The NFL season is fast approaching. Now only one day away from the preseason opener between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, the regular-season opener is only a little more than a month away.
Leading up to the start of the season, these rankings will be updated regularly.
More 2021 fantasy football rankings:
- Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings
- Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings
- Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings
Here are my early fantasy quarterback rankings for 2021 season:
Mahomes is my top-ranked fantasy quarterback given the combination of elite skill set, supporting cast and coaching. The only real decision for fantasy managers is whether or not to invest the early draft capital necessary to secure Mahomes (or another high-end quarterback) as their starter. Leading the NFL with 316.0 passing yards per game, Mahomes was only a 260/2 game away from a second 5,000/40 season before the Chiefs rested him in Week 17.
One of the league's best young dual-threat quarterbacks, Allen has exactly 300 rush attempts in his three NFL seasons and has racked up 1,562 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground. Remarkably, he has rushed for at least eight touchdowns in all three of his NFL seasons. Since his rookie season (2008), Allen has 22.32% of the team's rush attempts, 27.11% of the rushing yards and 56.82% of the rushing touchdowns.
Continuing to make major strides as a passer, Allen shattered previous career bests across the board in 2020. In his third season, Allen threw for 4,544 yards (284.0/G, 7.9/A) and 37 touchdowns (6.5 TD%) with only 10 interceptions (1.7%). Despite last year's unusual offseason, the trade for Stefon Diggs paid immediate dividends as the duo's instant rapport allowed Diggs to post career highs across the board as well.
It's not a surprise that Jackson's year-over-year numbers dipped following his elite 2019 MVP season. Jackson threw 10 fewer touchdowns in 2020 and threw for 208 yards or less in 12 of 15 games. Even so, his real fantasy success comes from his rushing ability and he has now rushed for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons.
Over the final five weeks of the season, Jackson averaged only 161.8 passing yards per game, but he threw 11 touchdowns and rushed for 430 yards and four more scores. During that span, he averaged a massive 27.67 fantasy points per game.
While Murray played all 16 games, shoulder and leg injuries slowed him a bit down the stretch. Even so, he finished his sophomore campaign as fantasy's QB2 (and was QB1 after Week 16). When healthy, Murray scored more than 20 fantasy points and finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback in 10 consecutive games to start the season. Heading into 2021, Murray will be a top-three option once again even if he hopes to run a little bit less.
Playing on the franchise tag in 2020, Prescott was dominant before his season was cut short by a compound ankle fracture. From Weeks 2 to 4, Prescott threw for a minimum (yes, minimum) of 450 yards in three consecutive games with a total of 11 touchdowns (eight passing and three rushing). As noted in our Dak Prescott 2021 Fantasy Football Profile, Prescott (three) had more 450-yard passing games than the rest of the league combined (two) in 2020. During that three-game stretch before getting injured, Prescott performed as the weekly QB1, QB4 and QB1, respectively. With a talented trio of wide receivers, Prescott has tremendous upside if he can stay healthy.
It was a tale of two seasons for Wilson. In his first eight games, Wilson averaged 29.52 fantasy points per game and scored no fewer than 21.9. In his final eight games, he averaged only 17.08 and scored more than 21.9 only once during that span.
Despite Pete Carroll's prioritization to establish the run, Wilson has never finished worse than the QB11 (2016) and has finished as a top-six fantasy quarterback in five of the past seven seasons.
The reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Herbert had at least 300 passing yards and/or multiple touchdowns in 13 of his 15 starts as a rookie. Even with a new coaching staff in place for the upcoming season, the second-year quarterback should benefit from a more normal offseason as he enters the season already entrenched as the starter. Not to mention, the offense should be more QB-friendly in 2021. It wouldn't surprise me if he makes a sophomore leap that catapults him into the top five or so QBs.
