News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Is Ryan Fitzpatrick 2021's premier late-round QB?

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

There might not be a more likable QB in the NFL than Ryan Fitzpatrick. Whether it’s Fitz showing his inner child after a big win, borrowing his postgame outfit from DeSean Jackson or pulling off probably the single-best throw of 2020: Football is more fun when the artist known as FitzMagic is starting for one of the league’s 32 teams.

It appears as though this latter sentiment will come to fruition in 2021. Coach Ron Rivera said Fitzpatrick is “going to come in as the No. 1, but there will be a competition.” That’s all fine and dandy; the NFL is an alleged meritocracy, after all. Still, I have a hard time believing there will be much of an issue for Fitz in a competition against journeyman Taylor Heinicke, token “knows the system” backup Kyle Allen and 2020 undrafted free agent/Taysom Hill doppelganger Steven Montez

What follows is a breakdown on what we should expect from Fitzpatrick if he can “earn” the starting job and where he stacks up among fantasy’s top late-round QBs.

Fitz has consistently been a great fantasy QB in recent years

It’s been a long, strange journey for Fitzpatrick to get to Washington, which will mark his ninth different team since entering the league in 2005; we may never see another starting-caliber QB bounce around this much again. A randomly excellent 2015 campaign with the Jets produced a 10-6 record and another starting opportunity in 2016, but regression reared its ugly head and sent Fitz back to backup land.

A funny thing happened after Fitzpatrick joined the Buccaneers: He largely balled the hell out whenever given the opportunity.

  • 2018: Fantasy QB1 in Weeks 1-3 while Jameis Winston was suspended
  • 2019: QB2 in Weeks 7-17 upon taking over full time from Josh Rosen
  • 2020: QB8 in Weeks 1-6 before “losing” his job to Tua Tagovailoa

Perhaps I’m being overly kind here considering you could also point out that Fitz has been involved in constant QB competitions over the past three years; just realize they usually haven’t come down to performance. Rather, both the Bucs and Dolphins (rightfully) wanted to see what their young QBs had. This was more clear than ever in 2020, as Fitzpatrick outplayed Tua in terms of PFF passing grade (72.7 vs. 70.7), big-time throw rate (4.5% vs. 2.4%), yards per attempt (7.8 vs. 6.3) and adjusted completion rate (78.2% vs. 74.2%) alike. Basically the only thing the rookie did better than the longtime journeyman was posting a lower turnover-worthy play rate (3.1% vs. 4.7%).

I fully expect Tua to improve in a much-better offense entering 2021; that doesn’t mean we can’t give Fitzpatrick some love for playing great in a not-good situation. The Dolphins boasted below-average PFF grades in terms of pass blocking (21st), receiving (17th), rushing (No. 20) and run blocking (No. 30), yet Fitz managed to post top-12 marks in both yards per attempt (No. 9) and adjusted completion rate (No. 12).

To say FitzMagic merely passed the eye test is an understatement.

Fitzpatrick will turn 39 in November; Father Time is undefeated against everyone, even Harvard graduates. Still, nothing from his recent performances suggests a major dropoff is on the way, particularly when we consider the upgrade in surrounding talent.

This Washington offense is low-key LOADED

There’s no shortage of places to go with the ball in Washington. Incumbent No. 1 WR Terry McLaurin deserves to remain the alpha of the group. PFF’s 17th-highest-graded WR over the past two seasons, McLaurin has posted a more than solid mark of 1.95 yards per route run (No. 24 among 77 qualified WRs) despite having to deal with the same sort of similar early-career QB atrocities as someone like Allen Robinson (who just so happens to rank 25th YPRR). His route-running ability is already elite and we could see the potential for his scoring to boom if he gets Fitzpatrick’s full attention through the air.

And then there’s free agent addition Curtis Samuel, who has the sort of versatility to warrant the Twitter hype. The 24-year-old talent enters a Washington offense that is already well aware of his skills thanks to OC Scott Turner’s history with his new playmaker. Samuel can truly be deployed all over the field; he’s shown the ability to work as an effective rusher and receiver while lining up just about everywhere. This hasn’t translated to a ton of consistent production thus far, but this could also be chalked up to life in a crowded passing game with a combination of injured and erratic QBs under center. If Fitzpatrick misses time and we have to watch Kyle Allen to Samuel again, I’m going to be upset.

It remains to be seen exactly how the rest of the WR rotation will shake out. Fitz’s former Bucs teammate Adam Humphries is the favorite to start out of the slot, although electric third-round rookie Dyami Brown figures to see his fair share of snaps as well. Throw in incumbent contributors Cam Sims, Steven Sims, Kelvin Harmon as well as 2020 fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden and it’s clear that the Football Team is several injuries away from having an issue with their WR room.

The same can largely be said elsewhere. Logan Thomas is fresh off a breakout 72-670-6 campaign that featured more than a few crucial plays down the stretch. Antonio Gibson has the sort of three-down ability to be the DC version of Christian McCaffrey if given the role (DCMC). J.D. McKissic was perfectly fine as a receiving option last year both from the backfield as well as while lined up as a true WR even if the fantasy football community as a whole is still collectively confused as to why he was afforded 110 fooking targets.

Add it all together and …

Fitz is my favorite fantasy QB with an ADP outside the top-20 options

Originally I planned on dubbing Fitzpatrick as my favorite late-round QB period, but that was before I saw Ryan Tannehill had an Underdog ADP as the QB16 at the moment. Sheesh.

The public missing on the artist known as TanneThrill aside: Fitzpatrick is a bargain at his current ADP as the QB20 and represents the sort of player that would inevitably be ranked far higher if we were simply looking ahead to Week 1. There would’ve been far more concern over him maintaining the starting job had the Football Team done literally anything to spruce up its QB room throughout free agency and the draft.

Yes, Heinicki performed far better than anyone could have hoped for in the Football Team’s 31-23 Wild Card loss to the Buccaneers. Also yes, he falls outside the top 50 among 71 QBs with at least 100 dropbacks over the past three seasons (including playoffs) when it comes to yards per attempt (54th), adjusted completion rate (55th) and QB rating (60th). Maybe that — again, very good — evening against the Bucs was the sign of a great career to come; for meow I’m guessing that it will probably be Heinicki’s career highlight and not continue into 2021 without the help of injury.

Fitzpatrick comes in as my QB16 in my fourth tier: “I could talk you into this man being a QB1. He’s alongside Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Trevor Lawrence in the tier; I wouldn’t argue with anyone wanting to be on the later-season upside from these younger QBs, although from a pure median projection standpoint I believe Fitz will ultimately outscore each in fantasyland.

Ultimately, Fitzpatrick is cheap enough to land as your clear-cut QB2 or even QB3. You don’t need to have him on your fantasy team, but it’s a lot harder to envision a better QB1 ceiling from the QBs going after him. Give me him over the likes of Jameis Winston, Kirk Cousins, Tua Tagovailoa, Sam Darnold, Carson Wentz and more. Fitz has been nothing except a consistent fantasy QB1 when given a starting job over the past three seasons and represents the ideal late-round QB to add as a backup signal-caller in fantasy leagues of all shapes and sizes.

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