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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Fantasy football 2021 quarterback rankings: Top 50

Fantasy football 2021 quarterback rankings: Top 50

Publish Date: 06/21/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

The NFL season draws even closer as mandatory minicamps wrap up. That means more fantasy football leagues are setting dates for their drafts. While the game’s best running backs sometimes jump quarterbacks in the draft order, signal callers come off the board early and often. Here’s a list of the top fantasy quarterbacks ahead of the 2021 NFL season.

We’ve published rankings for the other offensive skill positions in standard leagues. If your league uses points per reception (PPR) scoring, don’t worry. Top 50 rankings for PPR leagues are already in the works.

Wide Receiver l Running Back l Tight End

Check back regularly for more fantasy football content, or follow me on Twitter @Sam_Teets33.

All fantasy numbers are courtesy of FantasyData. All scoring ranks discussed only pertain to quarterback unless otherwise mentioned.

*Rookie Quarterback

Tier 1: Elite Fantasy Options

1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

2. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

3. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

4. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

5. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Mahomes finished second among qualified quarterbacks in points per game with 25. Only Prescott had a higher average (26.9), but Dallas’ quarterback only appeared in five games. Mahomes finished fourth in fantasy points at his position last season because he sat out Week 17. The former MVP finished first in points during his breakout season and eighth in 2019.

Allen led all quarterbacks with 395 points. The Wyoming product averages eight rushing touchdowns and over 500 rushing yards per year. Some fans might reasonably want to avoid Allen until he proves capable of producing back-to-back elite seasons. However, the dynamic quarterback still finished sixth in 2019 with 288 points.

Jackson racked up 415 fantasy points during his MVP season. Despite significant volume statistical regression, the dual-threat quarterback finished tenth with nearly 333 points in 2020. Jackson missed a game with COVID-19 and took a week to get back to his usual self. A clean bill of health and Rashod Bateman’s arrival should raise Jackson’s value for 2021.

Kliff Kingsbury’s offense didn’t take off the way some people envisioned, but Murray still finished third in fantasy points. The former Heisman Trophy winner ranked eighth as a rookie, meaning he’ll almost surely put together another top-ten performance in 2021.

While Murray doesn’t run as often as Jackson, he threw nearly 200 more pass attempts last season. The third-year quarterback also scored on a higher percentage of his rushing attempts than Jackson over the past two years.

Any competitive fantasy owners should monitor Prescott’s recovery routinely. The 27-year-old suffered a brutal leg injury last season, but he has immense potential in Mike McCarthy’s offense. Before getting injured, Prescott averaged about 27 points per game and was on pace to throw for 5,939 yards in a 16-game season.

Prescott could still post an elite season in 2021 even if he isn’t a fantasy bulldozer again. The former Pro Bowler finished among the top six quarterbacks in points on two previous occasions.

Tier 2: Disgruntled Superstar QBs

6. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

7. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

8. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

Wilson is a first half of the season quarterback. He’s authored multiple incomplete MVP campaigns in the past four years. Perhaps Seattle replacing offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer with Shane Waldron will cure Wilson of his inconsistency.

As he is, Wilson holds a place among the NFL’s elite fantasy options. Since the start of 2017, he’s averaged 3,933 passing yards, 35 passing touchdowns, and nine interceptions per season. Playing with Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf also assures fantasy owners that Wilson won’t fall off a cliff.

Wilson only has one finish outside the top ten fantasy quarterbacks since entering the NFL in 2012. In the past four years, he’s averaged a fifth-place finish.

Don’t go drafting Rodgers quite yet. The reigning MVP is playing an expensive game of chicken with Green Bay’s front office. There’s a good chance Rodgers holds out if the Packers don’t give in to his demands for a new contract binding him to Green Bay indefinitely.

Rodgers finished second in points last year with 382. His chemistry with Davante Adams is legendary, and Aaron Jones creates easy yardage for his quarterback out of the backfield. Rodgers has 11 top-ten and eight top-two finishes since becoming a starter in 2008.

Watson isn’t in much of a draftable situation either. The three-time Pro Bowler is determined to force his way out of Houston and faces 22 civil lawsuits from women alleging sexual misconduct. Even if Watson gives in and reports to camp, there’s no guarantee that Roger Goodell won’t put him on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.

The Texans plan on moving forward with the quarterbacks in their building and still have no plans to trade Watson. The star Clemson product has three consecutive top-five fantasy finishes, but there are too many obstacles that could sink his 2021 season.

