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Quarterback Breakouts for 2022 Fantasy Football

Trey Lance - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

One of the quickest ways to find yourself in the fantasy football championship of your league is by hitting on the coveted breakout player. Those mid-round picks who explode and become top-tier options can absolutely send a roster into overdrive. Once fantasy managers get into the mid-to-late rounds of their drafts, chasing upside should become the goal. If that means some league mates feel you “reached” because there was a competent, but boring veteran running back or wide receiver you glossed over, so be it. Difference makers are who we are looking for.

Don’t mistake upside to mean rookie, although there are undoubtedly players who check off both boxes. Cooper Kupp was one such player who wasn't a rookie but presented with a ton of upside relative to his ADP last season. The addition of an upper-tier quarterback along with the possibility of him returning to his previous TD rates offered plenty of upside. Here at Rotoballer, we’ll be doing a series of potential breakouts for the 2022 season and covering the four major positions.

This specific article will be focusing on the quarterbacks. With any breakout, fantasy managers are looking for a sizable return on their investment. In that sense, we’ll be looking at players who could make the jump into the top-six, top-12, or become a viable weekly starter. Where they are currently ranked in relation to that endpoint will be crucial in identifying who the potential breakouts are this season. Unlike running back, receiver, and tight end, where we might see breakouts in years three or four, most quarterback breakouts, if they’re going to happen, happen in year one or two, so let’s get started.

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Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

In a very early 2022 mock draft at Rotoballer consisting of 12 teams in a single quarterback format, Lance was not drafted (just 13 quarterbacks were). On FantasyPros ranking, which I tailored to include only rankers with Yahoo!, FantasyPros, and RotoBaller, Lance came in ranked as the QB12. While the upside is tantalizing, it’s hard to imagine just how much higher than that he can truly go. After all, there’s Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Joe Burrow, and Jalen Hurts. That’s 11 right there. Sure, maybe the most ambitious manager could sell themselves on Lance being better than Burrow or Wilson or Hurts, but it’ll be a tough sell with the way Burrow finished 2021 with Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. Russell Wilson is now in Denver in what figures to be a more pass-oriented offense than what he was used to in Seattle and Hurts literally finished as the QB6 in PPG in his first year as a starter with a questionable supporting cast.

There are plenty of reasons to love Lance’s potential in 2022 and the possibilities of a breakout season with him potentially finishing in the top-six at his position. Now, before you scoff at that, just remember Jalen Hurts literally just did that last season in terms of points per game with just DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert to throw the ball too. In San Francisco, the second-year pro will have some of the best weapons in the NFL. Deebo Samuel had his own breakout in 2021, George Kittle is one of the best tight ends in the NFL, and Brandon Aiyuk has shown plenty of flashes of potential. All of that is well and good, but the real reason Lance has breakout potential is because of what he can do with his legs.

Quarterbacks who can run are an absolute cheat code. It’s no wonder Allen, Jackson, and Murray are routinely ranked as high as they are. Their rushing ability gives them a ceiling very few others can obtain and a floor that is quite insulated. Fantasy managers should expect the 49ers' offense to have a package of plays similar to how Allen is used in Buffalo and how Cam Newton was used in Carolina. Lance is going to be in play down by the goal line and it shouldn’t be out of the question he finishes with six or more rushing scores. As a sophomore at North Dakota State, he rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. You can knock the competition if you want – completely valid – still, 1,100 yards is 1,110 yards and that’s impressive any way you slice it when it’s a quarterback doing the rushing.

In the only two games he started as a rookie, he combined for 24 rushes and 120 yards. There are a lot of reasons not to extrapolate two games over a 17-game season, but I mean, we’re already here, so let’s just finish it out, am I right? That two-game pace would equal 1,020 yards. Feel free to say that is highly unlikely to happen because guess what? It’s highly unlikely to happen, but that’s not the point. The point is you can cut that by 75%, you can damn near cut it by 50%, and you still have one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the NFL and that equals fantasy football goodness.

