Fitz on Fantasy: 2020 Quarterback Rankings, 11-40
Pat Fitzmaurice finished second out of 160 experts in FantasyPros’ 2019 preseason rankings accuracy contest, and he’s now No. 1 in multi-year preseason rankings accuracy for 2017-2019. Fitzmaurice’s full 2020 redraft rankings are posted here, but this series of articles helps explain the thinking behind the rankings. Please check back often as more positional explainers will be released.
Be sure to check out Pat’s previously published positional rankings:
And now the remaining quarterbacks, ranked as follows:
11. Matthew Stafford, Lions
Stafford ranked QB6 in fantasy points per game through the first nine weeks of 2019, then missed the last half of the season with a back injury that isn’t considered a long-term issue.
There was concern going into last season that the Lions might be run-heavy under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, potentially hindering Stafford’s fantasy value. During Bevell’s seven years as the OC in Seattle, the Seahawks’ offense twice had the highest percentage of running plays in the league and finished two other seasons in the top four.
Last spring, Bevell told the Detroit Free Press that “we’ll always be about running the football,” but he also said: “We want to be explosive in the passing game. When we throw the ball, we want to be able to throw it down the field and get big plays.”
Bevell was good on his word. Stafford’s average depth of target was 11.4 yards, according to Pro Football Focus – tops among all QBs with at least eight starts. Stafford averaged 8.6 yards per attempt, second only to Ryan Tannehill.
Stafford has a terrific WR duo in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, T.J. Hockenson has breakout potential at TE, and rookie RB D’Andre Swift does some of his best work as a pass catcher.
I really like Stafford as a mid-level QB buy for 2020.
12. Drew Brees, Saints
It’s 2 a.m. and they’re still lined up three-deep at the keg, but eventually the tapper will start to sputter and hiss, and minutes later the party will be over.
Is it ageist to point out that Brees is 41? Drafters know this, of course, but with Brees still performing at a high level, they’ve been willing to overlook it. Brees has an ADP of QB9 and an Expert Consensus ranking of QB10, according to FantasyPros.
A thumb injury cost Brees five games last year, but he posted a passer rating of 116.3, the best of his career and the second-best in the league behind only Ryan Tannehill. Brees has completed at least 72% of his passes in three straight seasons. He threw 27 TD passes against only four interceptions last year, with a career-best TD percentage of 7.1%.
So everything is peachy, right? Well …
There’s been a discernible loss of arm strength, and of course seems nitpicky when Brees’ efficiency has been off the charts. But Brees’ average depth of target last year was 6.9 yards, which ranked 32nd among QBs with at least eight starts. Without a vertical dimension to his game, Brees has to be uber-efficient to return a profit.
The crazy yardage numbers probably aren’t coming back. Brees averaged better than 300 passing yards a game in six consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2016, averaging 5,141 yards per season over that stretch. But over the last three seasons his yardage averages per game have been 270.9, 266.1 and 270.8. Not bad at all, but the circus numbers of yore are probably gone for good, and betting on a repeat of a 7.1% TD rate is folly.
The infrastructure in New Orleans is still very Brees-friendly. Michael Thomas is the best receiver in the league, Alvin Kamara is sublime as a pass-catching RB, Emmanuel Sanders came aboard in free agency, the offensive line is among the best in the league, and Sean Payton remains one of the games top offensive architects.
But 41 is a scary number, and I’m not anxious to bet on Brees dinking-and-dunking his way to a QB1 season (even though I have him ranked just inside the QB1 cut line).
13. Tom Brady, Patriots
And speaking of age …
Here’s a literary spoiler that I feel entitled to drop after waiting 130 years: Things don’t end well for Dorian Gray. If at any point Brady starts muttering about the self-portrait in his study and goes for a knife, it’s probably time to hit the waiver wire.
