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Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between – Quarterbacks (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 4, 2021


 
Boom, bust, and everything in between. What does that mean, exactly? If this is your first time reading this piece, you might be wondering that.

When someone mentions that “Player X recorded five QB1 performances last year,” it irks me a bit. It’s like saying something to the effect of “Matt Ryan was the QB12 last year, so he was a low-end QB1.” Ask anyone who rostered him in fantasy last year if he was the 12th best quarterback. He scored fewer than 15.6 fantasy points in 8-of-16 games. Stating where someone finished for a particular week doesn’t do us any good, either, because variance is a real thing.

To better help you understand what I’m talking about, the average top-12 quarterback performance in 2020 required 19.9 points. What you don’t know is that Justin Herbert scored 22.2 points in Week 2 but wasn’t awarded with a QB1 performance because it just happened to be a high-scoring week for quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Cam Newton posted 16.8 points in Week 10 and was awarded with a QB1 performance because it was a low-scoring week for quarterbacks.

The player’s performance should not be graded on a curve, because we have no control on predicting what that curve is for any particular week. Our goal as analysts is to predict who will have QB1 performances in any given week, which stood at 19.9 fantasy points in 2020.

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The numbers vary from year-to-year, which is where the research comes into play. While a top-12 performance required 19.9 points in 2020, it was a much lower 18.6 in 2019, 19.2 points in 2018, but only 18.1 in 2017. Every position is different, but know that I’ve gone through each year, each position, and each player, charting how many top-12, top-24, top-36 performances they’ve had according to that year’s stats. Not just that, though, as I’ve added boom and bust categories, which showcases their ceiling and floor on a week-to-week basis.

The number to achieve boom or bust status varies per position, as some have it harder than others. With quarterbacks, the number to “boom” wound up on 26.0 PPR points because it would have amounted to 300 yards, three passing touchdowns, and 20 rushing yards. That number can obviously be accomplished in a variety of different ways, but again, we just want them to reach that number. A “bust” on the other hand amounted to less than 14.0 PPR points. Below, you can find the chart with the parameters for each position.

Position Boom Bust
QB 26.0 13.9 or less
RB 25.0 6.9 or less
WR 25.0 7.9 or less
TE 20.0 6.9 or less

 

To give you an idea as to something you may find below, here’s an example: Kirk Cousins performed as a QB1 in 50.0 percent of his games and is coming off the board as the No. 18 quarterback, while Joe Burrow performed as a QB1 in just 30.0 percent of his games and is going as a borderline top-12 quarterback in drafts.

For the fifth time, welcome to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between. Here are the quarterbacks, while the other positions will be released throughout the rest of the week. You’ll be able to find the links below once they go live.

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends

Quarterbacks

Top-6

So, you want to pay up for a quarterback, eh? This tier is reserved for those who are okay with drafting a quarterback in the first handful of rounds. Even if I don’t believe in the early-round quarterback approach, I want to give you the details of who you should be choosing if you have your mind set on that.

ADP Player Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % Boom % Bust %
1 Patrick Mahomes 40.0% 73.3% 93.3% 40.0% 6.7%
2 Josh Allen 43.8% 56.3% 81.3% 50.0% 6.3%
3 Kyler Murray 37.5% 68.8% 81.3% 50.0% 12.5%
4 Lamar Jackson 26.7% 60.0% 80.0% 26.7% 6.7%
5 Dak Prescott 60.0% 60.0% 80.0% 60.0% 20.0%
6 Justin Herbert 33.3% 66.7% 80.0% 33.3% 6.7%

 

These are the elite options, the best of the best. Some may not be impressed by these numbers, but I promise you, these are actually better than years past. Here’s what I mean: There were 13 quarterbacks who hit QB1-type numbers in at least 50 percent of their games in 2020. That number was just eight in 2019. To be fair, Dak Prescott only played five games, and Taysom Hill only started four games (at quarterback), but that’s what it takes to be part of the study, a minimum of four games.

The one thing that surprised me was Josh Allen‘s top-12 performance number at 56.3 percent, which was the same percentage as Tom Brady in 2020. Fortunately, Allen had 26-plus fantasy points in 50 percent of his games, which helped skyrocket his year-end fantasy totals.

Lamar Jackson seemed to be lacking those huge games in 2020, and it’s what limited his year-end finish, but I want to highlight something with Jackson that not many realize. Here are his career numbers since taking over as the starter compared to the career marks of the best of the best:

Player QB5 % QB12 % QB18 % Boom % Bust %
Lamar Jackson 43.3% 76.7% 86.7% 43.3% 6.7%
Patrick Mahomes 45.7% 69.6% 89.1% 41.3% 10.9%
Deshaun Watson 35.2% 64.8% 77.8% 31.5% 16.7%
Aaron Rodgers 35.4% 59.5% 75.9% 25.1% 21.5%
Kyler Murray 31.3% 53.1% 71.9% 34.4% 25.0%

 

As you can probably tell, Jackson deserves to be in the conversation for the first quarterback off the board in 2021. Granted, you don’t need to take him there because he’s coming at a multi-round discount from Patrick Mahomes and Allen.

