The Ultimate QB Strategy for 2021 Fantasy Football: Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Bridge QBs - Roto Street Journal
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The Ultimate QB Strategy for 2021 Fantasy Football: Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Bridge QBs

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2020 = Historic QB Scoring. Should We Switch Our Approach?

My stance has always been to wait on QB in fantasy football drafts. Typically, this serves me well, but in 2020, we saw a historic rate of QB scoring:

From 2012-2019, only five QBs topped 360 FPs, and never in the same season: Peyton Manning (2013), Cam Newton (2015), Aaron Rodgers (2016), Pat Mahomes (2018), and Lamar Jackson (2019). All won MVP in said season besides Rodgers, and most set at least one record. 

In 2020, six QBs achieved over 370 FPs: Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson — and Dak Prescott averaged more FPPG than all six before going down! In DFS, you essentially needed one of these guys to win in both GPPs and 50/50s throughout the year.

So the same must’ve been true for seasonal leagues? And snaring one of these guys is a must in 2021, right? 

No, and no. At least in single-QB leagues.

For one, I expect 2020 to go down as a massive outlier year for QB scoring. Indeed, more and more “Konami Code” runners that possess strong arms enter the league. QB scoring will remain high. But 2020 was absurd, and likely aided by the lack of a real Training Camp and preseason for defensive preparation + the absence of crowds to swing home-field advantages.

Moreover, outlined by Scott Barrett in his “Anatomy of a League-Winner,” the highest-scoring QBs rarely provide a truly meaningful edge compared to RBs, and then WRs. To drive this home, in 2018, Mahomes scored the most FPs by any QB in any season in NFL history, with a 10th+ round ADP, and still was just 10th in terms of win-percentage that season. 

This is because of the high supply and low demand of QBs when you’re only required to start one in a given week. JJ Zachariason has routinely proven you can stream a Waiver Wire QB in a positive matchup to yield a Top-10, and usually Top-7, average in a given season. 

Thus, 10 of 14 QBs with the highest “win rates” from the last four years were drafted in the final five rounds of drafts, or not selected at all. Amidst the aforementioned historic QB scores, Justin Herbert had a higher win rate than any other QB last year, and he wasn’t drafted.

As tempting as the “Big 4” QBs may be in Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and Lamar Jackson, history suggests you’ll be far better served to bypass these guys. They’ll cost you high-quality starters or upside stashes at RB and WR, and plenty of high-upside QBs linger late. This is especially true when compared to the WRs and RBs going in the same Round 10+ range that, outside 4-5 total players, are destined to be bench fodder. 

So what is my ultimate strategy then? Two-parts:

  1. Snare either Trey Lance or Justin Fields in the Round 11-15 Range (depending on your own league & draft flow)
  2. Pair them with a “Bridge QB,” ideally Jalen Hurts or Ryan Tannehill, but plenty of guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins, and even Zach Wilson linger.

(Note: This strategy (and really the overall approach to the QB position) can be much trickier in 2QB leagues with 3 QB roster caps — suddenly you must rely on the two same guys every week and lose the ability to rotate based on matchup, at least until the rookies are starting. This can burn a major hole in your roster if the rookies are benched for 6+ games, so tread carefully in these formats).

Part 1: Draft Trey Lance and/or Justin Fields

THE KONAMI CODE:

Neither Fields nor Lance will be starting in Week 1. As such, they often fall to the last few rounds of most redraft leagues, if not to the waivers entirely. Yet both provide astronomical upside as “Konami Code” poster boys. This refers to the “cheat code” that is QBs who can run. Again referencing the great Scott Barrett, since 2000, 41 QBs have played 12+ games and averaged 5.5+ rush attempts per game. Of them, 34 finished as Top-12 QBs (83%) and 24 finished Top-6 (59%) in FPPG.

Rushing yards are worth 2.5 times as much as passing yards, and rushing touchdowns are worth 1.5 times as much as passing touchdowns. Thus, QBs capable of “leg points” become infinitely more valuable than typical pocket statues.

But Lance & Fields could approach levels we’ve never seen, since they both possess insane arms too, with ample weapons around them.

Of the two, I think I prefer Lance. His weapons and play-calling both edge out Fields; if there was a “Mahomes Breakout” set up, it’d be Kyle Shanahan pulling an Andy Reid and masterminding the perfect offense for Lance’s skill set alongside his high-end weapons.  Lance has flashed a Mahomesian arm, and, after racking up 1100 yards and 14 TDs in college, the kid can clearly run. He’s a north-south bruiser who’s first TD throw went for 80 yards. Lance does it all, and the 49ers get the Falcons, Titans, and Texans in their final 3 contests.

Yet, Fields has been more impressive this preseason. He’s displayed his prowess through the air and ground throughout the preseason: in roughly 1 game of action, he’s gone 30-of-49 (61%) for 276 & 2 TDs through the air, while racking up 11 carries for 92 yards (8.4 YPC) & a score on the ground. In other words: 34 FPs.

