Updated: Jul 26
Football is back, baby. Training camp started for a few teams this week, and we're about to get clarity on a lot of things (and maybe overhyped on some others). Fantasy drafts are right around the corner, and while I released my 2021 rankings on Twitter in various forms, I wanted to walk through my projections and reasoning to further expound my process and help you win some fantasy leagues. I'll be distributing my rankings in points per game, as I feel that's a better gauge of the quality of player you'll be getting if you draft said player. Let's dive in.
32. Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
I'm as much a believer in Sam Darnold as the next person. I think Adam Gase certainly impacted his play. I also think that there's a chance Darnold isn't the best fit within the Joe Brady/Matt Rhule offense. I think the reintroduction of Christian McCaffrey will be refreshing, though, and I believe that a lot of QB2 finishes are in store for Sam Darnold.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 62.0% completion, 3865 yards, 11.3 yards per completion, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 314 rushing yards, and 4 rushing touchdowns.
31. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo has caught a lot of unwarranted shots recently. He's a good quarterback that simply can't stay on the field (and lacks some deep accuracy required to really open up the 49ers offense). I have him starting the first 9 weeks of the season before handing the reigns to Trey Lance. And I have him being fairly efficient. Unfortunately, without a rushing floor, even a good real-life quarterback can see their upside capped in fantasy.
2021 Projection: 9 games, 67.9% completion, 2308 yards, 11.1 yards per attempt, 15 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 33 rushing yards, and 0 rushing touchdowns.
30. Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
Another quarterback that has caught some shots recently has been Jared Goff. I am of the opinion that Goff is an above-replacement-level starter, and the Lions brass is too. Goff will get every opportunity to show he can be their franchise guy, and I think the Lions are going to outperform consensus expectations. But Goff isn't really a great starter for your fantasy team.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 65.0% completion, 4515 yards, 10.5 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 89 rushing yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns.
29. Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
Carson Wentz had a change of scenery. He gets his old coach back; the one that helped get him to a near-MVP level earlier in his career. He gets a better offensive line and a better running game. But he still has mechanical flaws that were always present, but masked by a good Eagles offense. Do I think that he will be better in 2021? Absolutely. Do I think that he's a viable weekly starter? No, no I don't.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 61.3% completion, 3659 yards, 10.6 yards per completion, 23 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 326 rushing yards, and 6 rushing touchdowns.
28. Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Traditionally, a rookie quarterback that plays 17 games for a team that will throw over 600 times is a rookie quarterback that can start for your fantasy team. And that's going to be true, at times, throughout 2021. Zach Wilson should be asked to sling the ball around a bit. But I don't expect a monster year, but rather, a good year. Wilson is a good quarterback, but I think we're a year away from feeling that in fantasy.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 62.0% completion, 4032 yards, 10.5 yards per completion, 25 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 240 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns.
27. Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
The weapons in Denver are too good for Drew Lock to fail completely. Don't get me wrong, my QB27 isn't something to rejoice about. But I do expect a substantial bit of growth from the third-year quarterback. The Broncos are a borderline playoff team, and I think that Lock will go out and keep his starting job this fall.
2021 Projection: 14 games, 61.9% completion, 3602 yards, 11.6 yards per completion, 22 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 176 rushing yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns.
26. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers may have gotten worse on the offensive line. But they went out and snagged a very, very good running back that is going to command touches. Ben Roethlisberger won't be throwing at the same rate as he did in 2020, and that pushes his points per game down a touch.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 64.6% completion, 4128 yards, 9.9 yards per completion, 36 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 6 rushing yards, and 0 rushing touchdowns.
25. Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
Jameis Winston is going to start for the New Orleans Saints. I truly believe that, and I think that the absence of Michael Thomas will be a problem. I know that Jameis has legitimate QB1 upside in an offense that will look a lot different when a quarterback with arm strength takes the helm, but I am comfortable being cautious.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 67.4% completion, 4170 yards, 11.0 yards per completion, 33 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 36 rushing yards, and 0 rushing touchdowns.
24. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington Football Team
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the definition of a journeyman quarterback, but he's also the standard of one. He's coming off of a strong campaign in which he probably should've kept the starting job (and had he, the Dolphins would've been in the playoffs). He's stepping into a familiar offensive scheme with some strong weapons at his disposal. The Washington Football Team are a playoff team and Fitz will be good for them, but you can find plenty of options more suitable for your fantasy roster.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 66.6% completion, 4623 yards, 11.5 yards per completion, 25 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 155 rushing yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns.
23. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
"The Falcons are one of the highest-volume passing attacks in the NFL." They sure were. But Arthur Smith has inherited one of the most underachieving rosters in recent memory. The Falcons were much better than the 4 wins they accumulated in 2020, and they will surely be able to run the ball a bit more in 2021. I don't think Ryan is toast; I actually think he's still quite good, but I do think that he's no longer a volume play.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 65.9% completion, 4459 yards, 11.9 yards per completion, 26 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 115 rushing yards, and 1 rushing touchdown.
22. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
I don't know if it's understood how devastating Tua's hip injury was; at least, based on everyone saying he's toast after just 10 career games. Tua is much further removed from an injury that quite literally killed his mechanics. Tua, when healthy, has a strong arm, is an above average athlete, and is incredibly accurate. Add in the fact that the Dolphins are altering the offense to best fit their personnel (kudos to them; this is smart), and you have an undervalued fantasy football quarterback. The Dolphins are still a fringe playoff team, but if Tua performs like this, their chances are much greater.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 67.0% completion, 4057 yards, 10.3 yards per completion, 27 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 240 rushing yards, and 6 rushing touchdowns.
21. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Projecting rookies is always the most difficult, especially when they're running an offense that we have infinite questions about. But with Trevor Lawrence, it's safe to say that he will be pretty good. Urban Meyer and Darrell Bevell are going to simplify the offense as much as possible and ensure that they keep the turnovers reduced. For that reason, I don't think that Trevor is the volume play that others might (I have him throwing around 35 times per game, so not bad). But I do have some level of faith in the offense to be efficient and score touchdowns. Trevor should be a solid QB2 option for 2021.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 65.0% completion, 3991 yards, 10.2 yards per completion, 31 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 225 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns.
20. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins is a guy who gets very little respect for fantasy football, and I'm not sure why. Cousins is consistently a good quarterback, and ultra efficient within the Minnesota offense. I do expect his 2020 efficiency to regress a bit, but Cousins is a fringe-QB1 in terms of total points, for me. His points per game mark is a little further away, but he's still an incredibly solid option at his ADP.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 67.9% completion, 4255 yards, 11.9 yards per completion, 34 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 128 rushing yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns.
19. Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
Next in the line of quarterbacks who consistently get disrespected is Derek Carr. Carr has never finished lower than QB19 in overall finish, and I expect that model of consistency to continue in 2021. The Raiders are going to be throwing the ball, and I'm buying into the Ruggs-and-Carr-have-finally-clicked narrative. The Raiders have the potential to have a good offense and a bad defense, and that should make for a solid fantasy season from their quarterback.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 67.1% completion, 4466 yards, 11.6 yards per completion, 29 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 173 rushing yards, and 4 rushing touchdowns.
18. Cam Newton, New England Patriots
And another quarterback that gets disrespected on Twitter and everywhere else. Cam Newton was not toast in 2020. I repeat: Cam Newton was not toast in 2020. He was throwing to a wide receiver room that probably could've been outplayed by an XFL roster (I'm sorry Jakobi and Damiere, y'all are fine). Insert Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, and a revamped offensive line, and you have a very solid room of weapons that should support the Patriots' QB1.
2021 Projection: 16 games, 67.1% completion, 3299 yards, 10.7 yards per completion, 20 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 505 rushing yards, and 8 rushing touchdowns.
17. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow had a solid rookie campaign before going down with his torn ACL in Week 10. And while the additions to the offensive line and wide receivers are nice, I think that the Bengals are going to make a concerted effort to run the ball more. Mixon is back and I think that limits what Joe Burrow will be able to accomplish. With that being said, the Bengals offense should be fine and Joe Burrow should still be a very good option for you in fantasy.
