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Biggest Quarterback Surprises of 2021 - Fantasy Football Year In Review

russell wilson fantasy football rankings NFL injury news draft sleepers

Every year, fantasy managers are treated to surprise performances by certain players. Sometimes those are good surprises and sometimes those are not so good, but they happen every single year regardless. In recent seasons, the quarterback position from a fantasy perspective has changed. Fantasy managers are chasing upside and that often comes from being able to run the football. Guys like Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts are changing how the position is viewed in terms of their fantasy value. Pocket passers are viewed as having limited ceilings – unless that person is Tom Brady.

One of the bigger surprises this season was Josh Allen. No one expected him to bottom out by any means, but finishing as the QB1 two years in a row is very uncommon. The last time it was done was Drew Brees back in 2012 and 2013. While his overall performance and being an absolute stud wasn't a surprise, the fact that no one bested him was at least historical. We're going to be looking at some of the biggest surprises at quarterback for the 2021 season – both good and bad – but it seemed amiss to not include Allen's feat of becoming the back-to-back QB1. Even if that outcome was totally in the cards for him, the result itself could be viewed as somewhat of a surprise.

What constitutes a surprise? This could literally mean a million different things, but we'll be focusing on a few certain criteria. One of those will be "bucking a reputation". Over the years, guys get tagged with all sorts of reputations and it can take a while to break free of them, sometimes multiple seasons. Did any quarterback "buck their reputation"? The more simple ones are the surprisingly good and surprisingly bad performances. Every season, there are players the consensus is higher or lower on – how did these guys fare in 2021? Were those preseason opinions correct? Let's get started.

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Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

For the longest time, Cousins has gotten tagged as a mid-tier QB2. Every year, a new season starts, and the former Spartan is disrespected and almost every year, he solidly outplays his preseason ranking. Say what you will about his "real life" quarterbacking skills, but as far as fantasy is concerned, the dude is a bit of a gamer. Fantasy managers need to get rid of this notion he's just a boring QB2 because he's proven he's more than that, time and time again.

In 2015, his first season as the starter for Washington, Cousins finished the season as the QB8, just 0.50 points behind Aaron Rodgers. In 2016, he was the QB5, outperforming guys like Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, and Cam Newton. In 2017, he was the QB6, finishing ahead of most notably Drew Brees. Three seasons, three top-10 finishes. In 2018, he finished as the QB13, just outside his fourth straight QB1 finish. Before you knock him too much for his 2017 season, he did finish ahead of Tom Brady, so you know it happens.

In 2019, he had the worst fantasy finish of his career – QB18. You never would've known it if you looked at his stats from that season. He went to the Pro Bowl and completed 69% of his passes and finished with 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His 5.9% touchdown rate ranked sixth in the league and his 8.1 yards per attempt average ranked seventh. Unfortunately, for his fantasy managers that season, Cousins attempted just 444 passes, which was 24th in the league. In 2020, he got back to more of the same, another QB1 finish, this time coming in as the QB11, which is exactly where he finished in 2021 too.

In seven seasons as the starter, he's finished in the top-12 five times with one QB13 finish. He's finished as a top-10 quarterback three times and yet, every new season that rolls around Cousins is widely viewed as a mid-tier QB2. Below is a table of three quarterbacks and their per-game averages. Obviously one is going to be Kirk Cousins. One of them is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and the third is a likely Hall of Famer. Any guesses on which one is Cousins? Any guesses on who the other two quarterbacks are?

Completion Percentage Yards Per Game Touchdowns Per Game Interceptions Per Game

QB1

65.0% 234.6 1.8

0.6

QB2

66.9% 260.7 1.8

0.7

QB3 64.2% 265.8 2.0

0.6

QB1 is Russell Wilson. QB2 is Kirk Cousins. QB3 is Tom Brady. You'll see Cousins has a better completion percentage than both other stars. Cousins averages 25 more passing yards than Wilson and their touchdown and interception averages are essentially identical. As far as Tom Brady, over the course of a full 16-game season, Brady has averaged 81 more yards and three more touchdowns than Cousins. In terms of fantasy football, that amounts to about 16 points per season or one measly point per game. Think about that – really think about that.

Since 2018, there are only three quarterbacks with a better TD/Int. ratio than Kirk Cousins – Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson. Cousins' 3.56:1 is impressive. During that same time frame, Tom Brady sits at 3.08:1. Using Cousins' per-game averages over a 16-game season, which is what we're all still most accustomed to, he would finish with 4,171 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. If we just use his per-game averages with the Vikings, his 16-game stat line would consist of 4,162 yards, 31 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. How many quarterbacks do you know out there putting up those kinds of numbers?

In 2022, Cousins is going to have a full-arsenal. He'll once again be throwing passes to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, but K.J. Osborn will be back with another year of experience under his belt. Irv Smith Jr. will be healthy in 2022 and there's still Dalvin Cook. He'll have an excellent group of pass-catchers and new head coach Kevin O'Connell coming over after spending the last two seasons under Sean McVay. Don't be surprised if Cousins once again completely outplays his preseason ranking.

