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Nigel Eccles, Co-Founder, FanDuel
Some key items are below:
- All references to fantasy points assume DraftKings scoring rules unless otherwise specified.
- All stats reference the full 2021 season unless otherwise specified.
- All fantasy points rankings are on a per-game basis to account for bye weeks unless otherwise specified.
This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Prospect Projections: Quarterbacks
Breaking Down the Breaking Down Buccaneers
Be sure to follow me on Twitter to stay up-to-date regarding updates to all articles I write here at FootballGuys. Feel free to reach out at any time with questions, comments, and concerns about this article or anything else fantasy football-related.
Keep an eye out on Friday afternoon for an update to this article as more information regarding player availability comes in.
Prospect Projections: Quarterback
I have spent countless hours over the last 18+ months working to project year-over-year quarterback development, with a special focus on young quarterbacks. Here, we will analyze a handful of valuable trends that will help set expectations for some of the NFL's top young quarterbacks.
- Two notable measurements that I use to help predict quarterback development are a quarterback's accuracy and aggressiveness.
- Below, accuracy is measured by not only evaluating the quarterback's completion percentage but also how frequently he is hitting his intended receiver in stride and how badly he misses when he is off-target. Aggressiveness is quantified by measuring the average difficulty of his pass attempts, based on how open and how far downfield his average intended receiver is.
All Rookie QBs All-Time— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) December 20, 2021
+Games w/ 24+ passes and 0 passing TDs
1. Trevor Lawrence (7)*
2. David Carr (6)
2. DeShone Kizer (6)
2. Karl Sweetan (6)
2. Ryan Tannehill (6)
6. Blake Bortles (5)
6. Sam Bradford (5)
6. Brandon Weeden (5)
6. Jimmy Clausen (5)
*6 in last 7 games pic.twitter.com/hYRxYZGdzZ
I need to make this abundantly clear right out of the gate: I am not writing off Trevor Lawrence as a quarterback prospect. The purpose of the following analysis is to point out why his 2021 performance cannot be ignored when setting or updating our expectations for him at the highest level. It is almost unprecedented for a quarterback to develop into a high-quality NFL starter after struggling this badly throughout his rookie campaign. As one of the best quarterback prospects in NFL history, Trevor Lawrence is a great candidate to buck this trend. But still, the probability that Lawrence will become a top-tier quarterback is significantly lower now than it was before an incompetent coaching staff put his rookie season to waste.
Commentary and Action Items:
- Prospect Analysis: Draft analysts almost unanimously agree that Trevor Lawrence entered the NFL as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck entered the NFL in 2012. Some might argue that Lawrence is the best since Peyton Manning started his professional career in 1998. Lawrence's evaluation as a prospect is important because a high-quality prospect is more likely to develop into a valuable NFL player despite sputtering out of the gates than his average and low-quality counterparts. An average or low-quality prospect's chances of developing into a valuable NFL player decrease considerably if the prospect disappoints in his rookie year.
- NFL Performance: Trevor Lawrence was the no-brainer selection for the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence's resumé of accomplishments and accolades during his time at Clemson featured everything a player could dream of, less a Heisman Trophy. His natural talent and leadership helped make him one of the best quarterback prospects ever, but the start to his NFL career has been highly disappointing. As Scott Barrett noted on Twitter earlier this week, Trevor Lawrence has now tallied 7 games with 24+ pass attempts and 0 passing touchdowns this year, with 6 of those performances in his last 7 outings. Lawrence now stands atop the all-time leaderboards as the only rookie quarterback to record more than 6 such high-volume, low-output games in a season. Although he was undeniably drafted into suboptimal conditions, being ushered into the NFL by one of the league's worst head coaches in recent memory, he must shoulder some of the blame for his putrid performance. In terms of his accuracy and aggressiveness, Trevor Lawrence's rookie numbers look eerily similar to Josh Rosen's numbers in 2018 and 2019, his first two seasons in the NFL. Although Lawrence entered the NFL as a vastly superior prospect, the similarity is concerning.
- My Expectation: The most likely outcome remains that Trevor Lawrence develops into a quality NFL quarterback. However, after a dismal rookie campaign, this is much less of a "sure thing" and is better framed as a "probable" outcome.
