Top-5 Free-Agent Quarterbacks & Tight Ends (2021 Fantasy Football)
We’re running out of football games. Before we know it the Super Bowl will have passed and it’ll be time for NFL teams to really start mapping out their offseason priorities. Now is the time to get informed. My good friend Zachary Hanshew has already covered free agent running backs and wide receivers for us. Today, I’ll be focus on the top-five quarterbacks and tight ends.
Top-5 Free-Agent Quarterbacks
We can’t discuss Prescott without first mentioning the injury. It was devastatingly brutal, but the lack of any other high-end options in free agency keeps him atop this list. That’s because Prescott was putting together a truly special season before injuring his ankle back in Week 5. The 27-year-old was leading arguably the most explosive offense for fantasy football purposes before going down, throwing for an insane 1,856 yards through four and a half games.
For his career, Prescott has completed 66% of his passes while totaling 106 touchdowns against 40 interceptions. He has also ran for 24 additional scores through his four-plus seasons. A return to Dallas still feels most likely, and the franchise tag is most certainly going to be in play. The Cowboys will understandably want to see how he fares post-injury before committing to him long-term.
This is a unique case as Rivers will likely either return to the Colts or retire. While his effectiveness is waning, the 39-year-old still operated as an above-average starter in 2020. Rivers guided Indianapolis to a playoff spot by throwing for 4,168 yards and 24 touchdowns on 7.7 yards per attempt. Finally playing behind a productive offensive line, Rivers was impressive during the Colts’ Wild Card Weekend loss to the Bills. Indy became the first team to lose a playoff game despite totaling over 450 yards of offense without committing a turnover. This offense is expected to flow through Jonathan Taylor next year, but Rivers still helps elevate the unit in a cerebral, game manager role. I anticipate another one-year deal while the Colts also draft a quarterback come April.
EDIT: Rivers’ retirement takes him out of the equation for both the Colts and the rest of the NFL. Perhaps the team will now make more of an attempt to re-sign Jacoby Brissett (also a free agent).
The “Trubisky Truthers” received some unexpected time in the spotlight this season. The former No. 2 overall draft pick was benched for Nick Foles early in the year but returned to “lead” Chicago back to the playoffs as the 7th seed in the NFC. Over his final seven games, playoffs included, Trubisky posted a serviceable 11:5 TD:INT ratio to go along with another rushing score.
While he was better than his at-times-abysmal 2019 campaign, Trubisky never threw for more than 267 yards in a game. The 26-year-old still has severe limitations and hasn’t taken a leap as a player since entering the pros. Trubisky is ultimately young enough that, at worst, he’ll wind up as a team’s backup quarterback option this offseason. We anticipate the Bears heading in a different direction, but Trubisky isn’t leaving the NFL world just yet.
In Week 1 against New England, Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions en route to a Miami loss. From weeks 2-6 he posted a 10:4 TD:INT ratio plus two rushing scores and was benched for rookie Tua Tagovailoa following the Dolphins’ bye week. Fitzpatrick didn’t deserve to be sitting, however, and one can only wonder if the Dolphins would have made the playoffs if they stuck with “FitzMagic” all year long.
Despite the benching, the 38-year-old remained involved, replacing Tagovailoa midway through multiple late-season contests. The most memorable performance came in Week 16 against the Raiders, which gave the Dolphins a chance to clinch a postseason birth one week later. That didn’t happen. It would be curious if Miami rolled with the same Tagovailoa/Fitzpatrick combination in 2021 since, at some point, the organization needs to commit to their 2020 No. 5 overall selection. As for Fitzpatrick, he’ll be able to stick around in a backup role elsewhere if he wants. His “DGAF” quarterback tendencies continuously render him an ideal (and usually cheap!) DFS option whenever he starts.