2021 Projection: 16 games, 66.9% completion, 4105 yards, 10.2 yards per completion, 24 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 155 rushing yards, and 6 rushing touchdowns.
16. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield is going to have one hell of a year in 2021. With the return of Odell Beckham Jr. and the consistency on offense, the Browns could have the most explosive offense in the NFL (okay, it's the Chiefs, Bucs, or Bills, but there's a non-zero chance that the Browns are in a tier with them). Baker was ultra efficient down the stretch, and he really took care of the football over the last 8 weeks of the season. I expect him to build off of that, and that's why he comes in at my QB16.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 64.2% completion, 4289 yards, 11.9 yards per completion, 33 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 188 rushing yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns.
15. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Please remember that these are distributed in points per game. Now remember what that could mean over the back half of the season, and make an effort to get Trey Lance in your fantasy football drafts at a discount. Lance may not be as efficient as Jimmy G when he takes over, but he will certainly offer more rushing upside.
2021 Projection: 8 games, 63.9% completion, 1793 yards, 10.4 yards per completion, 12 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 214 rushing yards, and 4 rushing touchdowns.
14. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
The Bears aren't going to throw significantly less with Justin Fields than they did Nick Foles. They aren't going to dumb down the offense. They are going to let this man cook. I think Justin Fields will get the Rookie of the Year title this year, and I think the Bears' offense is going to save Matt Nagy's job. But he will be the best quarterback the Chicago Bears have ever seen, and that starts in 2021.
2021 Projection: 16 games, 67.4% completion, 4002 yards, 10.5 yards per completion, 29 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 240 rushing yards, and 6 rushing touchdowns.
13. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
The loss of Cam Akers is less than ideal for the Rams offense, but now they have a quarterback that can go win with his arm. Stafford finally gets into an offense that is perfect for him with one of the best weapon groups he's ever had. Stafford is a weekly start for me this season, and the Rams are probably the second-best team in the NFC behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 65.1% completion, 5048 yards, 12.0 yards per completion, 32 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 83 rushing yards, and 1 rushing touchdown.
12. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Regressing in a lot of areas is common for second-year quarterbacks, and it's especially prevalent when operating within a new system. The good thing: the regression isn't drastic enough to hurt your fantasy team. Herbert is coming off of a year in which he averaged 21 FPTS/G and took the league by storm. I think overall QB1 finishes could be on the way in his future. I just don't think that happens in 2021.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 66.9% completion, 4569 yards, 10.7 yards per completion, 33 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 221 rushing yards, and 4 rushing touchdowns.
11. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Before reading this, read my friend Jeff Bell's amazing piece on Konami Code quarterbacks. Okay, now that you've returned, remember that this is fantasy football. Jalen Hurts is not one of the ten best quarterbacks in the NFL. He is one of the ten best fantasy football quarterbacks, and that's simply because he is dangerous with the ball in his hands. Konami Code quarterbacks are the present and future of fantasy football. And Hurts' new system should be tailored to his strengths in a way that allows for production.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 60.9% completion, 3916 yards, 10.7 yards per completion, 24 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 898 rushing yards, and 7 rushing touchdowns.
10. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Okay, but really, that's the explanation. I have Tannehill regressing in a few different areas - namely, touchdown percentage and yards per carry - because of the absence of Arthur Smith. I do have him remaining very good due to the fact that he has a dominant WR1 to throw to (yes, I believe Julio Jones is the WR1 of the Titans).
2021 Projection: 17 games, 64.5% completion, 4380 yards, 12.0 yards per completion, 34 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 244 rushing yards, and 6 rushing touchdowns.
9. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans*
Firstly, I want to denote that there's a chance Watson doesn't play. I, personally, believe that he will in 2021. I think it will be for the Texans, and I think that the production will remain. No, I don't think Watson has QB1 upside with this set of weapons (no, I don't care about Anthony Miller that much). I do think that if he plays with legal issues aside, he is a QB1. If he doesn't, Tyrod and Davis Mills would've missed the cut on this list anyway.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 67.9% completion, 4539 yards, 11.1 yards per completion, 33 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 451 rushing yards, and 4 rushing touchdowns.
8. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Konami Code, but a reduction in the amount of #QBRunz within the offense (yes, this is absolutely supposed to be read as a joke with regard to Lamar's poop game). The Ravens are going to throw more in 2021. Personnel dictates scheme, and the influx of wide receiver talent would indicate that the Ravens will make an effort to throw. Because of that, I actually have Lamar coming down a tad in points per game. But still. Be happy if you have Lamar Jackson.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 65.4% completion, 3521 yards, 11.0 yards per completion, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 872 rushing yards, and 9 rushing touchdowns.
7. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Year Two in the Bruce Arians passing attack with a full season of Antonio Brown and the return of OJ Howard. Oh, and everyone else? Yeah, sign me up. Tom Brady wants to play a couple more years, and I believe he has it in him to do so. He's on the hunt for another ring, and I think he's going to sling the football around with that in mind. I believe a legendary year is on the way.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 66.3% completion, 11.6 yards per completion, 5101 yards, 44 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 15 rushing yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns.
6. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
I understand that Dak's legendary pace in 2020 was impressive. I also understand that the Dallas offense is one of the best in the NFL. But I do think the best form of Ezekiel Elliott is on the way, and I think that alone will cap Dak's upside. QB1 is absolutely in his range of outcomes, and for that reason, you should be incredibly comfortable drafting him. Wherever he goes.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 69.1% completion, 5233 yards, 11.4 yards per completion, 33 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 320 rushing yards, and 4 rushing touchdowns.
5. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Welp. With the latest report regarding the Aaron Rodgers saga, I have re-entered him into my projections. His 22.6 points per game are down from last year, but I think Aaron Rodgers is ready for another MVP campaign. He's one of the best ever, and if he plays for the Packers, I don't see a world where he doesn't finish as a QB1.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 69.4% completion, 4545 yards, 11.4 yards per completion, 47 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 177 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns.
4. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Let Russ cook. No seriously, there's a chance that you just have to. The Seahawks made an effort to fill the wide receiver room, much like a few of the aforementioned teams, and I think that indicates that they plan to throw the football a bit more. Carson can only handle so much of the workload, and Russ is one of the best quarterbacks in the game (if you ignore the times he runs himself into sacks). Russ will cook.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 68.9% completion, 4723 yards, 11.3 yards per completion, 42 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 510 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns.
3. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
I don't see the coveted 4,000-1,000 yard season in 2021, but I do see some improvement from Kyler Murray incoming. The additions of AJ Green and Rondale Moore give me hope that this offense won't be rooted in high school schemes, but rather have some nuance to it. If that's the case, Kyler should do quite alright, despite his high ADP. He's not the third-best real life quarterback in the league, but he sure as hell profiles as a great quarterback option for fantasy football.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 68.7% completion, 4435 yards, 10.0 yards per completion, 32 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 885 rushing yards, and 11 rushing touchdowns.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
I miscalculated my projections before, and so I am taking a mulligan here. Patrick Mahomes isn't my QB1. He fell all the way to QB2 in my latest rankings, and that's a pretty nice spot. We know what Patrick Mahomes is, so let me just say that the cost of acquisition is a value; don't forget some of the options that have lower ADPs and project in this similar tier. Assess your risk and determine if you want to spend the capital on Mahomes. He's good, though #analysis
2021 Projection: 16 games, 67.0% completion, 5051 yards, 11.8 yards per completion, 41 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 351 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns.
1. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Repeating as QB1 is hard. Continuity is important, though, and Josh Allen has that (if Cole Beasley is gone, Gabriel Davis is capable). The rushing upside puts Allen above Mahomes, and the lack of a solid running back option indicates that not much will change on the rushing touchdown front. Draft Allen with confidence.
2021 Projection: 17 games, 69.1% completion, 4985 yards, 11.4 yards per completion, 41 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 488 rushing yards, and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Stay on the lookout for the rest of my rankings breakdowns; these should be a guide and insightful, not a Bible. I hope you will use them to help make your own roster decisions.
You can find me @CWilliamsNFL on Twitter. Until next time.
Cover image credit to Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press.