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Each offseason brings a good deal of veteran movement. In 2021, however, the quarterback position actually saw more than a normal amount of change. We asked our staff to offer up the quarterback on a new team they were most interested in.
Here are the names who were mentioned.
And here are all of the reasons.
The NFL and fantasy have both trended towards quarterbacks who have a rushing element to their game, but Matthew Stafford is in an ideal place for pocket passers to thrive. Jared Goff had top-10 finishes in both 2017 and 2018 in Sean McVay's offense, and Stafford is almost universally accepted as a better passer by a decent margin. The Rams still boast plenty of weaponry and even added dynamic play-maker Tutu Atwell in the draft. Stafford is a safe re-draft pick and should be a primary stacking target in best-ball leagues. He is also a potentially cheap veteran add in dynasty formats versus the production he can have in L.A.
I think everyone is going to say Matthew Stafford or Ryan Fitzpatrick, and they are not wrong, but I’m going to lean Sam Darnold. While he is a veteran on the move, Darnold has the advantage of being just 23 years old. He is going to a team in Carolina that is building a very college-like offense and that is a much better fit for his playing style. He has weapons around him in Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and the recently added Terrace Marshall Jr. If he can pull a post-Adam Gase glow-up, a la Ryan Tannehill, Darnold could be a steal in fantasy drafts this year.
Indeed, there are a lot of old faces in new places. I suspect if you ask us this question in a month, it'll be Aaron Rodgers. For now, I'll go with Matthew Stafford. Stafford has had an interesting career. He's currently 16th all-time in passing yards, and with a healthy season will be knocking on the Top 10. He should finish inside the Top 10 by the time he retires and has an outside shot at the Top 5 (particularly if Rodgers retires to host Jeopardy!). Yet, he's been in purgatory and has zero playoff success to date.
Now he goes to a team that's been in contention with Jared Goff. 90%+ of NFL observers believe Stafford is better than Goff, so there are no excuses anymore. How much of Stafford and the Lions' failures fall on him, versus the coaching and organization? None of us will be shocked if Stafford puts up top-10 fantasy numbers this year, but he's not going to have that cost on draft day.
I'm into Carson Wentz in Indianapolis. When we last saw Wentz on the field, he was playing his way out of the Eagles' starting job. But the factors that contributed to Wentz's nightmarish 2020 season have all changed for the better with his move to the Colts.
- Offensive line play - Indianapolis' offensive line allowed the league’s sixth-lowest adjusted sack rate (5.2%) while protecting the statuesque Philip Rivers last year. Philadelphia ranked 31st (9.4%). Even with the loss of left tackle Anthony Castonzo, our Matt Bitonti has the Colts ranked as a borderline top-10 unit in his early rankings, giving Wentz a massive protection upgrade.
- Supporting cast - T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr, Parris Campbell, and Zach Pascal aren't the best group of wide receivers in the league, but they certainly put Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham, rookie-year Jalen Reagor, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to shame. Wentz can also count on Jonathan Taylor taking pressure off as a runner and a well-rounded tight end committee.
- Coaching staff - Wentz won’t have to learn a new system and terminology in his first year with Indianapolis. Head coach Frank Reich was his offensive coordinator during Wentz’s rookie year in 2016 and career-best 2017 season. If Wentz can’t get his skittish play and poor accuracy under control, no amount of coaching will save him but it’s at least comforting knowing Reich understands how to set him up for success.
We should also count on some statistical regression towards Wentz's career norms. In 2020, his touchdown rate, interception rate, and adjusted yards per attempt were completely out of whack with the baseline he established from 2017-2019. Don't be shocked if Wentz turns in a back-end QB1 fantasy finish in his first year as a Colt.
The easy answer would be Matthew Stafford, but he is more of a rich man's pick. Stafford has all the weapons on offense but a player that also has all the weapons on offense is Sam Darnold in Carolina. The nice part about Darnold is that his ADP is affordable and he is surrounded with talent in Christian McCaffrey, Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, and even David Moore, Terrance Marshall, Chuba Hubbard, and Dan Arnold to a lesser degree. I am taking one more shot on Darnold to deliver in his young career and if he can't do it here with the endless talent surrounding him I will be out in the future.
I agree with Ryan and James. The one I see who could transform into a fantasy threat is Sam Darnold. I could easily pick Matthew Stafford or Ryan Fitzpatrick. This is what Fitzpatrick does, he's a consultant, essentially. He takes his skills and talents to the next team that needs his services. There is nothing wrong with that, but I want to focus on a player who has all of the opportunity in the world to make a major jump in production, recognition, and success, and that's Sam Darnold.
