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QB2s With Top-Five Potential (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Mar 22, 2021

The first seven quarterbacks selected in 12-team BestBall10 leagues (as of March 21) each have an average draft position (ADP) in the top-75 players, with Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers, and Deshaun Watson all in the 70-75 range. Gamers are also snagging Justin Herbert (78.46) and Russell Wilson (80.26) close behind.

The top signal-callers aren’t cheap, but three quarterbacks stand out to me as QB2s with top-five potential. One is a young up-and-comer, but the other two each already have a top-five finish on their resume in the last three years.

Check out all of our 2021 NFL Draft coverage >>

Joe Burrow (CIN): 106.80 ADP
Burrow’s rookie season ended prematurely in Week 11 due to a knee injury. He’s reportedly progressing well through rehab. Per the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Tyler Dragon, the Bengals are “optimistic” that he’ll be ready to start the season, but they will proceed with caution. His inclusion here means I’m treating him as if he’ll be ready for the opener.

Burrow showed high-end upside in his rookie year, besting 300 passing yards with multiple touchdowns in three of 10 games. The rookie was routinely under duress behind Cincinnati’s bad offensive line, facing pressure on 146 of 453 drop backs, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). He ranked 26th out of 39 quarterbacks with a minimum of 20% of the NFL-high 251 drop backs under pressure in PFF’s passing grade.

Burrow was much better when kept clean, ranking 15th out of 40 qualified quarterbacks with a minimum of 20% of the NFL-high 495 clean drop backs in PFF’s passing grade.

The Bengals haven’t made any splashes in free agency to improve their offensive line, but there’s still time to add talent. They’re also a prime candidate to select an offensive lineman at pick five in the NFL Draft, as my colleague Kyle Yates notes in his Mock Draft 3.0. Count me among those who think they’ll scoop up a pass-protector at their pick.

A revamped line could go a long way toward Burrow taking the next step in a pass-heavy, up-tempo offense. The Bengals passed at the highest percentage (65%) when trailing or leading by seven points from Week 1 through Week 11, per Sharp Football Stats. The Bengals also played at the 10th-fastest pace using the same scoring margin and time frame. I view Burrow as a low-end QB1 with top-five upside, but he’s the QB14 off the board.

Matt Ryan (ATL): 115.27 ADP
According to our Fantasy Leaders tool, Ryan ranked as QB2 in 2018, QB11 in 2019, and QB12 last year. He’s QB15 in ADP despite his excellent rankings and recent top-five season. New head coach Arthur Smith and a healthier season from Julio Jones could be what Ryan needs to return to top-five quarterback form in 2021.

Smith spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Titans. In that role, he unlocked top-shelf play from Ryan Tannehill. The former Dolphin ranked as QB3 in scoring from Week 7 (when he took over as the Titans’ starter) through Week 16 in 2019, and he finished as the QB7 last year.

Smith used play-action heavily, and Tannehill had the highest percentage of play-action passes (36.4%) last year, per PFF. He thrived, averaging 2.8 more yards per attempt than on non-play-action attempts, and he earned PFF’s sixth-highest grade on play-action passes. Comparatively, Ryan ran play-action on only 25.8% of his drop backs, but he was sharp when utilizing it, completing 6.3% more of his passes at 2.1 more yards per pass and ranking seventh in PFF passing grade. More play-action should suit Ryan well.

A healthier Jones is integral for Ryan’s success as well. The veteran wideout played in only nine games last year, snapping a six-year streak of playing in 14 or more games per year. Ryan averaged 309.7 passing yards, completed 66.5% of his passes, and threw 15 touchdowns with five interceptions in the nine games Jones played. The 35-year-old quarterback still possesses a massive ceiling, yet he can be had relatively cheap after an inconsistent 2020 campaign.

Jameis Winston (NO): 171.19 ADP
Winston has an even more recent top-five finish at quarterback than Ryan, ranking as the QB4 in 2019. He served as Drew Brees’ understudy and the third-string quarterback for the Saints last year. Now that Brees has retired, Winston will battle last year’s backup, Taysom Hill, for the starting job.

The risk with drafting Winston is apparent; he could be a backup quarterback and fail to see the field. However, the risk is acceptable at a QB26 ADP. Additionally, gamers can double-dip and take Hill (QB28 with an ADP of 222.79). 

Winston led the NFL in passing attempts (626), yards (5,109), and interceptions (30) while tossing 33 touchdowns in 2019, his last year as a starter. While he doesn’t lack arm talent, Winston is a turnover machine. Speaking to both of those things, PFF ranked him tied for ninth in its big-time-throw-percentage metric (4.7%), but he also had the fifth-highest turnover-worthy-play percentage (5.4%). Can head coach Sean Payton coax a lower turnover rate out of Winston without diminishing his electric passing plays? I’m willing to take the chance in Best Ball formats but am less inclined to do so in traditional season-long leagues, where an in-game benching would be disastrous.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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