What We Learned in 2020: Quarterback

A look at where every fantasy relevant quarterback was drafted, finished, what happened, and what we learned

Before we move forward now that the 2020 NFL season is over, we should look back one more time to capture whatever wisdom we can glean from the ride through this "season like no other" before the distance in the rearview mirror gets farther and the particulars get blurred. Let's look at where every fantasy-relevant quarterback was drafted (Based on an aggregate of sources), where they finished (approximate because of variation in scoring systems), what happened, and what we learned.

Most Important Quarterback Takeaways

  • Running ability is more important than ever for fantasy quarterbacks and it made Jalen Hurts and Taysom Hill waiver wire wonders
  • Teams can change offensive philosophies to showcase their quarterback and make him a fantasy star (Josh Allen), but they can also change their minds back (Russell Wilson)
  • Rookies as fantasy-relevant quarterbacks is a trend that here to stay, with Hurts, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert all making a mark this year.
  • Elite fantasy quarterbacks tend to regress the year after their peak year (2019 Mahomes, 2020 Jackson, 2021 Allen?), but they can still bounce back to make their lofty ADP worth it (2020 Mahomes)
  • A bad defense can throw gasoline on a good quarterback’s fantasy fire. It made Dak Prescott QB1 for the first four weeks of the season, Russell Wilson QB1A through the first nine weeks of the season, Gardner Minshew fantasy relevant, and Kirk Cousins a low QB1. It doesn’t work in all cases, as Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan underperformed expectations despite playing on teams with bad defenses.
  • Everyone’s favorite pick to be the next Lamar Jackson was Kyler Murray, and he carried a much higher price than Jackson did in 2019 because of that. But he was still a massive value before he got banged up because at least in terms of rushing contributions, he was the next Lamar Jackson.
  • The gap between the top scorers and replacement level performers continues to grow. In 2019, two quarterbacks averaged over 25 points per game in typical scoring. In 2020, nine did, with two more just missing. Alternatively, the supply of top scorers growing could make waiting at quarterback smart yet again, or just move the point when most fantasy players take their QB1 earlier in the draft. Moving to 2QB/Superflex lineup formats helps keep the position strategically interesting in light of these developments.
  • About two points per game separated QB14 and QB25. Once you get past the big hitters, fantasy quarterback quality tends to blend together.

Top 12 drafted quarterbacks in 2020 fantasy leagues

Patrick Mahomes II, KC

  • ADP: QB1 (2nd Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB3
  • What Happened: Mahomes finished very close to Josh Allen for QB1 among quarterbacks that played most or all of the season, depending on your scoring system. He improved his weekly scoring average significantly from 2019 but didn’t get back to his 2018 touchdown rate and yards per attempt/completion.
  • What We Learned: Mahomes 2018 is a better representation of his fantasy mean outcome than his 2019.

Lamar Jackson, BAL

  • ADP: QB2 (2nd/3rd Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB10
  • What Happened: Jackson and the Ravens offense became more predictable and he struggled, losing confidence as he felt the defense often knew the play that was coming. For much of the first 11 weeks of the season, he was scoring no better than a streaming quarterback approach but played his best football after missing Week 12 with covid.
  • What We Learned: 2019 represents a peak Jackson may not approach again, but he can improve on his 2020.

Dak Prescott, DAL

  • ADP: QB3 (4th/5th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB1 through five games
  • What Happened: Prescott represented a combustible intersection of a talented group of receivers and poor defense. Not only was he QB1 through five games, he didn’t even finish one of the games. He overcame offensive line injuries to outscore Lamar Jackson’s 2019 and Patrick Mahomes II 2018 on a points per game basis.
  • What We Learned: A top-five drafted quarterback can still be a massive value. If Prescott’s ADP is lower than QB4, he’ll be one of the best draft targets.

Deshaun Watson, HOU

  • ADP: QB4 (5th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB7
  • What Happened: Watson wasn’t daunted by losing DeAndre Hopkins before the season, or Will Fuller V during the season. He actually outscored his 2019 QB3 season and was very close to QB1 from Weeks 5-16 after a tough schedule stretch to open the season.
  • What We Learned: Watson’s was the key to his own success, not Hopkins. Here’s hoping that he’s in a better organization for the 2021 season.

Russell Wilson, SEA

  • ADP: QB5 (5th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB6
  • What Happened: The Seahawks allowed their offense to run through Wilson for the first half of the year. He was neck and neck with Kyler Murray for fantasy QB1 through Week 9, and scoring at a higher rate than Dak Prescott’s abbreviated season. Then the Seahawks went back into their comfortable shell on offense as their defense improved and Wilson was QB18 from Weeks 10-16, between Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater.
  • What We Learned: Never trust Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer to have a pass-first offense. Wilson usually had big second halves after quiet first halves, but this was much more damaging for fantasy teams that had to seriously consider their other quarterback during the fantasy playoffs. We’ll see whether his 2021 ADP reflects his first or second half of the season more.