Brady turns 43 on Aug. 3. I wrote about the Tom Brady age dilemma in March and noted that since the AFL-NFL merger, only four QBs have played at age 43 or older in the post-merger era: Steve DeBerg, Doug Flutie, Warren Moon and Vinny Testaverde. In 2007, Testaverde made six starts and seven appearances for the Panthers at age 44. He completed 54.7% of his throws, had five TD passes and six interceptions, and the Panthers went 2-4 in his starts. None of the other three QBs attempted more than 59 passes in their old-age seasons.
The difference, of course, is that none of those guys are in the conversation for best QB of all time. But we have seen a couple of undeniably great quarterbacks abruptly tumble over the age cliff.
In 2019, Brett Favre threw for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns, finished QB3 in fantasy scoring and nearly led the Vikings to the Super Bowl. The next year he averaged 193 passing yards a game, threw 11 TD passes and 19 interceptions, went 5-8 and took his cue to retire.
In 2014, 38-year-old Peyton Manning threw for 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns, finished QB4 in fantasy scoring and led the Broncos to a 12-4 record. The next year, he averaged 224.9 yards a game, threw 9 TD passes and 17 interceptions, missed six games with a foot injury and … somehow quarterbacked the Broncos to a championship despite three mediocre playoff performances. (Insert shrug emoji here.)
Brady said goodbye to New England in the offseason and landed in Tampa, where Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will give him the best WR tandem he’s had since Randy Moss and Wes Welker a decade ago. Brady’s pairing with Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians is pretty intriguing, too.
Brady’s ADP and ECR are both QB11. I can’t be quite that enthusiastic about a QB who’s being scouted by the AARP. But as with Brees, Brady is in a terrific situation, and I don’t think it’s preposterous to draft him at current cost. Just be ready to hit the eject button if things start to take a Manningesque turn.
14. Jared Goff, Rams
Perceptions drive fantasy markets, and poor Goff is like a lovelorn Pepe Le Pew, trailed by the stink of his performance in Super Bowl LIII.
In his three full seasons as a starter, Goff has finished QB14, QB8 and QB16. His ECR and ADP are both at QB19.
Goff is coming off a weird year. He was so-so (QB17) over the first eight games of the season. Then he had a brutal three-game slump against the Steelers, Bears and Ravens, with zero TD passes and five interceptions over that span. But Goff caught fire in December, averaging 328.6 passing yards over his last five regular-season starts, with 11 TD passes.
Sean McVay’s system works. The Rams have been a top-10 team in passing yardage in each of the last three years, with top-five finishes in 2018 and 2019. Goff has a good group of pass catchers. Rams RBs accounted for an absurdly low 9.7% of team targets last year, and a dead-cat bounce in that category would give Goff a few more easy completions.
At such a deep discount, I think Goff is a buy this year.
15. Daniel Jones, Giants
How could Jones have fumbled 18 times last year? Does he have a problem with hyperhidrosis? Do his pregame meals include onion rings?
Jones’ 18 fumbles easily led the league and tied him for fifth on the dubious list of all-time single-season fumble leaders behind only Kerry Collins and Daunte Culpepper (23), Tony Banks and David Carr (21). And mind you, Jones played 13 games and made only 12 starts.
The 11 lost fumbles and 12 interceptions that Jones was responsible for last year didn’t mean much to the Giants, whose season was a lost cause anyway. After the selection of Jones with the sixth overall pick in last year’s draft was widely panned, GM Dave Gettleman had to feel vindicated after Jones threw 24 TD passes and displayed a decent grasp of the offense.
The turnovers don’t mean that much to fantasy managers either. Oh sure, interceptions and fumbles are penalized in a lot of leagues, but QB turnovers tend not to be especially sticky year over year. Jones was competent as a passer in 2019 and added value with his legs, running for 279 yards and two TDs. The 6-5 Jones doesn’t look like a scrambler, but he’s more nimble than he appears and ran for 17 touchdowns in three years at Duke.
Jones’ efficiency as a rookie passer wasn’t stellar. He completed 61.9% of his throws and averaged 6.6 yards per attempt – numbers that put him well outside the top 20 in both categories. But a lot of his pass catchers missed time with injuries, his offensive line didn’t do a very good job of protecting him, and, well, he was a rookie.
