Things are not quite the same today as they were a year ago for NFC East quarterbacks. Last summer, Daniel Jones was seemingly on the come up and a potential fantasy QB1, while Jalen Hurts was projected to learn under Carson Wentz and possibly have some sort of Taysom Hill-ish role on offense. Now Hurts is very much in play as a QB1 while Danny Dimes is currently being drafted behind almost every other NFL starting quarterback. Dak Prescott was on pace to shatter NFL passing records last October but shattered his ankle instead. He will have to overcome quite a bit to get back to his previous levels of production. And Dwayne Haskins was Washington’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the 2020 season. That experiment came to an abrupt end last fall, and Washington will now look to a new face (new to them, at least) to lead the charge and build on their division title from a season ago. Here are my thoughts with regard to each fantasy-relevant quarterback in the division.
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NFC East Quarterback Breakdown
Dak Prescott looks to be well on his way to a full recovery from last season’s gruesome ankle injury. He returned to practice last month and all signs point to him being under center in Week 1. In the four games which he started and finished last year, Prescott threw for an unprecedented 1,690 yards. Some people will look for Prescott to pick up where he left off if given a clean bill of health. However, that is not a realistic expectation for any quarterback, Prescott included. The main reason Prescott passed for such bloated totals last year was that the Dallas Cowboys played defense like they were performing a tandem impression of this guy.
I mentioned this stat in my initial rankings last month, but it is worth repeating. In the first halves of Prescott’s full four games, Dallas allowed 93 points. Prescott had to air it out to quickly put points back on the board. From Weeks 2-4, Dallas led for a total of just 7 minutes and 44 seconds. In those same games, they trailed by multiple scores for 91 minutes and 27 seconds. Suddenly, Prescott’s 1,424 passing yards in those three games make a lot more sense, as do his 162 pass attempts. In the one game where the Dallas defense remained competent and competitive throughout (Week 1 against the Rams), Prescott threw the ball 39 times for 266 yards. Those numbers are relatively low given Prescott’s skill level and surrounding cast. However, they are a lot more likely than the 8,000-plus yards 17-game pace Prescott provided from Weeks 2-4.
Of course, Prescott can very well still perform at a high level from a fantasy perspective. He was the overall QB2 in most formats in 2019 and has yet to finish outside the top 10 in any of his four full NFL seasons. Barring a setback with his ankle, I expect another top-10 year out of Prescott. But I expect him to be less willing to run than he has in years past. Prescott has averaged four fantasy points per game on the ground in his NFL career. Let’s say that production gets cut in half this year. Two points may not seem like a whole lot, but it could make the difference between Prescott being a top-five fantasy quarterback and a top-10 fantasy quarterback. Ezekiel Elliott will still get fed quite a bit, and the defense almost has to improve by default.
To that end, Dallas did its darndest to upgrade on that side of the ball in the offseason. The Cowboys used their first six draft picks this year on defensive players. They added multiple players at each level of the defense. Dallas grabbed two defensive linemen, two inside linebackers, and a pair of cornerbacks. Dallas will not be able to completely overhaul its defense overnight. But they hope to be able to build a functional unit to complement their explosive offense. If they can field even a league-average defense, it may limit Prescott’s fantasy ceiling a bit. I currently have Prescott ranked sixth among fantasy quarterbacks, so it’s not as if I expect him to regress to career lows. I just think there are too many concerns to put him ahead of Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, or Russell Wilson.
New York Giants
Daniel Jones showed off some upside in 2019 when he took over the Giants’ starting gig from Eli Manning. He had four games with at least 28 fantasy points and averaged more fantasy points per game than Tom Brady among others. Fantasy managers valued Jones as a high-end QB2 in drafts last summer. That did not work out so well. Jones threw for just 11 touchdowns in 14 games, which is hard to do in today’s NFL. Of the 31 NFL quarterbacks who played in at least 10 games last year, Jones finished 25th in fantasy points per game. Mitchell Trubisky and Drew Lock were among those who performed better than Jones from a per-game fantasy perspective. Yikes. But not all hope is lost for those who have invested or are looking to invest in the third-year signal-caller.
Jones suffered behind the NFL’s worst pass-blocking unit according to Pro Football Focus. Teams took advantage of the Giants’ deficiencies upfront throughout the 2020 season. Jones was pressured on over 40 percent of his dropbacks last year. Only Sam Darnold was pressured on a higher percentage of dropbacks. The Giants averaged just 3.1 yards per play when Jones faced pressure. That number was well below the league average of 4.0. If the line can do a better job of protecting Jones, he should have a better chance of success. Jones also should be in line for a bit of positive regression in the touchdown department. His 2.46 touchdown percentage was less than half of the league average and put him 33rd among 36 quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks. Even a 30th percentile touchdown rate would add a handful of touchdowns to his ledger.
Jones should also benefit from the expected return of star running back Saquon Barkley and the addition of free-agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay. Barkley is one of the league’s best home run threats when healthy, and Golladay is an elite deep threat. Dating back to the 2019 season. Golladay has 20 receptions for 770 yards in 21 games on balls thrown 20-plus yards downfield. Jones led the NFL in passer rating on such passes last season. I would expect him to sling it downfield to his new star receiver quite a bit this year. I would not want to draft Jones where he was going at this time last season. But I do believe he is setting up to be a bargain at his current ADP of QB31. I would feel comfortable with Jones as my QB2 in a SuperFlex league if I was able to snag a top-six signal-caller as my QB1.