While I included Rodgers and Watson in the top ten because of their past successes, I’d advise against taking either as a QB1 until their situations clear up.

Tier 3: Legitimate QB1 Fantasy Options

9. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

10. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

11. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers

12. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

13. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

14. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams

We’ve heard enough people sing Brady’s praises this offseason, so I’ll keep this short. He’s throwing to one of the deepest collections of pass-catchers in the NFL. Despite entering his age 43 season, Brady threw 40 touchdowns and finished eighth in fantasy points last year. That’s likely his ceiling in a healthy season while his floor is 14th.

Herbert and Hurts are second-year quarterbacks with extremely different styles. Herbert is a traditional passer with enough mobility to occasionally make defenses pay. Hurts is one of the best developmental stories in recent college football history, but his legs are still more dangerous than his inconsistent arm.

Herbert made 15 starts during his rookie season and finished ninth in fantasy points. He should perform even better with a full offseason and a year of experience under his belt, but we’ve seen sophomore slumps from Offensive Rookie of the Year award winners before. Throwing 31 touchdowns is a high bar that I think Herbert falls slightly short of in 2021.

Hurts only made four starts for Philadelphia last year, but he didn’t see much action in the second half of Philadelphia’s season finale. The Oklahoma product averaged 68 rushing yards per start, which translates to 1,156 yards over a 17-game season.

The Eagles don’t have any other quarterbacks worth developing or playing on their roster, which means Hurts should start every game in 2021. He’s a messy passer that’ll turn the ball over often, but his rushing performances could make everything worthwhile.

Tannehill is one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, the Titans attempted the third-fewest passes of any team last year. In 2019, they finished 31st in pass attempts. Tannehill won’t take full advantage of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones unless Tennessee changes its offensive philosophy.

Ryan and Stafford are aging quarterbacks on teams featuring plethoras of offensive firepower. Even without Jones, Ryan has Russell Gage, Kyle Pitts, and Calvin Ridley in his arsenal. Stafford is going from a depleted offense in Detroit to Sean McVay’s system featuring Tyler Higbee, DeSean Jackson, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and several inexperienced options.

Assuming the Falcons don’t pull the plug midseason, Ryan should post his sixth consecutive top-15 fantasy season. The Boston College product hasn’t finished in the top ten since 2018, but he has eight top-12 campaigns in the past 11 years.

Stafford hasn’t put together a top-ten fantasy season since 2017, and he finished 15th among quarterbacks last year. He has five top-ten campaigns under his belt, most of which coincided with Calvin Johnson’s prime.  Stafford never was an elite fantasy quarterback, but he should experience some growth in McVay’s offense.

Tier 4: Steady QB2 Candidates

15. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

16. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

17. Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders

18. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

19. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars*

Burrow averaged about 17 fantasy points per game before tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee. Despite missing six games, the Heisman Trophy winner finished 25th in points among quarterbacks. The Bengals went out of their way to help Burrow this offseason, signing Riley Reiff and drafting Ja’Marr Chase and Jackson Carman.

Anything short of a top-15 finish would be disappointing if Burrow is nearly as good as his college career suggests.

Carr and Cousins are the butts of many jokes among football fans, but they’re above-average quarterbacks. The former Pro Bowlers finished 13th and 11th in points last year, respectively. Carr never developed into an MVP, but he’s quietly strung together seven top-20 finishes to start his career. The Fresno St. product succeeds despite a lack of elite receivers.

Cousins hasn’t posted a top-ten finish since arriving in Minnesota, but he hasn’t ranked outside of the top 15 since becoming a full-time starter in 2015. The former fourth-round pick is also highly durable. He’s only missed one game in the past six years.

Mayfield falls into the same category as Carr and Cousins. The former first overall pick put together his third straight top-20 fantasy season in 2020 but hasn’t cracked the top 15 yet. Playing with Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb, Austin Hooper, Kareem Hunt, Jarvis Landry, and a dominant offensive line should boost Mayfield’s stock, but he’s still inconsistent.

Burrow was on pace for 278 points before getting injured, which would’ve ranked 13th among all quarterbacks. In comparison, Andrew Luck authored a top-ten finish as a rookie. Lawrence’s peak likely falls between those two spots. He takes more deep shots than Burrow, which results in more big plays and more turnovers.

Lawrence is headed for a turnover-heavy season on a young Jaguars team, but he should generate plenty of highlight-reel plays too. Nineteenth is a conservative estimate for Lawrence, but it’s worth avoiding rookies in non-dynasty leagues.

