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2023 NFL Free Agency Primer: Quarterbacks (Fantasy Football)

2023 NFL Free Agency Primer: Quarterbacks (Fantasy Football)

Nothing kicks off the start of a brand-new football season better than NFL free agency, which is sure to involve plenty of player movement. Teams can place their franchise/transition tags on players as early as February 21, 2023, setting the stage for a wild off-season sooner than you think. The NFL never ceases to provide entertainment for all 365 days of the calendar year, and 2023 is shaping up to be no different. Free agency officially kicks off on March 15th. But deals will likely already be in place with the legal tampering period starting March 13th at noon.

So grab your popcorn, and get ready for the free agency frenzy with the 2023 free agency primer. I’ll break down the most notable impending free agents across the four major fantasy positions – with some potential trade/cut candidates to widen the scope – through the lens of fantasy football to prepare you for the ensuing March Madness. This primer should also help you make optimal trades in your dynasty leagues and unearth values in early best-ball drafts before the chaos occurs.

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2023 NFL Quarterback Free Agency Primer

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Derek Carr

Derek Carr is sticking to his guns with his no-trade clause, which forced the Raiders to release him. Carr started and played 15 games for the Raiders in 2022, finishing as the QB24 in points per game (15.5) and QB15 overall through Week 15. He threw multiple touchdowns in ten of his 15 games played and finished 14th in passing EPA. But he threw for over 300 yards just twice. Carr also posted his worst PFF passing grade since his rookie year (65.4) as he struggled immensely from a clean pocket.

His passing grade when not pressured ranked 34th out of 40 qualifying quarterbacks. It was a major step back from the previous year when Carr ranked top-10 in passing grade without pressure. The Raiders quarterback also was without Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow for nine games due to injuries, leaving Davante Adams as his only reliable pass-catcher. He also posted a career-high in aDOT (9.7) and average time to throw.

Entering his age-32 season, I’d hardly say that Carr is washed after a down year. Instead, I believe he has the chance to rejuvenate a new offense that could vault him into the back-end fantasy QB1 territory. At worst, he can at least provide some fantasy stability to new potential WRs and tight ends in an offense that focuses more on him getting the ball out quickly versus taking shots downfield.

Lamar Jackson

The Baltimore Ravens plan to use the exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson, making him a Raven for at least 2023 unless he is traded. There’s still plenty to unpack with Jackson’s future in Baltimore, but it’s clear that Jackson still possesses all the skills necessary to be a game-breaker in fantasy football, especially when he has weapons at his disposal. In his six games played with wide receiver Rashod Bateman last year, Jackson averaged nearly 27 fantasy points, 2.1 passing TDs and 208 passing yards per game. Without? Just 17 fantasy points, 0.67 passing TDs and 165 passing yards per game.

With rushing still part of Jackson’s game – 69.5 rushing yards per healthy game in 2022 – second to only Justin Fields – he looks like a steal as the QB6 in early best-ball drafts. Jackson was PFF’s highest-graded passer throwing from 10-19 yards downfield, which tends to be an extremely sticky stat and an indicator of future success at the QB position. New offensive coordinator Todd Monken is also sure to bring in a more pass-happy approach based on his experience in the NFL.  Back in 2018 as a playcaller with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Monken called an offense that ranked fourth in pass-play rate on early downs and first in passing yards.

Daniel Jones

Daniel Jones finished as the QB7 overall and QB10 in points per game under Brian Daboll and a revamped offensive line last year, despite a lack of any noteworthy WRs. Jones was the epitome of the running/mobile fantasy quarterback rushing for a career-high 708 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs on 120 carries. Jones’ 44.3 rushing yards per game ranked fifth, and his 7.5 attempts ranked sixth among all QBs.

The expectation is that he re-signs with the New York Giants in some capacity, and that suggests 2022’s fantasy renaissance may just be an introduction to what Jones can truly offer fantasy managers. Josh Allen went from QB8 in his first full season under Daboll in 2019 to QB1 overall in 2020 after the team acquired Stefon Diggs. If New York adds another (or any) elite pass-catcher, Jones could take a massive step forward as a passer. He led the NFL in adjusted completion percentage (80%) in 2022. Surrounding DJ with weapons is critical for his success, and that is apparent by just viewing his splits with and without Saquon Barkley on the field. Jones averages nearly seven fantasy points more per game in his career (21 vs. 14.74) when Barkley is healthy.

Geno Smith

The expectations are that 2022’s NFL Comeback Player will “come back” to the Seahawks for 2023 and beyond. The soon-to-be 32-year-old proved all his fantasy doubters wrong in his first year as Seattle’s fully-entrenched starter finishing as the fantasy QB6 while averaging 19 fantasy points per game (QB8). Chef Geno Smith was razor sharp from an accuracy standpoint, finishing first in NFL Next Gen Stats’ Completion Percentage Over Expectation (CPOE). His 70% completion percentage led all QBs from Weeks 1-17. And his accuracy was a trait I overlooked last season when Smith ranked fourth in that category (68.4%).