- Fantasy Value Summary: In the short term, there is no reason to believe that he will improve substantially before the season's end, and he is a bottom-tier fantasy asset in season-long and DFS formats. Long-term, he still has the potential to become a top-tier quarterback. However, his value in dynasty leagues has decreased substantially. Be careful not to overpay for Lawrence by undervaluing his NFL performance to date. Pay close attention to who the Jaguars hire to be their next head coach. The quality of Lawrence's next head coach and offensive coordinator will play a massive role in his development as an asset for fantasy managers and the Jacksonville Jaguars alike. The next coaching staff will have an uphill battle ahead of itself undoing damage done by Urban Meyer and his staff.
Commentary and Action Items:
- Prospect Analysis: Joe Burrow was a middling prospect until his senior season at LSU when the Tigers brought in Joe Brady to rebuild the team's passing attack. Burrow shattered numerous NCAA passing records and went on to win the Heisman Trophy and National Championship during his senior season. On the heels of this historic season, Burrow entered the draft graded as a top-tier prospect overall and the best quarterback prospect, aside from Trevor Lawrence, in nearly a decade.
- NFL Performance: Joe Burrow saw his rookie campaign cut short last year when he tore his ACL against the Washington Football Team in Week 11. Before his injury, Joe Burrow stood out as one of the NFL's most accurate passers while also pushing the envelope as an aggressive passer. Typically, rookie quarterbacks either have above-average accuracy numbers paired with very conservative passing profiles, or they record below-average accuracy numbers alongside aggressive passing profiles. Rookie quarterbacks very rarely record top-end accuracy numbers without sacrificing aggressiveness. As a rookie, Burrow's impressive combination of the two traits solidified his status as a top-tier quarterback prospect. Now, in his second season, Burrow has taken another step forward in every aspect of his game. Through 14 games this season, Burrow ranks 6th in NY/A, compared to 28th last season. Burrow also made this leap while improving upon his already-impressive accuracy and aggressiveness marks from last year. The further he improves in these regards, the higher his ceiling of production rises.
- My Expectation: The most likely outcome for Joe Burrow's career is that he develops into a fringe-top-tier quarterback, as long as the Bengals remain committed to surrounding him with adequate talent and acceptable coaching.
- Fantasy Value Summary: Joe Burrow is scoring approximately 19.2 fantasy points per game this season, which ranks 12th in the NFL. Expect Burrow to climb up the ranks, developing into a top-five or top-ten fantasy quarterback in the coming years as he and his teammates like JaMarr Chase and Tee Higgins continue to improve together. Burrow is a strong fantasy asset in the final weeks of the 2021 season, and he is a top-tier dynasty asset at his position.
how many quarterbacks on this chart are:— Zam (@StillZam) December 21, 2021
-younger than jalen hurts
-ranked higher than jalen hurts
one. and it's basically a tie. https://t.co/ABBCFPJK4x
Commentary and Action Items:
- Prospect Analysis: After beginning his collegiate career at Alabama, where he became the first true freshman quarterback to start for the Crimson Tide under Nick Saban, Jalen Hurts played one season at Oklahoma under Lincoln Riley before entering the NFL Draft. At Alabama, Hurts was a game-manager through the air and a quality threat on the ground. Then, at Oklahoma, Hurts evolved into a productive passer and a weaponized ball carrier in an offensive designed to maximize his strengths. It is difficult to determine how much of this improvement was due to Hurts's development as a player and how much of this improvement was due to the schematic genius of Lincoln Riley. This uncertainty, coupled with some questions about his accuracy, awarded Jalen Hurts a Round Two, Three, or Four draft grade.
- NFL Performance: After starting just four games in his lackluster rookie season, Jalen Hurts has improved substantially in year two. This year, Hurts remains one of the league's most aggressive quarterbacks, despite playing for his fourth head coach in his last four seasons and his seventh offensive coordinator in his last seven seasons, dating back to his senior year of high school. Additionally, Hurts has improved substantially in the accuracy department. As a rookie, Hurts was one of the least-accurate passers in the NFL across his limited number of dropbacks. However, this year he has average or above-average accuracy numbers in every category except completion percentage. Also, although this is his second NFL season, Hurts is younger than a few of the top-rated quarterbacks in the upcoming NFL Draft, and his youth makes his current production even more impressive. Overall, Hurts has drawn mixed reviews from fans and analysts after his first 17 starts in the NFL. Still, his outlook is bright, and his underlying metrics give reason to believe the best is yet to come.
