combined that with upside as a runner, and we have a deadly fantasy asset at our disposal.
In 2019, Lawrence was PFF’s fourth-highest-graded rusher (84.6) at the quarterback position. He rushed for 682 yards, 7.8 yards per attempt (second) and scored nine rushing touchdowns. In his final three games to wrap up the 2020 season, he attempted 27 rushes for 133 rushing yards.
Against Notre Dame in the conference championship, Lawrence really flashed his ability to run with a season-high 81 rushing yards. Having a quarterback that can add value with his legs is the new norm in fantasy football, and Lawrence fits the mold.
He is as NFL-ready as a rookie quarterback can be and is well-deserving of the first pick in dynasty superflex formats. Pairing him with new Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer could further unlock the rookie's upside as a rusher based on his coach's track record of leveraging QBs as rushing threats.
When PFF's 2021 NFL Draft Guide compares Justin Fields to a smaller version of Cam Newton, savvy fantasy managers would be wise to take note. The dual-threat quarterback was the third-ranked college quarterback in terms of PFF passing grade (93.6) over the past two seasons (2019-20) largely because of his spot-on accuracy. No quarterback in college football was more accurate than Fields last year.
His 72.4% accurate-pass rate, per PFF’s ball location charting, made him one of just two quarterbacks to hit at least 70% (Mac Jones). His adjusted completion percentage (81%) ranked No. 2 in the nation.
Fields also finished second in passing touchdowns of 20-plus yards (29) and third in air yards percentage (71.2%) since the start of the 2019 season, showcasing his affinity to throw the ball downfield.
Deadly accuracy and deep-ball prowess are the exact characteristics fantasy owners should be looking for in future quarterbacks, but Fields becomes an even more slam-dunk of a selection when his rushing upside is incorporated into the projected outlook.
He averaged eight rushing attempts and nearly 55 rushing yards per game at Ohio State. Reaching those thresholds at the collegiate level puts him in the conversation with some of the NFL’s best mobile quarterbacks from the past few draft classes.
College Career Rushing Profiles
|Player||Rushing yards/game||PFF rushing grade||Attempts/game||TDs/game||YPA||Scrambles/game||Designed runs/game|
Fields’ weaknesses as a passer — poor accuracy outside the pocket, holds the ball too long, doesn’t convert many tight-window throws — basically call for him to tuck and run even more.
Fields will find out quickly that the passing lanes in the NFL are extremely tight. If he's hesitant to make those throws, he will almost certainly use his legs as an escape route — the exact outlet we want our fantasy QBs to utilize.
In 2021 fantasy football redraft formats, Fields is going to be the late-round quarterback that alters the tides of leagues. Time to get the hype train going.
Justin Fields aka the fantasy football league-winning late-round QB in 2021 ????
book it ????pic.twitter.com/Qu8HAgFDBo
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) February 5, 2021
If any quarterback can compete with Fields as the best-rusher in the class, it's North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. In his lone full season as a starter in 2019, Lance rushed for 1,150 yards, fourth-most at the quarterback position.
In Lance's one showcase game during the 2020 season, he rushed for 161 yards on 15 carries. Using Lance in the running game was part of the offense's game plan — nearly 82% of his total rushing attempts came on designed runs.
We love quarterbacks that can run in fantasy football, and Lance fits that profile to a tee. On top of the rushing upside, he has a cannon arm — 11.5 career aDOT and 118.8 passer rating on 30-plus yard throws.
Drafting Lance is a bet on his upside, because he comes with considerable risk across the board. There are major questions as to whether he will translate as a passer when making the massive leap from FCS to the NFL.
Lance has serious ball-accuracy issues. Only 47.1% of his passes in his career were deemed to have accurate ball placement, which is by far the worst on this list.
He’s still got some developing to do to round out his game as a passer, but he'll at least be racking up fantasy points on the ground while he works on it.
PFF’s Mike Renner coined Lance as the single most versatile rushing threat at the position to enter the league since Lamar Jackson, and we saw how that worked out for fantasy football. It might be bumpy to start, but don’t cut bait too early. If you miss out on Lance in a dynasty rookie drafts, be ready to buy him low if/when the time comes.