 

The Entire 2021 Rookie Class

What an absolute disaster this class proved to be, at least as far as 2021 is concerned. Fantasy managers saw five quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. They were especially excited to get their hands on Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance. The expectations around Lawrence were sky-high. He was walking into a situation where he had D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault Jr., and Marvin Jones Jr. to throw the ball to. Not to mention, he showed in college he was a skilled rusher too. Many thought a top-12 finish was not out of the question.

As far as Fields and Lance, fantasy managers were a little concerned they might not start right away, as both of their respective coaches seemed adamant to give the starting job to their veteran stopgap. Still, the tantalizing upside was enough to capture our attention. Both quarterbacks have absolute cannons and can take off and run at the drop of a dime. They're both incredibly athletic and wouldn't need to be an efficient passer from the start to be a valuable fantasy asset because of the damage they could do on the ground.

All of that, in theory, was correct. It just so happens that absolutely none of this promise ever presented itself. Not a single one of the five first-rounders averaged more than 15 points per game, a number Taylor Heinicke, Daniel Jones, and Trevor Siemian all managed to surpass. What fantasy managers were left with was, well... nothing. Mac Jones, the last one selected in the first round, ended up leading the group in fantasy points with 226.10, which resulted in a QB17 finish, but that's not really an accurate depiction of the value he provided. His 14.13 point per game average was not anywhere close to QB17 – his point per game average ranked 24th among quarterbacks who started at least half the games.

Jones had three games above 20 points and never scored more than 23. In eight games, he didn't even score 13. He was basically a useless fantasy asset because he had no ceiling and his floor was dangerously low. He wasn't even a signal-caller fantasy managers could utilize as a streamer.

Lawrence was even worse with just two games over 20 points, both of which came in the first five weeks of the season. The former Clemson star finished with seven games where he didn't even break 10 points – with a floor that low, being just a streamer, even on the best of weeks, is out the window.

Fields gave fantasy managers nine starts with just two performances with more than 20 points. One of those did result in a big 26.3 point output, but in four games, he didn't even break nine points.

Trey Lance ended up getting just two starts all year but made the most of them. He scored 15.6 and 20.1 in both starting appearances, but if you were one of the fantasy managers that held onto Lance all season waiting for his upside to come alive, it was a lost cause as he spent his rookie season glued to the sidelines.

Zach Wilson started 13 games and like most of his first-round signal-callers, managed just two games with more than 20 points. He did, however, rack up five games where he didn't even break double-digits.

Together, this quintet started 58 games during the 2021 season. 20 times they failed to score more than 10 fantasy points and there were just 10 contests where they collectively broke 20. Together, they combined for another 14 games where they didn't even break 15. It's astonishing that despite five first-round quarterbacks, fantasy managers didn't receive a single starter. Not even a high-end QB2. It's arguable fantasy managers didn't even get a single streaming quarterback out of the 2021 rookie class.

That isn't to say this class is destined for failure, but it certainly means their rookie seasons, from a fantasy perspective, were a colossal failure. Looking forward to 2022, despite only getting two starts, no quarterback might be better positioned for success than Lance. He'll be the starter for the 49ers and he'll have a great trio of pass-catchers to throw to – Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. He'll also have his tremendous athleticism to carry his fantasy value when his arm can't.

Justin Fields also looks like he's in a much better position for fantasy success in 2022. For starters, he'll be the unquestioned starter and fantasy managers should assume he'll receive much better coaching and a game plan that actually fits his skillset – something former coach Matt Nagy never seemed to fully comprehend. Lawrence, as we all know, will no longer have to deal with the Urban Meyer nightmare, which should do wonders within itself, but Chark will also be back healthy, as well as Travis Etienne.

Despite Jones finishing above all of his fellow quarterbacks in 2021, I'd be expecting that to almost completely flip itself in 2022 with the exception of possibly Zach Wilson, Fields, Lawrence, and Lance all having the benefit of gaining points on the ground, which is not something Wilson really showcased as a rookie and we know it's not something in Jones' repertoire.

 

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Wilson was a big disappointment in 2021 and it has nothing to do with the three missed games. Some might attribute his injury to some poor performances following his return, but unfortunately, a player of Wilson's caliber was immediately put back into the starting lineup for a majority of fantasy managers. It's hard to give him a pass for those games, even if there's a solid argument that a pass is warranted because he was started at such a high rate upon his return. So, just how bad was his 2021 season?

% of Games >12 % of Games 20–27.99 PPG % of Games <28 Fantasy PPG

2021

30.76% 46.15% 0.0%

17.77

2020

6.25% 31.25% 31.25%

23.30

2019

18.75% 12.50% 25%

20.85

2018

18.75% 43.75% 6.25%

18.65

2017 18.75% 43.75% 18.75%

21.75

In the past five years, there have only been two where Wilson hasn't averaged at least 20.75 points per game – 2019 and this year. In 2019, however, Wilson had 50% of his games with over 20 points or more and only 18.75% where he scored less than 12. Wilson was worse in both categories in 2021. He had less 20+ point games and more games with less than 12.