- My Expectation: The most likely outcome for Jalen Hurts is that he develops into an average quarterback, with the upside to crack the top-ten if a few things go his way. Hurts's performance under center for Philadelphia has earned him another season as the starting quarterback. A second season to develop chemistry and familiarity with his offensive coaches and teammates should help expedite his development.
- Fantasy Value Summary: Jalen Hurts is one of the league's premier fantasy quarterbacks right now, thanks to his rare combination of passing and rushing production. Hurts ranks 6th in the league in fantasy points per game amongst quarterbacks this season, and he has shown no signs of slowing down. Long-term, Hurts is a high-risk and high-reward asset in dynasty leagues. The risk associated with Hurts is that the Eagles could decide to move on from him quite quickly, as they did with Carson Wentz. Philadelphia only invested the 53rd overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft in Hurts, which is quite cheap compared to other starting quarterbacks. Given this relatively modest investment, it would be easier for the Eagles to part ways with Hurts, if they see fit, than for another team trying to part ways with a pricier quarterback. However, if Jalen Hurts is afforded the opportunity to learn and grow under a consistent and smart coaching staff, his growth potential is massive, especially if Philadelphia upgrades the weapons at his disposal on the outside.
Breaking Down the Breaking Down Buccaneers
Tampa Bay lost three key starters at skill positions on offenses in Week 15. First, Mike Evans injured his hamstring on his lone reception of the game against the New Orleans Saints. Then, Chris Godwin took an unexpected hit below the knees that ended his season by tearing his ACL. Finally, Leonard Fournette pulled his hamstring early in the third quarter of Tampa Bay's shutout loss on Sunday Night Football. This trio of injuries, paired with the reintroduction of Antonio Brown, will make the Buccaneers' offense one of the most interesting units to monitor and forecast during the final month of the 2021 regular season. Let's take a deep dive into the team's current depth chart to get a leg up on the competition across the next few weeks.
Note: The best-case scenario for one player frequently aligns with a worst-case scenario for another. Players listed atop the list at their position are significantly more likely to make their best-case scenario a reality than the others. The upside for players atop each list far outweighs the downside, which will primarily be analyzed in the discussions surrounding the upside of the alternate options.
- Ronald Jones II
- KeShawn Vaughn
- LeVeon Bell
Commentary and Action Items:
- Ronald Jones II is the obvious candidate to step up and fill the void atop the depth chart at running back. However, Jones may not mirror Fournette's snap count numbers due to his shortcomings in pass protection. Nonetheless, the fourth-year running back from USC is an efficient ball-carrier, which should earn him the lion's share of the touches in Tampa Bay's backfield. Jones averaged over 5.0 yards-per-carry overall last season and over 21.7 fantasy points per game across four outings where Leonard Fournette was limited or inactive. Just last week, against the Saints' top-ranked run defense, according to DVOA allowed, Jones ran for almost eight yards per carry. All in all, Ronald Jones II should be a top-end fantasy running back while Leonard Fournette is sidelined, especially this weekend when the Buccaneers are favored by more than 10 points against the Panthers.
- KeShawn Vaughn is an intriguing second-year running back from Vanderbilt. Vaughn entered his rookie season with a reasonable amount of hype that stemmed from an impressive collegiate career at Vanderbilt, where he averaged 6.4 yards per carry on an inferior team in college football's toughest conference. The Buccaneers selected Vaughn with the 76th-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, which led many analysts to believe that he would have an immediate role in the team's offense. However, after just 26 carries in his rookie season, Vaughn was all but forgotten about entering the 2021-22 campaign. Last week, after Leonard Fournette's injury, Vaughn played a career-high 19 snaps. Vaughn's initial path to playing time is as a passing-down player who fills in for Ronald Jones II to help to mask Jones's pass-blocking deficiencies. Much like his floor of production, Vaughn's ceiling of production is also directly linked to Jones's inability to gain Tom Brady's trust in key situations. Since Tom Brady arrived in Tampa Bay, Jones has often found himself riding the pine after brutal mistakes in high-leverage situations. Thus, Jones's leash is exceptionally short, and he can ill afford to blow an assignment when pass blocking or put the ball on the ground when the Bucs call his number. Should Jones falter once again down the stretch, KeShawn Vaughn could get his first taste of significant NFL playing time.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers swiped LeVeon Bell away from the grasp of Father Time this week when they signed the veteran for the remainder of the season. Bell was reportedly ready to retire and shift his focus to boxing until he got the call that he was getting one more shot at securing a Super Bowl ring. However, he is unlikely to play much of a role, if any, in Tampa Bay's title defense this season. Bell has not averaged over 4.0 yards per carry in a season since 2016, and he has been cut three times since the start of last season. The only way LeVeon Bell gets onto the field and makes an impact for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season is if Tom Brady hand-picks him to be the team's third-down running back, given Bell's impressive resumé as a pass-catching running back. Do not bother paying any mind to LeVeon Bell for the time being.
