When Should You Draft a Fantasy Quarterback?

Friday, Aug 25, 2023 at 12:33 pm ET

I recently looked at how fast running backs and wide receivers decline in points as you go down the rankings, and it made me think about quarterbacks and how they decrease by the same standards. In other words, how many quarterbacks are in the top tier, are weekly starters, or can't be trusted for consistency. I used the last three seasons and found the percentage of points in decrease from QB1 to QB2, then QB2 to QB3, and so on. For example, the top quarterback in 2020 scored 405.1 fantasy points. The second player scored 390.7 points, a 3.6% drop.

There will be a lot of numbers, but I will summarize key points if the tables make your eyes glaze over. I used rankings from Fantasy Nerds and fantasy stats from Fantasy Pros, and numbers/rankings are correct as of 08/23/2023.

Top 10

Rank 2020 2021 2022
1. 405.1 points 417.6 points 428.4 points
2. 3.6% drop 5.2% drop 3.8% drop
3. 0.9% 2.3% 6.8%
4. 1.8% 3.2% 3.9%
5. 1.1% 7.3% 14.7%
6. 0.9% 3.0% 2.5%
7. 6.0% 1.7% 0.5%
8. 0.1% 0.7% 0.7%
9. 2.0% 2.1% 3.2%
10. 0.3% 3.3% 1.3%

There is a line here in between the fifth and seventh-ranked QBs. The fall from fourth to fifth quarterback has stood out the last two years, and that looks to be the case again this year. Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts sit in the top tier with Lamar Jackson not far behind. Joe Burrow, Justin Fields, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson, and Kirk Cousins make up the rest of the top 10 in projected scoring from Fantasy Nerds, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of separation there in terms of fantasy production, much like the table suggests.

11-20th Quarterbacks

Rank 2020 2021 2022
11. 6.6% drop 1.0% drop 0.3% drop
12. 8.1% 8.1% 3.0%
13. 4.2% 4.0% 10.5%
14. 1.4% 2.2% 3.2%
15. 2.4% 4.5% 1.7%
16. 0.6% 1.7% 1.3%
17. 5.0% 3.7% 1.1%
18. 1.0% 0.7% 8..4%
19. 0.3% 0.4% 2.9%
20. 0.5% 0.8% 0.9%

We see another line around 12th or 13th in this group, and I think that's a good line to say those are starting-level players who are worth being in your fantasy lineup a lot of weeks. The rest of the players in the top 20 are generally matchup-dependent passers who can be played against weak defenses or pick up garbage time points (garbage time counts the same as any other; embrace garbage time).


Rank 2020 2021 2022
21. 14.1% drop 2.9% drop 4.4% drop
22. 1.0% 5.3% 6.8%
23. 8.0% 2.9% 1.1%
24. 3.2% 3.4% 3.6%
25. 5.9% 4.2% 3.3%
26. 7.8% 1.5% 0.3%
27. 1.8% 9.1% 0.7%
28. 0.6% 1.8% 5.0%
29. 9.8% 1.9% 18.6%
30. 0.8% 2.5% 5.7%

Each season had a big drop at the end that essentially meant the end of quarterbacks who had any use at all, even in spot duty. In 2022, that was the 29th quarterback with an 18.6% drop, but the numbers for 2020 and 2021 go a little further than the table. The cliff came at spot 36 in 2020, with a 29% drop in production, and 2021 saw a 22.6% fall at the 33rd-ranked passer.

Otherwise, we see a random spattering of bigger numbers here, and that's a product of the variety of quarterbacks in this lower tier: some were injured and only played half a season, others were benched, and the rest took over for the hurt/benched, and the number of games played can vary. When everyone is about the same skill-wise, the difference in games played makes a big difference.

What does it mean for 2023?

I already mentioned the top 10 quarterbacks, but let's look a little more closely at this year's passers and where we are likely to see these drop-offs. I used the QB draft projections from Fantasy Nerds to find the same breaks and identify where the tiers level off. It can be easy to identify the top players, but knowing who is a weekly starter can be harder.

