With ESPN and Yahoo NFL Fantasy Football leagues starting shortly, and Best Ball leagues already going, our goal is to prep you early for your upcoming NFL fantasy drafts with our Fantasy Sleepers, Breakouts and Busts articles for each position.
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In our ongoing efforts to cover every angle of the NFL prior to the season kickoff, today we’re revealing our top NFL quarterbacks to target in your 2019 fantasy football draft. There are the obvious NFL quarterbacks everyone will want like Pat Mahomes or Andrew Luck following the big numbers they put up last year. But we have a few breakouts, sleepers, and potential busts to discuss in the world of NFL quarterbacks before the roll out of Awesemo’s official season long NFL fantasy rankings so let’s discuss the guys who could be difference makers at the game’s most important position relative to their Average Draft Position on Yahoo.
NFL Fantasy Breakout Quarterbacks
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (ADP of 53.5, #5 Overall)
Baker Mayfield showed major signs of life with the shift from Todd Haley and Hue Jackson to Freddie Kitchens as his offensive signal caller in the middle of 2018 and with Kitchens now running the whole team, Mayfield is primed to take a leap forward as one of the stronger fantasy NFL quarterbacks in 2019. Mayfield’s 63.8% completion rate wasn’t great, but stands to improve with the addition of weapon Odell Beckham Jr and a full offseason to breed familiarity with Kitchens’ offensive improvements and his teammates.
Mayfield’s 9.1 intended air yards per attempt indicate a strong ability to push the ball downfield while his low 4.9% sack rate show that he’s able to avoid some of the pressure and costly mistakes that come from it. The rookie Browns QB was able to string together weeks of usefulness in 2018 and he stands to have a solid shot at paying off his draft position by putting it all together and rising to the upper echelon of fantasy NFL quarterbacks in 2019.
Mayfield has an embarrassment of riches at every position, and the offseason addition of Odell Beckham Jr. has only bolstered his already impressive arsenal. With Nick Chubb coming off a highly impressive rookie campaign, opposing defenses won’t have the luxury of prioritizing the Browns’ passing game, and there’s no way they’ll be able to contain this offense as a whole. Jarvis Landry is one of the most reliable possession receivers in the game, and the ultra-athletic David Njoku has hardly reached his ceiling as a pass catcher. Let’s not forget about Duke Johnson, either, who if he remains in Cleveland will provide Mayfield with an elite bailout option on third downs.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP of 118, #17 Overall)
Jameis Winston is unquestionably not without his flaws as a quarterback and sometimes as a human but in his fifth year with no suspensions hanging over him, a new coach in QB whisperer Bruce Arians, and much of his supporting key offensive supporting cast back in 2019, Jameis seems capable of a breakout year. Winston’s 3.7% INT rate is towards the bottom third of the league but without Ryan Fitzpatrick breathing down his neck and what should be less of a quick hook as a result, Winston should be able to get the chance to dig himself out of the negative scoring holes he sometimes puts himself into.
If Arians can limit some of the turnovers while harnessing Winston’s deep ball ability (2nd in the NFL 10.8 intended air yards per attempt in 2018), Jameis can have big fantasy upside. Less mistakes and more efficiency for Jameis – a surprisingly low % TD rate on throws given his penchant for the deep ball – as a result of his growth and the change in coaching could mean big games for Jameis even if his tendency to throw games away may remain just around the corner.
Winston has averaged more than an interception per game over his four-year career, but the same risk-taking mentality that gets him into trouble is exactly what makes him an intriguing breakout candidate. Winston is attempting north of 34 passes per game since entering the NFL, and that high passing volume shouldn’t dissipate in 2019. The Buccaneers’ run game should remain stagnant, and their ability to contain opposing passing attacks on defense won’t be much improved from last year. Winston will be relied upon to carry the offense with his arm, and volume will almost certainly trump efficiency (and interceptions) across a 16-game span. Having Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin at his disposal shouldn’t hurt Winston’s chances of finally having that breakout campaign, either.
