Fantasy Football: Setting expectations for the 2024 rookie quarterback class

2X5NCCR Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Williams throws a pass during the NFL football team's rookie camp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., Friday, May 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Caleb Williams is being drafted as a top-12 fantasy quarterback right now: Are these expectations too lofty or can the 2024 No. 1 overall pick deliver?

Jayden Daniels is a potential steal at his current ADP: The Washington Commanders quarterback offers high-end rushing upside that is going to allow him to out-produce his QB15 ADP.

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Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

Fantasy football draft season is right around the corner, and after diving into the fantasy quarterback report last week, breaking down how this year’s crop of potential fantasy QBs produced this past season, it’s time to turn our attention to the rookie quarterbacks.

Today, we are going to look at a combination of what translates from college production to the NFL for rookie quarterbacks in addition to what past rookie quarterbacks have done in Year 1 of their NFL careers in order to set expectations for this year’s class.

Average rookie quarterback's fantasy production since 2014 (min. seven games – 44 qualifiers):
Metric Rookie QB Average
Total Fantasy Points 164.7
Fantasy Points Per Game 13.1
Overall Fantasy Finish QB25
Fantasy Points Per Game Finish QB32
Games Played 12.0

This first look at average production from rookie quarterbacks includes all 44 rookie quarterbacks over the past 10 seasons who have played at least seven games in Year 1, so there is some variance in sample size to consider here. For fantasy drafts this season, we’re only considering the first-rounders, barring spot starts here and there from other rookies who won’t be drafted in the large majority of fantasy drafts this season. As things currently stand, five of six first-round rookie quarterbacks are expected to play at least seven games in 2024.

Before diving into potential first-round rookie quarterback expectations, it’s important to take note of this rookie production as a whole since 2014, as there have been others drafted outside of the first round who have been Year 1 fantasy contributors. With all that considered, expectations of rookie quarterbacks are typically low for fantasy purposes as there have only been four rookie quarterbacks (9.1%) to finish within the top 12 at their position in Year 1. There have been just 18 (41%) to finish inside the top 24 in Year 1. In terms of points per game, five have cracked the top 12 (11.4%) since 2014, and 13 have cracked the top 24 (29.5%).

For this year’s crop of rookie fantasy draft candidates, breaking these numbers down into first-round quarterbacks is more relevant since all who are in fantasy consideration this year were drafted within the first round of the NFL draft. Their Sleeper ADP is included in the chart below:

2024 Rookie Quarterback Average Draft Position (Sleeper, May 2024) ADP Position Rank (Sleeper, May 2024)
Caleb Williams, CHI 87 QB11
Jayden Daniels, WAS 119 QB15
J.J. McCarthy, MIN 164 QB21
Drake Maye, NE 180 QB24
Bo Nix, DEN 220 QB28
Michael Penix, ATL 279 QB34

Before getting into each individual quarterback and their situation, here is the average fantasy production of first-round quarterbacks in their rookie seasons since 2014 to provide some more context toward potential expectations this season.

Average First-Round Rookie Quarterback Fantasy Production since 2014 (32 qualifiers):
Metric 1st-Rookie QB Average
Total Fantasy Points 172.2
Fantasy Points Per Game 14.4
Overall Fantasy Finish QB23
Fantasy Points Per Game Finish QB29
Games Played 11.6

Caleb Williams, Chicago Bears

Williams, of course, stands out in ADP as a top-12 quarterback at the moment, and considering his supporting cast, overall college profile and being the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, it’s understandable that expectations are high. It’s worth noting that only four (12.5%) first-round rookie quarterbacks have finished top-12 in fantasy points per game in Year 1, including Deshaun Watson (25.0), Justin Herbert (22.7), C.J. Stroud (19.1) and Daniel Jones (18.9). Watson — though he finished as QB1 in points per game as a rookie, partly due to only seven games played — might be Williams’ best comparable in terms of where Williams' top-12 fantasy production could come from.

For context, rookie-year Watson had a top-five wide receiver to throw to in DeAndre Hopkins as well as a high-end deep-threat in Will Fuller, and a productive receiving back in Lamar Miller. Watson also had a higher 7.5% scramble rate, which allowed for strong rushing production. He posted 38.4 rushing yards per game to go along with two rushing touchdowns through his seven healthy games played. 

Williams, despite maybe not having a top-five receiver on the team, makes up for that by having two wide receivers who finished inside the top-10 in PFF receiving grade last season (DJ Moore, Keenan Allen). He also has a productive receiving back in D’Andre Swift, to go along with the ninth overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, Rome Odunze, and a reliable receiving tight end in Cole Kmet. There’s an argument to be made that Williams has the best crop of receiving weapons for any rookie quarterback in recent history.