7-12 Range

This is the territory most say they’re okay with, as they’re able to go with the semi-late quarterback approach, but still not feel the need to stream. Is that right? I’ll let you decide if these guys should be every-week starters.

ADP Player Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % Boom % Bust %
7 Russell Wilson 31.3% 68.8% 75.0% 31.3% 12.5%
8 Aaron Rodgers 31.3% 81.3% 93.8% 37.5% 6.3%
9 Tom Brady 31.3% 56.3% 62.5% 31.3% 18.8%
10 Ryan Tannehill 37.5% 43.8% 81.3% 37.5% 12.5%
11 Jalen Hurts 20.0% 20.0% 80.0% 20.0% 20.0%
12 Matthew Stafford 0.0% 31.3% 56.3% 6.3% 25.0%

 

As a Ryan Tannehill supporter, this chart pained me a bit. He posted QB1-type numbers just 43.8 percent of the time, even if he did offer a rock-solid floor. That’s a product of the limited pass attempts in Arthur Smith’s offense, so if we want Tannehill to be an every-week starter, we’d better hope he gets more attempts with Smith out of town.

I explained in this piece last year that Aaron Rodgers was a tremendous value late in drafts (was the 10th quarterback off the board) and it paid off in a big way, as he delivered top-12 performances 81.3 percent of the time. I do believe Rodgers is one of the safer “every-week” quarterback plays, but he’s lost the mobility he used to have that would ensure you had a higher floor. If his touchdown rate dips to his career average in 2021, which is still elite, he’s going exactly where he should be in drafts.

For the most part, these quarterbacks all look clustered together, though Russell Wilson is continually underrated, and Tom Brady has more performances outside the top-18 than you’d like. Jalen Hurts is a wildcard and reminds me of Kyler Murray last year, though you don’t have to invest a top-four quarterback pick to find out like you did with Murray. Matthew Stafford is going to a new offense with new weapons, but most would be surprised to hear that he’s only produced QB1-type numbers more than 50 percent of the time twice in his career (62.5 percent in 2019 and 62.5 percent in 2011). He could be a solid low-end QB1, but don’t think you’re getting a steal in drafts, as his ceiling isn’t much higher than that.

13-18 Range

We’re now getting into the true late-round quarterback approach. Every other team likely has a quarterback, while you’re getting your pick of the litter. No one is drafting them as quarterbacks who are expected to be every-week fantasy starters, though some of them will take the step into that territory.

ADP Player Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % Boom % Bust %
13 Joe Burrow 10.0% 30.0% 60.0% 10.0% 30.0%
14 Trevor Lawrence DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
15 Matt Ryan 18.8% 43.8% 50.0% 18.8% 43.8%
16 Deshaun Watson 25.0% 68.8% 87.5% 25.0% 0.0%
17 Baker Mayfield 18.8% 25.0% 37.5% 18.8% 37.5%
18 Kirk Cousins 6.3% 50.0% 75.0% 12.5% 12.5%

 

There’s obviously a quarterback in this range who wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for a looming suspension, so we kind of have to ignore Deshaun Watson‘s numbers. If this chart doesn’t highlight that Kirk Cousins should be going in front of Matt Ryan, I don’t know what will. Even with Julio Jones for half the year, Ryan produced top-18 numbers just half the time, and flat-out busted 43.8 percent of the time. With Jones gone, Ryan is just a streamer, and not like an “every other week” type streamer, either.

Even with Joe Burrow throwing tons of passes last year, it didn’t amount to much fantasy success. Coming off the torn ACL is likely to limit his mobility, which would limit his week-to-week stability in fantasy as well, and why him falling out of the top-12 makes sense. Baker Mayfield was essentially half as usable as Cousins was last year, yet he’s going in front of him this year? Sure, you have the return of Odell Beckham, but we all know most fantasy managers don’t value Beckham very much. Unless the Browns change their offensive philosophy, Mayfield isn’t going to break out.

If you learned anything from this tier, it’s that Cousins is tremendously undervalued, especially in 2QB/Superflex formats.

19-24 Range

This is the range that’s likely limited to those in Superflex or 2QB leagues, though some are expecting Justin Fields and/or Trey Lance to make a splash early in the year.