Tier 5: The Wild West

20. Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts

21. Tyrod Taylor, Houston Texans

22. Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints

23. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team

24. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

25. Daniel Jones, New York Giants

26. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions

27. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

28. Zach Wilson, New York Jets*

29. Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers

Are you feeling lucky? If not, steer clear of Tier 5. There are some legitimate quarterbacks in this ten-man group, but there are strong arguments against drafting all of them. If we’re talking about dynasty leagues, Darnold, Tagovailoa, and Wilson all have significant value. That isn’t the case for your average fantasy league.

Fitzpatrick, Wentz, and Winston have the highest ceilings among the Tier 5 quarterbacks. Fitzpatrick walks into a great situation in Washington, where he gets to play with Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin. However, the 38-year-old Harvard product hasn’t finished higher than 17th in points since 2015. He’s only started 12 games once in the past five years.

Wentz finished 22nd in points last year, despite throwing 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 12 games. He should see at least mild improvement playing for former Philadelphia offensive coordinator Frank Reich. The Colts don’t have any elite pass-catchers, but I’d expect them to run the ball often and feature a “safe” offense for Wentz.

Winston is as volatile of a football player as they come. In Bruce Arians’ offense in 2019, the Florida St. product threw for 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions. Despite the massive wave of turnovers, Winston finished fifth in fantasy points. He ranked among the 22 highest scoring fantasy quarterbacks in each of his five seasons with Tampa Bay.

We don’t know if Sean Payton will start Winston throughout the season, but I can’t think of a worse decision than trotting Taysom Hill out in Week 1.

Taylor finishing this high up the list probably surprises some people considering where Watson ranked. While Watson played at a superstar level in 2020, there’s no guarantee he decides to play, or the NFL allows him to play in 2021. Taylor immediately steps into the starting role if Watson is unavailable. No, Davis Mills isn’t a threat.

Taylor hasn’t started more than three games in a season since 2017. However, the 31-year-old finished 16th, eighth, and 16th in fantasy points during his three years as Buffalo’s starter. He should put together a decent season, even if the Texans don’t have many reliable weapons.

The Steelers built an offense around Roethlisberger last year that favored easy, short throws. By the end of the season, Roethlisberger could barely throw the ball 25 yards downfield with any semblance of accuracy. He threw 33 touchdowns and ten interceptions in 2020 and finished 14th in scoring. However, that style of play isn’t sustainable.

Pittsburgh changed offensive coordinators this offseason in the hopes of jumpstarting the offense. Roethlisberger has plenty of reliable weapons, including rookie running back Najee Harris, but his arm is trending in the wrong direction.

Goff and Jones are at unique crossroads in their careers. Jones is entering his “prove it” season with New York. The Rams shipped Goff to Detroit this offseason, where he needs to prove he can survive outside of McVay’s system. Failure by either quarterback could send their careers into downward spirals.

Goff finished 19th in points this past season, marking his lowest finish since his rookie season. The former first overall pick likely won’t crack the 20 top scorers this year, considering Detroit’s lack of weapons. Meanwhile, the Giants got Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney for Jones this offseason. The third-year quarterback has all the skill players he could ask for.

Two seasons separate Darnold and Tagovailoa, but the young quarterbacks are in similar shoes. After only one season, Tagovailoa is one of the most scrutinized quarterbacks in the NFL. He finished either 30th or 31st in fantasy points as a rookie depending on what website you check and failed to win the starting job from Fitzpatrick.

Meanwhile, Darnold flunked out of New York after three seasons. He gets a fresh start with offensive coordinator Joe Brady in Carolina. Darnold barely snuck into the top-30 fantasy quarterbacks in his first two seasons but fell a few spots in 2020. Luckily for the former USC product, he’s surrounded by elite skill players in Carolina.

This could finally be Darnold’s breakout year.

Wilson is a dynamic rookie quarterback that delivered some special deep throws during his final year at BYU. However, he also played behind one of college football’s better offensive lines and rarely faced elite NFL competition. The Jets did more for Wilson this offseason than they ever did for Darnold, but that doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing for the rookie.

Tier 6: Battling for Starting Time

30. Cam Newton, New England Patriots

31. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears*

32. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

33. Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos

34. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers*

35. Mac Jones, New England Patriots*

36. Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints

37. Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears

38. Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers

39. Drew Lock, Denver Broncos

All of the veteran quarterbacks in Tier 6 could lose their starting jobs within weeks of the season beginning. Meanwhile, the three rookie quarterbacks in this cluster aren’t guaranteed playing time. Yes, it makes sense for Fields, Jones, and Lance to start most of the year for their teams, but logic doesn’t always apply to these situations.

