2021 QB Strategy Guide
Was 2020 QB scoring a mirage or the dawn of a new era?
As I addressed in my QB Scoring Review back in mid-February, QBs scored an exorbitant number of points last season. In fact, the last time the top of the position scored similarly came back in 2011, another year that found the offseason all but eliminated.
That time it was the NFL Lockout, as Jacob Rickrode pointed out on Twitter. This time it was COVID.
In each case, we found 6 QBs cracking 400 total fantasy points. In most recent seasons, we’ve seen 1 -- at most -- reach that threshold.
Of course, we’re shifting to a 17-game season this fall. So it’s even more important to look at things from a points-per-game perspective. Well, here’s how last year’s top 12 looked vs. the previous 4 seasons in fantasy points per game.
As you might be able to tell from that chart, the QB1 points per game last season trailed the QB1s from the previous 2 years. After that spot, though, QB2 through QB12 each scored more points per game in 2020 than in any of the previous 4 years.
That makes sense, you might think. We have more “Konami Code” QBs than ever before. (That’s QBs elevating their fantasy scores with their rushing.)
Do we, though?
Check out this chart breaking out the rushing points from the top 12 QBs in fantasy points per game each of the past 5 years.
You can see the trendline from 2020 QBs above the others, but that’s inflated by 3 spikes -- the highest of which comes from Marcus Mariota’s 1 big game at QB2. Otherwise, the per-game rushing production looks very similar to other recent seasons.
Here’s the same chart but with Mariota’s numbers removed …
You can see a much flatter line.
That said, if you look closely, you can also see rushing production trending upward. The 2016 group sits at the bottom, with the 2017 QBs just above. 2018 starts a good bit higher but takes the sharpest downward trend of the sample. Then 2019 starts at the same spot and proves much steadier through the top 12. And 2020 follows the same slope from a higher point.
So the question remains: Was the big QB scoring of 2020 an outlier or the signal of change?
The truth is that none of us can really know until we have 2021 data. But we obviously need to draft long before those numbers get tallied.
So far, that drafting points to fantasy managers trusting what we saw last year. Based on ADP from Fantasy Data, here’s where the top 12 QBs have gone overall in 12-team drafts over the past 6 years:
It’s not that we’re starting to draft QBs earlier than usual. It’s that QB3 through QB10 is coming off the board earlier than we’ve seen in recent seasons.
Every QB in that range is going 7+ spots earlier in overall ADP vs. the average of the past 6 years, with QBs 3-9 each going 9+ spots ahead of their 6-year average.
Again, none of us can know yet whether that’s appropriate or overreacting to last year’s numbers. But it’s worth noting.
So what do we do with this info? That’s what we’re here for …
How to Draft QBs in 2021
It’s possible we’re guilty of some recency bias in our QB projections this year, but we do have some separation at the top of the position.
Although Patrick Mahomes sits at #1, we’re not likely to recommend him as your top option before he leaves the board in a 1-QB format. Why? He’s simply going too far ahead of the next QBs to be worth it.
Mahomes sits 0.6 fantasy points per game ahead of #2 Josh Allen in our baseline projections; 1 point ahead of #4 Lamar Jackson. But he’s 1 full round ahead of Allen in ADP and 2 ahead of Jackson.
Dak Prescott joins that top 5 -- along with Kyler Murray -- a group from which any player could lead the position in fantasy scoring for the season. You could consider #6 Russell Wilson to be on that shelf as well, especially with another round of ADP separation between him and Prescott.
If last year’s QB production proves more upward trend than 1-year anomaly, then grabbing 1 of those top 6 should treat you well. To this point, we’ve liked taking whichever top-6 QB slides a round or so past ADP in a given format. (That even included our crowdsourced FFPC Main Event draft in the Draft Sharks Discord selecting Mahomes late in Round 4.)
Even if you believe that regression is coming to the QB group, that top group of 6 doesn’t look likely to let you down. At worst -- barring injury, of course -- you should be looking at an every-week starter.
That said, you certainly don’t need to ensure you get 1 of those top 6. Tom Brady delivered elite fantasy games at the same level as the top QBs last year. Jalen Hurts’ rushing gives him top-5 upside. Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill have both showed us they’re plenty capable of top-8 fantasy production.
If you do begin with a QB beyond our top 6, though, you should pay more attention to whom you’re taking 2nd at the position. There are plenty of options. Just make sure you treat that spot as an alternate starter rather than a backup.
If you draft a top-6 QB, then you can focus on upside with your backup at the position -- or even just skip drafting a 2nd QB altogether.
6-Point Passing TDs
There’s obviously room for plenty of scoring variations in your fantasy setup, and each has a chance to alter your positional rankings and overall approach.
One key difference is awarding 6 points per TD pass vs. the more common 4 points.
If your league goes this route, the top 6 QBs likely look the same as in our default rankings. Beyond that, though, you’ll see Tom Brady climb a spot or 2, Matthew Stafford climb over Jalen Hurts and Kirk Cousins rise several spots.
More importantly, this scoring difference does close the gaps at the position a bit. So it might seem as though increasing the TD-pass scoring makes QBs more important and thus an earlier target for your draft. In actuality, however, it increases the field of solid-to-good starting options by lessening the impact of rushing production (at least a bit).
Any further pass-friendly variations -- such as larger penalties for INTs, for example -- can push things further in this direction.
2-QB or Superflex Drafts
Your Draft War Room will certainly help guide you for when to start selecting QBs in either of these formats, just as it will with any position across formats.
If you’re playing in a superflex league, though, you’ll probably want to start by changing the settings in your War Room to 2 QBs rather than 1 QB and a flex that includes QBs.
Why? Well, a cool thing about superflex is that you don’t need to start a 2nd QB every week, but you’re gonna want to. Unless you’re playing in a unique format that has boosts the scoring at other positions -- or downplays QBs -- these guys are still going to be your points leaders.
Setting your War Room up for 2-QB drafting will help you prioritize getting a strong starter early and landing 3 worthwhile QBs. You can certainly feel free to reach over our QB recommendations at certain turns, and knowing how your league tends to draft the position can help steer your specific strategy.
In general, though, we at least like to land a top starter (where possible) in either of these QB formats. That leaves more room for creativity thereafter. Whether that means following with a 2nd strong QB pick within the next couple of rounds or pushing later and taking a pair of guys in Kirk Cousins-Tua Tagovailoa-Baker Mayfield range can differ by draft.
If you can’t get to a top QB starter for a multi-QB format, then pairing players such as Matthew Stafford and Jalen Hurts or Ryan Tannehill can give you stability and upside.