This year’s quarterback class is… an interesting one. It may not have the talent we’ve seen in recent years but there are still plenty of intriguing prospects. So what is their quarterback value when it comes to fantasy? We rarely see rookie quarterbacks make a large impact in their first season. In the past nine seasons, only three rookies have ever finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback (a.k.a ‘QB1’ in 12-team leagues). For you math majors out there, a rookie has finished as the top fantasy quarterback fewer than 3% of the time since 2013, per available data from 4for4football.com. Those three quarterbacks were Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert.
While Prescott was a fourth-round pick, his fantasy success still remains an outlier. We simply can’t expect fourth-round quarterbacks to become fantasy relevant in their first year. As for Murray and Herbert, they were the first and sixth-overall selections, respectively.
This year saw just one quarterback go in the first two rounds. But the real value of how to project this year‘s class comes not in their draft capital, but rather, in their athletic profile and situation. Today, we’ll analyze the athletic profiles of the class in general and see how that translates to their quarterback value in fantasy. We’ll also look at the situations of the top prospects to see what type of impact they can make.
Quarterbacks primarily succeed in two ways in fantasy: high-volume passing or rushing upside. Every top quarterback in 2021 finished either top-12 in pass attempts and/or rushing yards among quarterbacks. Barring a regime change or drastic shift in offensive philosophy, a team’s volume of passing differs very little between two seasons. As for rushing, you can probably tell how important mobility is for a good fantasy quarterback.
Quarterbacks with wheels just score more fantasy points and this rookie class is loaded with savvy movers. Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, Matt Corral and Sam Howell — four of the top-five rated quarterbacks here at TDN — all routinely made plays with their legs. While those four prospects aren’t perfect passers, their abilities on the ground offer a solid floor in fantasy. However, you shouldn’t be too eager to draft them if they’re forced into a starting job on day one. Given time to improve as a passer, they can become viable fantasy options. Willis, Ridder and Howell were placed on teams with veteran quarterbacks in place. While we can debate how good those incumbent starters actually are, the rookies will almost certainly start the season on the bench. If Willis, Ridder and/or Howell earn a start, then we can dive more into their immediate fantasy value. Until then, you should avoid those three passers in normal leagues (a.k.a. “redraft”) this season.
It’s a different story with Kenny Pickett and Matt Corral. Pickett was TDN’s ‘QB2’ — one spot behind Willis — yet was taken first in the draft. While Pickett isn’t a tree rooted in the pocket, his athleticism isn’t on the same level as the other four prospects. He can still make plays with his legs, though no smart team is making his rushing ability a staple of their offense a la Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson. Pickett averaged about 38 pass attempts per game this past season, too, so we know he can sustain a high-volume offense. But he arguably doesn’t have the upside that Willis or even Ridder has. Perhaps you’ve seen a certain NSFW quote circling around referencing Pickett’s lack of upside.
That doesn’t mean he can’t be a reliable fantasy option. In fact, he may be the only prospect worth drafting in fantasy simply because he’s the most ready to start Week 1. Could Pickett sit the season behind Mitchell Trubisky? Of course, but if any rookie quarterback is ready to play, it’s Pickett. Still, Pickett just doesn’t have the boom-or-bust traits commonly seen among top fantasy quarterbacks. Some scouts worry he’s already close to hitting his ceiling. Again, that’s not to say Pickett can’t become a very good fantasy quarterback, let alone a fine NFL starter. He does inherit a promising core of weapons in Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, and rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin. Pickett could also inherit hefty volume. The Steelers threw the most and the fourth-most passes in back-to-back seasons, respectively. However, an uncertain grasp on the starting job and lack of enticing upside should keep Pickett off your draft boards. Even if Pickett does land the starting job, he shouldn’t be one of the first 24 quarterbacks taken in fantasy drafts. In other words, there are better options as your backup.
That leaves us with Matt Corral, who would’ve been in the same grouping as Willis, Ridder and Howell. Alas, Carolina moved up to take Corral, thus thrusting him into a shaky quarterback room — and “shaky” may be an understatement. The Panthers seem exasperated with the Sam Darnold experiment and P.J. Walker hasn’t done anything to suggest he’s more than a backup. That leaves Corral, who TDN scout Drae Harris described as an athletic quarterback with only sufficient arm strength. Harris also wrote that Corral is best-suited for an offense that incorporates a heavy volume of RPOs. The Panthers were tied for 12th in that metric in 2021. So Corral is not a bad fit from a schematic standpoint and therefore has some fantasy quarterback value.
In fact, you can make the argument that Corral actually has the best chance at starting among the rookie quarterbacks, not Pickett. And while Corral arguably has the higher ceiling, he’s still a developmental prospect. Besides, looking at how unsuccessful quarterbacks have been under Head Coach Matt Rhule, I have little confidence Corral can step in and play lights out. As of now, he’s nothing more than a mid-round dynasty pick in rookie drafts — and that’s before any trade Carolina could make for a veteran.
For what it’s worth, you also shouldn’t touch Bailey Zappe, who New England took at the end of the fourth round ahead of Sam Howell. Zappe is likely nothing more than depth behind Mac Jones, though things could get interesting if Jones doesn’t perform well.
So essentially, you should take a pass on any rookie quarterback in redraft leagues. They simply don’t have the fantasy quarterback value. You’d likely be waiting too long for them to make an impact, so instead, opt for starting quarterbacks with higher upside late in drafts.
Some of my favorite passers to target in the later rounds: Tua Tagovailoa, Jameis Winston and Zach Wilson. Best ball and dynasty, though, are other stories. If you’re unfamiliar with best ball, feel free to read my primer on the world’s fastest-growing fantasy format.