Wilson's ascent to a potential top-five draft pick didn’t happen quite like Burrow. Wilson flashed talent early in his collegiate career. Like Lawrence, he produced as a true freshman, earning an 80.5 PFF grade (33rd) while averaging 8.6 yards per attempt (18th).
After an injury-riddled sophomore season prevented any further breakout, Wilson took college football by storm in his junior season.
Look up any passing statistic or grade from the 2020 college season and Wilson finished somewhere near the top. He ranked No. 1 in PFF passing grade (95.5, highest in the PFF era), second in passer rating (136.3), third in yards per attempt (11.1), third in touchdowns (32) and third in completion percentage (72.7%).
Only 13.6% of Wilson’s throws beyond the line of scrimmage were deemed uncatchable this past season, the lowest rate in the FBS. His passing grade on tight-window passes also led all quarterbacks, and it wasn’t particularly close (92.7). The next closest quarterback was Spencer Rattler (74.3).
The BYU gunslinger also ranked No. 1 in PFF passing grade on throws of 20-plus yards and compiled the fourth-most yards on those deep pass attempts. No quarterback threw an accurate ball at a higher rate of 20-plus-yard passes in 2020 (73%).
It’s absolutely insane to think that he was able to find so much success passing the ball downfield while also having the third-lowest turnover-worthy play rate (1.2%).
Wilson checks all the boxes when it comes to passing, but he doesn’t add the same amount of rushing equity as some of the other quarterbacks listed ahead of him.
He has the worst PFF rushing grade among my top-four quarterbacks (69.2) and rushed for less than 22 yards in half of his games in 2020. His raw rushing stats put him in a tier with Lawrence, but I’d still side with the latter to outproduce him on the ground at the next level.
During Lawrence’s 2019 campaign, he rushed for less than 22 yards just once.
|Player||PFF rushing grade||Rushing yards/game||Attempts/game||TDS/game||YPA||Scrambles/game||Designed runs/game|
The other question for fantasy managers is whether Wilson’s production is sustainable at the next level. He saw pressure at the fourth-lowest rate (21.6%) among 2021 draft-eligible quarterbacks because he played behind the nation’s eighth-highest-graded pass-blocking unit.
That type of pressure rate would be one of the lowest at the NFL level, so it remains to be seen how the snappy quarterback will adjust in the face of professional defenders. With Wilson projected to be taken as the No. 2 overall pick in many PFF mock drafts, he is bound to land somewhere with a sub-par offensive line that could limit his potential.
The other issue is that he needs to land in an offense that will leverage the outside zone. PFF’s Seth Galina explained how BYU's outsize-zone rushing scheme created openings in the passing game off play-action.
I expect Wilson’s ADP in rookie drafts to align with where he is drafted in the real NFL draft. But he goes second overall, the value probably isn’t likely there to draft him in dynasty leagues as the second QB off the board. There’s value to be had by waiting for another rookie quarterback multiple picks later in Fields or Lance.
Give credit where credit is due. That’s the story of Mac Jones’ 2020 season when he operated one of the best offenses in college football history. His adjusted completion percentage (84.2%) and PFF passing grade (94.8) ranked first and second in the nation, respectively. Both were superior to Joe Burrow’s magical 2019 Heisman season.
PFF’s 29th-ranked player on the NFL Draft Big Board did everything he could to spike his draft stock, but there are some red flags we need to address for fantasy purposes.
The situation at Alabama was absolutely perfect, with NFL-caliber players everywhere. The receivers certainly made life easy for him — no quarterback accumulated more yardage from open receivers than Jones.
We've also seen only one year of elite production. The pieces around him in the NFL will not give him as much of an advantage.
But the elephant in the room has to be that he offers nothing next to nothing as a runner or out of the structure — he finished the year with just 79 rushing yards. If Jones is going to be a force in fantasy football, he is going to have to become one of the top pocket passers in the NFL.
One of Jones' major strengths is his accuracy as an underneath passer, which is fine from a real-life NFL standpoint. Offenses have to sustain drives and move the chains. But in fantasy football we want our quarterbacks taking deep shots early and often.
NFL offensive minds might not see Jones as a quarterback they want to let loose, which would ultimately hinder his fantasy ceiling.