If the supporting cast – Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Darius Slayton – can stay healthy, if fourth overall draft pick Andrew Thomas helps patch the offensive line, and if the Konami Code is once again punched in, Jones could be a top-10 quarterback.
16. Cam Newton, Patriots
This is where I’m ranking Cam for conventional single-QB leagues with 10 or 12 teams. For 2QB and superflex leagues, I’ll drop him 2-3 spots.
As my friend Scott Pianowski of Yahoo says, in a single-QB league, if you miss on a quarterback, there’s another bus coming in 10 minutes. There’s little disincentive to take a swing on a boom-or-bust QB. Not so with 2QB and superflex leagues, where there’s greater emphasis on the position and a bad miss on a QB can earn you a trip to the woodshed.
It’s hard to predict how things will go for Cam in New England, especially since stylistically he’s the anti-Brady. Maybe things will go swimmingly. Bill Belichick is the NFL’s Rumpelstiltskin, so often spinning straw into gold – and Newton is some pretty high-grade straw.
But Newton is 31 now. He’s always derived much of his fantasy value from his running ability. Will he still be able to use that business model after his body has been through the wringer?
Cam is one of the tougher calls at the QB position. Go to the expert rankings at FantasyPros.com and click on Cam’s name; you’ll see that the analysts are all over the map on him. I’m erring on the side of caution.
17. Baker Mayfield, Browns
Scott Barrett of FantasyPoints.com has noted that Mayfield had the toughest strength of schedule among all QBs last year. Mayfield never looked particularly comfortable in the Freddie Kitchens/Todd Monken offense either, and it didn’t help that WR Odell Beckham Jr. was playing hurt all year.
New head coach Kevin Stefanski likes to use the running game, and with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as his RBs, he certainly has the ammo to go run-heavy. That probably means Mayfield won’t finish in the top 10 or 15 in passing attempts, but it might do wonders for his efficiency, à la 2019 Ryan Tannehill.
FantasyPros.com lists Mayfield’s ADP at QB14, which seems rich. I suspect there will be drafts where he goes closer to QB20, at which point I think he offers some value.
I do wish Mayfield would spend less time on petty grievances with the likes of Hue Jackson and Colin Cowherd. Not that we need to pay attention to the tabloid stuff for fantasy, but it would be easier to envision Mayfield as an upper-tier quarterback if he weren’t so willing to engage in lowbrow feuds.
18. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Let’s take a leap of faith and assume Roethlisberger is in better physical condition now than he was in last December, when he cast a Sasquatchian shadow on the sideline while recovering from an elbow injury that caused him to miss 14 games. Roethlisberger had grown a woolly Kris Kringle beard, and it looked as if he’d stopped for milk and cookies at every household in Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger is 38 now, and he’s been knocked around so much in his career that injuries now have to be part of the calculus when assessing his value. But he’s been playing at a reasonably high level in his twilight years, and he had an exciting young group of wide receivers.
It’s often a mistake to make assumptions about the types of game scripts players will face over the coming season, since the things that we see in 4D in our crystal balls often prove much more opaque in real life. Still, the Steelers appear to have one of the best defenses in the league, so it’s hard to envision Big Ben in a lot of shootouts. He had a league-high 675 pass attempts in 2018. I’d be surprised if Roethlisberger threw 575 passes this year even if he were to stay intact for 16 games.
19. Sam Darnold, Jets
There’s widespread disdain for Jets head coach Adam Gase. Fantasy managers are convinced that Gase has a deleterious effect on fantasy value, and he’s a graduate of the Barry Bonds School of Charm.
But it’s clear that the animus toward Gase has gone overboard when Drew Lock is being drafted ahead of Sam Darnold. Lock’s ADP is QB24. Darnold’s is QB25.
Over the last eight weeks of the regular season, Darnold was QB10 in total fantasy points and QB16 in points per game. Lest you think he ran into a favorable stretch of schedule, he finished the season with games against the Ravens, Steelers and Bills.
