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Drafting Running Quarterbacks in Fantasy Football: Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Tyrod Taylor

The allure of the running quarterback has existed for years. Randall Cunningham was one of the first true dual-threats at the position in the 1980's and '90s, an era that also produced all-time great scramblers like Steve Young and John Elway.

It was the arrival of Michael Vick in the NFL as the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft, however, that coincided with the ever-increasing popularity of fantasy football at the start of the 21st century. Vick possessed a cannon for a throwing arm along with a 4.33 40-yard dash time, still a draft combine record for a quarterback. It wasn't just possible that he could forever change the game of football -- it was expected.

Fifteen years later, Vick is the league's all-time leader in quarterback rushing yards by more than 1,000 yards, and that's even after missing two full seasons and serving primarily as a backup over the last few seasons.

Vick's running ability was always elite, but it was his inconsistencies as a passer that prevented him from becoming a revolutionary quarterback.

The NFL is a passing league, now more than ever. Vick's arrival didn't herald a future generation of run-first quarterbacks, but the NFL still features some distinguished dual-threats, most notably Cam Newton and Russell Wilson.

Newton and Wilson are two of the top-five consensus fantasy quarterbacks entering the 2016 season, regardless of league size, format or scoring settings. How much of that has to do with their rushing production? Are there other quarterbacks that will create similar production on the ground? Are there negatives to drafting mobile quarterbacks? Let's take a look

Defining Running Quarterbacks

The concept of a "running" quarterback gets thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean in terms of fantasy football? Let's try to find some clarity, using last season as a starting point.

In the 2015-16 season, six quarterbacks rushed for at least 300 yards -- Newton (636 yards), Tyrod Taylor (568), Wilson (553), Alex Smith (498), Aaron Rodgers (344) and Blake Bortles (310). Only four quarterbacks had at least four rushing touchdowns -- Newton (10), Jameis Winston (six), Kirk Cousins (five) and Taylor (four).

Over the past five seasons, three quarterbacks have topped 500 rushing yards each year except for 2012, when just two did it:

  • 2015: Newton (636), Taylor (568), Wilson (554)
  • 2014: Wilson (849), Colin Kaepernick (639), Newton (539)
  • 2013: Newton (585), Wilson (539), Kaepernick (524)
  • 2012: Robert Griffin III (815), Newton (741)
  • 2011: Newton (706), Tim Tebow (660), Vick (589)

None of the names on this list come as a surprise. All were dynamic running threats in college and were expected to bring that skill set to the NFL. For the purposes of defining "running" quarterbacks, using the nice, round cutoff of 500 rushing yards works. In standard scoring, 10 rushing yards equals one fantasy point, so 500 rushing yards would give a quarterback an additional 50 fantasy points over the course of the season. For reference, roughly 50 points separated fantasy's No. 3 quarterback (Drew Brees) and No. 11 quarterback (Matthew Stafford) last season, according to Fleaflicker.

What About Rushing Touchdowns?

Rushing touchdowns from quarterbacks are far less consistent -- unless, of course, you're the reigning NFL MVP. Over the previous five seasons, Newton is the only quarterback with multiple years of five-plus rushing touchdowns. He's had at least five in every season since joining the NFL in 2011:

  • 2015: Newton (10), Winston (six), Cousins (five)
  • 2014: Wilson (six), Newton (five)
  • 2013: Newton (six), Geno Smith (six)
  • 2012: Newton (eight), Griffin (seven), Kaepernick (five), Andrew Luck (five)
  • 2011: Newton (14), Tebow (six), Mark Sanchez (six)

In terms of rushing touchdowns, Newton is on his own level. The Carolina Panthers utilize Newton as a go-to option at the goal line. He is tied with Steve Young for the most rushing touchdowns (43) by a quarterback in NFL history, and he's still just 27 years old.

In standard leagues, rushing touchdowns equal six points. Five of those would give a quarterback an additional 30 fantasy points. Let's look at Newton, specifically. His 3,837 passing yards ranked 16th among QBs last season. That's OK, but hardly elite. Now factor in his 636 rushing yards (63.6 points) and 10 rushing touchdowns (60 points), and that's an additional 123.6 fantasy points. It becomes clear to see why he finished as fantasy's top-scoring quarterback.

Risks/Future Outlook

So how does the running quarterback scene look entering the 2016-17 season? Well, it looks fairly similar to last season. Newton's yardage consistency and penchant for goal-line touchdowns makes him not just the top running quarterback, but the top overall quarterback for fantasy purposes. Wilson also stands out as a top-five quarterback with upside as high as the QB1 overall like he was between weeks 10-16 during the 2015 regular season. After those Newton and Wilson, the running quarterbacks become more of a question mark.

Taylor is undeniably dynamic, but he missed two games last season and the health of Sammy Watkins is certainly a big issue for Taylor and his fantasy value. Alex Smith could again eclipse 400 rushing yards, which does raise his weekly floor some, but I don't expect him to push past 500 at 32 years old. With new Head Coach Chip Kelly, Colin Kaepernick would definitely be a threat to top 500 rushing yards, but he is currently in a camp battle with Blaine Gabbert. If Andrew Luck recovers from his injury-riddled 2015 season, he has shown the ability to pick up points on the ground throughout his career. While it may be rare the Colts design a run for Luck, the team will pass enough that he will have opportunities to pick up 1sts downs on the ground. Marcus Mariota is another intriguing running quarterback option, however, he also faced injuries during his rookie campaign, so it wouldn't surprise if the Titans focus on his development as a passer, as well as his young weapons in Dorial Green-Beckham and Tajae Sharpe.

The one clear downside of drafting a running quarterback is the threat of injury looms large and could limit opportunities for Taylor, Luck (who missed nine games last season) and Mariota on the ground. Newton (big, durable body) and Wilson (adept at avoiding contact) appear to be the outliers at the position.

So which quarterback will surpass that 500 yard rushing mark in 2016? I say, if healthy, Newton and Wilson are locks to hit that number. I also think Taylor surpassing 500 rushing yards is likely, with Mariota falling just short of the mark in his sophomore season.

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