A Shift in the Top Dynasty Quarterbacks and Why Baker Does Not Belong
In two previous installments of this series, I wrote about the shift in dynasty wide receivers and running backs. Unlike other positions, the quarterback position does not change much when it comes to dynasty value. This is likely due to the longevity of the QB position and the ability for the top quarterbacks to repeat elite performances. However, there were performances in 2018 as well as offseason moves that have caused movement among the dynasty quarterback rankings. So, without further ado, here is how the dynasty QB rankings look entering the 2019 season.
1. Patrick Mahomes
It is not very often a second-year quarterback leaps to the top spot among dynasty QBs and becomes arguably the best QB in the league. It takes a historical season, and that is exactly what happened. Kansas City Chiefs second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes had one of the best seasons of all time in 2018. I hate to pat myself on the back, but I wrote about this before the season started, saying Mahomes would finish as a top-five fantasy QB in 2018. But even I could not have foreseen the heights that Mahomes would reach. Mahomes finished 2018 with 5,097 yards passing and 50 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions. He also added 272 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns. How historic was Mahomes’ season? He had the highest z-score for any QB at his age, 23, since 2000 and of any QB in their second season.
Further, Mahomes posted the best fantasy football season by a quarterback all time.
That is what it takes to jump to the dynasty QB1 after only starting one season. It also does not hurt to have one of the best offensive minds in the game as a head coach. Since 2000, Andy Reid’s starting quarterbacks have finished as a fantasy QB1 13 times.
Mahomes also has one of the best duos of pass-catchers of any quarterback in the league in wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Over the last three seasons, Kelce has finished as the fantasy TE1. Hill has steadily become one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in the same time frame, finishing as the WR9 in 2017 and WR3 in 2018.
Detractors will bring up concerns about Hill, especially after news broke that Hill was involved in two investigations for alleged battery. However, the first incident report notes the case was “closed/cleared” and “prosecution declined” while the second does not list Hill as a suspect but does name Hill’s fiance as an “involved person“. While this by no means clears Hill of any wrongdoing, it should make Mahomes and Hill owners breathe easier, if only slightly. Regardless of Hill’s “Schrodinger’s cat” situation, you should still have confidence in Mahomes moving forward. Mahomes seems to be the type of quarterback to lift the level of play of those around him because of throws like these:
PATRICK MAHOMES. TEAM ON HIS BACK DOE pic.twitter.com/Z6R0JXzaae
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) December 9, 2018
Patrick Mahomes with the NASTY no-look pass 👀
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 9, 2018
And thus, Mahomes is your dynasty QB1.
2. Andrew Luck
Before the shoulder injury that forced Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to miss the entirety of 2017, many likely had Luck in their top-five dynasty quarterbacks and probably top-three. In 2014, Luck produced 4,761 passing yards and 40 touchdowns, en route to a fantasy QB1 finish. In four of Luck’s first five seasons, he finished as a top-eight fantasy quarterback. Luck lacerated his spleen in the fifth after only playing seven games, though he was averaging QB6 numbers in fantasy points per game.
Much like his predecessor, Peyton Manning, who came back from a year-long layoff due to neck surgery and had a record-breaking season with the Denver Broncos., Luck came back in 2018 and has one of the best years of his career. After a scare in which the Colts took Luck out of the Colts Week 1 game on the final play, a hail mary thrown by backup QB Jacoby Brissett, Luck proved his doubters wrong. On the season, Luck finished with 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns. This was good for the fantasy QB4. That makes top-eight finishes in 6-of-7 seasons.
Only 29-years-old and proving his shoulder his healthy, Luck will likely continue to produce top QB numbers over the next several years. While he does not have the ceiling of Mahomes, he is still the dynasty QB2.
3. Aaron Rodgers
Some people, like my friend @SuperFlexDude, think this is too low for the future Green Bay Packers Hall-of-Famer. However, Rodgers 35 years old. While this is absolutely not a death knell got quarterbacks, dynasty fantasy football does put a premium on age. Rodgers likely has a few more seasons of elite production, but Mahomes and Luck probably have a lot more. Regardless, Rodgers is still top-three among dynasty QBs.
Rodgers, when healthy, always finishes among the top fantasy quarterbacks in the league. In fact, since becoming the starter in Green Bay in Rodgers has finished now lower than QB7 outside of 2013 and 2017 when he missed seven and nine games, respectively, due to a broken collarbone. Rodgers also finished as the QB1 or QB2 in 7-of-11 seasons as a starter.
There is some worry, despite his 25/2 TD/INT ratio in 2018, that Rodgers is getting older and will start to fall off. However, there are several pieces of evidence that say he has a few more elite seasons left in the tank. First, the decline with age is far less drastic among quarterbacks than running backs and wide receivers. It actually is almost negligible, as you can see from the z-score data below. You can also see Rodgers finishes at or near the top in almost every season.
Second, we have seen quarterbacks in Rodgers generation produce elite seasons into their late 30s. The New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees produced a QB3 season at 37 years old in 2016. Though he has not been nearly as productive due to the Saints shift to a more balanced offense, Brees has still finished as a top-10 fantasy QB in the last two seasons as well. Future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady also produced a QB3 season at 40 (!) in 2017. Soon-to-be-first-ballot-Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning played his record-breaking season in 2013 at the age of 37 and then followed it up with a fantasy QB4 performance at 38.
