Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football Position Preview: Quarterback breakouts, sleepers and busts

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) reacts after his touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Nailing the quarterback position is crucial to fantasy football success because they score more raw fantasy points than any other position  – they accounted for eight of the top-10 leaders in total fantasy points (half-point per reception scoring) last season. 

When fantasy managers carry a top-tier fantasy quarterback on their squad, it creates a clearer path to the sky-high fantasy point totals that are necessary to win a fantasy football championship.

With that in mind, let’s preview the 2022 NFL season by breaking down the breakout players, sleepers and busts at the quarterback position.

Breakouts

JALEN HURTS, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

 The Eagles quarterback went on a ridiculous tear to open last season, scoring over 20 fantasy points in each of the first seven games. Hurts sprinkled in a few 300-yard passing performances with his trademark rushing production to emerge into one of the premier fantasy football quarterbacks.

Fantasy managers are drafting Hurts for his rushing usage – he tallied a league-high 90 designed runs and 50 scrambles (second) en route to 784 total rushing yards (first) and 10 rushing touchdowns (first). Philadelphia designed its offense to take advantage of its quarterback’s wheels last year, and this is likely going to be the team's game plan again in 2022. 

Nonetheless, what if Hurts also makes a leap forward in the passing game? This is the key to unlocking a QB1 overall season.

Hurts threw a deep pass beyond 20-plus yards downfield on 15% of his attempts last season (fourth most) but connected on just 38% of those throws (20th). He carries an aggressive mentality but did not have the weapons or skill to capitalize last year.

That is no longer the case – Philadelphia boasts serious offensive firepower heading into 2022, as the Eagles traded for A.J. Brown, who is one of the league’s premier downfield receivers. Here are his receiving numbers since 2019:

  • 91.1 PFF Grade (fourth among all wide receivers)
  • 2.6 receiving yards per route run (fourth)

It also helps that Brown and Hurts are real-life best friends that spend a serious amount of time together both on and off the field.

If Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp can turn their breakfast club into a record-breaking season, perhaps the Hurts and Brown best-friends narrative can launch Hurts into a historic year of his own.

DeVonta Smith is a high-caliber No. 2 wide receiver and is likely to take a large step forward in his second season. Dallas Goedert has emerged into an elite tight end, posting an exceptional 90.7 PFF Grade last season (second among all tight ends).

Hurts averaged 20.8 fantasy points per game last season to finish as the overall QB6. That is his absolute floor and also where he is currently being drafted as QB6 in PFF’s consensus fantasy rankings. I love drafting players at their floor, as it is a winning strategy in fantasy football.

RUSSELL WILSON, DENVER BRONCOS

Wilson was a beacon of consistency during his Seattle glory years, consistently finishing as a top-10 fantasy quarterback who had top-three upside. These are his fantasy finishes over the last decade: 

  • 2021: QB15
  • 2020: QB6
  • 2019: QB3
  • 2018: QB9
  • 2017: QB1
  • 2016: QB10
  • 2015: QB3
  • 2014: QB3
  • 2013: QB8
  • 2012: QB11

The Broncos assembled a juggernaut surrounding Wilson and are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. They go four-deep at wide receiver with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler. Additionally, Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon can match up with any running back duo in the league while Albert Okwuegbunam and Greg Dulcich are dynamic tight ends who have supreme athletic potential. The offensive line is also improving, as it is currently ranked as a tier three unit with high-end potential according to PFF’s offensive line rankings.

There is no safer quarterback in fantasy football (considering his draft cost), and he has a real path to a nuclear top-three season. Maybe Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett decides to “Let Russ Cook” with a top-10 pass-play rate in order to keep up with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, or what if one or multiple of these ascending skill players (Javonte Williams and Courtland Sutton are my favorite options) emerges into a bona fide superstar?

I simply cannot see a scenario where Wilson does not immediately become an impact fantasy quarterback given this incredible situation. His QB10 PFF consensus fantasy ranking is too low, as I would draft Wilson ahead of Dak Prescott and Tom Brady.

TREY LANCE, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

 If rushing quarterbacks are truly a cheat code for fantasy football, then Lance possesses the potential to single-handedly win fantasy managers their fantasy football league. Assuming he is the 49ers' starting quarterback in Week 1, Lance is a mortal lock to blow past the entire quarterback position in rushing production. 

Lance started in three games last season and received seven, eight and 16 rush attempts. Extrapolate those 31 carries to a full 17-game season, and Lance would have registered an absurd 176 carries – 37 more than Hurts’ league-leading 139 runs in 2021.

Now, think about offensive guru Kyle Shanahan designing an entire offense around his quarterback’s explosive wheels, and you can really get excited about Lance’s gargantuan ceiling. Check out his jaw dropping rushing production at North Dakota State in 2019:

  • 134 carries
  • 1,150 yards
  • 14 touchdowns.

Lance was not just a one-trick pony in college, as he also racked up 2,788 passing yards with a pristine 28-to-0 touchdown to interception ratio.

Deebo Samuel and George Kittle are two of the best receivers in the business with the football in their hands, tallying 784 (second among all WRs/TEs) and 461 (10th) receiving yards after catch last season.

