If you think fantasy football is a game that's played between September and December and you can get caught up in August, well, let me be the first to tell you that you are doing it all wrong. By doing it that way there is bound to be plenty of news and moves that fall through the cracks as you attempt to play catchup. The best way to play fantasy football really is to keep up to date year-round. Not only will you not have to try to cram all the free agency and draft moves at once, but monitoring what transactions do to a player's fantasy value will help you know where a player is being valued and where he should be drafted -- which will give you such a leg up on the rest of your league. The truth is, so much changes in these next couple of months, but monitoring what impact is has on fantasy will give you a better understanding of a player's value. Simply put, it will just make you a better fantasy football player.
To me, the best process is to start with a way-too-early ranking and continually update it as moves are made, players are drafted and more importantly, fantasy debates happen! These top-12 QB rankings from January are sure to change over the next few months, but debating and questioning these rankings will help shape your thinking heading into the 2021 season and that is why I think it's so important to start early.
So, without further ado, let's get into my way-too-early 2021 top 12 fantasy QBs!
1. Patrick Mahomes
Mahomes finished as the QB4 in total points and QB2 in points per game in 2020. He's failed to finish as the QB1 in either of the past two seasons in either category, after being the top QB in 2018. So why does he deserve to be the unquestioned No. 1 fantasy QB? It's because there is no QB that blends safety and upside together quite like Mahomes. It's kind of like asking why LeBron James is widely viewed as the best player in basketball, even though he doesn't win the MVP yearly. Will Mahomes finish as the top scoring fantasy QB this season? Maybe not, but will he be one of the top fantasy QBs if he stays healthy? Of course he will. He's finished as a top-six fantasy QB in three-straight seasons and has averaged over 20 fantasy PPG in all three of those seasons, including 25 or more in two of them. I can tell you that he's averaged over 316 pass yards per game in two of his last three seasons, or that his 114 passing TDs since 2018 leads the NFL. Or even that his 308 rushing yards in 2020 were a career-high. But what you really need to know is that he is Patrick Mahomes and barring some unforeseen change, will be tied to Andy Reid with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and others around him.
2. Josh Allen
Allen showed in 2019 that he was a reliable fantasy option, finishing as the fantasy QB6, but he took a huge step forward in 2020 finishing as the QB1 in total points and QB3 in fantasy PPG. The question for Allen was all about his passing abilities, but he put those to bed by throwing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns this season. Plus, he still gave you those points with his legs that are so valuable. He rushed for over eight touchdowns for the third straight season, the only NFL QB to ever do so in each of their first three seasons. His 421 rushing yards ranked seventh amongst all QBs. With all signs pointing toward Bills OC Brian Daboll coming back next season and Allen still having Stefon Diggs and the rest of his supporting cast around him, Allen may be the closest thing to Mahomes and he comes with a higher rushing floor. He is a fantasy stud.
3. Kyler Murray
When I made my first top-12 QB ranking after Week 16, I originally had Murray second and Allen third. I ultimately made the swap because I trust Allen's passing more, but Murray's rushing ability keeps him in the top three. Murray started off this season as an early real-life and fantasy MVP favorite, putting up over 21 fantasy points in each of his first nine games. He scored over 26 fantasy points in seven of those nine games. It was largely due to his rushing ability, as he averaged 67 rushing yards per game and had 10 rushing TDs in those nine games. To break that down, you were basically starting with 13 fantasy points before Murray even threw a pass. He was the QB1 for most of the season, with Allen passing him in the final weeks. But Murray did make slight gains as a passer in 2020, increasing his passing yards per game from 232.6 as a rookie to 248.2 last season. He also threw for 26 passing touchdowns, compared to 20 as a rookie. His ceiling remains one of the highest in the NFL due to his dual-threat abilities and he could easily finish as the QB1 in 2021.
4. Dak Prescott
When I posted my original top 12 on Twitter after Week 16, there were a number of people angry in my mentions due to having Dak ranked as the QB4. But in the five games he played, Prescott averaged 27.13 fantasy PPG and 371 passing yards per game -- both led the QB position. Would those numbers have regressed over the course of the season? Probably, but there is zero evidence that Prescott would not have been one of the five best fantasy QBs this season. Just in 2019, Prescott threw for 4,902 yards, a career-high, while finishing as the QB2 in total points and QB3 in fantasy PPG. He's finished as a top-11 fantasy QB in every season in the NFL. Given the passing gains he's made in recent seasons, along with the weapons around him and the fact that the Cowboys' struggling defense likely means they have to throw a bunch, it's easy to see why Prescott is a top-five fantasy QB. I didn't even mention his rushing ability, which some have concerns over coming back from a knee injury, but he's rushed for at least 275 yards in all of his full seasons and has at least three rushing TDs in every season, including 2020. He has the upside to be the QB1 in 2021 if he stays healthy.