Unlike most of the other signal-callers on this list, Lance will have the benefit of playing in the same system he learned as a rookie and that consistency will only help his production in 2022 once he’s finally the man under center. While he’s likely to struggle a bit passing the football, there’s no better receiving group or coaching staff in the NFL for manufacturing fantasy points for its quarterback.

Samuel, Kittle, and Aiyuk are as good as they come when it comes to creating yardage after the catch and Coach Shanahan is a mastermind at getting his guys open in space. Lance will have plenty of easy reads where his playmakers on the outside will be given the opportunity to do the rest. As far as fantasy points, it’s all the same anyways.

Lance saw extended time in Week 4 when Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury and combined with his other two starts, Lance finished his rookie season 40/70 with 598 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. While there’s no reason to expect the former No. 3 overall pick to light the world on fire throwing the football, the fact of the matter is, he doesn’t have to. Hurts finished as the QB6 in PPG with just 3,144 passing yards and 16 touchdowns.

Again, lots of reasons not to extrapolate stats from six quarters of play, but if we were going to do that, we’d find that Lance was on pace for 4,066 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. No one should be expecting that, but also know it’s not a requirement for him to break to the top-six, his rushing talent alone could carry him there.

 

Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

For all (most) of the reasons fantasy managers should like Lance to breakout, fantasy managers should be banking on the same thing for Justin Fields. He was drafted as the QB13 in RotoBaller’s mock draft and is ranked as QB14 for FantasyPros. Fantasy managers tend to have a lot of empathy for Trevor Lawrence having to deal with Urban Meyer during his rookie season, the perpetual crappiness of the Jaguars, and the utter lack of weapons in the passing game, especially after D.J. Chark got hurt. But we shouldn’t discredit just how bad Fields had it either. Matt Nagy, while not on Meyer’s level of awfulness – who is? – he was very bad in his own right and we need to give him “credit” for that. As far as weapons, Darnell Mooney played well, but something most certainly happened with Allen Robinson and Nagy insisted on trying to make Jimmy Graham still a thing. The point being, it was bad in the Windy City.

Will 2022 be any different? There are reasons for optimism. For starters, firing Nagy will be an addition by subtraction, and the new offensive coordinator, Luke Getsy, should breathe some new life into what was a boring and predictable offense. Fantasy managers should also expect an offense that caters to Fields’ skills, which undoubtedly includes his athleticism. He was clocked running a 4.44 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, absolutely flying. It’s that speed that should have fantasy managers drooling with the upside. In his first five starts, the former Buckeye only had 23 attempts for 106 yards. In his next five starts, he had 38 attempts for 280 yards. Now, that's what I’m talking about.

If we extrapolate Fields' 10-game rushing stats over 17 games we see he was on pace for 656 yards. If he chips in four touchdowns with those totals, he'd have 90 fantasy points. That would mean he'd need just 3,000 passing yards and 15 touchdowns to finish with 270 fantasy points. That's the same total as Derek Carr had last season and he was QB13. If we extrapolate Fields' rushing stats with his last five games, he'd have finished with 952 rushing yards. Fantasy managers just saw Jalen Hurts finish as the QB6 with just over 3,100 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. His primary receivers were Devonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, which isn't all that much better than Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet. Better? Sure. A lot better? Debatable. In either case, Fields showed a ton of rushing upside in his few games as a starter in 2021 and as long as that carries over to 2022, he's got more upside than most fantasy managers will be willing to admit.

Unfortunately, the Bears have not yet addressed their receiver position in free agency so Fields will enter the 2022 campaign will little weapons to help him out. While Mooney and Kmet showed potential in their sophomore seasons, the second-year quarterback could certainly still use some help in that regard. It’s not all dreadful though. Even with the receivers he had at his arsenal last season, Fields seemed to turn a corner of sorts in his last five starts. He threw for over 220 yards time three times, a number he didn’t reach in his first six starts. He had games of 291, 285, and 224. In his last five games, he averaged 211 yards passing per game. While that may not sound very good, that five-game stretch does include a 79-yard game against Baltimore when he attempted just 11 passes. If we eliminate that game, his average jumps to 244. As far as fantasy is concerned, in those last five starts, he averaged 17.24 PPG and if we eliminate the game vs the Ravens, that number jumps to 20.68.