Commentary and Action Items:
- Despite his irrational, immature, and arguably-illegal behavior in his personal life, Antonio Brown remains on an NFL roster for one obvious reason: he is still an exceptionally talented football player. However, during his post-game press conference on Sunday night, Bruce Arians announced, in so many words, that he deems Brown's value on the field to be more important than holding him accountable for his most recent wrongdoings off the field. Although this contradicts Arians's comments from last season-- when he said that Brown would not get another second chance if he made headlines for the wrong reasons one more time-- injuries to both of Tampa Bay's top two receivers appear to have forced the head coach's hand. Enough about the politics surrounding Brown's return. On the field, Antonio Brown projects to be an elite fantasy asset in upcoming weeks. This season, despite playing alongside Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, a pair of high-volume wide receivers, Brown has scored over 20 fantasy points per game. Now, without either Godwin or Evans in the lineup, Brown will have the opportunity to command targets at a staggering rate. Simply put, the only thing that can stop Antonio Brown from putting up monster numbers is Antonio Brown. If he can stay out of trouble and on the field, he has a strong chance to lead the position in fantasy production over the final three weeks of the season.
- Next on the depth chart is Tyler Johnson. Johnson entered the NFL last season as an incredibly talented player on the field with some apparent baggage off the field. Ultimately, Johnson's off-the-field issues tanked his draft stock, and the Buccaneers selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Johnson ranked top-three in the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in each of his final two seasons at Minnesota. His collegiate production during this span was second to none. However, in part due to a crowded wide receivers room in Tampa Bay, he has yet to make an impact in the NFL. One reason for optimism with Johnson is that he is a strong candidate to fill in for Chris Godwin as the Bucs' primary slot receiver, an extremely valuable role in a Tom Brady-led passing attack. Last season, Johnson ran over 40-percent of his routes from the slot, the 2nd-highest mark on the team amongst players that ran at least 100 routes. This season, Johnson has run about 32-percent of his routes from the slot. The eight-percent drop can be attributed to Mike Evans moving inside more often this season than last. Still, despite the decrease, no Buccaneer with at least 100 routes run this season has leapfrogged him in this category. If he gets the nod as the team's starting slot receiver, Tyler Johnson has the potential to be one of the best under-the-radar playoff-week acquisitions in recent memory. Consider picking up Tyler Johnson off the waiver wire in season-long formats. This week, he is a low-end flex option, but if he shows signs of life, he could be a quality starting option in Weeks 17 and 18.
- If Tyler Johnson does not step into the vacant spot atop the depth chart as Tampa Bay's starting slot receiver, Scott Miller is the next best candidate to do so. Miller has seen his playing time decrease substantially this season, but he played 78-percent of the Buccaneers' offensive snaps last week after the aforementioned injuries. His production on Sunday night left much to be desired, seeing just 3 targets on 40 routes run. However, after much-needed practice time with the first-team offense, Miller could be a seamless fit into an offense quarterbacked by Tom Brady. Brady's track record of maximizing the talents of undersized and agile slot receivers is no secret. Although Tyler Johnson appears the most likely candidate to fill the role, Scott Miller is a viable candidate for Bruce Arians, and Byron Leftwich to move into the slot for the final weeks of the regular season, which would make him an interesting waiver wire acquisition in deeper season-long leagues. Still, even as the starting slot receiver, Miller's ceiling in this role is significantly lower than that of Tyler Johnson, a more talented receiver who has earned significantly more playing time and receiving volume this season.