Darnold has all of the tools for success in Carolina. This includes coaching, offensive playcalling that caters to his strength of shallow-intermediate throws, elite personnel, a developing offensive line, and most important of all, a staff that wants him and believes in him. Confidence is a helluva boost. If Darnold displays confidence in his own abilities, it will translate on the field, especially when the team and coaching staff backs him 100%. Carolina thrives on spreading the field horizontally, allowing their speed weapons to make plays and create mismatches and uncertainty with opposing defenders. The presence of Christian McCaffrey alone makes receivers more open, which in turn allows Darnold to throw a more catchable ball. His completion percentage will go up and other numbers will follow. Carolina added two big red-zone targets in 6'6 Dan Arnold and 6'3 Terrace Marshall Jr. The addition of McCaffrey back in the fold should also give the red zone offense a boost. There is nowhere to go but up for Darnold. He's a great QB2 who could turn into something much more in his new change of scenery.
I think the Sam Darnold situation is really interesting. A lot of people seem to be far too high on him. Mel Kiper said that if Sam Darnold had been eligible for the 2021 draft-- knowing what we know now-- he would have been the second quarterback off the board. That's crazy to me.
On the other hand, a lot of people seem to be far too low on him, too. I've seen some suggest he has essentially no chance of turning things around. I think NFL teams are far more likely to hold a quarterback too long than give up on him too early, so the most likely possibility is that Darnold simply isn't that good. But it's important not to conflate "most likely possibility" with "virtual certainty", too.
Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, or ANY/A, is a good "all-in-one" statistic I like to use to evaluate quarterbacks. It's yards per attempt with a bonus for touchdowns and a penalty for interceptions and sacks. Among the 101 players since the merger with at least 800 pass attempts through three seasons, Darnold ranks 96th in era-adjusted ANY/A. That's really, really bad!
But on the other hand, we can't ignore the context. His situation was awful. A couple of guys down in that range did manage to turn it around— Testaverde was 95th, Alex Smith was 100th, Phil Simms was 90th, Jake Plummer was 86th, Terry Bradshaw was 84th.
And as an added bit of context, Darnold was the second-youngest starting quarterback in NFL history (behind only Tommy Maddox). If you wanted to measure by age instead of years of experience, there have been 16 quarterbacks to attempt 800+ passes through their age 23 season (counting player age on December 31st). Darnold ranks 15th out of the 16. The bottom 5 are Bridgewater, Daniel Jones, Bortles, Darnold, and Alex Smith. Though really there should probably be a tier break between Bridgewater (who was only mildly below average) and the other four.
If you drop the attempts threshold to 500 you can get Bradshaw, Derek Carr, and Josh Allen added back to his list of positive comps, but you add a ton of busts back into the mix as well: Bradford, Boller, Gabbert, Kizer, Rosen (plus some late-round guys like Kyle Allen, but that's not really a fair comp).
It's a mistake to ignore the litany of busts Darnold finds himself surrounded by on those lists. Whatever you thought of him coming into the league three years ago, it's irrational to not revise those opinions substantially downward. The company he's keeping, statistically, is not the sort of company one wants to keep.
But on the other hand, it's a mistake to ignore the positive comparisons, too. It's not the slightest bit unprecedented for quarterbacks similar to Darnold to eventually turn things around. I'd say the hit rate is probably around 20-25%.
I think the most valuable quarterback on a new team is Matthew Stafford. But the most interesting, it is Ryan Fitzpatrick. In 2020, Fitzpatrick had the lowest time to throw since NFL Next Gen Stats began tracking the statistic in 2016. Fitzpatrick had his second-best yards per attempt (7.8), despite lesser weapons than he had in prior stops. Fitzpatrick’s 2020 completion percentage over expectation was also the best of the five-year period. Fitzpatrick’s move from Miami to Washington should see an improvement with Curtis Samuel, Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, and Antonio Gibson, along with no threat from a highly drafted rookie. He has top-12 upside this season and is a value play, particularly in Superflex leagues.
Not much to add to the insightful commentary here.
Stafford will be the most expensive, but Fitzpatrick will give you the most fantasy bang for your buck. Darnold is fascinating to see if the Joe Brady factor can help him turn it around. I'm glad Phil brought up Wentz being reunited with Reich. Let's just see if they get a left tackle signed soon after skipping the position in the draft.
