The QB Class of 2021: What to Make of Them for Fantasy Football

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The 2021 quarterback draft class was one of the most heralded in recent memory. Five quarterbacks went off the board in the first round of the NFL draft, the most since 1999. The fantasy success of the class was a mixed bag in year one. Mac Jones led the class from a fantasy perspective, finishing as QB18 overall and putting up 13.1 fantasy points/game. The only other rookie signal-caller to put up at least 12 fantasy points/game in 2021 was Davis Mills, who was an afterthought a year ago when the Texans picked him in the third round of the NFL Draft.

As we head into the 2022 season, there are six second-year quarterbacks expected to enter the season as starters. That accounts for nearly 20% of the starting quarterbacks in the league. While their fantasy floors and ceilings may vary, each of the following six quarterbacks deserves fantasy consideration for 2022. As they head into their second professional season, let’s take a closer look at the class of 2021 quarterbacks that project to lead their teams in 2022 and examine why we should, or shouldn’t, be optimistic about their fantasy prospects for the upcoming season.

Trevor Lawrence

Rookie Season Recap

Fantasy Points Fantasy Points/Game Passing Yards Passing TDs TD % Rushing Yards Rushing TDs
199 11.7 3,641 12 2.0% 334 2

Considering that Lawrence was advertised as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, his rookie year can be labeled a total disaster. He threw just 12 touchdown passes, the 28th most in the league, and tied for the NFL lead with 17 interceptions. His 6.0 yards/attempt was the lowest among qualified passers. He didn’t add much on the ground either. He only rushed for two touchdowns as a rookie, compared to the 18 he racked up in three years at Clemson. By the end of the season, Jacksonville was right back where they started a year ago, with a new head coach and the number one pick in the draft.

The Case for Optimism

Urban Meyer didn’t do Lawrence any favors as head coach during his rookie campaign. In fact, it’s quite possible that Meyer’s lack of leadership and coaching hurt Lawrence’s transition to the pros.  

Now Lawrence and the Jaguars are led by Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson, who coached Carson Wentz to what could have been an MVP season if it hadn’t been for his late-season injury in 2017. Jacksonville also added Christian Kirk and Evan Engram in the offseason, not to mention the return of Lawrence’s college teammate and first-round pick, pass-catching running back Travis Etienne

The Case for Caution

It’s easy to put all of the blame for his disastrous rookie season on Urban Meyer, but what if Lawrence just isn’t cracked up to be an NFL quarterback? His 2% touchdown rate ties Chris Weinke for the lowest by any rookie with at least 500 pass attempts. The fact that Lawrence eclipsed 600 pass attempts arguably makes him the least efficient rookie quarterback of all time. The horrific start to his career, combined with Jacksonville’s abysmal track record as a franchise, is more than enough to have fantasy concern for Lawrence headed into 2022.

Zach Wilson

Rookie Season Recap

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Fantasy Points Fantasy Points/Game Passing Yards Passing TDs TD % Rushing Yards Rushing TDs
151.9 11.7 2,334 9 2.3% 185 4

Wilson’s rookie season got off to a slow start, then was interrupted by a knee injury that cost him four games in the middle of the season. Upon his return from injury, he put up two top ten fantasy performances over the last seven games. Most of that fantasy production came on the ground, as he rushed for four touchdowns over that span. 

The Case for Optimism

The Jets are giving Wilson every chance to succeed. Elijah Moore and Michael Carter, who was drafted in the same class as Wilson, showed solid potential as rookies. But the Jets didn’t stop there. They spent early draft picks on wideout Garret Wilson and Breece Hall. There is potential for a Wilson-led offense to take a big step forward in the second year in offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system.

The Case for Caution

Wilson’s best fantasy performances of the season were thanks to his work on the ground. While that’s all well and good for fantasy, he was much less impressive through the air. His 6.1 yards/pass attempt barely outpaced Lawrence and his 55.6% completion rate was the worst in the league. Wilson may be loaded with new weapons in his supporting cast, but there’s a real chance that he turns out to be an over-drafted bust in the NFL.

Trey Lance 

Rookie Season Recap

Fantasy Points Fantasy Points/Game Passing Yards Passing TDs TD % Rushing Yards Rushing TDs
64.9 10.8 603 5 7.0% 168 1

Despite being drafted third overall by the 49ers, Lance spent most of his rookie season backing up Jimmy Garoppolo. He got on the field in six games, but started just two and attempted only 71 passes during the entire season. He had his moments, particularly when he finished Week 17 as a top-ten fantasy quarterback in his start against the Houston Texans

The Case for Optimism

The most obvious reason to be bullish on Lance is his rushing upside. He averaged 53.7 yards on the ground in the three games that he played at least 50% of the snaps. That’s more than every quarterback except Lamar Jackson averaged per game in 2021. His ability to add fantasy points with his feet should give him a rock-solid floor and high-end upside. 

But Lance’s potential goes beyond just his ability to run the ball. While his play may have been limited, he was the most efficient rookie quarterback of the class with his 7.0% touchdown rate and 8.5 yards/pass attempt. Given a supporting cast that includes Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, Lance has as much passing upside as any other quarterback in the class.