Rank Player Projected Points Drop in Points (%)
1. Josh Allen 367 N/A
2. Patrick Mahomes 361.9 1.4%
3. Jalen Hurts 361 0.2%
4. Lamar Jackson 343.6 4.8%
5. Joe Burrow 321.3 6.5%
6. Justin Fields 318.6 0.8%
7. Justin Herbert 308.6 3.1%
8. Trevor Lawrence 293.2 5.0%
9. Deshaun Watson 292.2 0.3%
10. Kirk Cousins 281.5 3.7%
11. Daniel Jones 281 0.2%
12. Geno Smith 278.3 1.0%
13. Anthony Richardson 278.1 0.1%
14. Dak Prescott 272.3 2.1%
15. Tua Tagovailoa 271.9 0.1%
16. Aaron Rodgers 262.5 3.5%
17. Russell Wilson 261.9 2.3%
18. Jared Goff 257.6 1.6%

First, this is NOT the order these players will finish in scoring during the regular season. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to look at where players are seen by the experts and determine who is most likely to meet or exceed that expectation. Injuries happen and anyone can have a bad season, but some players are more likely to reach their projected heights.

These are the players who are projected to at least be good spot starters in many weeks. A few will underwhelm, a few will get hurt, and a few players not on this list will join it by the end of the year, but these are the players who are at least worth considering drafting in a one-quarterback league. I mentioned before that there seemed to be three or four quarterbacks at the top, and the numbers show that. Allen, Mahomes, and Hurts (in some order) have been the top three since the end of last season, and they are most likely to be the top scoring QB at the end of the year.

Jackson is the best bet to break into the top tier, and his per-game numbers warrant his inclusion. The problem is health, as Jackson has missed 10 games over the last two seasons and a playoff game. Still, when healthy, Jackson has the potential to be the top-scoring quarterback. Burrow was fourth in points last season and expects to be around the same this year, but he is a step below the top three, and he doesn't add much value with his legs.

The players from six to nine are guys you can be comfortable starting almost every week. Fields ran for over 1,100 yards last year, and he has an improved receiving corps led by D.J. Moore. If he sustains 80% of his running production while taking a step forward in the passing game, he could be sniffing the top group next year. Herbert and Lawrence are ascending passers with great pedigrees who each have a season with at least 300 rushing yards and another season with five rushing touchdowns. Watson is a former star who hopes to regain his form in both fantasy and real football.

There is a drop from nine to ten, then there is no drop of more than 3.5% through 18 and only two others above 2.0%. These quarterbacks are all seen about the same in value, and they will be good options against most teams but will probably struggle against better defenses (or on random weeks). Richardson is a player I've gone on record several times as loving, and I think he will be a weekly starter sooner rather than later. Everyone here has a question mark, such as consistency (Cousins), injuries (Tua), or recent performance (Wilson), but a few players in this tier will probably surprise and end up in the top 10, such as Jones and Goff did last season.

Rank Player Projected Points Drop in Points (%)
19. Kenny Pickett 237.4 7.8%
20. Jordan Love 234.1 1.4%
21. Derek Carr 229 2.2%
22. Matthew Stafford 227.3 0.7%
23. Bryce Young 227 0.1%
24. Sam Howell 220.3 3.0%
25. Brock Purdy 220.3 0.0%
26. Ryan Tannehill 219.2 0.5%
27. Mac Jones 210.8 3.8%
28. Kyler Murray 209.4 0.7%
29. C.J. Stroud 209.4 0.0%
30. Jimmy Garoppolo 202.8 3.2%
31. Baker Mayfield 188.8 6.9%
32. Desmond Ridder 180.3 4.5%

The only drop in the top 32 higher than 7% is the drop from Goff at 18 to Pickett at 19. Some see a potential jump for Pickett, but he starts the tier of players who will not be playable most weeks and should be reserved for bye weeks, injury replacements, or weeks when they play the worst defense in the league (Cardinals?). This group is made up of rookies/first-year starters, aging passers, and injury concerns. Murray has the most potential, as he can be a top-five scorer when healthy, but it's unclear when he will return from a major knee injury.

