The NFC West should be one of the most competitive divisions in all of football in 2021. Vegas projects three of the four teams to have winning records this season. And Arizona’s projection is eight wins, so it’s not like they are expected to be the scourge of the league. For fantasy purposes, the NFC West quarterbacks are an interesting bunch. Two are fantasy studs that are universally believed to be top-10 options. A third is a borderline QB1 for fantasy who is getting some buzz as a potential MVP candidate. Then we have the San Francisco 49ers. Fantasy managers are chomping at the bit for the team to unleash third overall pick, Trey Lance. But Kyle Shanahan has insisted that we are in for another season of the Jimmy Garoppolo show. Here are my thoughts on that situation and the rest of the NFC West.
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NFC West Quarterback Breakdown
The Arizona Cardinals offense is led by quarterback Kyler Murray. Entering his third NFL season, big things are expected of the former Heisman Trophy winner. That is not to imply that he has disappointed in any way, shape, or form over his first two seasons. Murray finished seventh in total points among quarterbacks as a rookie back in 2019. He followed that up with an overall QB4 performance last season. And I intend to make the argument that some meat was left on the bone last year. Murray was the overall QB1 through Week 11 before faltering a bit down the stretch.
First nine games –263.9 passing yards per game, 7.64 yards per attempt, 17 passing touchdowns; 67.1 rushing yards per game, 6.94 yards per attempt, 10 rushing touchdowns
Last seven games –228 passing yards per game, 6.46 yards per attempt, nine passing touchdowns; 30.7 rushing yards per game, 4.67 yards per attempt, one rushing touchdown.
I am not arbitrarily cherry-picking Murray’s numbers before and after Week 11. Rather, that was the game in which he suffered a shoulder injury early in the contest. As you can see, there is a stark contrast in Murray’s numbers before Week 11 and from that point on. Murray has said that he initially suffered the injury in Week 9 against the Miami Dolphins. To be fair, he still posted elite fantasy numbers in that game and his subsequent effort against the Buffalo Bills (the Hail Murray game). But it was clear that once he re-aggravated the injury in Seattle, his game was adversely affected for the duration of the 2020 season. His accuracy as a passer decreased, and he was much less willing to tuck it and run.
If you have read my other divisional quarterback breakdowns, you may remember that I gave a stat regarding Mitchell Trubisky. Here it is again just in case: In December of 2019, he (Trubisky) became the first quarterback in NFL history to record a game in which he completed a minimum of 70 percent of his passes (minimum 30 pass attempts), threw at least three touchdown passes, ran for over 50 yards, and ran for a touchdown. There is a reason I am revisiting that performance in my NFC West quarterbacks piece. It is because Kyler Murray joined Trubisky in that elusive club last season. In fact, Murray did it twice, and in back-to-back games. The second of which came in Week 9, right before the injury.
Some will want to dismiss that performance because Trubisky has, shall we say, underwhelmed as an NFL quarterback. But to me, the fact that Murray reached those thresholds in consecutive contests when it had only happened one other time in NFL history speaks volumes about the upside that he possesses. Murray has all the physical tools to be a dominant fantasy quarterback for years to come. He has indicated that he would like to run less this season, but I will believe that when I see it. He may not average a rushing touchdown per game or eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the ground as he was on pace to do before the injury. But a healthy Kyler Murray has overall QB1 upside every time he steps onto the football field. I currently have him as my overall QB3.
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams decided that Jared Goff was holding them back in their quest to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. So they traded Goff, two first-round picks, and a third-round pick to acquire former Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford ranks 16th in NFL history in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who is 10 and a half years younger than Tom Brady. But unlike Brady, Stafford has not yet had many opportunities for postseason success throughout his career. During his dozen years in Detroit, Stafford never won (or even hosted) a playoff game. That is not his fault alone, of course. The Lions rarely field a complete team on both sides of the ball. It is widely believed that this Rams outfit will be the best team Stafford has ever been a part of.
Stafford has finished outside the top 10 in terms of fantasy points in each of his last two full seasons. That is a bit worrisome when you consider how bad Detroit’s defense has been of late. Being saddled with a bad defense is usually a boon to a quarterback’s fantasy production. The Rams should have one of the league’s best defenses once again, which could limit Stafford to a degree. But let’s also not pretend that their elite defense was the reason Goff has failed to reach expectations over the last two years. Goff has regressed since 2018, and it is almost unanimously agreed upon that Stafford is a much better quarterback at this stage of his career than Goff is. At the same time, I’m not sure I see Stafford’s skill set fitting in well enough to consider him a top-10 fantasy quarterback.
The main edge Stafford has over Goff is on deep passes. Stafford posted a 123.8 mark on attempts at least 20 yards downfield last year, while Goff’s rating on such throws was 74.3. But just eight percent of Goff’s targets were downfield throws, which was much lower than the NFL average of 13 percent. What came first – the chicken or the egg? Did head coach Sean McVay simply decide to forego the deep ball knowing Goff’s extreme limitations in that area of the field? Or does Los Angeles not have wide receivers that can consistently beat defenses deep? Whatever the case, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp both ranked in the bottom-10 in average depth of target among wide receivers last season. If Los Angeles runs the same offense with Stafford as they did with Goff, I am not convinced the results will be much different.
