Quarterback Targets: QB2s With Top-5 Potential (2023 Fantasy Football)
The quarterback landscape is different than it used to be. Pocket passers can win in real life and provide outlier top-five fantasy seasons. However, the emergence of dual-threat quarterbacks has changed the archetype gamers should hunt for surprising breakout players at the position. A glance back at the last three seasons can provide insight into the requisite benchmarks for being a top-five signal-caller in 2023.
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QB2 with Top-5 Potential in 2023
Three quarterbacks drafted outside the top 12 in Underdog Fantasy’s best ball drafts are enticing options to surge up the fantasy rankings this year if everything clicks.
Anatomy of a Top-5 Quarterback since 2020
First, look at the top-five quarterbacks in points per game (PPR) who played at least 10 games in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Kyler Murray (25.80 PPG), Josh Allen (25.65), Patrick Mahomes (25.36), Aaron Rodgers (24.08) and Russell Wilson (23.64) were the top five in 2020, Allen (24.61), Justin Herbert (22.96), Tom Brady (22.61), Murray (22.57) and Mahomes (21.75) slotted in the top five in 2021 and Jalen Hurts (26.76), Mahomes (25.84), Allen (24.34), Joe Burrow (22.34) and Justin Fields (20.47) were the top-five signal-callers in 2022.
The vast majority of the quarterbacks listed above had value as runners. According to StatHead, Murray was second among quarterbacks who played at least 10 games in rushing yards per game (51.6), Allen was eighth (26.3), Mahomes was 11th (20.5) and Wilson was fourth (32.1) in 2020. Rodgers was an outlier, ranking 23rd (9.3 rushing yards per game). It was more of the same in 2021. Allen was third (44.9 rushing yards per game), Herbert was 12th (17.8), Murray was sixth (30.2) and Mahomes was eighth (22.4). Again, there was only one outlier. Brady was 30th (4.8). In 2022, Hurts was third (50.7), Mahomes was ninth (21.1), Allen was fourth (47.6), Burrow was 13th (16.1) and Fields was first (76.2). Thus, 13 of the 15 top-five quarterbacks since 2020 were 13th or better in rushing yards per game.
The outliers, Rodgers and Brady, had an MVP and an MVP-caliber season. So, it takes an absurdly high-volume and high-efficiency season as a pocket passer to crack the top five without chipping in value on the ground. Moreover, neither was a top-two fantasy quarterback.
Passing yards can be helpful. However, they’re not the be-all and end-all. Only one of the top-five fantasy quarterbacks in 2020 was in the top five in passing yards per game, three were in the top five in passing yards per game in 2021 and two cracked the top five in passing yards per game in 2022.
Instead, passing touchdowns were far more impactful for fantasy value. Four of the top-five quarterbacks in passing touchdowns in 2020 landed inside the top-five fantasy signal-callers, four (there were six quarterbacks in the top five for touchdown passes) checked both boxes in 2021 and three were within both top-five rankings in 2022. Therefore, only six of the 15 top-five fantasy quarterbacks were in the top five in passing yards per game, but 11 were in the top five for passing touchdowns. Touchdowns can be volatile. Nevertheless, high-scoring offenses can create touchdown potential for their triggerman. Still, rushing prowess was the most prevalent recurring theme for top-five fantasy quarterbacks in the previous three seasons. So, QB2s who can run are the best investment when chasing a breakout, and the three upcoming quarterbacks have fantasy-friendly rushing upside.
Daniel Jones – New York Giants: 95.4 Underdog Fantasy ADP and QB13
Jones will probably be on the G-Men again in 2023, whether after agreeing to a long-term contract or returning on the franchise tag. The fourth-year quarterback had his most productive season as a pro in 2022. The marriage with first-time head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka helped Jones break out. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Jones set new personal bests in completion percentage (67.2%), interception rate (1.1%), QBR (60.8), rushing yards per game (44.3) and rushing touchdowns (seven). Jones was fourth in rushing yards per game and tied for third in rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks who played at least 10 games in 2022.