In his first season in Tampa, Brady scored the eighth-most fantasy points and only three quarterbacks had more top-five weekly finishes than the future Hall-of-Famer. Brady's 40 touchdowns thrown were the second-most of his career and his 4,633 passing yards were a five-year high. Brady will have all of the team's starters and top pass-catchers back as he enters his age-44 season.
While "his future [was] in Jeopardy," the offseason drama between Rodgers and the Packers front office is now fortunately behind us. The reigning and three-time MVP, Rodgers led the NFL in completion percentage (70.7%), passing touchdowns (48, 9.1%) and passer rating (121.5) last season. All of those were either career highs or the second-best of his Hall-of-Famer career.
Sustaining his season-ending knee injury in Week 11, the only quarterback to throw more pass attempts than Burrow (404, 36.7/G) through that point in the season was Tom Brady (433, 36.1/G). Burrow should rank near the top of the NFL in pass attempts in 2021. That volume makes last year's No. 1 overall pick a worthy back-end QB1 in drafts this summer.
With three (most likely) first-round picks next year, the Eagles have positioned themselves to potentially draft a quarterback early in the 2022 NFL Draft. In addition, ESPN's Adam Schefter recently said to "watch Philadelphia" when it comes to a potential Deshaun Watson trade.
That said, Hurts should easily hold off Joe Flacco in 2021, which puts him squarely in the top-10 mix in fantasy football (barring a Watson trade). After the Eagles benched Carson Wentz, Hurts scored more than 17 fantasy points in all four of his starts and averaged 23.74 per game over that stretch. While he threw for 300-plus yards in two of his four starts, his rushing stats (46/272/3) over that span put him on a Lamar Jackson-esque full-season pace of 184/1,088/12 rushing.
Battling a laundry list of injuries, Stafford still managed to play a full 16-game slate. Without his No. 1 target (Kenny Golladay) for most of the season, Stafford's per-game numbers dropped considerably year over year from 312.4 yards and 2.4 touchdowns per game in 2019 to 255.3/1.6 in 2020. Traded to L.A. to play for a more creative offensive mind, Stafford is poised to bounce back assuming good health in 2021.
Since taking over as the starter in 2019, Tannehill has averaged only 28.9 pass attempts per game in Tennessee's run-heavy attack, but he's been extremely efficient. Tannehill has averaged more than 22 fantasy points per game and has averaged 8.54 Y/A with a 7.3 TD% over his past 26 games. From Week 7 to 17 (his run as the starter) in 2019, Tannehill was fantasy's QB3. In 2020, he was the QB7. With Tennessee trading for Julio Jones, Tannehill has a chance to once again outperform his preseason ADP.
14. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
The top overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Lawrence has the arm talent to make any throw and is a plus athlete with the ability to extend plays or be used on designed runs. With a top-10 fantasy strength of schedule and the likelihood to trail in most of their games, Lawrence is a high-end QB2 with upside heading into his rookie campaign.
Throwing 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions (both career highs) in 2020, Cousins was especially good down the stretch. Cousins scored a minimum of 20 fantasy points in seven of his final nine games last season. Even though Stefon Diggs led the NFL in receiving, rookie Justin Jefferson (88/1,400/7) more than compensated for the 2019 version of Diggs (63/1,130/6). Given the team's run-first nature, however, Cousins remains a streaming option for those in single-QB 12-team leagues.
There are a number of offseason changes that will impact Ryan's 2021 fantasy outlook -- new coaching staff, drafting Kyle Pitts, trading away Julio Jones, etc. While Arthur Smith may prefer to operate a run-first offense, personnel and game script may dictate a less run-heavy offense than some may expect. Even with a 17th regular-season game added to the schedule, Ryan's streak of three consecutive seasons with at least 608 pass attempts will likely come to an end in 2021.
While I project WFT to draft a QB in the first round of my 2022 NFL Mock Draft, the fact that they didn't add any competition in this year's draft for Fitzpatrick makes him one of my favorite late-round streamers at the position. Meanwhile, Washington upgraded their receiving corps by signing Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries and drafting Dyami Brown in the third round.
