Fantasy Impact: Ryan Fitzpatrick Signs with Washington (2021 Fantasy Football)
Just a few weeks ago, we heard that Ryan Fitzpatrick might be retiring. He addressed those rumors shortly thereafter, saying he wanted to continue playing, and he solidified that on Monday night by signing a one-year deal worth $10 million with the Washington Football Team.
LIKE A FINE WINE
Now entering his 17th NFL season, Fitzpatrick will be playing for his ninth different franchise, so he’s certainly used to the change by now. It’s really odd that Fitzpatrick never anchored to a team considering his competence, though it is worth noting that his career didn’t start out quite like he would’ve wanted, throwing 68 touchdowns and 65 interceptions over his first seven years in the league.
From 2012 through 2020, though, Fitzpatrick has been getting better and better. During that time, he’s thrown 155 touchdowns to 104 interceptions, including 57 touchdowns and 36 interceptions over the last four seasons. It’s not just the touchdowns, either. Fitzpatrick topped 7.0 yards per attempt just once during his first 13 years in the league. Over the last three years, he’s averaged 7.8, 7.0, and 9.6 yards per attempt. The league is changing, and Fitzpatrick is taking full advantage of that.
From a fantasy perspective, Fitzpatrick has been much better than most realize, and I can prove it. He’s started 37 games over the last four seasons with Tampa Bay and Miami, posting QB1-type numbers (Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between reports) in 18 of them, or 48.6 percent of them. You may not think that sounds like a lot, but here’s a look at the top-12 quarterbacks from 2020:
Fitzpatrick was just outside that tier, and let’s not pretend that his situation was ideal playing behind that Dolphins offensive line and injured pass-catching corps. There are certainly games where he “busted” and hurt your team, but that’s something you have to accept with the gunslinger.
PLAYING FOR A CONTENDER
If there’s something we haven’t seen, it’s Fitzpatrick playing for a contending team. That’s right… Fitzpatrick has never been to the playoffs. Washington is a team that surprised everyone in 2020 and made the playoffs, though they got there with a 7-9 record in what was the NFL’s weakest division. Still, they have a strong front-seven on defense, and they obviously felt that Fitzpatrick would at least make them competitive on the offensive side of the ball.
Between Alex Smith, Kyle Allen, Dwyane Haskins, and Taylor Heinicke last year, the Football Team threw the ball a robust 599 times during Scott Turner’s first season as offensive coordinator. I’ve done studies in the past that suggest offenses become more pass-heavy throughout a coordinator’s tenure. If you go back to Turner’s time in Carolina, they threw the ball 633 times in 2019, and that was with a gimpy Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, and Will Grier under center. Now that Turner has a competent quarterback, there should be no expectation that he’ll dial the offense back. There have been just two instances in Fitzpatrick’s career where he’s thrown the ball more than 505 times, and in those years, he finished as the No. 12 fantasy quarterback (2011) and No. 11 fantasy quarterback (2015).
This job doesn’t come without issues, though. Similar to the Dolphins, the Football Team has what can be described as a below-average offensive line. The most important position to a quarterback is left tackle, and the combination of Cornelius Lucas/Geron Christian isn’t what you’d call “great.” Some might say that Washington could select an offensive tackle in the draft, but knowing Fitzpatrick is on just a one-year deal, we should be expecting them to take a quarterback at some point.
BUMP FOR WASHINGTON’S RECEIVERS
What this move does for the pass catchers is great, though. Terry McLaurin should be celebrating the arrival of Fitzpatrick, as he loves targeting his playmakers. He’s supported consistent fantasy options everywhere he goes. It was DeVante Parker in Miami, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson in Tampa Bay, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in New York. Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger who isn’t afraid to throw into tight coverage and let his receiver win. According to NFL’s NextGenStats, Fitzpatrick threw into tight coverage 21.7 percent of the time last year, which was second to only Mike Glennon. There will be turnovers because of that, but as a fantasy manager, you don’t care about that.
EARLY 2021 PROJECTION FOR FITZ AND PASS CATCHERS
Look, Washington didn’t sign Fitzpatrick to be a game manager; that’s not who he is. They signed him to help them win football games. If the defense has a bad series or two, they now have a quarterback who can help bring them back into the game. If Fitzpatrick has a bad interception or two, they have a defense who’ll help pick him up. I’m fully expecting them to throw the ball 580-plus times in 2021, and unless Fitzpatrick gets benched, he’s going to have plenty of games with fantasy appeal. He’s highly unlikely to be an every-week starter, though, as the defense will dictate just how much they need to pass each week. But for streaming? Absolutely.
To those who have Terry McLaurin on your dynasty team, rejoice. We watched DeVante Parker break out and get six-plus targets in 17-of-22 games with Fitzpatrick under center over the last two years, turning into an every-week starter in fantasy, something no other quarterback was able to do with him, including Tagovailoa. While Logan Thomas gets an upgrade from a talent perspective, Fitzpatrick tends to lean heavily on his wide receivers, and something tells me that Washington isn’t done adding to their stable of pass catchers. For now, McLaurin should be considered a low-end WR1 who comes with an ultra-high floor while Thomas stays in the low-end TE1 conversation.