The Bears have been almost annually connected with having a good defense, but that wasn’t the case last season. They allowed the 11th-most points in the league and with their offseason purge on that side of the ball, the results shouldn’t be any better this upcoming season. This means Fields and the offense will likely be forced to play catch-up. It’s not the most ideal scenario for any Bears fan, but for fantasy managers looking to draft Justin Fields, it should be music to their ears. An up-tempo offense based out of necessity and with Fields’ ability to score points on the ground, he could easily surprise fantasy managers and finish as a back-end QB1. In any case, his rushing talents will continue to provide weekly upside. Here’s to hoping they draft a receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft.

 

Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

As NFL couch GMs, we can all dissect Jacksonville’s spending and question whether it was smart or not. We can most certainly do that. Were there better ways to spend all that money? Maybe. I mean hell, it’s the Jaguars, so yeah, probably. But all of that is irrelevant because one thing that cannot be disputed is the fact the Jaguars are better on offense going in 2022 than they were last season.

Look, we all want Laviska Shenault Jr. to be a thing, but maybe he’s just not. It would fall in line with Jacksonville’s draft history. Of course, all this bashing of Jacksonville makes it a bit more difficult to buy into Trevor Lawrence as a breakout candidate, but we simply cannot forget about the pedigree that he entered the league with. He was being touted as the best prospect since Andrew Luck, who was the best prospect since Peyton Manning. NFL scouts miss sometimes, but they rarely and collectively miss that bad, Jaguar or not.

There’s no doubt the Urban Meyer circus of 2021 didn’t help anyone and getting rid of him will end up being a positive for the whole team. Not only did the front office hire a competent coach in Doug Pederson, but give them credit for identifying a point of weakness and attacking it. Bringing in Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram to go along with Marvin Jones Jr., Travis Etienne, Dan Arnold, and if you want to count him, Shenault, gives Lawrence plenty of options at the very least. You can throw James Robinson in there too, barring his health. They franchised Cam Robinson and signed Brandon Scherff, who was the best offensive lineman on the market. Critique the moves all you want, but supporting your former No. 1 overall pick in the way Jacksonville has done is always a good idea and fantasy football managers should reap the benefits.

Lawrence went undrafted in RotoBaller’s mock draft and comes in as the QB18 for FantasyPros. Can he play his way onto the cusp of QB1 status to finish in that 12-14 range? It’s certainly possible with the new weapons in Jacksonville. This is a guy who absolutely shredded college football for three seasons and one thing that often gets glossed over, but for fantasy football purposes should not be forgotten, is he’s a solid athlete. In three seasons as the starter at Clemson, he averaged 314 yards rushing and six touchdowns. He had 334 rushing yards as a rookie and while fantasy managers cannot expect the kind of rushing upside they can with Lance and Fields, Lawrence offers enough on the ground where it becomes a positive. Make no mistake, he’s no Konami quarterback and if he’s going to make the leap in his second season, he’s going to have to do that with his arm. He struggled mightily as a rookie in that regard, but the circumstances were atrocious.

Doug Pederson worked wonders with Carson Wentz when he was drafted by Philadelphia and there’s no reason not to think that he won’t have a positive effect on Lawrence’s career as well. Below you will see a graph of Pederson’s five years with the Eagles. You will find where the team ranked in the NFL in certain passing metrics.