I am all-in on Ryan Fitzpatrick this season as a late target in 1-QB formats (and he probably goes undrafted in most/all traditional redraft depth of 15-16-17 roster spots) and especially in QB-premium formats. Watching Washington's offense last season, the quarterback position was what held back their skill position talent. Adding Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown this offseason to Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Terry McLaurin, and Logan Thomas is a boon for Fitzpatrick, who is a threat to finish in the Top 12, if not higher.
And I will second the concern regarding Sam Darnold. He is on the bust track historically through three seasons and a long shot (based on priors) to have a top-12 season in front of him. The quality weapons in Carolina aid his situation, but to date, Darnold has yet to show that he's on the uptick track.
Interesting is the keyword here. Matthew Stafford falls into that category. He is most likely to have the biggest fantasy impact, but after 12 seasons, we know who he is. A player with zero playoff wins. He outlasted three head coaches and has to be a key reason why the team didn’t reach greater heights. Like Philip Rivers, he can put up stats but makes poor choices when the heat is on. Unlike Rivers, zero playoff wins is a concern for a team that thinks it can make a Superbowl. His career .500 win-loss record is inflated by his time with Jim Caldwell. His most recent win percentage under Matt Patricia was awful.
Ultimately, It will be interesting to see that if the Rams do not win, will Stafford be blamed?
A player that hasn’t been discussed is the guy that went the other way in Jared Goff. On paper, he has taken a team to the Superbowl and has a phenomenal win-loss record, with his last four seasons being 42-20. In three of those four seasons, he finished as a fantasy QB1. Stafford didn't finish higher than 15th in his last three years. Now the reality is a different story. Stafford steps into a well-oiled offense, while Goff gets an inexperienced coaching group and a wide receiver corp that any guy would struggle to rate as a WR3 on almost any other team. Goff has no expectations this year. Stafford will have all eyes on him and needs to take the Rams side into the playoffs. If Goff is competent, expectations have been exceeded.
I am much more interested in watching how Goff plays.
I'm a sucker for those videos in which animal lovers find stray dogs living in squalor, take them in, feed them, bathe them, show them hitherto unknown kindness, and transform them into healthy, happy pets. After three years of neglect with the Jets, the last two under antisocial junkyard owner Adam Gase, Sam Darnold has been adopted by the Panthers, who seem far better equipped to provide the scraggly young quarterback with the care he needs.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady are shrewd offensive operators, and Carolina quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan helped develop Deshaun Watson in Houston. The Panthers have a nice set of receivers with D.J. Moore, Robbie Anderson, and Terrace Marshall Jr, along with the NFL's premier pass-catching running back, Christian McCaffery. The franchise just showed its commitment to Darnold's rescue by picking up his fifth-year option.
But Adam raised some good points about Darnold's hardscrabble professional beginnings. His numbers to date suggest that the No. 3 overall pick of the 2018 draft might be too far gone to be saved. Is Darnold simply the product of a bad upbringing, needing only better coaching to become a quality NFL starter? Or will the Panthers learn the hard way that their new quarterback simply belongs on the streets? It will be fascinating to see how this nature vs. nurture experiment turns out.
While it's neat seeing Ryan Fitzpatrick readying himself to start for a record ninth NFL team, I think we need to not overvalue his fantasy relevance. He's capable of running hot, but he's also capable of running ice cold. And the presumption we'll be able to have him in lineups for the good games but bench him for the bad ones is unlikely. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford has been a near-elite fantasy contributor throughout his career. Among quarterbacks of the last 20 years, Stafford ranks 14th in fantasy points per game. Fitzpatrick ranks 42nd behind luminaries including Mitchell Trubisky, Blake Bortles, Elvis Grbac, and Daniel Jones.
Yes, each has been less-than-interesting in recent stints on previous teams. But, let's look at why they might be fantasy-viable.
Taylor was a middling quarterback in Los Angeles last year before being sidelined with a punctured lung at the hands of a Chargers team doctor. He now is in Houston and is the de facto starter if Deshaun Watson misses time either due to his legal issues or a holdout (that he was threatening to force a trade before the legal woes arose). On a bad team with decent receivers, Taylor could be a fantasy QB2 for fantasy players. In Superflex or 2-QBs leagues, Taylor should be rostered given Watson's situation.
Brissett disappointed after being thrust into serving as Andrew Luck's replacement. Many fantasy players lost track of Brissett after holding the clipboard behind Philip Rivers in 2020. He is now the Miami Dolphins' backup quarterback behind Tua Tagvailoa. The sophomore passer has endured his share of injuries. Enough so that it is reasonable to expect Brissett to start games in 2021.
While neither of these is as interesting - or sexy - as Stafford, each might warrant fantasy consideration in 2021.
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