The past three seasons saw a major drop around number 30-35, and the projected points drop significantly from 32 to 33 (75.8%). This makes sense with 32 teams in the league, and thus, 32 starters. Some others will step in for significant time, but it's hard to predict who those players will be, and there's no room on a fantasy roster for them while you wait and hope.

When should you draft a QB?

In a single-QB league, there are two viable options: either draft an every-week starter and secure the position, or resist the urge to reach and grab one or two players late with the expectation of streaming (and hoping to find a diamond in the rough). Any of the top nine quarterbacks should be weekly starters, but you will have to grab them at or before their projected draft spots in most cases.

In both standard and PPR leagues, Mahomes, Hurts, and Allen are being drafted in the third round on average. Jackson, Burrow, and Fields are in the fifth or sixth rounds, with Herbert and Lawrence going in the eighth round usually. Everyone from Watson down is going in the 10th round or later, so you can get a starting option relatively late if you've got the nerve to wait (not all do).

The best thing to do when drafting these players is decide who you think is most likely to reach or exceed his projections and grab him when the time comes. I like Jackson and Fields as players who can break into the top tier and Watson as a later option who can be a top-five scorer. They aren't as consistently solid as the top three, but they have a high floor due to their running ability (as I've written about before) and the ability to go off certain weeks.

Other players being drafted in the range of the top three are high-level running backs like Travis Etienne and Joe Mixon, among others. With the second tier, guys like Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and DeAndre Hopkins are available, all guys I'm ok with as my WR1 (when targeting running backs early). Herbert and Lawrence are near starting running backs Rachaad White, James Cook, and Javonte Williams in overall rankings.

My point is, I'd rather load up on running backs and receivers early and find a quarterback later. I talked about how much I love Richardson and that Jones and Goff were in the top 10 last season in total points. Prescott and Tagovailoa have shown tremendous highs, not to mention Rodgers. Murray could be back earlier than expected, and stashing him on your bench early could pay huge dividends. There are more options later at quarterback than there are at the skill positions.

Whether you go for a top QB or wait until later, understand your situation. Don't draft Mahomes in the second round then Cousins in the 12th "for the bye week." So much will change during the season, and you don't need to waste spots on your roster for a one-week situation two months later. Any of the top nine guys don't require a backup unless you're grabbing a guy like Richardson or Murray with the expectation of top-10 potential later in the season.

If you go for a later option, it's more acceptable to grab two guys knowing you'll play matchups or stream quarterbacks. Russell Wilson is a guy to test out Week 1 in this strategy, as he will have a new offensive guru in Sean Payton and plays the Las Vegas Raiders to open the season, a team who will probably struggle to stop the pass.

One final note: in an auction league, the rules are the same. If you want one of the top guys, pay for him and secure the position without a backup. If you want to wait, grab a few guys for $1-3 and play the matchup game.

Two-QB Leagues

Let's finish with a bastardized, demon version of fantasy football, the two-quarterback lineup (I'm kidding, mostly, but I HATE the two-QB format). The rankings are so much different from one-quarterback rankings that I'll probably write another article focusing just on that, but quarterbacks are gold in these leagues. According to Fantasy Nerd's Superflex rankings, five of the top nine players are quarterbacks, and eight of the top 17. Compare that to other formats, where no quarterback is ranked in the top 20.

Don't wait in these leagues, because your opponents aren't going to. Grabbing at least one of the top nine is essential, and getting two of them to secure the positions isn't a crazy idea. I would probably try to get one of the top nine then draft one or two players later. There is much more value in these leagues in finding a late-round gem, like Richardson or Murray, so plan a bench spot for one of those players (or insert Richardson as your second QB right away, which is what I would do). There won't be many free agents for streaming, so having three quarterbacks on the roster might be a must (depending on the league size and what the waiver wire looks like weekly).

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