So, while age does have some sway in these rankings, it does not drop elite aging veterans precipitously. A new coaching regime in Green Bay with the firing of Mike McCarthy and the hiring of Matt LaFleur may bring a slight “resurgence” for Rodgers as well. Regardless, Rodgers is a future Hall-of-Famer and still one of the top quarterbacks in the league. You should feel safe taking him in fantasy start-up drafts.
4. Deshaun Watson
Honestly, one could argue that the Houston Texans phenom quarterback Deshaun Watson should be ranked as the QB2. If you want to make that argument, I would not bat an eye. Many thought that Watson was due for a regression in 2018 after his extremely hot five-game stretch in 2017 before he tore his ACL. While he did regress a bit in terms of TD%, dropping from a whopping 9.3% to 5.1%, Watson still produced QB3 fantasy numbers in 2018.
Like Mahomes, Watson is producing elite numbers at a very young age. He ended the 2018 season with the third-highest z-score for a 23-year-old QB since 2000. He also produced the third-highest z-score for a QB in his second season.
Watson’s z-score trend is a bit deceiving. Without context, one would assume that Watson had a relatively average season for a quarterback as a rookie. However, as was mentioned above, Watson tore his ACL in 2017 after only playing in seven games. In those games that Watson played, he averaged the eighth-most fantasy points per game for a quarterback since 2000. While it is hard to say if Watson would have kept up the pace over a full 16-game season with regression argument, he still followed it up with a top-five season which goes to show that the rookie season was not a fluke.
Watson is also tied to arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins. Last season, Watson had a 116.1 passer rating when targeting Nuk. Over the past two seasons, Watson has helped Hopkins to two fantasy. WR1 overall finishes and Hopkins helped Watson to two top-five fantasy QB seasons. Hopkins also signed a five-year, $81M contract in 2017. So Watson and Hopkins will be together for a while.
Watson has also shown tremendous chemistry with wide receiver Will Fuller. Watson’s passer rating when throwing to Fuller last season was 136.2, the second-highest on the team. In 2017, the passer rating was lower, but Watson and Fuller connected for 8 touchdowns on just 22 targets.
Watson has already produced two top-five fantasy seasons (if you count PPG in 2017). Only 23 years old and tied to young, talented wide receivers in Hopkins, Fuller, and Keke Coutee, there is no reason to believe he will not continue to produce.
5. Russell Wilson
I have continuously flip-flopped between the Seattle Seahawks star and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz. You could make an argument for either one. I am going with consistency and longevity here. Wilson has on fantasy finish outside of the top-10 in his six seasons in the NFL. He also has three top-three finishes.
Wilson has also been extremely consistent weekly throughout his career. Comparing his consistency to other top-fantasy quarterbacks, Wilson finishes far more consistently in the top-12 week to week compared to Cam Newton and Carson Wentz.
Really, one could argue that Wilson belongs higher on this list, especially considering he is only 30 years old. However, Wilson’s situation changed in 2018. Brian Schottenheimer was brought in to be the offensive coordinator. The result was Wilson throwing the fewest passes of his career since 2013.
Schottenheimer is notorious for wanting to run the ball. In his years as an offensive coordinator in the NFL, Schottenheimer’s offenses have finished in the bottom half of pass attempts in the league. Rush attempts finished in the top half several times and in the top-10 multiple times, including 2018.
Luckily for those who rostered Wilson in 2018, he had the most efficient season of his career. He posted the best TD% of his career and the second-best completion percentage.
However, Wilson’s TD% may regress in 2019. Wilson generally hovers between six and seven percent in terms of TD%. If Schottenheimer and the Seahawks continue to try to establish the run and Wilson’s TD% does regress, fantasy owners will be in for a relatively rough season. While I do still believe Wilson will finish inside the top-10 again, that is not what most who roster Wilson expect. And thus, we find him at dynasty QB5 instead of QB2.
Baker is NOT a top dynasty QB… Yet
Many who have read this far I am sure are questioning why the Cleveland Browns star quarterback with the big personality is not in the top-five or even top-two for some. Simply put, he has not done it yet. Everyone will point out that Mayfield broke the rookie passing touchdown record. This is not taking away from Mayfield’s awesome rookie season. They will also point out the additions of Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt in the offseason. On paper, this offense looks phenomenal. But we do not know yet how Mayfield and OBJ will gel. I vaguely remember a Philadelphia Eagles team that added multiple high-profile names in the 2011 offseason, infamously known as the “Dream Team”. Ultimately, that team went 8-8 and did not make the playoffs.
Mayfield had a fantastic season as a rookie, there is no denying that. However, it was not the best rookie season ever. In terms of Z-score, Mayfield only has “only” the seventh-best rookie season among quarterbacks since 2000. Everyone ahead of him is still active. This list includes Robert Griffin III, and we know how that turned out. RGIII is an exercise in caution as his career did not pan out after that phenomenal rookie season.
Again, I can hear the Mayfield fans decry “he didn’t even start the first two games and only played half of the third!” True, but there are rate stats for that. Mayfield finished as the QB20 in fantasy points per game.
While the addition of Todd Monken as offensive coordinator and the promotion of Freddie Kitchens to head coach does bode well for Mayfield in 2019 and beyond, let’s pump the brakes. I am more than willing to move Mayfield up in the rankings after he actually produces a top-five season. Until then, give me the proven talent.
We have seen elite quarterback play over the past couple of seasons. A record-breaking performance by Patrick Mahomes vaulted him to the top of the dynasty quarterback rankings. Yet, there are still three veterans in the top-five. Will a young quarterback like Baker Mayfield dethrone an all-time great like Aaron Rodgers? Tune into the 2019 season to find out.