Darnold missed three games with mononucleosis early in the season and was probably still feeling the aftereffects upon his return, so I’m inclined to give him a mulligan for the first half of the season.
Darnold was a much better college prospect than Lock, and he’s made 26 NFL starts while Lock has made five.
Don’t let your contempt for Adam Gase blind you to Darnold’s potential. This seems like an opportune time to take a discount on an ascendant 23-year-old quarterback.
20. Ryan Tannehill, Titans
Tannehill was more efficient than an LED bulb last season, completing 70.3% of his throws, averaging a league-best 9.6 yards per attempt and posting a TD rate of 7.7%.
He’s destined to fall short of all those marks in 2020, and probably well short. We should still expect Tannehill to be efficient because he’s playing in a conservative, run-heavy offense – just not as efficient as last year.
On the other hand, Tannehill averaged a paltry 27 passing attempts in his 10 starts. Even if the Titans try to go ground-and-pound with Derrick Henry all season, the smart money says Tannehill’s passing volume goes up this year. That should offset some of the inevitable drop in efficiency.
Tannehill adds some value with his legs, though it’s worth noting that last year’s four TD runs represent 40% of his rushing touchdowns over a seven-year career.
Tannehill isn’t a terrible fantasy option. He just has to walk a narrow path to return value.
21. Kirk Cousins, Vikings
“You like that!” (If by “that,” you mean a boringly efficient QB2 type, then yes.)
During his two years in Minnesota, Cousins has finished QB13 and QB18 in fantasy scoring despite completing 69.7% of his throws and averaging a respectable 7.5 yards per attempt.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has a fondness for the running game, and the Vikings are further incentivized to be run-heavy now that stud WR Stefon Diggs has shuffled off to Buffalo.
High ceiling, low floor.
22. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Well hello there, handsome. If only Jimmy G’s numbers were as good-looking as he is.
Garoppolo finished QB22 in fantasy points per game last year, and it’s hard to envision much better for 2020 when Kyle Shanahan’s system and the 49ers’ loaded defense suggest that San Francisco will again be one of the run-heaviest teams in the league. (The 49ers and Ravens were the only teams to throw more than they passed last year.)
I think Garoppolo is a quality NFL starter, but his fantasy upside is pretty limited.
23. Joe Burrow, Bengals
This is a conservative ranking for a talented young passer. Burrow’s FantasyPros.com ECR is QB20, and his ADP is QB18.
The enthusiasm is understandable after Burrow had arguably the best season by a college quarterback of all time – 5,671 passing yards, 60 TD passes, five TD runs. He’ll also get to work with a good group of receivers in Cincinnati that includes Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green, John Ross and Tee Higgins.
But the jump from college to the NFL has befuddled many a good young quarterback. The jump is even more daunting this year, with training camp destined to be a less immersive experience than usual because of COVID-19, and with the preseason canceled entirely.
I recommend caution here.
24. Philip Rivers, Colts
Rivers’ interception total spiked and his TD rate plummeted last season, but his numbers in other categories – yardage, completion percentage, YPA – were in line with his career norms.
I don’t think the 38-year-old is washed yet, and it may do him good to play behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines after years of playing behind the Chargers’ five-man sieve.
25. Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers
Bridgewater is considered a possible QB sleeper in some circles. The biggest draws are his weaponry – Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore at al. – and the promise of negative game scripts thanks to the Panthers’ cheesecloth defense. Bridgewater advocates are also encouraged by the solid relief stint he turned in for the Saints last year while Drew Brees was recovering from a broken thumb.
I mean, sure, if the Carolina defense is so godawful that it leads to 600-plus pass attempts for Teddy, I suppose I’ll regret not ranking him higher. But he’s always struck me as just a game manager. He could game-manage his way to a high-end QB2 season, perhaps, but expecting anything more seems like wishful thinking from the Teddy Ruxspinners.