Sometimes we forget that our wonderful game of fantasy football is not always an accurate reflection of real-world production. Case in point – Jalen Hurts. Hurts started four games for the Philadelphia Eagles last season. In those four games, Hurts never finished above 20th among quarterbacks in weekly PFF grade. Both his quarterback rating and QBR were outside the top 30 at the position. But he also never finished lower than 18th among quarterbacks in weekly fantasy scoring and was the overall QB9 during that stretch. That includes a Week 17 effort in which he completed just seven of 20 passes for 72 yards and an interception against the Washington Football Team. Hurts was able to boost his fantasy production in that game by rushing for two scores.
I do not think I am breaking any news here when I say that mobile quarterbacks have an inherent advantage in fantasy over those who are typical pocket passers. While many fantasy leagues have tried to adjust by implementing bonuses for passing yards and increasing the value of passing touchdowns, quarterbacks who can run remain kings in fantasy. And Hurts can certainly run. Per Player Profiler, he had a 95th percentile 40-yard dash time along with a 91st percentile Burst Score. He exhibited that athleticism time after time over the last month of the season. Hurts ran for 272 yards and three scores over the season’s final four games. Only nine running backs ran for more yards in that timeframe, and just seven scored more rushing touchdowns. 44.8 percent of Hurts’ fantasy production in that stretch came via his legs, even if you dock him for two lost fumbles.
The question remains whether the type of production that Hurts provided via the ground over the final four games is sustainable throughout a 17-game season. I do not think he needs to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards to be a fantasy QB1. He can still be a top-12 fantasy quarterback if he averages 40-50 rushing yards per game. But Hurts will have to continue to develop as a passer and hone his accuracy to be considered an elite fantasy quarterback. His 52 percent completion rate from last season is atrocious, although his adjusted completion percentage was a bit more palatable at 65.1 percent. His 10.1 aDOT (average depth of target) led all passers with at least 150 dropbacks. The Eagles have an impressive set of athletes for him to throw to, so Hurts should have plenty of opportunities for success on that front.
Many are hopeful that Hurts can follow the Lamar Jackson blueprint. Jackson struggled as a passer in limited reps in 2018 before breaking through to become the league MVP the following season. However, I would stop short of making an apples-to-apples comparison between the two quarterbacks, and I would not necessarily want to put all of my eggs in the Jalen Hurts basket from a drafting standpoint. Fantasy managers are currently selecting Hurts 10th on average. I have him inside my personal top 10, but there is admittedly some risk here. In redraft leagues, I would prefer to pair Hurts with a solid backup in case things go south. In Best Ball leagues, on the other hand, I am all in. Hurts has huge upside, and I would not be opposed to drafting him as high as sixth among quarterbacks in that format.
Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team has one of the best young defenses in all of football. They also have one of the league’s most dynamic running back-wide receiver duos in Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin. But they realized after last season that they had to become a more explosive offense. That included an upgrade at quarterback after the team went through a quartet of players at various points throughout the year. Washington agreed on a one-year contract with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The team also signed former Carolina Panther wide receiver (and sometimes running back) Curtis Samuel and drafted wide receiver Dyami Brown in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft. Suddenly this appears to be an offense that has the potential to score some points. But what will that mean for Fitzpatrick’s fantasy prospects?
Fitzpatrick has long had a reputation as the type of quarterback who makes checks that his arm cannot cash. But the grizzled veteran appears to have learned a new trick in the twilight of his career. Fitzpatrick set a career-high in completion percentage in 2018 in Tampa Bay, then repeated the feat last year in Miami. His 78.2 percent adjusted completion percentage in 2020 was also a career-best and ranked 11th among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts. Fitzpatrick also finished second in Pro Football Focus’ accuracy+ metric. Don’t get it twisted – Fitzpatrick will still throw a head-scratching interception here and there. And he did have issues at times with ball placement last year, leaving a few passes behind his intended target. But it does seem as if the bearded one has improved overall from an accuracy perspective.
Fitzpatrick excelled at the deep ball a year ago. His 52.4 percent adjusted completion percentage on passes of 20 or more yards was fourth-best among that same set of quarterbacks. That is something to monitor with his new group of pass-catchers. Samuel led all wideouts last year in PFF’s receiving grade on deep passes, albeit in limited reps (13 targets). Tight end Logan Thomas was fifth at the position in deep targets last year with 12, and McLaurin is one of the game’s top receivers. Though there are a lot of intriguing pieces here, I do not think it is enough to warrant starting Fitzpatrick in one-QB leagues. If Washington had a worse defense, I might be inclined to move Fitzpatrick up a few notches. But I think he will ultimately settle in as a low-end QB2 in 12-team leagues.
I have not discussed any backup NFC East quarterbacks to this point. What can I say about Joe Flacco, Mike Glennon, or Nick Mullens that already hasn’t been said? But I do want to touch on Taylor Heinecke. Specifically, I would like to direct your attention to a recent piece by Meng Song where he discussed Heinecke’s potential value. For the record, I do not expect Heinecke to play this season unless Fitzpatrick suffers an injury. However, there is some Dynasty appeal here, especially after Heinicke’s gutty performance in last year’s Wild Card game. Though Washington fell short against eventual Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay, Heinicke acquitted himself quite nicely. Washington also re-signed Kyle Allen in the offseason, but I would expect Heinecke to get the first crack at snaps if Fitzpatrick either suffers an injury or reverts back to his 2016 ways.
For more great analysis, check out Mick Ciallela’s full 2021 Fantasy Football Rankings.
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