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Ryan Fitzpatrick to Washington - Fantasy Impact

The 2020 fantasy football season ended nearly three months ago, which means it's been about three months since anything meaningful happened in the NFL (aside from a couple of trades). Free agency is officially upon us and with a bunch of names moving around, we will see tangible shifts in fantasy values.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is certainly no superstar, but signing with the Football Team has significant fantasy ramifications.

I usually start a free agency signing analysis with a review of how it impacts the team the player left. In this case, there's not much to discuss regarding the Dolphins because Tua Tagovailoa took over for Fitzpatrick over the second half of the 2020 season and was noticeably inferior in both fantasy and reality. Tagovailoa will be the starter again this season so we know what to expect. Let's look at Washington and their offensive pieces.

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Any FitzMagic Left?

For the man himself, the move to Washington represents an opportunity to be the unquestioned starting quarterback for the duration of the season. With the Football Team having won the NFC East last season, they are not going to be in a position to draft a quarterback. Taylor Heinicke is fun and all, but he's not a serious threat to Fitzpatrick.

The Football Team had a pretty strong roster outside of quarterback in the 2020 season. Now, they at least have a quarterback capable of making plays. They are a threat to win the NFC East again and Fitzpatrick will show up as a weekly streaming option in fantasy. Fitzpatrick started seven games last season and scored below 18 fantasy points in only his first one. He may be 39 years old, but he can still sling it.

In his last full season as a starter, 2019, Fitzpatrick was seventh in completed air yards and a respectable 15th in deep-ball completion percentage. His 2020 numbers are skewed by limited starts and him taking over in the fourth quarter in two other games, but his 7.8 yards per attempt was good for ninth in the league and his 56.5% deep ball completion percentage was second. He was actually more efficient in 2020 than 2019. We have every reason to believe Fitzmagic can continue in 2021.

 

Terry McLaurin

Alright, here is what I really want to talk about. The biggest beneficiary, by far, is Terry McLaurin. If there's one thing we know about Fitzpatrick, it's that he doesn't give a ____ about tight windows. McLaurin finished as the WR20 last season despite receiving passes from four different quarterbacks, including the worst quarterback in the NFL for seven games.

We have two seasons of data on McLaurin and they both suggest he's good at football. The only thing separating McLaurin's fantasy output from matching his talent was his quarterback play. McLaurin let the league in contested catch rate as a rookie in 2019 and although that number dropped precipitously his second season, he was severely hindered by his quarterbacks. McLaurin still led all wide receivers in snap share at 98.1% and was fourth in air yards share. The primary issue was his 75th ranked catchable target rate.

That is all about to change. Fitzpatrick historically feeds his WR1 and he will be even more inclined to do so given how vastly superior McLaurin is to the rest of the Washington pass catchers. The volume was never going to be a problem for McLaurin, but now splash plays will be more frequent as Fitzpatrick will give McLaurin a chance to make plays downfield in single coverage that guys like Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins just can't or won't do.

Wide receiver is absolutely stacked again this year so ranking McLaurin as a WR1 may prove challenging, but he has the talent, situation, and opportunity to be a WR1 in 2021 and I want him on my fantasy teams.

 

Logan Thomas

The only other relevant pass-catcher in Washington is tight end Logan Thomas. He was the overall fantasy TE5 last year (TE6 if you count George Kittle's eight games) and was a target vacuum underneath. Fitzpatrick will certainly press the ball downfield more, but his presence is a boon for Thomas as well, who looks every bit like he's here to stay. I'm sure there will be some detractors pointing to Fitzpatrick's less of a need to check down as a negative for Thomas, whose 7.1 average target distance was 28th in the league, but Thomas led all tight ends in snap share, routes run, and route participation. His 1.16 yards per route run is bound to improve with Fitzpatrick. Thomas may be a bit less consistent than he was in 2020, but his weekly upside is greater with Fitzpatrick throwing him passes.

 

Antonio Gibson

Lastly, we must discuss the running game, specifically Antonio Gibson. Last year's overall RB17 is set for an increased role in his second season after sharing a backfield with J.D. McKissic. Gibson posted just a 47.3% opportunity share as a rookie and was targeted just 44 times. In addition to Gibson's usage naturally increasing, the presence of Fitzpatrick and the more substantial threat he poses in the passing game than anyone the Football Team had under center last season will help open up bigger lanes for Gibson. Most importantly, the more prolific offense will result in better scoring opportunities. While 11 touchdowns on the 2020 Football Team feels like a lot, the upside with Fitzpatrick is even greater in 2021. There is a legitimate case for Gibson to be one of the first 12 running backs off the board in 2021 fantasy drafts. He is a fantastic target in the early second round.



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