Year

Pass Attempts

Pass Yards

Passing TDs

2016

6th

24th

28th

2017

13th

13th

1st

2018

7th

7th

11th

2019

8th

11th

12th

2020

10th

28th

24th

2016 was Wentz’s rookie season and 2020 was the season Wentz completely fell apart, but even in those two seasons, the Eagles were in the top-10 in pass attempts. However, if we focus on those three middle years, fantasy managers can see there’s a lot of upside to be had there. For starters, from 2017 to 2019, Pederson’s Eagles were twice in the top-10 for pass attempts. They finished in the top-11 for passing touchdowns in all three seasons and were top-13 in passing yards every year during that stretch. If we can take anything from that, it’s that Lawrence will have plenty of opportunities in 2022 to make some noise for your fantasy football team.

When you factor in a defense that allowed the fifth-most points last season and you have a recipe for more than your fair share of shootouts, and now, with the weapons they added on the offensive side of the ball and with some expected improvement from a generational quarterback prospect, the Jaguars might just have the goods to score some points and maybe in the process win some football games too, but let’s not push it.

 

Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

We have to give a shoutout to at least one quarterback who wasn't drafted last season, which does leave out Zach Wilson off this list, but he's another guy that should stay on the radars of fantasy managers. He had some flashes last season and seemed to get better as the year moved along. If the Jets end up selecting a receiver in the first or second round of the NFL Draft, we'll certainly need to pay attention. A trio of Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and first or second-round rookie with the improvements they've made along the offensive line would be enough to pique my interest at his current QB22 FantasyPros ranking, but this section is about Tua.

His coach may not have been Urban Meyer bad in 2021, but the supporting cast was very close to being on that level. PFF ranked the Miami Dolphins' offensive line as the very worst unit in the NFL and PFF wasn't the only one who saw it that way. The Dolphins' offensive line was Urban Meyer bad. They gave up 235 pressures, which was the worst in the NFL. That's 13 per game. Miami passed the ball 36 times each contest, on average, which means whoever was under center was getting pressured on a third of their dropbacks. That's not doing your quarterback any favors.

Going into the 2021 season, there was a lot of optimism regarding the weapons the team had built up around the former Alabama quarterback. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. DeVante Parker missed seven games and Will Fuller missed 15. Now they head into the offseason with Jaylen Waddle, fresh off a monstrous rookie season, and Mike Gesicki as the primary pass-catchers for 2022. Receiver and offensive line remain two of the bigger holes on the roster and it's likely they'll address both in the draft. They have already added Connor Williams (guard) and Cedrick Wilson (receiver) both from Dallas to provide some reinforcements.

Despite the suboptimal conditions of 2021, the second-year starter was pretty effective. Using only the games he started and finished, he averaged a 68% completion percentage, 225 yards, 1.45 touchdowns, and 16.2 points per game. That would have made him the QB15 last season, finishing ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, and Carson Wentz.

The Dolphins have absolutely attacked this offseason and have set-up Tua for a third year breakout, if he's got the goods. He's shown promise since becoming the starter despite downright awful conditions. He dealt with the worst pass-blocking offensive line last year, which was was equally bad in 2020. In 2020, his receivers were terrible. In fact, that season no one went over 800 yards. Last season, while Waddle helped to improve the pass-catching group, the offensive line received no such improvement. This offseason Miami has added Connor Williams and Terron Armstead along the offensive line. Their additions to the left side of the line should give Tua a lot more extra time. According to PFF, no quarterback was pressured more than Tua last season. These offensive line additions could pay huge dividends for him this season.

While Tua showed last year he can throw a deep ball, the problem was he just didn't throw them. This could be more of an offensive line problem then a Tua one. The addition of Tyreek Hill will surely force defenses to play Miami differently and the newly added offensive linemen should give him more time in the pocket to push the ball downfield. In 2017, Alex Smith was the starter for the Chiefs and it was his only season where he threw for 4,000+ yards and 25+ touchdowns. He never hit either of those metrics before. That season, he got to play with Tyreek Hill. He is such a talented receiver, one of the best in the league, he will elevate Tua's game because he is so elite. With a revamped offensive line and the addition of Hill to go along with Waddle and Gesicki, plus an offensive-minded head coach and fantasy managers shouldn't be surprised if he finishes as a high-end QB2 this season.



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