With Pittsburgh re-signing JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year deal, Roethlisberger has one of the league's best wide receiver trios at his disposal. Only the one-win Jaguars (66.2%) threw it on a larger percentage of plays than the 12-win Steelers (65.48%) in 2020, per Team Rankings.
At this stage of his career, however, he no longer pushes the ball down the field -- his 9.5 Y/C and 6.3 Y/A were the lowest of his career (excluding a two-game 2019 season). The Athletic's Ed Bouchette highlights why those peripherals may be better in 2021, but given that the Steelers used their first-round pick to draft Najee Harris, Alabama's all-time leading rusher, fantasy managers should expect a greater shift towards the run in 2021.
Making major improvements over his 2019 campaign, Mayfield set a career high in passer rating (95.9) and a career low in INT% (1.6%). Outside of a four-game stretch near the end of the season (Weeks 12-15), however, Mayfield's efficiency didn't translate into a usable level of fantasy production.
Mayfield performed as a QB1 (top 12) in all four of those weeks (Weeks 12-15), but he had only one other top-12 weekly finish throughout the rest of the season (Week 7). Over the full season, he finished as fantasy's QB17. Leading a run-first playoff-caliber team likely means another season of modest passing volume that translates into mid-tier QB2-level fantasy production.
The offseason was kind to Jones. With the Giants signing Kenny Golladay to a four-year contract as the team's WR1 and drafting Kadarius Toney in the first round, the rest of the team's solid group of pass-catchers -- Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram, etc. -- will have easier opportunities. The upgrades to the receiving corps combined with his sneaky rushing upside gives Jones the potential to outperform his draft-day cost.
Carr has averaged 253.1, 253.4 and 256.4 passing yards per game over the past three seasons, respectively. Finishing as fantasy's QB13 in 2020, Carr posted a career-high 7.94 Y/A and his 5.2 TD% was the second best of his career. Lacking the upside of many other QB2 types, Carr is likely to outperform his current ADP and ranking -- he's never finished outside the top 20 fantasy QBs in seven seasons. That makes him an under-appreciated option, especially for those in 2-QB or Super Flex formats.
It was somewhat of an unusual rookie season for Tagovailoa. It wasn't necessarily a surprise that they switched to their top-five pick after the bye with Ryan Fitzpatrick playing well, but it's less common to pull a rookie starter multiple times. With Fitzpatrick now in Washington, Tua won't have to look over his shoulder and the team reunited the second-year quarterback with Jaylen Waddle and signed Will Fuller V to a one-year deal.
While he has missed three-plus games in each of his first three seasons, Darnold gets a fresh start in Carolina. With Teddy Bridgewater in Denver and no high rookie draft pick waiting his turn, Darnold is Carolina's unquestioned starter for the 2021 season. Reunited with Robby Anderson, Darnold has the most-talented group of pass-catchers of his career as he enters his age-24 season. Given that Teddy Bridgewater finished last season as fantasy's QB18, Darnold will likely outperform his ADP if he can stay healthy.
24. Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Selected second overall in the 2021 draft, Wilson may be off the redraft radar outside of two-QB leagues, but his arm talent, mobility and improvisational skills could lead to some streaming potential as a rookie. In addition, Wilson may often find himself in a game script-positive situation for his fantasy outlook.
25. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
If Lance isn't named the Week 1 starter, fantasy managers will look to the team's bye (Week 6) as the next logical point to potentially hand the reigns over to the rookie signal-caller. Not only is Lance making a big jump from the FCS level to the NFL, but North Dakota State played only one game in 2020. Once Lance takes over, however, the dual-threat talent has the potential to make a similar fantasy impact as Josh Allen and RG3 did as rookie quarterbacks.
26. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
The Bears social media account got mocked for their "QB1" tweet in March. Of course, that was before they traded up to draft Fields in the first round and I'd expect the former Buckeye to be installed as the starter sooner than later. Even so, coach Matt Nagy still insists that it'll be Dalton, not Fields, as the opening week starter.
