Quarterbacks to Avoid (2021 Fantasy Football)
Quarterback is always an interesting position in fantasy football because of the difference of how important a quarterback is to an NFL franchise versus how interchangeable the position is to a fantasy owner. There are only four teams in the NFL that are guaranteed to have a quarterback starting in 2021 that was not taken in the first or second round of the NFL Draft. The Dallas Cowboys just signed Dak Prescott to a long-term deal, and he was taken in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Minnesota signed Kirk Cousins in free agency in 2018 after he was taken in the fourth round by the Washington Football Team. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Tom Brady in free agency in 2020, he was a sixth-round pick by the New England Patriots. The Seattle Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson in the third round back in 2012, and unless they shock the world and trade him this offseason, he will be under center in Seattle in 2021.
New Orleans could join that group if they go with Taysom Hill as the starter in 2021. He was an undrafted player out of BYU in 2017. Early reports seem to indicate that New Orleans will try to resign Jameis Winston to be the starter in 2021. Winston was the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Finally, Jacksonville could stay in that small group of teams without a first or second round quarterback if they go with Gardner Minshew in 2021 and pass on Trevor Lawrence. That seems very unlikely at this point. A quarterback not taken in the first or second round is the exception, not the rule. Most of the teams are going to go with a quarterback early in the NFL Draft.
Fantasy Football does not work that way. Most leagues are made up of 10-12 fantasy owners, and most leagues start only one quarterback per week. There were 15 quarterbacks that were also ranked in the Top-20, scoring among all positions. Matthew Stafford was the 15th ranked fantasy quarterback with 270.5 fantasy points in 2020. The only non-quarterbacks that had more fantasy points than him were Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, Davante Adams, and Tyreek Hill. Plus, fantasy owners do not have to worry about juggling two starting quarterbacks and impacting team chemistry. It is easy to take a quarterback in the eighth and 12th round and be extremely competitive at that position in fantasy football. If an NFL team took a quarterback in the fifth and seventh round and alternated them based on matchup, it would be a disaster of epic proportions.
When the demand for the quarterback position is only one starter per week, and the supply of good streaming quarterbacks is that plentiful, it makes it very easy to avoid certain quarterbacks, even very good ones, because there are a lot of other options. Here are five players that I would look at avoiding given their current ADP.
Watson is a terrific player and he is going to be an excellent fantasy asset in 2021 as long as he does not sit out the regular season. My concern is that he is ranked as the 58th overall player, and there are a ton of problems in Houston right now that make that ranking a little high. Watson was the fifth-ranked fantasy quarterback with 376.4 fantasy points in 2020. That was incredible when you consider that he was on a 4-12 team. He is only the fifth quarterback since 2015 to finish in the top five in fantasy football at quarterback playing on a team with a losing record.
Watson does not want to play there anymore. He has demanded a trade and said he has no intention of ever playing for the Texans again. Houston may end up playing hardball with him, and if Watson sits out at the beginning of the 2021 regular season, fantasy owners are going to have to waste a dead roster spot on Watson until he reports or is traded prior to the trade deadline. It is a mess, and with so many good options going later in fantasy drafts (Aaron Rodgers 70th, Russell Wilson 72nd, and Justin Herbert 81st), I question the wisdom of taking a player in Watson’s situation with the 56th overall pick when elite options are available after him.
The next issue is that the offense other than Watson is horrible, and the defense is worse. There are no game-changing skill position players on the roster. DeAndre Hopkins was traded to the Arizona Cardinals last offseason. Will Fuller V is a free agent this offseason and will likely not be back with the team. Brandin Cooks has no dead money left on his contract, and there seems to be limitless trade rumors about him. David Johnson is the closest thing they have to a game-changing skill position player that seems to be guaranteed to be on the roster, and he had only 1,005 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns last year. He is an older player near the end of his career and not a matchup problem for a good defense. We have not even begun to talk about the Texans having the 23rd ranked offensive line by Pro Football Focus. They need to find some answers on the offensive line if their offense is going to be better in 2021.
Watson is probably good enough to overcome those problems and still be a great fantasy player. He did that last year. The supporting cast is going to be arguably worse this year, and it is going to dampen his upside. The Texans have no picks in the first or second round. Can they attract free agents there when their franchise quarterback is demanding a trade and does not want to play there anymore? Money will convince some players to sign there, but players with multiple options will choose the money and a winner over the money and Houston. Even if Watson commits to the Texans before free agency, it is too expensive to fix every problem by signing free agents. Thankfully, we will know answers to a lot of these hypotheticals before fantasy drafts later in the summer. As it stands right now, I would have to think long and hard about drafting Watson with the 58th pick in a fantasy draft.
Burrow did very well last year, he had 2,688 yards passing, 13 passing touchdowns, and just five picks in 10 games. The big problem was offensive line protection, the rookie was sacked 32 times in just 404 pass attempts, and that was part of the reason he ended up tearing his ACL and missing the last six games of the season. All indications are that he will be ready for Week 1 of the NFL season, but the Bengals are likely to be very cautious with their franchise quarterback. If there is any question about whether he is ready to play, they will sit him to start the season or put him on the PUP list and he will miss at least the first six games. They are not going to risk him having another injury that would further slow his development.