The electric San Francisco quarterback could sleep-walk into a top-10 fantasy season and is a serious threat to capture top-five or even top-three results. Do not let Lance slip to far on your fantasy football draft – his consensus fantasy ranking is QB11, but I would aggressively target him inside the top eight.


Sleepers 

KIRK COUSINS, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The days of the Vikings establishing the run on offense are finally over as head coach Kevin O’Connell brings an aerial attack mindset to Minnesota. Justin Jefferson cannot wait to be a part of a pass-first team: 

While Jefferson is gaining major steam to surpass Cooper Kupp as the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy football, his quarterback is going mostly overlooked. Cousins was a rock-solid QB1 last season and finished as the overall QB11. Yet, his consensus fantasy ranking is all the way down at QB16 despite a massive upgrade coming in pass volume. Somebody, please, make this make sense!

Cousins played extremely well last season (88.2 PFF Grade, fifth among all QBs), tossing 33 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He excelled at the deep ball (throws 20-plus yards downfield):

  • 33 completions (third-most)
  • 10 touchdowns (second)
  • 120.7 passer rating (second)

Despite these mouth-watering passing statistics, Cousins is not a sexy name to draft in fantasy football. However, the Vikings' signal-caller can be a very dependable QB1 fantasy option who fantasy managers can draft at a much cheaper price. 

ZACH WILSON, NEW YORK JETS

 The entire fantasy community is basically writing off Wilson after a terrible rookie season, where his 59.3 PFF Grade ranked 29th among the 32 starting quarterbacks. The embattled Jets quarterback is ranked all the way down at QB22 in PFF’s consensus fantasy rankings. However, it would be foolish to give up on Wilson due to his poor 2021 season in a horrific team situation.

If you squint hard enough, there are a lot of similarities between the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals and the 2022 Jets, as both teams possessed a talented but unproven second-year quarterback with high NFL Draft capital. One of the league’s best groups of running backs and pass-catchers – the quartet of Breece Hall, Elijah Moore, Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis will be a major problem for opposing defenses. The Jets should also see much better offensive line play after allowing a hefty 39% pressure rate last season (second-most).

PFF’s Conor McQuiston wrote a great article predicting the quarterbacks most likely to improve in 2022, using the data point expected points added (EPA) per dropback. His analysis landed on Wilson being the most improved quarterback next season. 

Wilson is probably not going to be a top-10 quarterback unless something drastically unexpected happens, but he can be a serviceable QB2 who has spike QB1 weeks in favorable matchups. There is simply too much upside for a quarterback with such explosive weaponry at his bargain draft price. 

DANIEL JONES, NEW YORK GIANTS

The New York Giants signal-caller has struggled over the last two seasons (77.9 PFF Grade, 18th among quarterbacks), but he flashed serious fantasy upside in his rookie year back in 2019. Jones popped off for 34.2, 28.2, 30.3 and 35.3 fantasy point totals in four games in 2019. That is the elite spike week upside that we love in fantasy football.

If Jones can capture just a few of those blowup weeks, then he should easily pay off his negligible draft cost – PFF consensus fantasy rankings list Jones all the way down at QB23.

However, Jones’ true sleeper potential lies in the success of new Giants Head Coach Brian Daboll. How much of Josh Allen’s development and success can be attributed to Daboll? At a minimum, we know that the Giants' lead man is going to completely transform New York’s offense into a pass-first unit that aggressively attacks downfield. 

The Giants also boast a slew of talented offensive weapons in Saquon Barkley, Kadarius Toney, Kenny Golladay, Wan’Dale Robinson and Sterling Shepard. Each carries several question marks, but the upside is clear if someone like Toney can break out (as PFF Analyst Kevin Cole explains) or if Golladay or Barkley can uncover their old magic.

Among the trio of sleeper quarterbacks discussed here, only Jones carries a potential top-five ceiling in a perfect breakout universe. 


Busts

KYLER MURRAY, ARIZONA CARDINALS

Murray unquestionably boasts overall QB1 ceiling, but he carries significantly more risk than any of the other top-five fantasy quarterbacks.

First and foremost, the Arizona superstar simply does not run like he used to, as Murray did not have a single game with over 10 rush attempts last season. By comparison, Lamar Jackson accomplished that feat six times while Josh Allen did it four times.

Murray’s per-game rushing usage fell off a cliff to 6.3 rush attempts per game last season, down from 8.3 in 2021. And it’s not like his ankle injury was much of a factor – Murray’s rushing actually increased from 6.1 attempts per game to 6.5 upon returning from an ankle sprain in Week 13. And James Conner hogged all the touchdowns on the ground with a whopping 15. 

There are also real concerns with Murray’s passing upside. Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury does not boast the aggressively pass-happy approach of his contemporaries, as Arizona passed the football on only 60% of plays last season, ranking 24th among all teams. Patrick Mahomes (first), Justin Herbert (third) and Josh Allen (sixth) will all sustain more passing volume than Murray. 

Murray will also be without his No. 1 wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins for the first six weeks of the season due to suspension. This is a big deal for a 30-year-old player that was limited to 10 games last season because of injury. Whether Marquise Brown can handle a true WR1 load remains a mystery – his career-high receiving yards is just 1,008. 

Do not draft Murray at his current average draft position – instead pay up for Allen, Herbert and Jackson or wait on quarterbacks like Jalen Hurts, Trey Lance or Russell Wilson.

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