While Chicago's passing attack will never be confused for Kansas City's, we've seen how productive dual-threat rookie quarterbacks can be in fantasy football. Once he takes over the starting gig, the former Buckeye will be in the weekly streaming mix, at worst.
Newton struggled as a passer and many reasons -- return from injury, new team with unusual offseason, lack of pass-catching talent, etc. -- attributed to his woeful passing numbers. Even though 33 quarterbacks threw more touchdowns than Newton (eight) and he threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns, he also scored the 16th-most fantasy points as he rushed for 12 touchdowns.
Likely to run for fewer scores and throw for more, Newton has improved weapons in the passing game. If he struggles, however, it's possible that the Patriots make a (permanent) midseason switch to first-round pick Mac Jones. In fact, it appears that the team is set for a "true quarterback competition in training camp."
Taysom Hill drew four starts when Drew Brees was sidelined last season. Earlier in the offseason, most expected Winston to be named the starter with Brees decided to hang up his cleats this offseason. Now that training camp is underway, however, the team in the midst of a legitimate quarterback competition.
Perhaps both quarterbacks will make starts during the season, but I believe Winston will begin the season as the starter in part so that New Orleans can maximize Hill's versatility. Two seasons ago in Tampa, Winston led the NFL in both passing yards (5,109) and interceptions thrown (30), but his ball security will be pivotal in his ability to keep the starting gig (should be named the starter).
Traded to Detroit, Goff joins a less potent offense that will be more run-based in philosophy. Given that only the Houston Texans have a lower Vegas team wins total, it's certainly possible that game script will dictate more pass attempts than the new coaching staff would prefer. Over the past two seasons, Goff has failed to exceed a 3.6 TD%. In other words, he threw only 22 touchdowns in 2019 when he led the league in pass attempts (626).
30. Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints
Whenever/if he gets the opportunity to start, Hill will flirt with top-12 production. During his four starts last seasone, he performed as a top-12 fantasy quarterback every week.
31. Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
Given a timetable of 5-12 weeks following his foot surgery, Wentz is questionable for Week 1, at best, even if his recovery progresses at the most optimistic end of that range. On the other hand, he could miss up to two months of the season if it doesn't. Being reunited with Frank Reich, there was some optimism for a Wentz rebound, even though he was ranked as a mid-tier QB2 before the injury. Until we get more clarity, he isn't anything more than bench depth for those in 2-QB leagues.
32. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Watson's unresolved legal issues as well as his earlier trade request (under contract through 2025) this offseason adds a layer (or multiple layers) of uncertainty for Watson heading into the 2021 season.
At +30,000 (via Bovada.lv), no team is a bigger long shot to win Super Bowl 56. A huge part of that is the uncertain status surrounding Deshaun Watson and the likelihood that Tyrod Taylor is the most likely quarterback to be under center in Week 1.
Assuming the season goes off the tracks sooner than later, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the team give third-round rookie Davis Mills some starts. For as long as Taylor starts, however, he will be have plenty of streaming appeal given his rushing upside and plenty of favorable game scripts (from a fantasy perspective).
The Aaron Rodgers (to Denver) speculation was at a fever pitch earlier this offseason and perhaps the Broncos will make a move to trade for Deshaun Watson. For now, however, it's a battle between Lock and newcomer Teddy Bridgewater and there appears to be "no separation" between the duo so far. If Lock opens the season as the starter, it's no (ahem) lock that he keeps the job. Not only did Lock complete just 57.3% of his pass attempts, but he tied Carson Wentz for a league-high 15 interceptions thrown in 2020.
Jimmy G. may begin the season as the starter, but it's only a matter of time before his starting gig is up. Even when Garoppolo played a full 16-game season in 2019 and finished as fantasy's QB14, he only ranked 22nd in fantasy points scored per game.
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