Also, like Watson, Williams will offer upside due to his rushing ability, as the two share higher scramble rates coming out of college with Watson at 7.0% and Williams at 6.2%. This is one of the stickiest metrics for quarterbacks going from college to the NFL. Even if Williams doesn’t offer as much NFL rushing production early on as Watson, he should more than make up for that as a passer when considering who he’s throwing the ball to, which keeps his top-12 upside well within his realm of possibilities as a rookie, and a logical ADP right now heading into 2024.

Jayden Daniels, Washington Commanders

Daniels, is in a relatively similar boat as Williams, with a higher ADP for his rookie year, though QB15 makes him a safer bet relative to rookie quarterback expectations. Since 2014, there have been eight rookie quarterbacks to finish among the top 15 in points per game (9.4%). Six of 32 first-round quarterbacks hit that mark in Year 1 (18.7%). Of those first-rounders that did, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow are the only two added to the list of previous names mentioned when discussing Caleb Williams above.

Murray had Year-14 Larry Fitzgerald as his top target as a rookie, who was still able to command over 100 targets. He also had Year-2 Christian Kirk and a strong receiving back in David Johnson. Murray also ranked top-five among quarterbacks in his rookie year in rushing fantasy points (78.4), while scrambling at just a top-15 rate (4.7%). He finished his rookie season as the overall QB7.

Daniels will also have a reliable veteran in Terry McLaurin as well as tight end Zach Ertz as two of his potential top targets to go along with a young former first-rounder in Jahan Dotson. Most importantly, Daniels offers elite rushing upside, as he attempted 9.6 rushes per game for his career — higher than Murray’s 6.9 and more than current ADP QB1 Josh Allen’s 7.5 per game. Run rate is just behind scramble rate in terms of stickiness from college to the NFL and still a strong correlation. Daniels scrambled at a higher rate than any of the top rushing quarterbacks during his college career at an incredibly high 14.0% through six NCAA seasons.

Considering how strong that scrambling rate tends to be when transferring from college to the NFL, Daniels should be considered as one of the top quarterback candidates for fantasy rushing production in 2024 on top of what he adds as a passer. Rushing production is strongly correlated with overall fantasy production, especially this past season with all three top quarterbacks in fantasy points per game (Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson) also ranking top three in rushing fantasy points per game. With this in mind, Daniels should be considered a steal at QB15 ADP when factoring in his high-end rushing upside and a good bet to buck the trend of past fantasy quarterback finishers in Year 1.

J.J. McCarthy, Minnesota Vikings

Drake Maye, New England Patriots

Both Maye and McCarthy are being drafted just within that top-24 quarterback range, and it’s going to be a close call, as each has different reasons for finishing ahead of the other this coming season. Since 2014, 11 first-round rookie quarterbacks finished top-24 (34.3%) in fantasy points per game and 15 (46.9%) finished in the top-24 overall over that span.

For McCarthy, who is currently being drafted slightly ahead of Maye, a lot of his perceived potential comes from the offense he’ll be a part of in 2024. With Justin Jefferson as his WR1 along with Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson (assuming health), McCarthy’s offensive situation in his rookie year is second to only Caleb Williams. McCarthy offers little rushing upside, so meshing with his offensive weapons in addition to being efficient and accurate is going to be the key. While McCarthy had a top-five adjusted completion rate in the FBS last season (80.0%), that isn’t as stable a college-to-NFL metric to rely on. Instead, combining the thought that he could be propped up by his elite receiving weapons, and knowing the below-average success rates of rookies finishing top-24 at the position, QB21 is probably the absolute earliest he should be considered in drafts this year.

For Maye, he does not have the high-end receiving weapons of McCarthy which is going to push him into that more typical rookie quarterback range, however, he does at least offer some more rushing upside. How much rushing upside he offers in the NFL remains to be seen, but if his high 11.1% scramble rate and 8.3 rush attempts per game out of college are any indication — which they tend to be — then that will help his case. There’s still risk involved for Maye considering the offense, but at QB24 in ADP, and with a higher rushing upside, he should have a good chance to finish within that range as well in 2024.

Bo Nix, Denver Broncos

Michael Penix Jr., Atlanta Falcons

Both Nix and Penix are being drafted much more closely aligned with actual rookie fantasy quarterback expectations with 59.0% of rookie quarterbacks who played at least seven games since 2014 finishing outside the top 24 at their position in overall fantasy points in Year 1.

Nix is the favorite to start in Denver and should hit that seven-game range but there isn’t high rushing upside, nor the collection of high-end receiving weapons to bank on for him to buck that trend in 2024. 

Penix is unlikely to start at all this season, making him one of six first-round quarterbacks since 2014 to play fewer than seven games as a rookie (Trey Lance, Anthony Richardson, Patrick Mahomes, Johnny Manziel and Paxton Lynch). 

Both Nix and Penix are fine to be drafted where they are and typical rookie fantasy expectations make a lot more sense for these two if/when they see the field in 2024.


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