Getty Images / MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News

The Case for Caution

As of this writing, Jimmy Garoppolo is still a 49er. While all indications seem to point to San Fransisco moving on, it hasn’t happened yet. Jimmy G is a good quarterback that knows and works well in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system. In 2021, Garoppolo’s 8.6 yards/attempt was second-best in the entire NFL. Until Jimmy G is off the roster, there’s a real chance he continues to play ahead of Lance.

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Justin Fields

Rookie Season Recap

Fantasy Points Fantasy Points/Game Passing Yards Passing TDs TD % Rushing Yards Rushing TDs
126.8 10.6 1,870 7 2.6% 420 2

Fields began his rookie season on the bench behind veteran Andy Dalton. He got his first start in Week 3, but it took a while for him to start compiling fantasy points. He didn’t crack the top 30 fantasy quarterbacks a single time over his first three starts, despite leading Chicago to victory in two of those games. He turned it on in the second half of the season, finishing as a top 10 fantasy quarterback in four of his last five games. Unfortunately, he also missed five of the last eight games of the season with rib and ankle injuries.

The Case for Optimism

Much like Lance, Fields can rack up fantasy points on the ground. He was one of only four quarterbacks in 2021 to rush for more than 100 yards in a single game. His 420 rushing yards were the fifth most among all quarterbacks, despite the fact that he only started ten games. Fields has the potential to be the best rushing quarterback in the NFL.

The Case for Caution

Fields passing performances left a lot to be desired in his first season, but that may not be his biggest red flag headed into 2022. A bigger concern may be Chicago’s new regime of head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles. Eberflus is a defensive-minded coach and Poles isn’t the general manager that drafted Fields. The Bears also added very little to the offense this offseason, drafting 25-year-old rookie Velus Jones and signing an assortment of mid-level wideouts in Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, Tajae Sharpe, and Dante Pettis. If Fields is going to take a step forward in 2022, he’s going to have to largely do it on his own.

Mac Jones

Rookie Season Recap

Fantasy Points Fantasy Points/Game Passing Yards Passing TDs TD % Rushing Yards Rushing TDs
225 13.2 3,802 22 4.2% 129 0

When the Patriots drafted Jones there was some belief that he would start the season on the bench behind Cam Newton. By the end of training camp, however, Newton had been released and Jones was given the starting gig. He ended up leading all rookie quarterbacks in fantasy points while leading New England to the playoffs in his first season.

The Case for Optimism

The Patriots have been the winningest team in the NFL since Bill Belichick took over the reins in 2000. They may not be the pass-heaviest team in the league, but Jones can succeed with efficiency on a winning team. New England didn’t lose any significant weapons on offense. Instead, they added free agent DeVante Parker and rookie speedsters Tyquan Thornton and Pierre Strong Jr. They also get back James White, another pass-catcher out of the backfield. With rumors of Belichick taking over play-calling duties this season, it could be a completely new offensive look for Jones and the Patriots 

The Case for Caution

Rostering Jones as your fantasy quarterback probably won’t lose you a fantasy championship, but will he win you one? Probably not. While it’s impossible to predict what a Belichick orchestrated offense will look like, it seems unlikely that it will lead to a 5,000 passing yard season from Jones. He’s more likely to be a fine replacement-level fantasy quarterback, but it’s tough to envision Jones as a league winner.

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Davis Mills

Rookie Season Recap

Fantasy Points Fantasy Points/Game Passing Yards Passing TDs TD % Rushing Yards Rushing TDs
157 12.1 2,664 16 4.1% 44 0

Mills wasn’t much more than an afterthought when he was drafted in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft. Despite the trade demands, most of us still expected Deshaun Watson under center for the foreseeable future in Houston.

Oh how quickly things can change.

Mills started the season behind veteran Tyrod Taylor on the depth chart, but it quickly became clear that Wason wouldn’t be taking snaps for the Texans ever again. After a Taylor injury in Week 2, Mills his chance as a starter. He briefly gave the job back when Taylor got healthy later in the season, but Mills was given the shot to start the last five games of the season. When all was said and done, only Mac Jones put up more fantasy points/game than Mills among the class of 2021 rookie quarterbacks in their initial seasons.

The Case for Optimism

Mills is no scrub, He was the top-rated quarterback in the nation during his final high school season. He wasn’t a perfect prospect in college, but he did enough to get his chance in the NFL. Now it’s clear that he’ll get at least one full season to prove he’s capable of being the starting quarterback in Houston. Instead of drafting another young quarterback, the Texans spent their 2022 draft picks on defensive starters, offensive linemen, and potential offensive weapons of the future John Metchie and Dameon Pierce. Mills, at the very least, will be the starting quarterback in Houston for the 2022 season.

The Case for Caution

While Mills is the entrenched starter in Houston, that doesn’t exactly mean he’s destined for fantasy greatness. Ben Roethlisberger and Taylor Heincke were also starting quarterbacks last season, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find them on any fantasy championship rosters. The Texans are expected to be a bad team. Their projected win total of 4.5 games is the lowest in the entire NFL. He may be a starting quarterback, but the Texans could be too inept for Mills to be a serious fantasy option at quarterback.

Comments

Josh says:

Great insights!

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