2020 Fantasy Football QB Tiers: Is Lamar Jackson actually the best fantasy player we've ever seen?

Matt Harmon
·9 mins read

In my view, fantasy rankings are placing a linear thought process into an inherently fluid decision-making exercise. I often find there’s a heavy amount of frivolous debate on subjects like, “Why do you have Player-X at No. 12 but Player-Y at No. 15?” I don’t think it does the reader a service to try and take the numerical order as a one-to-one comparison, nor do we learn anything of use or substance about the players or how they will score us fantasy points on a week-to-week basis. For all the hype surrounding the event of the draft, winning weekly is still the name of the game in the vast majority of fantasy formats.

With that school of thought established, I do believe that using tiers by position helps offset some of the uselessness of rankings. It helps take some of the frivolity of arguing the difference of a few spots in the order. Most of the players in one tier have roughly the same value, whether they fall first in the set or last. The tiers provide more actionable information for fantasy gamers to use during drafts, specifically in terms of helping us imagine the range of outcomes for players from both a season-long and weekly standpoint. We get too caught up in where we think a player will rank at the end of the season, but tiering can help remind us that the goal soon enough will be all about constructing teams that are best set to win one week at a time.

The quarterback position is as deep as ever. You’ll get all the way to about QB25 before you start hitting players I’m not excited about in fantasy this season.

That said, there is a wide gap between the future stars of the position, those who can run and put up gaudy passing numbers on progressive offenses, and the passers of yesteryear. Tiering the quarterbacks this year helps us find the breaking points in the position and identify where to attack in drafts.

QB Tier 1 - Peak QB1s

1 - Patrick Mahomes

2 - Lamar Jackson

Patrick Mahomes is my top fantasy quarterback largely because he’s the best football player on the planet right now. Also, he showed some extra juicy rushing upside down the stretch in 2020. Mahomes ran 24 times over three postseason games for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He picked up 11 first downs between the Divisional Round, AFC Championship and Super Bowl. You’re not going to project that over a season-long basis but that line did add 8.5 points per game to his theoretical fantasy numbers in the postseason. A bump to his ceiling is well within his range in 2020 and beyond.

The only trepidation, and this is pretty major, is that Lamar Jackson might legitimately be the best fantasy football player we’ve ever seen. There’s never been anyone in league history who combined his blistering rushing ability with efficient passing. The emergence of more young players like Marquise Brown will just make this offense more dangerous, even as statistical regression hits.

QB Tier 2 - Set it and forget it QB1s

3 - Dak Prescott

4 - Russell Wilson

5 - Kyler Murray

6 - Deshaun Watson

7 - Josh Allen

All four of these quarterbacks represent perfectly where the position is going in fantasy and in the actual NFL. The quartet here boasts the ability to rack up yards and scores on the ground to go along with their passing numbers while playing on offenses with strong supporting casts.

Dak Prescott was the QB3 in points per game last year and now he’ll play with a juiced-up supporting cast on an offense that doesn’t have Jason Garrett’s fingerprints on it. He’s averaged north of three carries per game every year of his career and 5.3 rushing touchdowns per season.

If Seattle was to ever embrace the “Let Russ Cook” movement, it should be this year. We could easily view Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf as a top-five wide receiver duo by the end of this season.

Kyler Murray added DeAndre Hopkins to a receiver corps that already had promising young talent on an offense with a forward-thinking mindset. He was second in QB rushing yards last year. Wheels up.

After much consternation, I slid Josh Allen to this tier. He just fits in better with this crew than down below. Allen has his flaws as a player but is a prolific runner at the position, a reality that already vaulted him to a QB6 finish last year. Now the Bills have set the supporting cast up to a degree where it will be hard for Allen to flop as a passer. TJ Hernandez from 4for4 made a compelling case as to why he could be the top-scoring quarterback in fantasy this year. It’s not crazy.

QB Tier 3 - Stable but not every-week starter QB1s

8 - Matt Ryan

9 - Carson Wentz

10 - Tom Brady

11 - Drew Brees

12 - Aaron Rodgers

13 - Cam Newton

Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz have certainly reached “boring” territory at the point of their NFL careers when it comes to chasing fantasy passers. However, they’re both near-locks to finish in the top-10. Ryan’s Falcons should again finish top-five in pass attempts this year and he plays with an excellent receiver duo. Wentz still maintains some rushing upside and the Eagles pass-catching corps should be improved off the skeleton crew they rolled out last year.

Tom Brady has a higher ceiling than QB10 in his range of outcomes. If this offense hits, he could push for a top-seven finish. He’s just going to need a lot of touchdowns to do it and that’s tough to bank on. Call this a compromise.