NFL Fantasy Busts
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (ADP of 59.1, #6 Overall)
With a fat extension this offseason, there’s no questioning that Russell Wilson is in the elite class of NFL quarterbacks whom teams would kill to build around. But that real-life ability did not translate as much to fantasy last year in the transition to low-risk offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer who kneecapped Wilson to the tune of 26.7 attempts per game, right in line with 2018 rookie Josh Allen. Couple that with Wilson’s still high propensity for sacks with a bottom five 10.5% rate and the formula doesn’t quite seem there for Wilson to pay off his lofty draft position.
The loss of years-long safety blanket Doug Baldwin to retirement won’t help; even though WRs David Moore and Tyler Lockett showed some potential last year, neither profiles as a prototypical #1 WR even if you amortize the 5.3 targets per game Baldwin leaves behind between them. Seattle is a team who will likely live and die by the health and efficacy of RB Chris Carson and while Wilson should be efficient with the opportunity he has, his decreases in passing production and rushing opportunities with just 4.2 per game in 2018 don’t indicate an NFL quarterback who’s primed to lock in top value.
Wilson enjoyed his most efficient season as a pro last year, averaging a touchdown pass per every 12.2 attempts while completing 65.6 percent of attempts. His career-high 35 passing touchdowns was likely a mirage, though, as Wilson threw for only 3448 yards but completed the second most deep ball attempts (33) behind only Patrick Mahomes and accounted for 10 touchdowns with Tyler Lockett despite the receiver’s paltry 69 receptions. This isn’t to say Wilson can’t turn in another efficient season, but it’s difficult to envision him repeating a 128.1 passer rating on deep balls with very limited weapons.
Wilson ranked 19th in dropbacks (509) and third in touchdowns last season, a feat he’ll be hard-pressed to repeat. It also won’t help that Seattle recorded the second most rushing attempts behind only Baltimore in 2018. Unfortunately, Wilson averaged the fewest rushing attempts of his career (67) and the fewest rushing yards (376) outside of his 2016 season.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (ADP of 63.9, #7 Overall)
Perhaps it was a conscious shift towards the run or age or something in between but after starting 2018 hot, Drew Brees wilted down the finish line of the regular season with four of his last five regular season games under 205 passing yards and one or less passing TDs also in four out of five. With a versatile group of younger QBs who stand to air it out more with less of a run game to rely on as well as a higher propensity to tack rushing yards onto the equation, Brees feels more like a “floor” QB than a “ceiling” one.
His 74.4% completion rate was tops amongst NFL quarterbacks in 2018 and his 1% interception rate was comparably great so Brees is not without his merits. But in a league in which other NFL quarterbacks will swing for the fences with deep balls or add more production via the ground with a team who can easily be as good relying on the run game, Brees feels like an overdraft whose production could be matched by a litany of players beneath him.
Brees averaged 5,140 passing yards, 38.3 passing touchdown and 656 passing attempts per season between 2011-2016. Over his last two campaigns, however, Brees has seen those averages plummet to 4,163, 27.5 and 513, respectively, thanks to a newfound emphasis on the run game. Given his current ADP and rank at the quarterback position, Brees certainly appears overvalued heading into his 19th season. The range of outcomes at the position is also much smaller than other skill positions, making alternative options like Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jameis Winston and Carson Wentz more appealing at a far lesser cost. With a significantly improved run game and defense, the Saints no longer need to rely on Brees’ arm to rack up wins.