Jones’s rushing ability allowed him to finish as the QB10 in points per game in 2022, despite a woefully underwhelming collection of weapons at his disposal. In fact, even the modest addition of Isaiah Hodgins made a world of difference for Danny Dimes. Hodgins made his debut for Big Blue in Week 10. From that point through the end of the fantasy season (Week 17), Jones was QB7 in PPG out of quarterbacks who played more than one game. Big Blue is a candidate to bolster the offense through free agency and the NFL Draft. With more weapons, Jones can finish as a top-five fantasy quarterback this year, despite getting popped as the QB13 in Underdog Fantasy drafts.
Trey Lance – San Francisco 49ers: 99.6 Underdog Fantasy ADP and QB14
The jury is still out for Lance after two seasons. He spent most of his rookie season as Jimmy Garoppolo‘s backup and was injured in his second game as the starter in 2022. As a result, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Lance has only 124 dropbacks in his professional career. Lance also dropped back just 34 times during the COVID-impacted 2020 college season.
Nevertheless, Lance was impressive in 2019. Out of 111 quarterbacks who dropped back at least 300 times in 2019 at the FBS or FCS level, PFF awarded Lance the 11th-highest passing grade. PFF also credited Lance with 17 big-time throws and just five turnover-worthy plays on 288 passes. Lance has the elite YAC weapons to bolster his passing numbers for the 49ers while he adjusts to the NFL level.
In addition, Lance is a weapon on the ground. According to PFF, Lance rushed for 1,150 yards, 6.9 yards per attempt and 14 touchdowns and had 4.67 Yards After Contact per Attempt (YCO/A) and 40 missed tackles forced on 134 rushes for North Dakota State in 2019.
Lance isn’t a lock to start for the 49ers this year. However, they mortgaged the farm to draft him, and San Francisco’s surprising revelation, Brock Purdy, tore the UCL in his throwing elbow in the NFC Championship game. It’s unclear how Purdy will proceed and the timeline for his return to the gridiron. Even if Purdy is back at the start of training camp, Lance might have a chance to overtake him on the depth chart in a genuine quarterback competition. The tools and context are there for Lance to blossom into a fantasy stud. So, gamers who wait to select a quarterback should swing for the fences and pop Lance as a high-upside QB2.
Sam Howell – Washington Commanders: 189.4 Underdog Fantasy ADP and QB29
Howell is more likely to slide down Washington’s depth chart than to finish as a top-five fantasy quarterback in 2023. Still, last year’s fifth-round pick will open the offseason atop the depth chart. Howell also played adequately in his only NFL start. He got the nod in Week 18 against the Cowboys, and Dallas wasn’t mailing it in.
Howell completed 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Yet, his five rushes for 35 yards and a touchdown were more encouraging. Howell also showed passing and rushing ability at various times in his collegiate career.
First, Howell had PFF’s fifth-highest passing grade, 33 big-time throws, 10 turnover-worthy plays, 3,555 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 68.0% completion rate in 12 games for North Carolina in 2020. He also added 343 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 30 rushes that year. Then, after losing most of his top weapons, Howell’s rushing ability surged in 2021 while his passing production took a hit. Howell rumbled for 1,106 rushing yards, 8.1 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns, 4.76 YCO/A and 65 missed tackles forced in 2021.
Unfortunately, Howell’s workout metrics were underwhelming. Still, he had 35 rushing yards, seven after contact, 27 when scrambling and two missed tackles forced in his only NFL action. Finally, Howell has some intriguing weapons to work with in the passing attack. Specifically, Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel are rock-solid or better options who bring different skills to the table. He’s an outstanding dirt-cheap target in best ball drafts now and a sweet last-round dart in managed leagues if the Commanders add minimal competition during the offseason.
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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.