Kyler Murray, ARI

  • ADP: QB6 (5th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB3
  • What Happened: Murray took a big step forward as a runner and his passing stats benefited from the addition of DeAndre Hopkins even if his passing ability didn’t improve as much as hoped. He was a fantasy MVP and clear QB1 through Week 10, but a shoulder injury limited him until he recovered for a big Week 15 outburst, only to get banged up again in Week 16 with an ankle issue, which contributed to him being unable to finish Week 17 and the Cardinals falling short of the playoffs.
  • What We Learned: Murray’s hit his QB1 ceiling for more than half of the year and he still has room to grow (no pun intended).

Tom Brady, TB

  • ADP: QB7 (7th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB10
  • What Happened: Brady’s total output was as good or better than expected, but he was a feast or famine fantasy option, rarely putting two good weeks together in a row, but he did do that in Weeks 15 and 16. He also had injuries to his top two receivers limit them at times, and only got Antonio Brown in the second half of the season.
  • What We Learned: Brady isn’t washed up, but good defenses/pass rushes will make him look like a low ceiling quarterback. Despite having a starting fantasy quarterback ranking, he’s a high ceiling matchup play at this point in his career.

Drew Brees, NO

  • ADP: QB8 (7th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB18
  • What Happened: Michael Thomas didn’t play in the first half of the year, and Brees missed four games in the second half of the year with broken ribs. After a slow start, he had a four week stretch as a solid QB1 but never peaked.
  • What We Learned: Brees had a nice long run as a fantasy QB1, but it’s over.

Matt Ryan, ATL

  • ADP: QB9 (7th/8th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB16
  • What Happened: Ryan got off to a good start in Weeks 1-2 against the Seattle and Dallas defenses, but then the fantasy well went dry, save for sporadic peaks against the Vikings, Broncos, and Bucs.
  • What We Learned: This era of the Falcons has run its course, coaching and GM-wise, and Ryan and his long time #1 receiver Julio Jones may only be with the team for one more year. He’ll rightfully be a bench quarterback in 2021 fantasy leagues.

Josh Allen, BUF

  • ADP: QB10 (7th/8th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB1
  • What Happened: Save for a slump in October that saw the Bills suffer their two non-hail mary losses, Allen was a revelation. The offense ran through him (for the whole season, Seattle!) and he peaked in December. The addition of Stefon Diggs unlocked the downfield passing game and Allen’s accuracy and decision-making made a quantum leap forward.
  • What We Learned: Allen’s ceiling is higher than anyone imagined, but like Mahomes 2018 and Jackson’s 2019, this year could represent a high-water mark, at least for the next year or two. It will be fascinating to see which quarterbacks regularly go ahead of him, in 2021 drafts.

Aaron Rodgers, GB

  • ADP: QB11 (7th/8th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB5
  • What Happened: After he seemed to move off center stage in the Packers offense and the team committed to a long-term future without him, Rodgers had maybe the best season of his career. He was part of a horrendous team-wide effort vs. Tampa Bay in a blowout loss, but otherwise was one of the most consistent players at any position, with an eight-game stretch of at least three total touchdowns and 25+ points in every scoring system after the Bucs loss.
  • What We Learned: Rodgers took the drafting of Jordan Love as constructive criticism and seamlessly executed the LaFleur/Hackett offense. Somehow, he peaked in his 16th season. He’ll probably still go outside of the top five in 2021 drafts.

Carson Wentz, PHI

  • ADP: QB12 (9th Round)
  • Approximate Finish: QB19
  • What Happened: Wentz fought through everything falling apart around him - even posting strong fantasy numbers from Weeks 3-7, but eventually, he was overtaken by the conditions around him and his play fell apart. Jalen Hurts replaced him in Week 13 and we might not see him again in an Eagles uniform.
  • What We Learned: The Eagles committed too much to Wentz too early. He might have been traded by the time you read this.

Other Notable Successes

Justin Herbert, LAC

  • ADP: Undrafted
  • Approximate Finish: QB8
  • What We Learned: Herbert is a one-off natural who defied a less than imaginative head coach, but we might have not known it this year were it not for an injection that went awry and sidelined Tyrod Taylor in Week 2. He'll be under the tutelage of Joe Lombardi this year

Jalen Hurts, PHI

  • ADP: Undrafted
  • Approximate Finish: QB3 from Weeks 14-16
  • What We Learned: The Eagles aren’t committed to Carson Wentz, and Hurts is good enough to not be overwhelmed by the speed of the NFL game as a rookie. He’ll be a lot of people’s favorite quarterback pick outside of the top 10 next year, assuming Wentz isn’t on the Eagles roster.