NFL Fantasy Sleepers
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (ADP of 130.2, #26 Overall)
As any viewers of our show On the Contrary can attest, I had a healthy amount of love for Josh Allen down the stretch which seemed highly illogical at first. Prior to Week 12, Allen had just one game over 15 FP before getting injured in Week 6 and showed very little signs of life. But down the stretch Allen was resurgent, averaging 26.5 FP in his last six games with a potent fantasy combination of deep balls and aggressive rush attempts whenever the beefy Allen found daylight in front of him. Allen’s final 2018 numbers won’t wow anyone with a league worst 52.8% completion rate and bottom five 3.8% INT rate but I would liken his fantasy ability to a baseball hitter who gives you strikeouts or home runs with little in between.
Allen has improved weapons around him with the additions of deep ball threat John Brown, cagey slot receiver Cole Beasley, and former Bengals TE Tyler Kroft as well as the additions of the ageless Frank Gore and compelling pass catcher TJ Yeldon behind LeSean McCoy in the backfield. It’s entirely possible these guys cut into the rushing potential Allen showed with 7.4 attempts per game for 7.1 yards per rush. It’s also possible they open things up even more for Allen to seize the opportunity his big arm with a league high 11.6 intended air yards per attempt offers up. Allen is far from a finished product but if he puts it all together like he did in the back half of 2018, he could greatly out earn his low draft position. With no one on him at all despite a hell of a floor and ceiling.
Allen is going late enough in drafts to take a flier on this season. He led the Bills in rushing yards (631 RuYd/7.1 Yd/Att) during his rookie campaign despite starting only 11 games, and averaged a strong 24.2 fantasy points per game over his final six starts. Accuracy was a problem, though, as Allen ranked dead last in completion percentage (.528) and finished with a dismal 10:12 TD/INT ratio to boot. The addition of John Brown should help to improve his ugly deep ball percentage (35.6%), but Allen will need to show marked improvement as a passer before we can set our expectations high. It’s hard to believe opposing defenses will continue to allow Allen to run wild when he has yet to prove himself a capable NFL passer.
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals (ADP of 94.1, #10 Overall)
I’m not sure you can really call Kyler Murray a sleeper given that he’s the #1 overall pick and going among the top 10 NFL quarterbacks in drafts thus far but his deep ball accuracy at Oklahoma combined with new Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury’s likely high octane offense make him an intriguing fantasy prospect from the second he steps on the field. Kingsbury will immediately seek to right the wrongs of the previous Cardinals regime with more pass game involvement for electric RB David Johnson which should immediately offer Murray a compelling floor for fantasy production.
But Kingsbury is known for his downfield passing attack and Murray with his top in FBS 13 adjusted yards per attempt, top two passing efficiency rating at 199.2, and a very nice top six 69% completion percentage makes him look ready to step in and immediately produce as long as his size and the speed of the game don’t get the better of him. Murray’s dual threat ability will be negated a bit due to him likely not able to withstand as many hits in line with the 140 carries he had in his last season at Oklahoma for an average of 7.2 yards per carry which resulted in 12 rushing touchdowns.
Larry Fitzgerald returns, Christian Kirk showed real upside as both an intermediate and deep target despite Arizona’s awful QB group in 2018, and new signing Charles Clay should provide some versatility and a viable safety blanket with Ricky Seals-Jones’s lack of reliability at the position. This is one of the better situations for a rookie QB to step into in recent years from a fantasy perspective and even as a top 10 draft NFL quarterback, Murray still feels slept on.
Sometimes an offense-friendly head coach is all a quarterback needs to offer fantasy value. That shouldn’t be a problem for Murray, who enters Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid offense as both quarterback and coach begin their rookie seasons with the Cardinals. Murray has an elite pass-catching running back in David Johnson, a blossoming young receiver in Christian Kirk and a grizzled veteran named Larry Fitzgerald. Hakeem Butler and Andy Isabella could also provide some much needed depth in their rookie seasons. Most importantly, Murray racked up more than 1,000 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns with the Sooners last season, and is more than capable of providing huge value with his legs. Rookie quarterbacks who can contribute on the ground offer a nice floor and ceiling, while being able to offset their growing pains much easier than pocket passers in their first year.