Most of his numbers were down across the board. He averaged just 28.6 attempts per game in 2021. It's only the second time since 2015 where he hasn't at least eclipsed 30 attempts per game. In 2020, he was at 34.9, and in 2019, he was at 32.3. His passing yards per game also fell off a cliff. He averaged just 222.4 yards per game in 2021. In 2020, he averaged 263.3, and in 2019, he averaged 256.9 yards. He also had the worst completion percentage since 2017. The biggest drop was in touchdowns per game. In 2017, he averaged 2.13 touchdowns per game. In 2018, he averaged 2.19. 2019, he was at 1.94, and in 2020, he was at 2.50 touchdowns per game. In 2021, that number dropped all the way down to 1.79.

All of his numbers fell across the board and that was despite arguably the best group of pass-catchers he's ever had. D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are one of the best 1–2 punches in the entire NFL. Then Seattle went out and added Gerald Everett and drafted Dwayne Eskridge in the second round. One of the big talking points around the Seattle offense has been how much Wilson has been sacked and the pressure he's been under. In 2021, he was sacked 2.36 times per game. That was the lowest per game average since his rookie season all the way back in 2012.

There's good reason to buy back into Wilson in 2022. His value is sure to take a dip after a down 2021, especially with the influx of young, superstar quarterbacks. The hiring of Shane Waldron to be offensive coordinator-- after he had spent the past three years as the passing game coordinator under Sean McVay-- gives reason for optimism that the Seattle offense lets Wilson cook a bit more than Pete Carroll has been willing to do.



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Michael Pittman Jr. - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

Biggest Week 4 Busts: Fantasy Football Reactions for Mark Andrews, James Robinson, Jaylen Waddle, Amari Cooper, Drake London

The fourth NFL Sunday of the 2022 season has come and gone. Hopefully, you woke up on Monday morning feeling very good about how your week went. However, this week's slate of games was certainly stress-inducing for many fantasy football managers. Part of that stress was caused by a group of players who drastically underachieved... Read More


Miles Sanders - Fantasy Football Rankings, Injury News, NFL DFS Lineup Picks

Unexpected Boom Performances: Week 4 Fantasy Football Reactions for Geno Smith, Jamal Agnew, Miles Sanders, Mo Alie-Cox

Week 4 of the NFL season continued to provide fans with some great matchups that went down to the wire. However, with plenty of injuries to skill players and weather issues in a few anticipated matchups, some unexpected faces had to show up and contribute to their offenses.  Another week has come and gone, and... Read More


Cooper Kupp - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, Draft Targets

NFL DFS Lineup Picks for FanDuel, DraftKings - Rams vs 49ers MNF Showdown

Happy Monday, RotoBallers! I hope your Week 4 has been successful so far. I had a fantastic day yesterday, sweeping each of the four "major" slates, including a top 1% victory in the 4 pm Only slate on FanDuel. We ended the night on an awesome, pass-heavy Sunday Night Football showdown between the Chiefs and... Read More


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PrizePicks NFL DFS Picks - Rams vs. 49ers Monday Night Football

Hello everybody and welcome! The 2022 NFL season is underway and that means our friends over at PrizePicks have a TON of great props we can look to take advantage of. PrizePicks is a great DFS picks site where you can choose to select plays in terms of fantasy points or single stats. The goal... Read More


Rachaad White - Fantasy Football Rankings, Waiver Wire Pickups, Draft Sleepers

Week 5 Waiver Wire Pickups and Free Agent Adds - All Positions

It was just a matter of time before the injuries to big-name players hit, especially at the running back position. Those who spent a top pick on Jonathan Taylor seem to have dodged a bullet while those invested in Javonte Williams must now move ahead without him. Let's see what the best options are. Below,... Read More


Running Back Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 5: Top Free Agent Adds Include Mike Boone, Nyheim Hines, Tyler Allgeier, Brian Robinson

As you now read this week’s recommendations from the waiver wire, the planning process for your Week 5 roster construction has already begun. The matchups of Week 4 included a whopping nine different 100-yard performances from running backs, while the injuries that have been sustained by Jonathan Taylor, Javonte Williams, and Alvin Kamara have become... Read More


George Pickens - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Wide Receiver Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 5: Top Free Agent Adds Include Romeo Doubs, George Pickens, Jahan Dotson, Corey Davis

Week 4 was a fun week in the NFL. We got to see Bailey Zappe almost lead the Patriots to a win over the Packers, which is cool for me, a long-time Zappe fan dating back to his time at Houston Baptist University. We also got to see some big wide receiver performances, including DK... Read More


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Tight End Waiver Wire Pickups for Week 5: Top Free Agent Adds Include Tyler Conklin, Mo Alie-Cox, Taysom Hill, Robert Tonyan

2022 has not exactly been the Year of the Tight End in fantasy football. Atlanta’s Kyle Pitts has no touchdowns and three games of 25 receiving yards or less. San Francisco’s George Kittle has all of 28 yards thanks to an early injury. Dallas’ Dalton Schultz has 80 yards on the season and has done... Read More


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