Taysom Hill, NO

  • ADP: Undrafted
  • Approximate Finish: QB7 from Weeks 11-14
  • What We Learned: Hill is good enough as a passer to not be a joke as an NFL starting quarterback and we already know what he can do as a runner. He’ll likely compete with someone else to start for the Saints next year. If he wins the job, like Hurts, he’ll be a favorite late-round quarterback target.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, MIA

  • ADP: QB31
  • Approximate Finish: QB11 from Weeks 1-6
  • What We Learned: Fitzpatrick is still a fantasy-relevant quarterback, but he’s not part of the Dolphins present plans unless it looks like Tua Tagovailoa can’t get them over the hump in the second half of a winnable game. He’ll be on our radar if he’s a bridge quarterback somewhere next year.

Outproduced ADP Outside of the Top 12

Ryan Tannehill, TEN

  • ADP: QB19
  • Approximate Finish: QB11
  • What We Learned: Tannehill was only a couple of points off of his 2019 Top 5 scoring clip in 2020, so if you bet on him to stay at his 2019 level of play and production, you were right, but so many other quarterbacks broke out that he was only a low-end QB1.

Joe Burrow, CIN

  • ADP: QB20
  • Approximate Finish: QB14
  • What We Learned: Burrow shouldered an offense that had weak pass blocking and eventually he took one hit too many, ending his season in Week 11. He was actually a mediocre fantasy option outside of two ceiling games against the Browns.

Kirk Cousins, MIN

  • ADP: QB21
  • Approximate Finish: QB12
  • What We Learned: Cousins had his worst game as a pro in Week 2 and was getting low volume as expected, but the Vikings plan to rebuild their defense on the fly put him in situations to throw the ball 35+ times in 6 of the last 7 games, fueling him to a solid QB1 second half of the year.

Derek Carr, LV

  • ADP: QB28
  • Approximate Finish: QB17
  • What We Learned: Darren Waller is really good and Nelson Agholor isn’t done. Between them, that’s enough to make Carr fantasy relevant, although a Week 15 early game injury probably turned the fantasy players that still trusted him against Carr for good, and Marcus Mariota showed enough after that to create a real quarterback competition in 2021.

Gardner Minshew, JAX

  • ADP: QB24
  • Approximate Finish: QB13 in eight starts
  • What We Learned: Blake Bortles isn’t the only Jaguars quarterback who can fantasy relevant on the strength of garbage time.

Underperformed ADP Outside of the Top 12

Matthew Stafford, DET

  • ADP: QB13
  • Approximate Finish: QB24
  • What We Learned: He missed Kenny Golladay and Detroit will likely miss him in 2021. Stafford will be a popular late-round quarterback pick in a new offense with one of the best offensive minds in the league calling the shots.

Daniel Jones, NYG

  • ADP: QB14
  • Approximate Finish: QB30
  • What We Learned: Jones probably isn’t a franchise quarterback and Jason Garrett isn’t a good offensive coordinator.

Jared Goff, LAR

  • ADP: QB15
  • Approximate Finish: QB22
  • What We Learned: QB14-26 was tightly packed, so this isn’t as bad as it looks, but the Rams scaled back the pass offense and don’t trust their franchise quarterback to drive the car on his own. They have moved on from him.

Cam Newton, NE

  • ADP: QB16
  • Approximate Finish: QB27
  • What We Learned: Newton can’t elevate a mediocre supporting cast anymore. After being QB3 through two weeks following an epic performance against the Seahawks in a classic quarterback duel with Russell Wilson, Newton looked more like a shadow of his peak self every week, and starting him risked having the worst quarterback score of the week. He’s not assured of starting in 2021.

Baker Mayfield, CLE

  • ADP: QB18
  • Approximate Finish: QB26
  • What We Learned: Mayfield actually improved a lot as a passer in the Stefanski offense, especially after Odell Beckham Jr got hurt.

Jimmy Garoppolo, SF

  • ADP: QB22
  • Approximate Finish: QB42
  • What We Learned: Garoppolo never got over an early-season ankle injury, but he wasn’t playing well before the injury. We’re done with him in 1QB leagues, and he might have played his last snap as a 49er.

Performed as expected outside of Top 12

Ben Roethlisberger, PIT

  • ADP: QB17
  • Approximate Finish: QB15
  • What We Learned: Roethlisberger isn’t improving, but his wide receiver group is, and without a running game, the offense ran through him, for better or worse. Like Brees, age seemed to be a bigger factor as the season went on.

Philip Rivers, IND

  • ADP: QB23
  • Approximate Finish: QB25
  • What We Learned: Rivers was actually solid in the second half of the year, but at this point in his career, we’re not counting on him in 1QB fantasy leagues, and he could retire after this season.

Drew Lock, DEN

  • ADP: QB25
  • Approximate Finish: QB28
  • What We Learned: Lock is not a franchise quarterback no matter how much talent they surround him with.

Teddy Bridgewater, CAR

  • ADP: QB26
  • Approximate Finish: QB20
  • What We Learned: Bridgewater is not a franchise quarterback, and he’s not a fantasy-relevant quarterback, despite the surprise five rushing touchdowns that occasionally helped him score like one.

More articles from Sigmund Bloom

See all

More articles on: ADP

See all

More articles on: Analysis

See all

More articles on: QB

See all