It’s preseason fantasy football rankings season here at TDN! On Tuesday, June 1, I released my Preseason Top 35 Quarterback Rankings, which can be found here. Once the rankings became public, there were a number of questions asked and some shade thrown. Let’s address a few of the most common questions/reactions to the initial release of my 2021 preseason quarterback rankings and dive into deeper explanations about why the players ranked where they did. As a reminder, my full stat projections will be released here at TDN later this month.
Why is Patrick Mahomes not your QB1?
I break with consensus at the top of my quarterback rankings as one of the few (if any) fantasy analysts without Mahomes at No. 1. You don’t have to scroll far to find him at QB2, but he actually came in as the No. 3 passer in projected total points behind Lamar Jackson (my QB1) and Josh Allen (QB3)—Mahomes’ full-season projection was less than a half-point behind Allen and I felt more comfortable with Mahomes’ multi-year track record, so he got the nod over the Bills’ QB.
But you’re not here to find out why Mahomes was ranked over Allen, you want to know why he’s behind Jackson. The short answer is rushing upside, but let’s quantify that a bit. You’ll be able to check out my full stat projections later in June, but let’s take a look at some recent trends for Jackson.
Over the last two seasons, Jackson has averaged nearly 11.17 rushing attempts per game at a 6.51 yards-per-attempt clip. If you extrapolate that out over the course of a 17-game season, you’ll get right around 1,215 rushing yards. While that would be a new career high by nine yards, remember that he’s played only 15 games in each of the last two seasons—he missed the last game of the 2019 season when Baltimore benched its starters and missed one game in 2020 on the COVID-19 list. The star QB could play two more games this season than ever before. Plus, if we look at his career touchdown percentage as both a rusher and a passer, 40 total touchdowns aren’t out of the equation.
Jackson is projected to outscore Mahomes by 127.49 fantasy points in rushing, which is just enough to put him above the Chiefs’ passer in my rankings.
Tom Brady over Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers? What gives?
Don’t let age dissuade you, Brady is an elite fantasy quarterback option in 2021. Once Brady became fully comfortable with the Buccaneers’ playbook (reportedly around Week 10), we saw a different player. From Week 10 through the Super Bowl (11 games), Brady averaged nearly 8.2 yards per attempt with a touchdown percentage of about 7.5%. What does that mean for 2021?
While those numbers are lofty when projected over a 17-game season, when mixed with his five-year averages, a 7.81 yards per attempt average and a touchdown percentage of 6.48% are doable. Combined with Tampa Bay’s 39.26 average pass attempts per game in that aforementioned 11-game stretch, Brady should have the volume needed to be a top-five fantasy quarterback with all of his weapons coming back.
How comfortable are you with Jalen Hurts as a QB1?
This is a complicated answer, and you can read my colleague’s thoughts here, but it essentially comes down to this: If Hurts is playing, he’ll be a top-12 QB. Now, the Eagles’ very public reluctance to name a starter is concerning, but I still don’t think Joe Flacco is a major threat to take Hurts’ starting job this season.
Hurts’ rushing upside is the key to his fantasy value. He rushed 46 times in his four starts last season, but let’s assume that drops to around 7.5 attempts per game (the average of the top six rushing quarterbacks last season). At the same 5.91 yards per attempt Hurts averaged last season, he could get to a little more than 750 yards rushing this year. Assuming a similar touchdown rate of 6.52%, eight rushing scores are doable as well.
There is certainly a significant risk that he gets benched at some point this season, but he could be a 20-plus point fantasy player on a weekly basis when active.
Why do you hate Sam Darnold?
I don’t hate Darnold as a person, I hate his fantasy production. While it might be shocking to see an undisputed starting quarterback that has talents like D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall, and Christian McCaffrey around him ranked at No. 32, I simply don’t trust Darnold even as a QB2 until he proves he can produce like one.
Since coming into the league (minimum 10 starts), Darnold has averaged 12.94 fantasy points per game. That ranks as the QB37 since 2018—he was also outside the top 30 fantasy quarterbacks last year. Plus, he’s never played more than 13 games in a season.
Yes, he got a bit of a weapons upgrade over previous New York Jets teams and he definitely has an upgraded coaching staff. However, Darnold has been a poor fantasy player his entire career and I’m not sure he’ll make a big enough leap to be fantasy relevant for single-quarterback leagues in 2021.
Where’s Deshaun Watson?
The uncertainty surrounding Watson’s on-field status for the 2021 season makes him a stay-away player for me in fantasy. The Houston Texans appear to be moving on from him sooner rather than later, and a potential suspension could be looming. If he does play this season, he’s not only rosterable but a QB1, but he could play anywhere from zero to eight to 17 games… we just don’t know.
In the meantime, Tyrod Taylor sneaks into my top 20 as a player who was more productive in fantasy the last time he was a starter than many remember. He will be relevant during bye weeks.
If you have any specific questions or want to know more about what I think of certain players, follow me on Twitter (@JaimeEisner) or Instagram (@JaimeEisnerTDN). I’d be happy to chat with you! Also, be sure to tune in to the TDN Fantasy Podcast for in-depth audio breakdowns of these rankings, my projections, and all the latest fantasy football news throughout the 2021 football season.