26. Drew Lock, Broncos
It’s dangerous to use the quality of a team’s pass catchers to justify enthusiasm for a quarterback who doesn’t have much of a track record.
Indeed, there’s some exciting young pass-catching talent in Denver – Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam – but Lock has only five games of NFL experience and wasn’t exactly a pristine prospect coming out of Missouri. I actually liked him as a prospect more than most, and his rookie performance was encouraging, but I’m not inclined to place many bets on Lock this season.
27. Gardner Minshew, Jaguars
Great kid, great story. But this is another case where, as with Teddy Bridgewater, some people are a little too eager to invest based mostly on the promise of negative game scripts.
The Jaguars are going to stink out loud this year. Vegas has set their win total at five, which almost seems overly generous. I think most Jags fans would be pleased to see Minshew start 16 games this year and then serve as a backup to Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields in 2021.
Minshew was OK last year, but the sixth-round draft pick out of Washington State probably doesn’t have a lot of room for improvement.
28. Derek Carr, Raiders
Carr is coming off his best NFL season. He ranked ninth in the league in passer rating and posted career bests in nearly every statistical category. Yet a lot of people think he’s going to be replaced by Marcus Mariota at some point this season.
Hard to tell if the improvement sticks for Carr. Hard to tell if Mariota really poses a threat to his job security. The good news: You’ll only have to ponder these questions if you play in a two-QB league.
29. Dwayne Haskins, Washington
He was terrible in his first few games of NFL action, then started to look more comfortable in his last few games. I’m cautiously optimistic about Haskins’ future, but Washington doesn’t have enough pass-catching talent to drag him to fantasy relevance this year.
30. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins
The ultimate YOLO quarterback, FitzMagic offers sneaky upside as a daring downfield thrower capable of delivering big numbers in any given week. But he’s a risky play in leagues that heavily penalize interceptions, and he’s obviously just keeping the seat warm for Tua Tagavailoa – though for how long, no one outside Dolphins headquarters really knows.
31. Nick Foles, Bears
Most Bears observers think Foles has the inside track to start ahead of the heretofore disappointing Mitch Trubisky. Even if Foles starts, he’ll be little more than an occasional streaming option in single-QB leagues.
32. Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins
My buddy Thor Nystrom of Rotoworld, an astute college football analyst, loves Tua and believes he has Steve Young type upside. But Tua has a fraught injury history, and since the Dolphins aren’t competing for anything this year, they might handle him with kid gloves.
33. Justin Herbert, Chargers
Herbert is a mixed bag as a prospect, but he’s got a big arm and can run. The latter attribute is his best hope for rookie fantasy relevance.
34. Tyrod Taylor, Chargers
A lot of people in the fantasy realm still love “TyGod” for his three-year stretch of inexpensive fantasy value from 2015 to 2017. But 2015 was really the only year in that stretch when he was a good quarterback, and he was terrible when we last saw him with the Browns in 2018. It won’t be long before the Chargers park Taylor on the bench and launch the Justin Herbert era.
35. Mitch Trubisky, Bears
The poor kid may forever be a laughingstock due to the poor decision-making of Bears GM Ryan Pace. But it’s too early to give up on Mitch. I don’t know if he has the moxie to ever be a great passer, but he’s young enough to improve, and the kid can really run.
36. Jarrett Stidham, Patriots
There’s a small but non-zero chance that the Patriots release Cam Newton and go with Stidham as the starter after all.
37. Jameis Winston, Saints
It would be fascinating to watch Winston run Sean Payton’s offense – not necessary exhilarating, but definitely fascinating.
38. Marcus Mariota, Raiders
Mariota might get a shot in Vegas. How many chips are you willing to bet that he’s magically developed pocket awareness during the pandemic?
39. Andy Dalton, Cowboys
As maligned as he may have been in Cincinnati, the Red Rifle doesn’t suck, and he’d have weapons galore in Dallas if Dak Prescott were to go down.
40. Jalen Hurts, Eagles
There’s some major Konami Code potential here, and Carson Wentz has been knocked out of action before.