This is unfortunate to say for someone who posted a hideous 8:10 TD:INT ratio in 15 games, but Newton’s season-long numbers were even worse before a big performance in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Jets. Still, anyone who watched the Patriots play offense this year isn’t being fooled by any positive spins on Newton’s play. It was downright bad for most of the 2020 campaign. A dearth of any impactful skill-position players only worsened the problem, but the former MVP was routinely throwing at the feet of open receivers. Newton compiled some decent rushing performances, and remained a weapon in the red zone, but he also lacked the ability to bust game-breaking runs a la his former self. Set to turn 32 in May, the odds could be against Newton beginning the season with a starting job.
|Cam Newton||2020||Career Average|
|Yards Per Rush||4.3||5.0|
|Rushes Per Game||9.1||7.7|
Top-5 Free-Agent Tight Ends
Henry should cash in this offseason after being franchise tagged by the Chargers last year. The 26-year-old missed the final two games of the season while on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He was playing well before that, totaling 60 receptions for 613 yards and four TDs across 14 games. Justin Herbert‘s meteoric rise didn’t translate to Henry becoming a fantasy stud, but the tight end position was so weak in general that Henry was still a weekly starter. As for a contract, I’m anticipating something similar to Austin Hooper‘s four-year, $42 million deal with the Browns from last spring. The Patriots could be an interesting fit.
Belichick going deep on Chargers TE Hunter Henry. Said he's been impressive since his days at Pulaski Academy in Arkansas.
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) December 2, 2020
Following an efficient-yet-underutilized 2019 campaign, Smith was a popular breakout candidate in summer drafts. Although the 25-year-old had a career-year, highlighted by nine total touchdowns, the overall usage didn’t erupt the way many were hoping for. Smith’s 65 targets in 15 games ranked a measly 17th among tight ends. The TDs helped him finish as the No. 13 TE in PPR points per game, but Smith was mostly a dud following a scorching-hot September.
The talent is still evident. Entering 2020 Smith ranked second in yards after the catch per reception among all tight ends since 2010 (George Kittle No. 1).That stat has as much to do with Smith’s lack of volume as it does with his insane efficiency, but the point is he deserves more opportunities than he has gotten with Tennessee to begin his career. A new home in free agency could mean another summer of hyping up Smith as a potential draft day steal.
If you think Smith is an efficient tight end, just wait until you peep Tonyan’s stats this year. This was discussed in my recent “Dynasty Players To Sell” article, but Tonyan lived off touchdowns in 2020. As highlighted by the tweet below, the 26-year-old breakout star finished as the overall TE3 in fantasy despite ranking 24th among tight ends in targets. That type of efficiency will be impossible to replicate next year. Therefore, Tonyan is an easy fade in the early portion of the offseason. The only path to him operating as a consistent fantasy option will be a massive bump in targets. We’ll have to see how free agency plays out, both for Tonyan and for the rest of Green Bay’s pass-catching corps. As a restricted free agent, I tentatively expect Tonyan to remain in Green Bay.
Robert Tonyan is one of the biggest fades I've ever seen entering 2021 fantasy leagues
???? Caught 52-of-59 targets, 11 TDs
???? Finished as the overall TE3
???? Ranked 24th (!!) in targets among TEs
???? Aaron Rodgers career-best 9.1% TD rate destined for regression
— Brendan Tuma (@toomuchtuma) January 14, 2021
Similar to the Rivers analysis above, there isn’t a whole lot of intrigue as to where Gronk is going to be playing in 2021. There is no reason to think he wouldn’t return to Tampa Bay if he doesn’t retire (again). The best tight end of all time in his prime, Gronkowski got off to a slow start after not playing in 2019. He didn’t top 50 receiving yards until Week 5 and didn’t find the end zone until Week 6. Still, he managed to have several big games during the middle part of the season, though he was frustratingly inconsistent.
A crowded group of high-end skill position players is mostly to blame. 31 years old this season, Gronkowski didn’t have close to the same usage as his Patriots days, but his 13.8 yards per catch wasn’t that far off from his career average of 15.0. Assuming he is back with the Bucs in 2021, I’m viewing Gronk as a solid-if-unspectacular late-round tight end once again.
Cook’s fantasy relevancy since landing in New Orleans has been driven by 16 touchdowns over the past two years. That isn’t breaking any news as nearly ever tight end lives off red zone prowess. Still, it’s a disturbing reality for a player set to enter his age-34 campaign. Unlike Smith, we can’t simply hope for Cook to receive more opportunities. At this point, he is what he is. Landing spot will dictate everything for him. Cook’s range of outcomes include being another solid-if-unspectacular late-round option and falling out of the fantasy discussion altogether.
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