Consider me more bullish on Smith replicating his “unsustainable” passing numbers from a year ago because all we have seen from Smith in this offense is precision passing. Not to mention he offers a bit of rushing juice – over 21 rushing yards per game in 2022 – that fantasy managers covet. All in all, even if Smith regresses statistically to his expected output from last season, he would still be a backend fantasy QB1 averaging 17.6 expected fantasy points per game. His 32 passing touchdowns were hardly a major outlier amount, considering his 5.3% TD rate was eerily similar to his TD rate from 2021 while also trailing Russell Wilson‘s career TD rate as a Seahawk (6.2%). With DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Kenneth Walker at his disposal, Smith is far from short on weapons to repeat as a top-ten fantasy QB in 2023. I’d be buying the dip on his early best-ball ADP as QB18.

Jimmy Garoppolo

The ultimate game manager. That’s the idea of being “excited” about any team that decides to make Jimmy Garoppolo their starting quarterback in 2023. Because by himself, Jimmy GQ – other than his handsome looks – doesn’t have much to offer besides supporting others for fantasy football purposes. He was the QB21 in points per game (15.7) in 2022, which was one point more than his expected points per game output (14.7). Consider it the Kyle Shanahan effect. Garoppolo’s 7.9 yards per attempt ranked fourth behind only Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes, and 49ers’ 7th-round pick, Brock Purdy. Needless to say, Garoppolo’s efficiency numbers have been boosted substantially playing in the 49ers’ offense, and that has never translated to consistent fantasy success.

Jimmy G has never finished higher than fantasy QB14 and has played 16 games once in his entire NFL career. Almost any other situation he gets dropped into will inevitably be accompanied by average-to-mediocre passing numbers. He is also going to need a group of receivers that can create yards after the catch after he led the NFL in YAC passing percentage (59%). Therefore, if Jimmy G’s new landing spot gets the Russell Wilson-to-Denver ADP boost that was in 2022, run for the hills. He’s most likely just a slight upgrade for the majority of QB-needy teams like the Buccaneers, Raiders, Colts, Saints, Jets, Panthers, and Texans. He will be able to support 1-to-2 fantasy weapons but won’t fully transform an offense. I also doubt a team would fully invest in him as their only QB option based on his long injury track record.

Jacoby Brissett

Jacoby Brissett was brought into Cleveland as a stop-gap for Deshaun Watson, but he performed well beyond his low expectations. Brissett finished 17th in passing EPA and 12th in PFF passing grade while supporting fantasy viable weapons like Nick Chubb, Amari Cooper and David Njoku. Similar to Garoppolo, Brissett’s real-life efficiency didn’t translate to much fantasy success for himself in 2022. Still, he at least show the aptitude to keep others around him afloat in fantasy circles. He has ties to several QB-needy teams like the Raiders, Colts, and Panthers.

Mike White

New York’s Mike White started four games in 2022 for the Jets averaging 298 passing yards per game. However, he totaled just three passing TDs and four interceptions with a below-average 58.9 completion percentage. White’s flashes were a nice story, but it’s clear he is destined for long-time backup duties as an NFL quarterback. His -3.8 fantasy points per game scored under expectation hardly depict a passer with untapped potential on a new team.

Andy Dalton

Andy Dalton enjoyed a seriously underrated campaign in 2022 with the New Orleans Saints. The Red Rifle finished sixth in PFF passing grade, seventh in yards per attempt, and ninth in NFL passer rating (95.2). He finished the year as the QB18 overall after he took over starting QB duties in New Orleans, averaging a meager 13.2 fantasy points per game. I doubt a team shells out anything worthwhile for Dalton in free agency, but his presence could help stabilize an offense that finds itself in quarterback purgatory.

Sam Darnold

Give credit to Sam Darnold for providing a spark to a lifeless Carolina Panthers offense over the team’s last five games. The former first-round selection tied a bow on the year, averaging 18.1 fantasy points per game as the QB13 from Weeks 12-17. Overall, his 8.2 yards per attempt marked a career-high. Darnold is far from elite, but among the former first-round castoff QBs available on the market, he’s probably the best option in the short-term/long-term. He will only be 26 by the time the season starts, so perhaps the story with him as NFL quarterback isn’t finished. I know for sure that D.J. Moore dynasty managers would love to see Darnold back under center in Carolina. Over the last two seasons, Moore has averaged nearly 15 fantasy points per game in PPR with Darnold as his quarterback.

Carson Wentz

Per the CommandersWire, Carson Wentz has two years left on his contract, but there are no guarantees, meaning the Commanders can release him with no cap charges. Ergo, Wentz is going to get released at some point as the team looks for second-year QB Sam Howell to lead the charge in 2023. Considering Wentz’s next team will be his fourth in just as many years, I don’t see how he is viewed as a starter. He ranked 8th-worst in passing EPA this past year with Washington, in addition to posting the third-worst passer rating from a clean pocket (81.7). Good for a QB27 standing in points per game. Woof.

Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield’s outright release from the Carolina Panthers mid-season tells you everything you need to know about his short stint there. It was a disaster. Through 11 weeks, he was averaging fewer than 12 fantasy points per game. He was also PFF’s 39th-graded QB from a clean pocket…out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks. Woof. Mayfield improved slightly during his trip out west with the L.A. Rams, but not enough to move the needle on him as a legitimate answer for a team looking for a quarterback. He averaged fewer fantasy points per game as a Ram (10.3) than as a Panther. His 2022 standing as the 4th-worst QB in passing EPA doesn’t help bolster his case to be a highly sought-after quarterback option in free agency.

Honorable mentions as potential high-end back-ups:

Beyond our fantasy football content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Draft Assistant – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football draft season.

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