Newton gained many of his nearly 260 fantasy points by running. The former MVP picked up 592 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in New England’s run-heavy offense. However, he only threw for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns, and ten interceptions. Jones fits New England’s “Brady offense” better than Newton.

Matt Nagy might’ve promised Dalton the starting job, but Chicago’s head coach and general manager Ryan Pace desperately need Fields to succeed. Both architects of the current franchise could lose their jobs if the Ohio St. rookie doesn’t flash potential. On the other hand, a veteran quarterback likely gives Chicago a better chance of making the playoffs.

Dalton should open the season as Chicago’s starter, but Fields is hot on his tail. That’s the same situation unfolding in New England. It’s reversed in Denver, where the veteran quarterback is trying to steal a starting spot from a young gunslinger. The volatility of all three situations makes those six quarterbacks poor fantasy options.

San Francisco’s quarterback situation is less worrisome than the three already mentioned. Garoppolo was a top-20 fantasy quarterback in 2019 and led San Francisco to the Super Bowl. His lengthy injury history is concerning, but Garoppolo is a legitimate QB2 when available.

Lance has all the tools to mimic Josh Allen’s fantasy production, but he’s inexperienced and unpolished. The North Dakota St. product is an excellent dynasty league addition, but I’m not betting on him for points until he wins the starting job.

Bridgewater ranked among the 20 highest-scoring quarterbacks last season. He’s finished inside the top 25 three times. Meanwhile, Lock’s arm strength hasn’t translated to production in the NFL.

Hill is an enigma in the football landscape. He scored about 149 fantasy points last season, which barely cracked the top 30 spots among quarterbacks. In 2020, Hill attempted at least 16 throws for New Orleans in four games. He could see more attempts as he battles Winston for starting time, or Hill could return to his role as a gadget player.

The 30-year-old is worth about 80 points per year regardless of his time spent at quarterback. Hill produced 555 yards from scrimmage and nine rushing/receiving touchdowns last season.

I originally had Love listed in Tier 7, but the lack of progression in negotiations with Rodgers means the 22-year-old’s value is rising quickly. Love didn’t play a snap for the Packers last season, and he wasn’t a highly rated prospect when Green Bay drafted him. The Utah St. product holds fantasy value, but it’s hard to buy him as a 17-game starter.

Tier 7: Week-to-Week Waiver Wire Targets

40. Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team

41. Jacoby Brissett, Miami Dolphins

42. Joe Flacco, Philadelphia Eagles

43. Gardner Minshew, Jacksonville Jaguars

44. Davis Mills, Houston Texans*

45. Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers

46. Mike Glennon, New York Giants

47. Kyle Allen, Washington Football Team

48. Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders

49. Colt McCoy, Arizona Cardinals

50. Kellen Mond, Minnesota Vikings*

Heinicke recently signed a two-year contract with Washington. He and Allen both have some starting experience, but Heinicke makes more money this coming year. Washington loved what it saw from Heinicke against Tampa Bay in the playoffs. The former undrafted free agent might see the field when Fitzpatrick inevitably hits a cold stretch.

Brissett and Flacco are veteran backups joining teams with struggling second-year quarterbacks. All it takes is one injury or multi-interception game by Hurts or Tagovailoa for Brissett and Flacco to become relevant in fantasy leagues.

Minshew is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. So don’t be surprised if a struggling franchise trades for him midseason. Minshew doesn’t have much fantasy value behind Lawrence, but he’s too good not to mention.

Mills and Rudolph are accomplished college quarterbacks that have “career backup” written all over them. However, they could see snaps if Houston’s or Pittsburgh’s aging starter gets hurt or posts multiple down games.

Glennon and McCoy pop up every few years, toss several interceptions, and go back into hibernation. They’re backups to young quarterbacks that haven’t fully reached their potential.

Along with Brissett and Heinicke, Mariota has the most fantasy potential in Tier 7. He nearly scored 26 points in his one appearance last season. However, the former second overall pick sits behind a quarterback that has only missed two starts in the past seven years.

Mond is an intriguing long shot, especially in dynasty leagues. He hit some big throws at Texas A&M but remained inconsistent throughout his college career. While Cousins is a reliable fantasy quarterback, football fans aren’t sold on his value as a winning option. Poor play might open a small window for Mond.

Unranked Rookie Watch List

Ian Book, New Orleans Saints

Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sam Ehlinger, Indianapolis Colts

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