Cam Newton has the outlook of QBs in Tier 2 but he comes with much more risk. We know the deal here. He’s on the fast track to starting Week 1 but will do so on an offense severely undermanned with questions at receiver. No one can fault you for drafting Cam as your QB1 in the hopes of a fast start thanks to a Patriots schedule that features Miami, Seattle, and Las Vegas to start the year.

How will Cam Newton fare with the Patriots? (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images)
How will Cam Newton fare with the Patriots? (Photo by Steven Senne-Pool/Getty Images)

QB Tier 4 - Quality streamers with a path (albeit murky) to every-week usability

14 - Ben Roethlisberger

15 - Ryan Tannehill

16 - Matthew Stafford

17 - Baker Mayfield

18 - Daniel Jones

19 - Joe Burrow

The Steelers offense boasts an awesome supporting cast of young receivers. If we expect all those guys to return value at their ADPs, we must also project Ben Roethlisberger for a strong season. He is unlikely to return to his 2018 form but he leads the tier on the chance the Steelers throw the ball around the yard enough that Roethlisberger offers some truly monster weeks.

Ryan Tannehill and Matthew Stafford should see regression nip at some of their 2019 efficiency numbers. However, both are in stable offensive systems and shined last year. They might be underrated here. Tannehill is especially intriguing as he offers a rushing floor. He averaged 3.6 rushed per game last year, the highest mark of his career.

You can buy into a moderate Baker Mayfield rebound in 2020. Everything Kevin Stefanski does on offense is an ideal fit for the wayward quarterback. Most notably, Mayfield’s completion rate was 10.1 percent higher on play-action throws vs. those without last year.

Joe Burrow should be throwing a lot as a rookie. The Bengals already leaned toward the pass last year (No. 5 in passing rate) and now have a much better on-paper set of receivers for the No. 1 overall pick. I’m projecting him north of 4,300 yards in Year 1. Burrow also averaged 27 rushing yards per game at LSU.

QB Tier 5 - Matchup-based QB streamers

20 - Jared Goff

21 - Tyrod Taylor

22 - Derek Carr

23 - Gardner Minshew

24 - Teddy Bridgewater

25 - Kirk Cousins

26 - Jimmy Garoppolo

27 - Philip Rivers

You probably aren’t ever going to be in a position where you’re starting any of these guys on a week-to-week basis. Nevertheless, there is a lot of appeal to several players in this tier. That’s just how deep the position is again this year. You could conceivably get on a hot streak with any of these passers.

If Tyrod Taylor holds the job for even 10 games, he’s going to push to be a fantasy starter. He has that much upside as a runner and is now playing with, by far, the best supporting cast of his career.

Gardner Minshew has good peripheral metrics, was awesome on play-action throws last year, and will play on an offense that will throw a lot due to game scripts. He also has understated rushing appeal, as he was fifth in quarterback rushing yards as a rookie. The touchdowns just weren’t there.

Teddy Bridgewater is intriguing. On one hand, the Panthers are the only team in the NFL breaking in a new quarterback, head coach, along with both an offensive and defensive coordinator. In a season where we’re all favoring continuity, that’s not great. Still, the Panthers can be a bad team and their starting quarterback could still put up strong numbers. Based on Joe Brady’s system, the supporting cast, and those negative game scripts, Carolina could push to lead the NFL in pass attempts. With Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, Robby Anderson, and Ian Thomas, there’s more young talent on this offense than you think.

QB Tier 6 - Never say never, but probably just for SuperFlex

28 - Sam Darnold

29 - Ryan Fitzpatrick

30 - Drew Lock

31 - Dwayne Haskins

32 - Mitchell Trubisky/Nick Foles

Poor Sam Darnold has to toil under Adam Gase for another year. If I’m Darnold, I’m highly annoyed the best addition my team could make was Breshad Perriman while his fellow 2018 Round 1 quarterbacks have stocked shelves.

Ryan Fitzpatrick will be fantasy-viable for as long as he plays; we know this. But he could get the hook at any moment. Not only have all the reports on Tua’s health been positive this offseason, but Fitzpatrick is also capable of throwing himself out of a job just as much as he’s capable of throwing you to a fantasy win.

Nick Foles is going to get in there at some point but Week 1 is looking unlikely. Whenever he does start, we know he’ll juice-up the ceiling of this offense. He’s thrown over 20 percent of his passes deep during his NFL career. For now, approach the Bears as if they’ll be led by Mitchell Trubisky to start the year.

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