ADP Player Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % Boom % Bust %
19 Justin Fields DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
20 Carson Wentz 16.7% 33.3% 50.0% 16.7% 41.7%
21 Ben Roethlisberger 6.7% 33.3% 60.0% 6.7% 33.3%
22 Trey Lance DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
23 Tua Tagovailoa 11.1% 22.2% 33.3% 11.1% 33.3%
24 Derek Carr 6.3% 50.0% 56.3% 6.3% 37.5%

 

Despite having what was easily the worst year of his career, Carson Wentz still produced numbers that were better than some in the 13-18 range. Over the course of his career, he’s been better than most realize, and he now gets to go back to Frank Reich’s offense, where he had his best years. Here are Wentz’s numbers from years past:

YEAR QB5 % QB12 % QB18 % Boom % Bust %
2019 0.0% 50.0% 75.0% 0.0% 25.0%
2018 0.0% 54.5% 72.7% 0.0% 27.3%
2017 46.2% 69.2% 92.3% 23.1% 7.7%

 

He wasn’t a regular “boom” performer like the guys you’ll see drafted inside the top-10, but he was someone who posted QB1-type numbers at least 50 percent of the time in three straight seasons. If he was able to return to those numbers with Reich, he was going to be the best QB2 you could find later in drafts, but his injury has derailed the hope, as he might start the season on the PUP list and not return until Week 7. There’s still a chance he plays in Week 1 or Week 2, but we need to find out that information before we draft.

Some have suggested that Derek Carr was pretty good in 2020, and I’m not even going to dispute that he exceeded expectations. However, the numbers you see above were about as good as they’re going to get for him in this offense. He’s essentially a discounted Kirk Cousins that comes with a lower weekly floor. I’d be happy to recommend him as a rock-solid QB2 in Superflex/2QB formats, but I don’t trust Jon Gruden to not blame Carr for the team’s struggles and turn to Marcus Mariota at some point (it would be wrong to do this).

25-36 Range

These are the quarterbacks who are being taken as either very late QB2s, or QB3s, mostly because they could lose the starting job. This territory is very important for those in 2QB leagues, as it highlights a floor that players in this range have. There are some of them who should be going inside of the top-24 due to job stability.

ADP Player Top-5 % Top-12 % Top-18 % Boom % Bust %
25 Ryan Fitzpatrick 11.1% 44.4% 55.6% 11.1% 33.3%
26 Daniel Jones 0.0% 14.3% 28.6% 0.0% 57.1%
27 Cam Newton 13.3% 33.3% 60.0% 13.3% 40.0%
28 Zach Wilson DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
29 Sam Darnold 0.0% 16.7% 25.0% 0.0% 66.7%
30 Jared Goff 6.7% 33.3% 40.0% 6.7% 40.0%
31 Taysom Hill* 0.0% 50.0% 100.0% 0.0% 0.0%
32 Jamies Winston DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
33 Mac Jones DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
34 Drew Lock 7.7% 23.1% 30.8% 7.7% 61.5%
35 Jimmy Garoppolo 0.0% 16.7% 33.3% 0.0% 66.7%
36 Teddy Bridgewater 6.7% 26.7% 53.3% 13.3% 40.0%

 

*Only the games he started at quarterback

It would seem Ryan Fitzpatrick is entrenched as Washington’s starter this year, right? There’s no reason he should be going this late. Considering the numbers he put up with lesser talent in Miami, he’s a sturdy QB2, and might even give you QB1 performances half the time. Zach Wilson is another player who should be going much earlier, as he’s entrenched as the starter all season.

Cam Newton stands out as a value, even in a bad season, but he can’t go much higher with the possibility the Patriots move to Mac Jones early in the season. If Teddy Bridgewater can win the starting job in Denver, he should give you great results as a QB2, though just like Drew Lock, he’ll be on a short leash if he struggles.

If Taysom Hill were guaranteed to be the starter the entire season, I’d rank him as a top-12 quarterback, as his rushing upside is too great not to, and as you can see, his floor was intact during all four of his starts last year. An underrated strategy in 2QB/Superflex leagues is drafting Hill and Jameis Winston as your QB2 and QB3, guaranteeing you a starter throughout the season, and both have upside.

What We Learned

There are more quarterbacks who became near every-week starters in 2020, giving us a bigger variety to choose from. There were 13 quarterbacks who posted QB1-type numbers at least half the time, including four of them who were drafted outside the top-15 quarterbacks. In 2019, we found three such quarterbacks, so they’re out there.

But here’s the thing: Do you think you could stream a QB1-type performance just 60 percent of the time? If you can, you’re pretty much getting the exact same performance that you would be out of the quarterbacks being drafted in the top-six this year.

I won’t pretend that Patrick Mahomes doesn’t give you an advantage – he does. But what has better odds: That you can stream quarterbacks close to his level, or find a running back in the double-digit rounds that can outproduce a running back drafted in the second or third round? The answer is the streaming quarterback. However, if you play in a league where everyone devalues quarterbacks, feel free to select Mahomes in the fourth round, as most of the sure things at running back and wide receiver are gone. But more importantly, don’t chase the non-elite quarterbacks. That’s the worst thing you could do.

Here are the links to the other positions:

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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