IS 2021 THE YEAR OF THE MID-ROUND QB?
The most important position on the field is changing the way drafts fall.
Almost ten years ago, J.J Zachariason made a name for himself in the fantasy industry by creating the theory behind ‘Late round quarterbacks’. Around this time quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees were being drafted in round one of fantasy drafts and Cam Newton and Matt Stafford could often be taken in the second. This caused J.J to urge others to zag whilst their competitors were zigging. I’m sure nearly all of us are familiar with why late-round quarterbacks worked as a strategy in single quarterback leagues, but in short, it came down to why take a quarterback getting only marginally more points than one available several rounds later? Instead, you could be loading up on running backs and wide receivers.
I’m not declaring the late-round strategy dead, by any means. Looking back over the last three seasons we can see some of the biggest winners at the position have still been found late, or even on waivers. In 2020 Josh Allen was the ninth quarterback drafted in ADP. Typically drafted in the 7th round (according to Fantasypros.com). The year before this, Lamar Jackson was available as late as the fourteenth quarterback off the board, which tells us he was even undrafted at times in single quarterback leagues. Not every late-round quarterback will go on to win a unanimous MVP award, but it’s a good reminder of the quality that can be found at the backend of the draft. Particularly when in the year before this, 2018, we saw Patrick Mahomes largely forgotten about in fantasy drafts with an ADP of 16. Mahomes went on to lead the position by almost 70 points that year.
As ever when fantasy players have breakout seasons we adjust where we rank them for the following season. Josh Allen is currently the consensus QB2, according to Fantasypros.com. In 2020 this resulted in Lamar Jackson being ranked QB2 heading into draft season. Often drafted in the second round and rarely making it out of the third. Ahead of him, Patrick Mahomes was a popular stack candidate with either Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill owners, opting to leave the first two rounds with two incredible talents. Mahomes finished as the QB4 and Lamar Jackson finished as the QB9, thanks to a late-season rally. Lamar did miss one game due to Covid, so perhaps he could have finished as high as QB6 without that but regardless it’s fair to say neither Mahomes nor Lamar lived up to their ADP. If you drafted either of those two it was at the expense of players including Aaron Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Travis Kelce and Miles Sanders. Whilst Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers owners got more bang for their buck after waiting on QB.
Fast forward to early drafts ahead of the 2021 season and both players have seen a fall in their perceived value. At the time of writing, we are well ahead of rosters being finalised. Free agency, the draft and training camp will all have their say in how we approach fantasy, but drafts are happening and patterns are starting to emerge. Mahomes ADP on FFPC has dropped from 16 in 2020 to 26 in these early drafts. Occasionally sliding to the fourth round. In previous years we’ve typically seen one or two quarterbacks drafted high and then perhaps one or two in the fifth and sixth rounds before they steadily come off the board in the eighth and ninth onwards. 2021 looks to be shaping up a lot different to this. ADP on FFPC Best Ball leagues suggests that by the end of the fifth round nine quarterbacks will be off the board. Seven quarterbacks find their ADP in between the fourth and fifth rounds, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, DeShaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. If we roll into this conversation with Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, who have gone off the board already, it’s clear to see that fantasy drafters are putting higher premiums on quarterbacks who add a rushing floor to their game.
We’ve seen in the past how zigging when others zag can lead to an advantage in fantasy football, and if you were to ignore the top nine quarterbacks you’d give yourself more opportunities to draft players such as Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, Travis Etienne and Terry McLaurin who headline a host of good players available in that range. In that scenario perhaps you opt for the likes of Joe Burrow (QB11), Matt Stafford (QB12) or Trevor Lawrence (QB14), who all go closer to the eighth round of FFPC drafts and certainly bring an appeal. Jalen Hurts currently has an ADP of QB16, which will no doubt rise now Carson Wentz is in Indianapolis. In these Best Ball drafts you’re typically needing to take two or three quarterbacks, so it’s not a direct representation of how the redraft market will shake out in August, but we can observe the trends and make judgements based upon them.
How much is recency bias playing into Josh Allen’s current ranking of QB2? Bills head coach, Sean McDermott, stated after the playoff loss to the Chiefs that he believed the team needed to run the ball more effectively next season. A thought he also voiced during their week 10 bye. The Bills ran the sixth-fewest rush attempts on average (24.5), which was down from 29.5 in 2019, ranking sixth-most in the league, quite a dramatic swing. Josh Allen’s accuracy improved massively from 58.8% in 2019 to 69.2% in 2020. Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley both set career high’s in catch percentage in 2020, with Diggs jumping from 67.9% to 76.5% and Beasley jumping from 68.8% to 76.6%. If we accept that outlier seasons are hard to repeat, along with a coaching staff looking for a more balanced approach in the run game then perhaps Allen is an easy fade candidate in the third or fourth round of drafts, where you could be taking Antonio Gibson, James Robinson or Keenan Allen instead. Recency bias caught up to Lamar Jackson drafters in 2020. Many people believed his rushing floor would be too high to bust, even if his unsustainable scoring rate of 2019 dipped off. Unfortunately for this Ravens fan, that proved not to be the case. When I brought up these Bills related stats on Twitter some people countered with an argument that Josh Allen’s floor can be sustained with his rushing touchdowns, and maybe they can as he’s scored eight or more in each season in the league but I’m not sure that’s enough to rely on for a player going as high as the third round. As somebody who drafted Josh Allen in a lot of leagues last season, I’ll find it tough to do so at this price.
I believe the consensus thinking is that the floor of the quarterbacks going by the sixth round is too high to pass up for most. Justin Herzig, one of the best Best Ball and DFS players around, recently spoke to Establishtherun.com about how he is considering approaching drafts with the idea of getting two of these earlier quarterbacks and then passing on taking a third later on. In single QB Best Ball leagues I like the idea of this approach. No doubt someone will rise from the late teens of ADP to surprise us all, perhaps Daniel Jones (QB20), finally breaks out? Maybe Tua Tagovailoa (QB23) shows why the Dolphins fell for him? Or maybe even a less hyped rookie such as Trey Lance (QB32), finds a good landing spot and his rushing floor carries him to a top-five finish. As the off-season rolls on I’ll periodically check in on this situation and update my thoughts.