5. Deshaun Watson
Watson is one of the best fantasy QBs and yet he still at times feels underrated to me. This past season, many worried if he would once again be able to keep up the fantasy success without DeAndre Hopkins. All Watson did was go out and score a career-high in fantasy points (369.32). His 23.08 fantasy PPG was the second-best in his career, behind only his rookie season. Watson is the only player in the NFL to score 320-plus fantasy points in each of the last three seasons. He's finished as a top-five fantasy QB in all three of his healthy seasons and top five among QBs in fantasy PPG in every single season. He's rushed for over 400 yards in three straight and he's scored at least 15 fantasy points in 43 of his last 50 games. He comes with such a safe floor and one of the highest ceilings in the NFL. Watson is on the same level as Mahomes, Allen, Murray and Prescott, especially when it comes to fantasy. The fact that Watson is a baller is a given, the only unknown is who he will be suiting up for in 2021. That will affect his ranking here a bit, but regardless, he is a top fantasy option moving forward.
6. Lamar Jackson
A year ago, Jackson would have been no lower than second on this list. The 2019 MVP struggled to regain that form in 2020, but he was still plenty useful for fantasy purposes. He finished as the QB10 in points and QB9 in fantasy PPG, a year after nearly setting the fantasy QB record (he would have broken Mahomes' 2018 record if he played Week 17 -- he set the fantasy PPG record for QBs). Jackson is very obviously a special fantasy asset due to what he can give you with his legs. Prior to 2019, Mike Vick had been the only QB in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards. Jackson destroyed that record rushing for 1,206 yards last year and 1,005 this season, missing a game each year. He also rushed for seven touchdowns in each of those seasons. His passing game numbers took an expected hit in 2020, with him throwing nearly 400 fewer yards and 10 fewer touchdowns. But, he did look like his 2019 self once he returned after missing a game due to COVID, averaging 27.07 fantasy PPG from Week 13 on, second in the NFL behind only Allen. His rushing floor ability gives him such an elevated floor and ceiling. He may end up going in the top-five QBs in drafts come August, but the position simply has too much high-end talent for me to have him any higher right now.
7. Aaron Rodgers
This one was bound to be controversial since I do not have him in the top five like many others likely would. But my thinking is Rodgers, as great as he is, is unlikely to throw 48 touchdown passes again in 2021. Rodgers threw for 4,299 passing yards, which is nothing to sneeze at, but it was seventh in the NFL. His 149 rushing yards were 22nd among the position. But, his 48 passing TDs not only led the position, they were eight more than any other QB. Rodgers finished with a 9.1% TD rate, the highest of his career. He has not had a TD rate over 8% since 2011 and was at 4.6% or lower in his previous two seasons. That 9.1 passing TD% is the third-highest ever posted since 1980. Only Peyton Manning (9.9%) in 2004 and Watson (9.3%) posted higher. Watson's occurred in just seven games, but we have three QBs who posted at least a 9% TD rate in a full season, Manning, Jackson in 2019 and Rodgers back in 2011. Manning saw his TD percent drop to 6.2, while his passing TDs dropped from 49 to 28. Jackson's dropped to 6.9%, while his passing TDs decreased from 36 to 26. Rodgers' dropped from 9.0 in 2011 to 7.1 in 2012, with his TDs dropping from 45 to 39. Maybe Rodgers can once again sustain a pretty high TD rate like he did back in 2012, but history is not on his side. I still think Rodgers is a top-10 fantasy QB, but top-five? I can't pay that price given the dual-threat QBs that add points with their legs.
8. Justin Herbert
Herbert took over as the starter in Week 2 and all he went on to do was rewrite the rookie record book. His 31 passing TDs are the most by a rookie in NFL history, as were his 289.1 passing yards per game. He scored 332.84 fantasy points, which only Cam Newton scored more as a rookie. He also threw for 4,336 yards, which is the second-most by a rookie, behind only Andrew Luck. He also, very under the radar, rushed for 234 yards and five touchdowns, showing he can add points with his legs. This offense has all the weapons to be the next great one, led by Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The hope was that the Chargers would hire Bills OC Brian Daboll as their head coach and that was a move that would have propelled Herbert higher on this list. But given what we saw out of Herbert as a rookie, with the pieces he has around him, and with a new play-caller, whoever it may be, there are reasons to be excited about him moving forward. He comes with high upside and a pretty safe floor.
