The hullabaloo surrounding the quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft is reaching a fever pitch. With up to four different quarterbacks going in the first four picks, and six potentially going top-ten, we really need to look at what this means for fantasy football heading into 2021. Obviously, downwind ramifications exist for their teammates in fantasy football, but what of the quarterbacks? Let’s look at rookie quarterbacks since 2015 and determine just how excited we should get for these guys for our 2021 fantasy football leagues. For reference, the data below comes from the DynastyLeagueFootball.com Yearly Data App, except games started data, which comes from Pro-Football-Reference.com.
First, let’s figure out a dataset that we can work with. Given the changes in NCAA and NFL offenses over the last decade, looking at how rookie quarterbacks function too far in the past isn’t helpful. To create a nice, arbitrary dividing line, let’s look at just the rookie quarterbacks since 2015.
Since 2015, 38 rookie quarterbacks started multiple games their rookie year. Of these 38 quarterbacks, 18 were first-round picks. That makes sense since you used your first-round pick on a guy that you use as soon as he is ready (nobody tell the Packers). Of the remainder, eight went in rounds two or three, three went in rounds four or five, five went in round six, and three were round seven picks or undrafted free agents. The nice slide down from first-round picks getting the most run to undrafted free agents getting very little run makes a lot of sense, nothing earthshaking there.
Let’s take a closer look at the top twelve quarterback weeks, aka the bare minimum of usefulness in one-quarterback leagues. Only two quarterbacks logged top-twelve weeks in at least half the season’s games since 2015: Justin Herbert (2020) and Dak Prescott (2016). Deshaun Watson notched five top-twelve efforts in his six games, but he tore his ACL in practice and could not join the 8+ game ranks.
That having been said, the top twelve weeks from rookie quarterbacks are… rare. Of the 38 in this list, only 32 top twelve weeks exist. That means that guys who start multiple games their rookie year, on average, have just over one top-twelve week. But, when we look at Lawrence, Fields, Wilson, and the like, we aren’t looking at the Cody Kesslers and Ryan Finleys of the world. Instead, let’s narrow our focus to first-and-second round rookie quarterbacks who started multiple games since 2015; the cream of the crop who had their chance to shine. Since 2015, this criteria matches 21 quarterbacks. They were all first-rounders with the exception of Drew Lock, DeShone Kizer, and Jalen Hurts.
These 21 quarterbacks averaged 10.5 starts per season and finished with about 3.6 top twelve starts per season. Obviously, there are outliers. As I mentioned before, a freak practice injury kept Deshaun Watson from skewing these numbers favorably toward the rookies. These things happen, but at the same time, only six of these 21 quarterbacks finished as a top-12 quarterback at least half the time their rookie season. In addition to Watson, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, and Marcus Mariota join their ranks.
To put that a different way: 71% of highly drafted rookie quarterbacks to start multiple games failed to register a top-12 performance at least half the time.
Am I saying to ignore rookie quarterbacks entirely? Absolutely not. After all, in a one-quarterback league, the streaming quarterback is a key to success. Of the 21 quarterbacks to go in the first two rounds to get multiple starts their first year, about half (9) turned in top-12 performances one-third of the time. Snagging rookie quarterbacks isn’t a question of getting a set-and-forget starter. One of those guys comes around every four-or-five years. Ultimately, you’re looking for the short end of a quarterback platoon at best.
As for this season, it’s too soon to tell for a landing spot and fantasy football relevance. Trevor Lawrence probably struggles with a questionable Jaguars offense, though adding Marvin Jones to the equation doesn’t hurt. Whoever goes to the Jets likely struggles, and whoever goes to the Niners will likely shine. The Falcons’ pick is a wild card for value, but let’s not get too far over our skis.
By and large, rookie quarterbacks don’t turn in valuable weekly upside, so don’t overreach to draft one. The cream of the crop do it just about half the time. Treat them like you have traditionally treated Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger. Your goal is to get one as part of a platoon, but don’t lean on just one. Historically, that sets a bad precedent of non-functional quarterback play in your fantasy football leagues.
Rookie quarterbacks might not always be useful for fantasy football, but these links are!
Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trevor_Lawrence.jpg