Burrow is currently the 12th ranked fantasy quarterback, and 97th ranked overall player. The 12th ranked fantasy quarterback in 2020 was Matt Ryan with 293.44 fantasy points. That would be the equivalent of 4,600 yards passing and 26 passing touchdowns. Burrow is a little better runner than Matt Ryan, but not enough that he can reach that 12th ranking without eclipsing 4,200 yards passing. There just does not seem to be a lot of upside for Burrow at that pick with that roster coming off his ACL injury. He seems to be ranked closer to his ceiling than his floor, and I would avoid him until I see what the Bengals do to improve the offensive line and how his rehab is progressing when training camp approaches.
Matthew Stafford (LAR)
Stafford had a solid year with 4,084 yards passing and 26 passing touchdowns for an awful Detroit team. He was the 15th ranked fantasy quarterback with 270.5 fantasy points and a new system, and a better Rams team could help him regain his status as an elite fantasy quarterback. He is currently the 13th ranked fantasy quarterback and 103rd ranked quarterback overall. I do not like him that much in fantasy for a couple of reasons. The Rams were 12th in pass attempts with 590 last year. There was a focus on running the ball more and they ran the ball 473 times, which was the seventh-most in the league. I do not think the Rams brought Stafford into the mix to throw the ball more in 2021. I think they want to be more efficient in their run-oriented offense.
Also, the Rams are in cap hell right now. They are currently projected to be almost $30 million over the cap, and they have no first-round picks and only one second-round pick. I think they are poised to lose a lot of veterans in free agency, and they have no cap space, or draft picks to replenish the talent that will be lost. The Rams are in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. The Seahawks are one of the most consistent teams in the NFL, the 49ers were in the Super Bowl in 2019, and the Cardinals are an up-and-coming team with one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL and are also where J.J. Watt signed in free agency. The Rams feel like a team that is making rash decisions and jettisoning draft picks to stay relevant in a tough division, and this team is probably not going to be as good as they were in 2020, even though they will be better at quarterback.
From a fantasy standpoint, that does not mean anything. Stafford can play on a team that is 6-10 and still be a great fantasy player. He did that many times in Detroit. I just think he is an old 33-years old at this point, plagued by back issues and other injuries he suffered in Detroit. I do not think he is going to be a quarterback that has 650 pass attempts, and I do not think the Rams offensive line and skill position players will be up to the task of making this a great offense. He feels like a player being ranked at his ceiling rather than his floor, and I just do not see a lot of upside to taking him in that spot.
Kirk Cousins (MIN)
There is a lot to like about Cousins, and there is a lot to question about him. What I like is that Dalvin Cook is one of the most complete running backs in the NFL and Justin Jefferson had a record-breaking rookie season. When you combine those players with Adam Thielen and Irv Smith Jr., this team has the chance to be a great offense if they can fix an offensive line that was ranked 26th by Pro Football Focus. Despite that offensive line, Cousins was still the 11th ranked fantasy quarterback with 319.20 fantasy points on the 2020 season. Even though he failed to help the Vikings advance to the postseason, he was a great fantasy asset for fantasy owners. He is currently the 16th ranked quarterback and 115th ranked fantasy player, which is a bargain based on last year’s statistics.
What I do not like is that Gary Kubiak has retired as the offensive coordinator, and he was a big reason that offense was as good as it was last year. I also do not like the slow starts that have become customary with Cousins. In three September games in 2020, Cousins had 623 yards passing and five passing touchdowns. The year before that, he had 735 yards passing and three passing touchdowns in four September games. Over the last two seasons, Mike Zimmer has stubbornly tried to take the air out of the football, and only when it does not work for the first month does he open up the offense. By that time, many fantasy owners have thrown in the towel on Cousins, which means I probably can just pick him up off of the waiver wire in October rather than draft him in August. If they can improve the offensive line, I may be a little higher on their chances, but right now, he seems like a player I can do without in fantasy drafts.
Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
Big Ben was just the 19th ranked fantasy quarterback with 81.4 fantasy points over his final five games of the 2020 NFL season. As teams realized that they did not need to defend the deep pass and that there was no running game, they took away the short timing throws that helped the Steelers start the season with an (11-0) record. They felt like a dead team walking at the end of the year and the result was a blowout loss in the Wild Card Round to the Cleveland Browns.
Big Ben will be back in Pittsburgh in 2021 because he agreed to restructure his contract to stay in Pittsburgh. They have some good wide receivers, and if they can upgrade the offensive line and find a running game, he may be fantasy relevant in 2021. What scares me is that he finished the season as a terrible fantasy player and the Steelers have a little over $7 million in projected cap space, and they are going to need to save some of that money for their rookie draft class. I do not think they will be a big player in free agency, and they are not going to have a lot of high draft picks to help upgrade the roster. They have the 24th, 55th, and 87th picks in the draft, and one of them may be used on a quarterback for the future.
Roethlisberger is only the 19th ranked fantasy quarterback and 147th overall player, so fantasy owners will not have to spend a lot on him in terms of draft capital. I would make sure that I take a second quarterback sooner than Big Ben as my best option so that I am not left having to rely on him. The AFC North continues to be a tough division, the Steelers will have a first-place schedule, and I am not sure Big Ben has the arm at 39-years old to dominate fantasy football anymore. He will probably have fantasy value, but as a plug-and-play waiver streamer as opposed to a QB2 that needs to be rostered the entire season.
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Derek Lofland is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Derek, check out his archive and follow him @DerekLofland.