9. Russell Wilson
This may seem low on the list for Wilson and I get it. He finished as the QB6 this season and has never finished worse than QB11 in his career. But, there is also a lot that has me worried here. First, Pete Carroll has been vocal about wanting to run the ball more and more efficiently. That is enough to worry me, as Seattle threw the ball 60% of the time this season, but from 2010-2019, under Carroll, the Seahawks threw a league-low 53% of their plays. And throwing more this season led to Wilson putting up a career-high in fantasy points, fantasy PPG and passing touchdowns. It also led to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf having their best fantasy seasons to date. But, Seattle's offense started struggling down the stretch and after Week 11, Russ was no longer that MVP candidate he was early in the season. What changed? Seattle started running the ball more. From Weeks 1-11, the Seahawks threw the ball on 62% of their plays and from Week 12 on that number decreased to 56%. Given that we have seen the emphasis of running the ball hurt Wilson, in last year and in previous seasons, it's enough for me to put him last among what I consider the "elite" fantasy QBs.
10. Jalen Hurts
Will Hurts be the Eagles starting QB in 2021? It is a legit question mark right now. But, if he is, there is no questioning how great he can be for fantasy. In four starts (one where he was benched) he averaged 22.99 fantasy PPG, which would have ranked seventh among QBs. He scored 91.96 fantasy points in his first four starts, which is the eighth-most in any QB's first four starts in NFL history. He also scored over 18 fantasy points in all three of his full starts, including a near 38-point performance in one of those three games. He also threw for over 335 in two of those three full games. All of that is great to help you get excited for Hurts, but all you really must know is the rushing ability. He rushed for 1,298 yards as a senior at Oklahoma and then showed that his rushing ability will translate to the NFL rushing for over 60 yards in all of his full games. He rushed for over 100 yards against the Saints, who hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in their previous 50 games. That gives him such a safe floor and a high ceiling, much like it does for Murray and Jackson. If he is the starter, he is a fantasy QB1.
11. Ryan Tannehill
All Tannehill has done since taking over as the Titans' lead QB is produce. This past season, he averaged a career-high 21.52 fantasy PPG, which is on par with the 21.71 fantasy PPG he has averaged since taking over as the Titans starting QB. He's thrown for multiple passing touchdowns in 20 of his 26 games as the starter. Plus, he can add some points with his legs. He rushed for a career-high seven touchdowns and added 266 yards, the second-most in his career. He's now scored 11 rushing TDs in a season and a half as the Titans starter. He comes with one of the safest floors in fantasy football. The only thing keeping him this low is that the Titans love to run the ball.
12. Joe Burrow
If the top 11 QBs were off the board, I would turn my attention to which QBs offer me the most upside and the best shot at joining the "elite" fantasy QBs. And I do not think there is anyone after the top 11 that comes with as much upside as Burrow does. Prior to his injury, Burrow was averaging 268.8 passing yards per game, the third-most by any rookie QB in NFL history, behind only Herbert and Luck. He finished as a top-12 fantasy QB in just under half his games. But, last year was really just a warm-up for Burrow. He came into the season without a normal preseason and then was injured halfway into his rookie campaign. There is not a whole lot you can take away, but the one definite is, he showed he can play, and play effectively, at the NFL level. Coming off of a historic season at LSU, that is enough for me to get excited about him going forward, especially with weapons like Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd at his disposal.
13. Taysom Hill
We got a taste of what a starting Hill would look like when Drew Brees missed a month. In those four starts ,Hill averaged 21.07 fantasy PPG, which would have made him the QB13 over a full season. In those four starts, he averaged 209.5 passing yards and threw four touchdowns. But the biggest factor was what he gives with his legs. In those four starts, he averaged 52.3 rushing yards per game and rushed for four touchdowns. If he is, in fact, the Saints starter in 2021, his rushing ability alone is enough to put him in the borderline QB1 group.
You've heard it before, but QB is deep in fantasy football. But, unlike in past years, the upper echelon QBs all come with so much upside that I do not think it is no longer worth waiting on the position when you can snag one of these great QBs in the middle rounds. But that is a discussion for another day!