Don’t forget: Fields trailed only Mac Jones in deep accuracy from this class, and only Joe Burrow and Jones among QBs in the last 5 years. Yet, he also ran the third fastest forty time of all-time among QBs, behind only Mike Vick and RGIII.  I have less faith in Matt Nagy, although he does hail from the Andy Reid tree. Maybe he just needs the right QB?

The risk with both is they are dead roster spots until they take over, if they do at all. For both organizations, the preference is Garopollo and Dalton do enough to win games and keep afloat so the rookies can be brought along slowly and not even touch the field this year. Fortunately, Dalton sucks, and Shanahan is waiting to show-off the next level of his scheme.

Thus, you must have at least 1 good bridge QB, if not multiple, to ensure you stay afloat while waiting for this league-winning upside. If you plunged before these rounds — great! Secure the precious bench cargo without worry.

Otherwise, it’s time to Dumpster Dive:

Ideal Bridge QB: Jalen Hurts

Jalen Hurts: Speaking of Konami Upside…Jalen Hurts has the most “Top-5” upside of the Round 8-10 QBs. If we get a “Lamar / Allen” in 2021 and it isn’t the Lance or Fields, chances are it’s Hurts. The obvious reason is his legs, and Scott Barrett explains Hurts’ ceiling far better than I:

“Last season, Hurts averaged 24.8 fantasy points per four quarters (11.3 rushing). Or 25.9 FPG in games started and finished (9.9 rushing FPG). For perspective, 24.8 FPG would rank as the eighth-best QB season all-time and 25.9 FPG would rank fifth-best all-time. 11.3 rushing FPG would rank best all-time and 9.9 rushing FPG would rank third-best since 1975. In other words, if Hurts remains who he was last year and doesn’t lose the starting job, he doesn’t just have high-end QB1 upside, he has overall QB1 and historically great levels of upside.”

Although the Eagles have been lukewarm in their endorsement of Hurts, he’s officially been named the starter after a “great camp” according to Sirianni. The risk is real — Hurts’ leash is likely shorter than most starters, especially with his accuracy woes and Gardner Minshew now nipping at his heels —  but that risk is worth absorbing considering the rewards. The name of the game is league-winners, and Hurts has all the makings of one if he can play all 16.

Late Round “Bridge” QBs to Target:

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Across his last 18 full starts, Fitzpatrick has been a Top-12 QB & topped 22 FPs a whopping 12 times (66%). This includes FOUR top-three finishes, and a surprisingly high floor, with just one disaster outside the top-24. Now consider: this was throwing to GARBAGE (Devante Parker his No.1?!), on an offense that ranked 26th in pace and 20th in total plays. In WASH, Fitzmagic will be throwing to Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Antonio Gibson, Logan Thomas, Dyami Brown while operating a pass-happy Scott Turner offense that ranked 10th fastest and 9th in total plays, despite ultra-conservative Alex Smith under center. I think Fitz could go completely berserk with these weapons, within this scheme… and you get to root for the most likable guy in the NFL. Ultimate WIN WIN.

Kirk Cousin: So vanilla and bland, but from a pure bridge perspective, look at Cousins’ early season schedule:

He ranked 6th in pass TDs  (35 – career high) and 8th in yards (4265), while giving you Top-12 numbers in 50% of contests, while never losing you a week. He won’t excite you, but Cousins looks like the PERFECT bridge to higher upside later.

Ben Roethlisberger: Defines unsexy upside. Everyone loves Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool… JuJu Smith-Schuster ain’t a slouch either. And yet, Ben goes undrafted in most leagues? He is the opposite of “Konami Code,” but Ben’s arm looks rejuvenated this preseason as he carved up the Lions for 137 yards and 2 TDs in just a quarter. The Steelers won’t likely lead the league in pass attempts after adding Harris, but I doubt they’ll regress to the point they fall out of the Top-10. A boring but safe & sturdy bridge.

Zach Wilson:  I LOVE snaring Wilson as a QB3 in leagues with enough bench space. He may not have the floor of some other safer “bridges,” but Wilson brings more sizzle. The ball zips out of his hand effortlessly, and Wilson’s live arm will be called upon early and often given this injury-ravaged, abusable defense. Mike LaFleur could go down as the next great branch of the Shanahan Tree, giving this exciting young talent a very real ceiling, especially if Elijah Moore can be a genuine Alpha and allow Corey Davis to thrive in a 1B “Eric Decker” style role that he was made for.

What do you think of The Wolf’s 2021 QB Strategy for Fantasy Football? Sound off below, or hit him up @RotoStreetWolf on Twitter! 

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  • Founder of Roto Street Journal. Lover of workhorse backs, target hog wideouts, and Game of Thrones. Aspiring to be the "Brady" and "Leo" of the fantasy universe.

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