I still think that Stafford will be better than Goff, but that is not saying a whole lot. Goff was the overall QB18 in fantasy last season, which is a non-starter in single-QB leagues. Fantasy managers are currently drafting Stafford 11th among quarterbacks. I have him 13th. That is not much of a difference of course. But in 12-team leagues, we are essentially talking about the difference between a QB1 and a QB2. Either way, I would not draft Stafford with the expectation that he will be in your starting lineup each week. I think he works well if you use him in tandem with another quarterback. Stafford makes for an ideal Best Ball pairing with a quarterback like Jalen Hurts who figures to have high volatility week to week.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers made the bold decision in the offseason to trade for the third overall pick in this year’s draft. There was much speculation as to who Kyle Shanahan had in mind to be the team’s long-term solution at quarterback. The answer was former North Dakota State star, Trey Lance. Lance put up one of the best seasons you will ever see from a college quarterback in 2019. He threw 28 touchdowns while averaging 9.7 yards per attempt and 11.7 adjusted yards per attempt. He did all of this without throwing an interception. Oh, by the way, he also ran for 1,100 yards and 14 scores on the ground. In many respects, Lance is the ultimate dual-threat quarterback, and fantasy managers are in love with his skill set. Perhaps a bit too much, at least as far as the immediate future is concerned.
When San Francisco drafted Lance, his ADP understandably went through the roof. He has incredible talent as both a passer and runner, and it is hard to find a better landing spot than Kyle Shanahan’s hyper-efficient offense. It does appear to be a match made in heaven from a long-term standpoint. But we must remember that Lance has very little game experience to draw upon. Lance threw just 318 passes in his entire collegiate career. Those attempts also came at the FCS level. The FCS does not necessarily have the stigma it once did. But it is not as if Lance was facing LSU and Alabama every week, either. Lance also just turned 21 years old in May. For reference, he is nearly three and a half years younger than last year’s number-one overall draft pick, Joe Burrow.
I absolutely love Lance as a prospect, and I would be all over him in Dynasty formats. In the last three years, we have seen a 22-year old and a 23-year old win the league’s MVP award. It would not surprise me at all if Lance becomes a top-five fantasy quarterback in the next two years. However, I am not sold that he approaches that stratosphere in 2021. To that end, Shanahan has already stated that incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo is the team’s starter. I think Lance may be utilized as a gadget player early on, much in the same vein that players like Jalen Hurts and Taysom Hill were during the first half of last season. That may give San Francisco an added weapon on offense but will not move the needle much in fantasy. I continue to rank Lance outside my top 30 fantasy quarterbacks for this season.
As for Garoppolo, there is not a ton to get excited about from a fantasy standpoint in my opinion. He has played 25 games as a member of the 49ers and has eclipsed 20 fantasy points in just eight of them. Derek Carr (last year’s overall QB13) posted over 20 fantasy points nine times last season. Garoppolo simply does not make enough big plays to be fantasy viable. He ranked 31st in Pro Football Focus’ big-time throw metric in 2019 and would have ranked similarly last year had he had enough attempts to qualify. His accuracy metrics last year were abysmal, albeit in a six-game sample. Considering Garoppolo’s limitations and the possibility that Lance gets some work as a dual-threat in the red zone, I am staying away from Garoppolo in fantasy. He is outside my top-25 even if he starts all season long.
Russell Wilson has been a top-eight fantasy quarterback in each of the last seven seasons. He has not missed a game in his nine-year NFL career, and reached a personal best with 40 touchdown passes in 2020. He has high marks in nearly every possible metric there is and is flanked by one of the league’s best receiving duos in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Yet, as was the case with Kyler Murray, Wilson faltered during the second half of last season. Wilson was the overall QB2 through Week 8, but just the QB11 from Week 9 on. Unlike Murray, however, Wilson’s decline was not injury-related. He failed to reach 300 passing yards in any of his final eight games and turned the ball over 11 times over his final nine contests. Does that mean that Wilson is on the decline from a fantasy perspective?
I do believe that the numbers that Wilson put up during the first half of last season were a bit inflated. The main culprit was Seattle’s horrendous defense. In Seattle’s first eight games last year, they allowed 243 points. During their 2013 Super Bowl season, they allowed 231 points for the year. Not coincidentally, this was the last time Wilson failed to post a yearly top-eight fantasy finish. Because their defense was so porous early on, Wilson was forced to throw the ball much more than normal. In those eight games, he had 297 passing attempts. As a byproduct of that added volume, Wilson accumulated a whopping 28 touchdown passes and 2,541 passing yards in the first half of the year. Many considered him the frontrunner for MVP at that point in the season.
As the season wore on, the offense became a bit predictable. It seemed as if defenses figured out what Seattle was trying to do in the passing game. After posting 542 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his first six games, Tyler Lockett went on to record just 512 yards and two scores over his final 10 games. Things were not much better for DK Metcalf down the stretch. After scoring nine times in his first 11 games while averaging 94.5 yards per game and 17.9 yards per reception, Metcalf averaged just 52,8 yards per game and 10.6 yards per catch in his final five games. He also scored just one touchdown in those games. Because his receivers were struggling to get open, Wilson took some unnecessary sacks and tried to force the ball at times. That resulted in Wilson’s uncharacteristic spike in turnovers.
The defense also finally turned things around in the second half of the year. Seattle allowed just 128 points over their final eight games. As Wilson’s efficiency decreased, he also experienced a slight downtick in overall volume. That combination is what led to his poor (by his standards at least) second half. For 2021, I believe we will see a middle ground between last season’s first and second halves from Wilson. I expect more consistency from both Wilson and his supporting cast every week. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldron looks to seek a bit more tempo, which should be a good thing for Wilson. I also believe he will be less predictable in terms of the routes Seattle’s receivers run. Overall, I have Wilson as my QB5 and would not be surprised if he set new career-highs in pass attempts and yardage this season.
For more Rankings and Analysis please check out our full 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit.
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